Young or old, pro or amateur, it doesn’t matter: in a drum circle, no one is better than anyone else. There is no first chair or ranking system, and the performance aspect is centralized within the circle. No wonder drum circles are one of the most popular community groups, a place where beginners and professionals alike can come together to have fun and maybe even learn a thing or two about rhythm.
With an endless selection of hand drums to choose from, however, it can be daunting for a beginner to select the right one. An ill-sized drum can make it uncomfortable to play, while a poor quality one can severely limit the music produced.
Before buying just any hand drum, take some time to consider which drum is right for you. Some of the most common hand drums are frame drums, djembe, congas, and bongos.
Perhaps the most accessible of all hand drums, frame drums have been customized by different cultures around the world for ages. Made up of a single, wide drumhead with a typically wooden shell, frame drums are affordable and the most mobile of hand drums.
Frame drums are great as a training drum to help build rhythmic techniques, and because they are cheap and light, they’re perfect for all ages. Sizes of the drum range from eight inches to 16 inches.
Hailing from Africa, the goblet-shaped djembe is one of the most flexible and diverse hand drums on the market, and extremely popular among drum circle enthusiasts. Its sound ranges from sharp, high slaps to a low, deep bass.
For beginners, fiberglass shells offer durability and produce sound easier than a wooden djembe. Most adults require a 12-inch head and 24-inch height. The drum should rest between your legs, leaving the head readily accessible. Be wary of cheap djembes. Better made drums will produce sound more easily.
Less bulky than a Djembe, bongos are a pair of drums, the macho (small) and the hembra (large) that create easily recognizable high-pitched tones. They are tailored to a wide range of musical genres, so make sure to try them to see exactly what flavor the drum produces. Some have hints of Latin, while others will have a less bright timbre.
When it comes to a perfect set of bongos, it’s all about sound. There are pretty cheap bongos available for beginners, but the sound produced from synthetic sets is mediocre at best. A wood like Siam oak is still affordable and delivers the best bang for the buck for beginners.
Less portable than the others, Congas come in a variety of sizes—nine to 34 inches, sometimes making it overwhelming for a beginner to choose. Larger drums are used to play the lower rhythms, while the smaller drums act as the “singer” producing the melody.
When you walk into a drum circle with your carefully selected hand drum, no one will know if you’re a beginner or not.
A good set of congas for beginners are in the 10 to 12-inch range with synthetic drumheads. It’s more difficult to be mobile with congas, which are larger than most other hand drums. However, most congas come with a stand, or you can play just one strapped around your body.