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How to improve your sound and playing craft in the congas

Author: Facundo Alvarez, Percussion teacher and Facilitator

Hi, fellow percussionist.

This blog is especially for beginner percussionists who are starting to play the congas and who are looking for tips and some guidance to improve their sound in the drum. In the video I’m going to go through different hand technique aspects that are going to help you to improve your sound and playing craft in congas.


The first area in which I´m going to focus is in the hand and body placement of the hands in the drum. I´m going to make a quick revision, So you can check what you’re doing right and what you’re doing wrong, so if you’re doing something wrong, you can correct it.

I have two congas here, but I´m going to work only with one for the moment. So this one has to be on your center, in the center between your legs. Also, try not to go too much into the drum and too far. You have to be in a middle position in which, as you can see, I have my arm extended and I can reach both drums.

For a good body placement in the congas, I leave a space of about a hand between me and the drum. Also, as you can see the drum is almost up to my belly button position, where you’re going to have more space to move your hand correctly and play without any difficulty.



Which is the right way to place the hands in the congas?. What I do is, I make a triangle in front of my head and in that position I go down and put that triangle in the congas. I just open my hands a little the hands in between. So, Everything I will play is going to be played in this position of hands.



So let’s see what happened with the different sounds. I´m going to see each sound separately for you to check what you are doing and see what corrections you need to make.

Tone sound in the congas


Let’s start with the easiest one, that is the tone.

Tone is the sound that you’re going to play in the center of the conga.

You have to play it with the whole hand, with the complete surface of your palm. To play it right you have to come always from the top.

Common mistakes beginner students make when they play tone sound in congas


Some common mistakes that people do when playing the tone in congas is leaving the fingers out of the skin of the drum. Don´t do that!. You have to work with the whole fingers, the whole surface of the hand hitting the drum.

Open sound in the congas


So the following sounds are going to be the open and the slap.

Two comments, before I move on explaining each of them. First of all, the two sounds are played in the same spot of the drum. What I mean, in the same place. Second, what you have to change is the way in which you play with your hand in each sound.

So let’s start with the open sound in the congas.

To check the position of your hand, you need to use your knuckles as a guide. So when you’re playing opens in the congas, you have to see that your knuckles are aligned with the body of the drum.

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Common mistakes when play open sound in congas

1) Playing open sound in the congas with their hands a little out of the drum.

2) Playing open sound in the congas with their hands too much into the drum.

3) Playing open sound in the conga with their finger lifted excessively

4) Playing open sound in the conga with their fingers too separated

5) Playing open sound in the congas with the hand too rigid

To close, something very important you need to know is that the position in which you have to play with your hand is in a diagonal position to the congas. In that way you´re going to get the open sound in the right place.


Last but not least, what do you do with your thumbs?. Basically thumbs in any sound are part of the playing, so you have to leave them out of the drum and try not to hit any part of the drum with them.

Slap sound in the congas

First of all, this is the more difficult sound of all. What this means is that this is the sound that takes more time to make it sound in the right way. The best way to get the slap to sound correct in the congas is being patient and being consistent, which is the way you put the hand on the drum. So let’s revise a couple of things about it.

First one is that the placement of the hand, as I said before, is in the same place or the same spot in which you play your opens. So what you’re going to do is change the position in which you’re playing the drum.

When you play the slap in the conga, you are making a plank. For doing that, you have to build a good basement on the iron ring of the drum, and from that you can close your hand and hit the drum with the proper energy to get the right sound. So bottom of your palm has to lean on the iron ring of the congas and you hit the skin with the tip of your fingers

Common mistakes beginner students make when they play slap sound in congas


1) Going too low in the drum and missing the right spot to play the slap in the congas.

2) Going too much into the drum and again missing the right spot to play the slap in the congas.

One important thing to look for is that, when you play your slap, you have to be able to fit one finger between your hand and the skin. What I mean is you have to leave space because the part of your hand that’s going to hit the wrong is basically the first phalanges of your fingers.

2) Ending up playing the sound in a claw position, that misses the right position of the hand and makes it sound wrong.



A second area in which you have to focus is on the hand motion and wrist motion. Wrists are a key element in developing a good hand technique and a good sound. So the first recommendation that I can give you is try not to play too close to the drum. What I mean is give space to your hands.

So, when you start practicing something slowly, try to go as high as you can with your hands. In that way you´re going to build the needed space to a better hand technique. This is important because that space is going to give you the time and space to change the position of your hands when you’re playing all the sounds together.

So you have to work on activating your wrist motion. Common sense tends to think that the arm is a one piece element with no articulation that we use to hit the drum.

That’s a misconception, because sounds that we play in congas are mostly built by hand playing, but also the wrist movement. So again, the wrist is the key factor here, because as the height concept that I explained before, wrists are also going to give you the time and space to build each sound, to place the hand in the right position, to play the sounds correctly.

Common Mistakes beginner students make when playing congas


1) Not using the wrists to play the congas

2) Playing with the wrist under the drum, what I mean with the hands too low. So the reference is that your arm has to be aligned with the skin and you are never going to go down that line.

3) Taking the hands out of the congas, each time they hit the drum, losing the line of the circle of the drum.



So with these three mistakes that I pointed out, we can work around a concept that is very important, that is “Economy of movements”.

To build a great hand technique, you have to play only or make only the movements that you need to play and make the sounds right. What I mean by that is you have to avoid making any other movement that is not related to playing the sounds. Because those movements are going to affect, first, your timekeeping because you are losing time to go back and play on. And, Second, they’re also going to affect the sound of your hits.

So bottom line, try to avoid doing any of those and focus on only making the moment that you need to play your sounds properly.

This is the end of the post.

I hope you find that useful and fun and that you can apply any of the recommendations I gave you in your own practice routine.

I will see you in the next post.

percussion facilitator

Facundo Alvarez
Percussion Facilitator

For 20 years I´ve dedicated myself to develope educational and recreational materials and experiences, with the goal of facilitate access to percussion learning to people of all ages

In all the projects I work motivated by the premise that "Percussion is for everybody" and that "Everyone can learn to play percussion".

My main goal is to help, as many people as I can, to live the unique experience of making music with percussion instruments.