How to Choose a Djembe Drum
Finding the right djembe to suit your needs can seem overwhelming when there's so many options to choose from.
We have simplified the process by providing everything you need to know right here in one place.
First and foremost, you can take comfort in the knowledge that every djembe available through our online drum shop is 100% African-crafted. This allows us to guarantee the authenticity of the product materials, the durability of the construction and most importantly the quality of the sound.
With this in mind, all you really need to worry about is finding a carving, size and colour to suit your needs and your own personal taste and budget. If you're a more advanced drummer or looking to upgrade from an existing djembe, other variations in design features like wood types and choice of skin might also be of interest, so the following guide covers these finer details as well.
How to find the best size djembe for you
The most important dimensions are the djembe drum head diameter and height. As a general rule, the larger diameter and height drums offer a bigger sound, all else being equal, although wood type is another key factor. Diameter is also an important consideration in terms of playing area surface - with larger diameter djembes offering more room to move and being better suited to bigger hands.
For a full sized djembe, the drum head diameter typically ranges from 31 to 35 cm (12 to 14 in) and the height ranges from 61 to 66 cm (24 to 26 in). Examples of these can be found in our collection of large African djembe drums. These tend to be the most popular choice for adult drummers due to their versatility, being suitable for drumming classes, community jams, performances, practicing at home, facilitating workshops, music making and studio recording.
Medium sized djembes are around 28 to 31 cm (11 to 12 in) in diameter and 57 to 61 cm in height (22 to 24 in). These are a great option if you're looking for a more compact and portable djembe, without compromising on quality, and can be found here.
Finally, a small djembe drum can be anywhere from 23 to 28 cm (9 to 11 in) in diameter and 50 to 57 cm (20 to 22 in) in height. These drums are ideal for primary through to secondary school aged children. They are also a handy and lightweight option for travelling and great for entry level drummers. Check them out here.
What you need to know about the ropes
While the most traditional rope colours for djembes in West Africa are black and white, we offer a wide range of colours so there's something to match every drummers' personality and style. Simply choose what appeals most to you.
In addition to "Traditional Black" and "Classic White" options, the full suite of djembe rope colours includes:
- Rasta Red
- Brilliant Blue
- Earthy Brown
- Natural Green
- Pure Purple
- Radiant Yellow
- Vibrant Multi-Coloured
- Glowing Orange
Some of these options feature a subtle fleck of other colours in the weave for a bit of extra zhuzh. Zoom in on the photos to appreciate some of these subtle highlights.
Every djembe comes with a sturdy rope handle and plenty of excess rope for tuning. We also offer free drum tuning for the life of your new djembe.
Consider the drum shell wood types
Djembe drum wood types can be broadly categorised as either hard woods or soft woods.
HARD WOOD DJEMBE DRUMS
The hard wood djembes are more weighty which gives them a bigger sound.
There are only a few types of hardwood that are historically used for djembe construction in Mali, West Africa. Below is a quick overview:
The Dugura (pronounced doo-goo-rah) is an ancient djembe wood type that is typically mid-brown in colour but comes in a range of shades from near-white through to dark brown, and according to Mady Keita they are most often played during the night time in Mali for all types of occasion. Professionally made Dugura djembe drums have a strong sound projection and wide range of tonality, with deep base sounds and distinct tones, so you can expect them to bring out your full potential as a drummer.
Another of the earliest djembe wood types, the Lingué (pronounced len-geh) woods can be red, yellow or golden in appearance. Unlike the Dugura woods, the are traditionally played during the day in Mali. Our Lingué djembes are renowned for their impressive sound characteristics, particularly in the mid to upper tonal ranges. They're also relatively easy to play, so a great choice for beginners right through to advanced level drummers.
The Djala woods typically have a red appearance, and according to Mady Keita they are comparable in sound characteristics to the Lingué woods. Even now in Mali, they remain among the most frequently chosen djembe woods for day-time drumming.
A more modern type of hardwood, the Guéni wood has become popular in Mali over the last 2 decades for djembe construction. It is also commonly used to make the balafon instrument (African xylophone). Guéni woods come in different shades, some a combination of white and brown, others very dark brown and more consistent in colour. With similar sound characteristics to the Dugura woods, the Guéni djembe woods are another night-time favourite in Mali.
Another of the relatively modern hardwoods, the Kashia wood has become more prevalent over the last 2 decades for djembe construction in Mali. Kashia woods are typically multi-shaded in colour, with combinations of near-black / dark-brown and near-black / white being common. Djembes crafted from the Kashia wood offer similar sound characteristics to the Dugura and Guéni woods.
See our best-selling hard wood djembe drums here.
SOFT WOOD DJEMBE DRUMS
Unlike the hard woods, the soft wood djembes are relatively lightweight and more portable.
Tweneboa is one of the more commonly used soft woods for djembe construction in some parts of West Africa such as Ghana and Ivory Coast. The Tweneboa tree is prevalent in these areas and is popular among drum carvers due to its soft and sometimes hollow interior.
While the sound quality and projection of the soft wood djembes does not match that of the hard woods, they are a great entry level drum and perfect for school aged children.
See our full range of soft wood djembe drums here.
The different djembe skin types
Our Master Drum Craftsman, Mady Keita, takes extreme care to select the right skin type to match each djembe drum wood, shape and dimensions, to bring out its best sound.
For some djembes, you’ll see that Mady has chosen a goat skin that is relatively light and easy on the hands.
Others feature a calf skin that is relatively thick and has the added benefit of being extra long lasting.
How much to budget for a djembe drum
As with most things in life, you get what you pay for with djembe drums too.
At the lower end of the budget range, for around $250-350 you can expect to find a good quality, entry level, soft wood djembe with a diameter of around 23 to 28 cm and height of 50 to 57 cm. See examples here.
Moving up in the budget range, for around $350-450 you can find a medium size djembe (diameter 28 to 31 cm and height 57 to 61 cm) carved from a hard wood and with a great sound projection for its size. See examples here.
From $450 and upwards, you'll find a broad range of full size hard wood djembe drums (diameter 31 to 35 cm and height 61 to 66 cm). These are the biggest and the best quality djembes available and will last you for life. See examples here.
Within each of these broad groupings, pricing can vary depending on factors such as the specific dimensions of the djembe, the type of wood used and its origin, the aesthetics of the wood shell and the intricacy of the carving.
A final note on pricing... the above guide relates to authentic hand-made West African djembe drums only. You may find a factory made or imitation "djembe" drum from another part of the world at a lower price, but don't expect the same quality or longevity. What might seem like the cheap option now, could become the opposite if you decide to upgrade in a few weeks or months time. So if you plan to keep drumming for a good while yet, why not invest in a djembe that will last a lifetime?
Still Need Help to Find the Right Djembe?
Need some extra help finding the perfect drum for you? Not a problem. Answer a few simple questions using the Quiz below to help you narrow down the options and choose a favourite.
Or you can get in touch today or pop into the shop and have a chat with Master Drum Craftsman, Mady Keita, for professional advice and all-round djembe wisdom.