How did you learn to play congas?

A place where discuss about secrets, tips and suggestions for practicing on congas and to improve your skill and technique ...

Postby zaragenca » Sat Jul 14, 2007 6:07 pm

Always welcome my brother JC, with all the information I have supplied in around 20 differents forums I could write one,but I would like to point out the root of differents aproaches,as I was blessed to witness myself...Yes if I write a book,the first copy would be shipped to you.Dr. Zaragemca
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Postby Omelenko » Mon Jul 16, 2007 1:45 am

Hey Zaragemca,

Where did you get your Doctorate degree from ?
Is it the one they offer in "El Solar de Pan Con Timba" in
Marianao ?
Asere, esa arrogancia no vale un carajo. Doctor en que ?
Let me read your thesis. ñoooooooo !
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Postby pcastag » Mon Jul 16, 2007 2:51 am

I'm glad you got to watch Jesus Perez, I got to study with his disciple, the guy whom he chose to bequeath his fundamento to. I know many cubans who don't know much about afro-cuban percusion, just as I know many Americans who don't know much about American jazz. Just because you were born in Cuba doesn't make you an authority on anything, just as much as studying with Alberto doesn't make me an authority, but I did get to spend some time with a true AUTHORITY and MASTER, and he definitely did not have to tell me he was one for me to aknowledge it.
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Postby 109-1176549166 » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:29 am

Dear Brothers & Sisters, :)

I've been dabbling in music and various instruments ever since I can remember.

I still vividly remember having to earn my very first instrument, a ukelele, when my Dad required me to work for him at my parent's very successful chain of business locations (in the Philippines) during the summer break. I was probably just in 2nd or 3rd grade then. This was the era of Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and 50s to 60s rock & roll.

My cousin, with hair and attire styled like Elvis', was in a garage band playing guitar and doing covers of such high-energy music which was still very novel at that time. Being a very impressionable and ever-curious kid, I wanted to imitate what my cousin was doing. The guitar was almost bigger than me then and especially for my tiny fingers. So, I had to settle for a ukelele.

When I was in 4th grade, I joined our school marching band following the footsteps of my older (by 4 years) brother. His instrument was the trumpet and he was a 1st (or lead) trumpeteer. He chose the trumpet for me, too, 'cause he'd be able to teach me what he knew at home after band rehearsals. I started as a 3rd (or beginner) trumpeteer and, humorously, one of the littlest guys who were assigned to the very back of our marching band. We had to walk almost twice as fast just to keep pace with our more senior, taller bandmates. :D

My grade school in Manila was a private, all-male Catholic school run by benevolent Spanish Franciscan Capuchin friars and they allowed grade school students to join the school band. The minimum grade was 4th grade. A bandmember was given a significant discount from the tuition. So, having 2 children in the school band was a very much welcome relief to my very hard-working business parents who sent all of their 7 children to exclusive (same gender) private Catholic schools.

During that summer, my Mom made me take piano lessons, like my female siblings. But, I got too bored with the exercises and I wanted to be able to play songs right away. So, my piano-learning phase was quite short-lived. And to much of my regret later on, I consequently wasn't able to develop my note sight-reading skills.

(I was given the chance to resurrect my note-reading skills again when I joined our church choir here in the East Bay in 2005 under the very able leadership of our classically-trained choir director.)

When I was in 5th grade, I think, I started banging on our living room coffee table either with my hands or with drumsticks adopted from the vertical wood dowels of my younger siblings' broken baby crib. Except for the noise, my Mom really didn't complain about me now frequently hitting her precious coffee table 'cause it was laminated with a scratch-resistant top. Besides, I suspected that it most likely saved her and my Dad from my nagging them into buying me a real drum kit and thus creating even louder noise. Fortunately for my them, I was very easy to please and I was quite content with my rather crude substitute for real drums/percussion.

I'd often play along with my parent's 45- and 78-rpm or LP vinyl records, such as Perez Prado, Xavier Cugat, etc. They loved to dance and loved to practice dancing together at home, as well go to nightclubs every Saturday night. Their favorite dances were the Cha-Cha, Mambo, Tango and other Latin dances. They had a professional dance instructor who came to the house once a week.

In addition to Latin music, I also loved to drum along to the music of both the "Ventures" and the "Shadows". I especially loved doing covers of the drum soloes of their respective drummers.

At about this point, I realized for the 1st time that I was given the natural gift of being able to keep time, a must for drummers and percussionists.

Throughout most of grade school, I was also a member of my class and school choir. I was always a 1st tenor and I still vividly remember always having one of the highest, if not the highest, vocal ranges in school.

Near the end of my 7th grade (our school didn't have 8th grade then) in 1964, the Beatles phenomenon began and helped start the so-called "British Invasion" not only in America but to the rest of the world. Since I also loved to sing both lead vocals and harmonies, I gave up drumming and immediately took up the guitar. I once saw a small group of upper classmen in high school (same school) jamming with their guitars and singing Beatles, Everly Brothers, etc. song during one of our school field trips to a beach and I was immediately hooked.

The guitar--and my vocals--became my primary instruments for the longest time--from freshman high school to, frankly, 2005, except for a long hiatus from music (1969 - 1996) during college, graduate studies and my corporate employment years in order to concentrate on my studies and my career.

I had a rock & roll band during my freshman and sophomore years and a 4-part harmony group during my junior and senior years. Since I had the pair of sharpest ears among the 4 of us, I was unanimously voted to do the group's vocal arrangements--all by ear.
Modestly speaking, my 4-part harmony group became quite good so much so that we won a few singing contests here and there. We were also invited to sing at various all-girl private Catholic schools (woohoo!!!) where the girls often swooned at our tight, romantic harmonies. But, our greatest claim to fame was being invited to appear and perform on national TV.

During my college years and after, I loved watching a very popular Sunday evening TV program called "Dancetime With Chito". The late Chito Feliciano was one of the Philippines' best dancers and he and his group specialized in various Latin dances, such as Cha-Cha, Charanga, Pachanga, etc. This is when I first heard Afro-Cuban grooves Mongo Santamaria, Tito Puente, Arsenio Rodriguez, Willie Bobo, etc.

I was also enamoured with Brazilian Samba music listening to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Serio Mendez & Brazil '66 (Johnny Conga, bro, sorry you weren't in with them yet), etc.

I was also enamoured with Brazilian Samba music listening to Antonio Carlos Jobim, Astrud Gilberto, Serio Mendez & Brazil '66 (Johnny Conga, bro, sorry you weren't in with them yet), etc. Like French, I thought that Portuguese was (and still is) a very sexy language, especially when it's sung.

Sometime during the mid-70's, I was able to watch Sergio Mendez & Brazil '66 live. Other than the blond female singer on whom I had a crush on, my eyes were riveted to their excellent and very colorful percussionist, Paulinho da Costa.

In 2005, I bought my 1st percussion instrument--an electronic one: the Roland Handsonic HPD-15. I bought it 'cause it had all the Latin percussion sounds and much more.

I was the male lead vocalist for all the bands I played with since 1997. I felt that I needed to add Latin percussion to the sound of my various dance (disco, R&B and some Latin) cover bands. And since I almost always supplied the complete PA system for all of my previous bands, the HPD-15 was the only percussion instrument I was willing to lug around with me.

Taking on the job of being percussionist was relatively easy for me 'cause, as I've mentioned earlier, I've been given the gift of having a steady, metronomic internal beat (in my head). Besides, inside my brain were still memories of the Latin beats that my parents loved to dance to when I was still a kid. Also, some of the conga, bongo and timbales rhythm and riffs of "Santana" had always been fresh in my memory since the days of "Woodstock", when "Santana" played its famous Latin rock music, "Soul Sacrifice".

I didn't want to be a drummer again 'cause I didn't want to be relegated to the background. Besides, as a frontman, I wanted a lot of freedom to be able to move around on the stage and on the dance floor. Thus, my preference to being a percussionist.

In early January of this year, I had the great honor of being invited to join an all-original blues/rock band, "Tattoo Blue" (Please click on the link below), based here in the East Bay Area, specifically as a percussionist and another vocalist. They were then in the midst of completing their 1st CD, simply entitled "Tattoo Blue". So, I had to switch to acoustic Latin percussion instruments--and fast!

Our 1st CD was officially released last June. And we've had the great fortune of having a number of songs played locally on FM radio.

Never did I foresee that I'd have to switch from the HPD to acoustic Latin percussion instruments. But the record producer required it. And because this band, IMO, is in an even higher league than any of my previous bands, I had to have acoustic Latin percussion instruments for a more professional stage presentation during live gigs.

I strongly believe that this band is well-worth my "biting the bullet" involving my sudden investment in a comprehensive set of mostly top-of-the-line acoustic Latin percussion drums and toys. This is not to mention my lifelong passion for music and my resurrected passion for various percussion instruments.

The rest is percussion history, as well as the start of a new musical chapter, for me.

Musically yours, :D

Edited By mjtuazon on 1184895273

Postby bongosnotbombs » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:38 am

yeah, I gave you a 5 for that post right there, I think it's funny how a step up for you musically is a step down technologically. i.e. electric percussion to hand percussion.
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Postby 109-1176549166 » Mon Jul 16, 2007 6:11 am

bongosnotbombs, :D

Gee, thanks a lot, Bro!!! That's the very 1st time I've been rated by anyone here in our forum. And to get a "high 5" (pun intended) for my very 1st rating is a great honor indeed!!! :D

You said, "I think it's funny how a step up for you musically is a step down technologically. i.e. electric percussion to hand percussion." What a clever observation and comment! :D

BTW, you and anyone can call me Manny from now on, if you wish. The reason why it's "mjtuazon" is because that just happens to have been my email address for the longest time.

I just set up a new email address with "Google" (gmail) last Friday. But, I wonder if changing my email address would mean that I'd lose the cumulative count of all my prior postings and mean I'd start all over again to being a CongaNewbie. :(

Is there a way to get all of anyone's prior postings credited to his/her new email address? Or, can I assume another "nickname" and still keep my old email address? I've tried the latter, but I haven't found a way to do it. Maybe I'm missing something.

Thanks in advance for any assistance, :D

Edited By mjtuazon on 1184566651

Postby Mike » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:27 am

Hi everyone,

I feel like I might add my weird way to the congas as well.
It´s a bit weird because it took so long!

As a child I enjoyed banging on empty tea boxes, cans etc. like most three- to five-year-olds might do.

My parents come from a musical background, my father being an organ player at church and my mother a music teacher at primary school.

Well, at the age age of six I seriously entered the world of music by learning musical notation via the recorder. Not nice to my parents´ears, but fine and useful otherwise .

At 10 there came the piano, which was hard work then,
and simultaneously, THE DRUMSET. Unfortunately, I was never allowed to play anything beyond the snare drum (teaching method in the late 1970s), but the rudiments and paradiddles were OK to me.
My high school´s marching needed a drummer, so I had the job.

At 13 I learned the trombone. A melody instrument is wonderful. I played in various classical and jazz ensembles, but i t was only at university (where I studied music and English) that I got in contact with a REAL CONGUERO: The university big band in which I played the bass trombone had a very good percussionist, Markus Passlick, quite well-known in the German jazz scene.
I absolutely admired his playing and took a close look and this is where my CONGA LOVE began - at the age of 20!

At teacher training college we had a Latin percussion ensemble unter the guidance of A.M. Sicking, a fine vibraphonist and percussionist, so I learned there not only how to play various Latin instruments, but also how to arrange and teach Latin music to pupils later. Unfortunately he wasn´t much of a conga player, so most of my learning has been AUTODIDACTIC ever since.

I bought my first CP congas - we all make the same mistakes, don´t we :;):
but in the last years I worked hard on and for a better setup and so LP grew rich and fat on me :D

End of story, now I´m forty, have been teaching at a local high school for 10 years now - - and I still love Conga playing most. That is why I draw most joy from my extracurricular school ensemble with a Latin setup and a world music approach. The 24 kids like it very much and we have several performances in the school term - now I try to make them keepers of the flame :)

But still, I´m eager, I´m still burning myself to learn more about congas - technique, styles, everything.

I hope this wasn´t too boring to read.
I think if you really love music, you take different roads in your life, there´s a lot of trial and error, but as long as you focus on the instrument and style you feel is right for you, your hard work is rewarded - and you don´t ever want to stop learning!

Edited By Mike on 1184585786
Peace & drum
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Postby windhorse » Mon Jul 16, 2007 5:21 pm

I'm 47 years old now, and grew up in middle class white South Eastern United States, eating culturally overcooked high fat high meat content food, playing football, and watching TV. I never played in band at school as mentioned by at least one of the previous posters, so didn't have a formal music background, or the culture for Latin percussion.
However, as a young 8-9 year old, I would watch my favorite Sat. morning cartoons which would always be followed by the Banana Splits and the Monkeys. My cultural icons as a kid were the drummers in these Sat. morning shows! As stupid as it may seem these crazier of the 70's Sat morning cartoon rock band quartets somehow had me imagining my own rock star status.
I would beat on trashcan lids and sing the bana split song.. "Tra la la" So, my mom had me do a few drum lessons early in my teens. I saw that I had to practice and work to get the feel and get halfway decent, but was surrounded by other kids who could already play the heck out of complete trap sets,, so I discouraged myself from trying.. :(
What a dope! So I quit early, and eventually moved on to the next best thing the bass.. In my high school rock "jam" band, I played bass for while until a "real" bass player showed up and rocked the house. Again, I didn't want to work at it, so passively set the bass down.
When, I left my home town for college, I quit music altogether and it would be a really long time before I'd ever pick up another instrument.
It wasn't until my cousin gave me a tape of a band called Outback that had a didjeridu player named Graham Wiggins who played the instrument like a drum, that I was bitten again by the music bug. I picked up a didjeridu and began using our method here of sharing the internet to find others who played the instrument and began traveling across the US to the West Coast up the coast from LA to Portland playing with every prominent didjeridu player. This started in about 1991 and lasted until about 2001 - when I made a CD of everything I could do at the time.
When I was looking around in Boulder for drummers to play didj with, I ran across this really nice guy named Eric who played mid-eastern dumbek. He knew the rhythms I was interested in playing on the didjeridu - odd ones, like 5, 7, 9, and 13.. For some reason my body and style of circular breathing come out naturally in odd meter.
Anyway, he would eventually begin taking lessons in Haitian drumming. So, he was looking for buddies to practice and study this music with. I glommed on with him on this new study, which after two years moved into Cuban.
So, for about 5 or 6 years I've been playing conga, met some of you on the list, traveled to the Arcata/Humboldt workshops, learned from some great players and teachers in Colorado and the West Coast, and continue to immerse myself as much as possible in the folklore and rhythm of Afro-Cuba.
In fact, I'm posting this from my new friend Jame's computer in Berkeley CA on my way to Arcata!
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Postby spiritdrum » Mon Jul 16, 2007 6:21 pm


This is more about how I got into playing a percussion, not just congas.

Back when I was a kid, I took piano lessons for a year. I don't really remember whether it was something I wanted to do or my parents desire. Oh, I used to pound the keys, which didn't go over very well with my teacher and the type of music I was playing.

Fast forward, to around 1995, I very briefly met ANGEL LUÍS FIGUEROA, who introduced me to Jorge Bermudez a local perucssionist in the Bay area, and later contributor to the first book from

After two classes from Jorge, trying to learn right handed (i'm left), I got frustrated with mano secreta and put the drum aside till 1998. While living in Lake Tahoe, Ca, I went to a Congolese dance workshop and was reintroduced to the drum. I bought an ashiko, moved to SF for graduate school, and starting going to the GG Park drum circle, where I would sit way up on the hill away from everyone.

After playing the only rhythm I knew for a while (?) and dealing with the daily verbal abuse from others, I sought a different type of group experience at the local city college with Kwaku Daddy from Ghana. It was in this class where first started playing with others and learning about different types of drums and other perucssion instruments.

Once I heard the djembe and saw Mamday Keita's documentary, everything changed. For the next couple of years, I studied West African style with a variety of teachers, but it wasn't until I took dunun classes with my dance teacher Mabeba Bagne that everything started to make sense, and I realized that the energy of the djembe increased my own crazy internal energy, instead of balancing.

I took another break from studying, though always returned to the Congolose Workshop because of the family feeling from the community. About three years ago, I introduced a friend to the West African style, and in return he took me a conga class.

Since then I have become more interested in Afro-cuban folkloric, kalimba and now a little didgeridoo. Since I am pretty tenacious, I haven't given up and have found a great encouraging group of men to play rumba with.


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Postby CongaTick » Mon Jul 16, 2007 9:40 pm

Okay, here goes.

Banged on all sorts of **** when I was a kid. Bought bongos in the 70's in the Philippines. After arrival in US in early 70's bought original gonbops quinto and conga. Though there've been many pauses along the way haven't stopped. Now 65 and do 4 hour gigs regularly. End of story.
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Postby Whopbamboom » Mon Jul 16, 2007 11:09 pm

You guys have the greatest anecdotes!

I probably should add that I also banged on stuff when I was a kid....

4th grade-up, drumming my hands on the desk tops at school (and always getting in trouble for it, too!).

Then, in late teens and early 20's.... no, heck, I still do.... drumming my hands on the steering wheel while I drive, to the music on the radio.

I just never transferred this to drum skins until I became a music major in college, later in life.
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Postby afrocubarico » Thu Jul 19, 2007 7:38 am

Hey guys, great thread! Reading the last two posts about banging on stuff reminded me of my junior high school days. I went to school in the heart of the South Bronx. At this particular school there was a wall on the 2nd floor where some of the kids would stand right in front of the edge of the corner of the wall and bang out a really nice hip-hop beat. This would be coupled by others rapping out some lyrics.

Before you knew it there was a big crowd of kids surrounding the "drummer" and the "rapper" until the school dean would come and break things up. This was a special wall and you had to find that sweet spot. Well, I found it and when no one was around I would start mimicing the same beat that I would hear. This became addictive!

But that's not how I got into playing congas. In my late thirties I purchased a copy of MamboMongo by Mongo Santamaria at a local record shop. I couldn't believe that someone could create those sounds with thier hands. I must have burned that CD out! Well, shortly after that I went back to that record shop and asked the guy behind the counter if he had anything else similar. He sold me a copy of Latin Soul by Poncho Sanchez (who incidentally is strongly influenced by Mongo) and I was hooked!

At the age of 37 I purchased my first conga on ebay. It was a used Performer Series by LP. But I had no idea what to do with it. I knew I wanted to learn to play this thing but didn't know the first thing about congas. The owner of Casa Latina in El Barrio suggested I take conga lessons at the Harbor Conservatory. The next day I went to the school and enrolled for private lessons. That was exactly 1 year and 4 months ago. And today I can't think of anything else I'd rather do than play my congas. My only regret is not having learned this when I was a kid. But it's all good cuz aint nothing gonna stop me now.

One slap at a time...
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Postby Garvin » Thu Jul 19, 2007 3:17 pm

I'm quite a bit younger than a lot of you guys, so my story is not quite as long, but still a little different perspective on how a kit player finds his was into other percussion.

I played drum set since I was 11. Got serious in my teens and took a break around 19 or 20 to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I got interested in Tabla while living in Boston, where I started to really "hear" other music from outside the jazz-funk world that I had existed in to that point.

I moved to the Southwest and ended up hanging out with an older crowd all of whom had studied and played Afro-Cuban or Brazilian music at some point. Also, there was a well established group of West African drummers including Fara Tolno, Fode Bangoura and Bruce Rudolph (TTM). I was invited into the fairly open circle and learned rather quickly how to play the parts. I was playing clave and bell for the rumba's and bata stuff as well as kenkeni or dundun for the dance classes while also continuing to play kit.

There were enough experienced congueros that I never really felt like I needed to learn tumbao or guaguanco until much later. I always felt like there was no way I could ever play the congas as well as my contemporaries. We had a little salsa band and I played kit for that, learned some timba grooves as well as how to play with a conguero. I watched and listened and listened and listened some more.

I moved away for a bit, and found myself filling the role of percussionist for an R&B/gospel band. I bought my first congas for that gig (Matadors, great deal and awesome drums). I realized that I had been watching and playing parts for so long, that it really only took me a couple weeks to get up to speed on the sticking techniques for tumbao and then gradually taught myself through phone conversations and random videos how to play some fairly fleshed out bembes and guaguancos. The gospel guys loved it, because it was a sound they'd heard but never played with.

Later I moved back to the southwest and reconnected with my old friends and teachers. My technique is decent, and though always willing to go back to bell and clave, I found myself playing a lot more conga and singing. I've always been humble to a fault and am never comfortable stepping into the shoes of a soloist whether it's djembe or conga. I actually fell in love with bongos over the last year or so and if that's the last thing I ever play, I'd die a happy man.

Whew... Maybe a longer story than I thought huh?
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Postby Congadelica » Thu Jul 19, 2007 5:11 pm

Garvin, thats a cool story :cool:
Mine is also a little different , it started with an old biscut tin turned upside down with a few coins placed , a pair of my mums knitting needles and bingo first snare . I have always been into music and everything connected to it , i played piano as a kid but could never get on with it I have a ear for music and can copy by imitation many different tunes and patterns.

I was married in the Dominican Republic 10 years ago , that was my first real connection with latino music.
I have allways been a keen watcher of what the percussionist is doing and breaking down the beats be it funk , jazz, dance electronic . , My wife bought me a set of bongo`s for xmas , from here is were the internet worked for me , soon i was scanning youtube for bongo music when bychance I found the conga!
I was fasinated with the versatility of what I had allways called bongo`s , yes guys i admit to being one of the ijnorants out there , but dont shoot me .
I praciced different rythms on my bongo`s , but was so distracted by these beautiful sounding drums Tumbadora`s.
over the past 5 months i have become infected and obsesed with everything Congas . I niavly posted a very novice video when i first found this website , soon to realise this forum has some very serious player of which i now aspire . hours most days practice and my chops are comng along and a few different grooves guaguanco , songo ar what im focused on for now .

well short story but all the truth, Im an addict but its a nice clean addiction .

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Postby Charangaman » Tue Jul 24, 2007 3:39 pm

Great Thread!

My journey is long and weird, I was (like most here) one of those kids always banging on pots and pans but my first instrument was Trumpet..

Later I became a professional DJ and my thirst for new and exiting music took me first to Brasil then Mexico and finally Cuba, where one afternoon in Callejon Hamil, Havana - I witnessed my first Rumba..

The vibrations I felt that day were deep and beyond anything I'd ever felt.. No narcotic (and I've known narcotics) could come close to this sensation I felt at the Rumba.. During that trip around Cuba I took elementry lessons on Bongo & Tumbadoras in Havana, Holguin & Santiago from whomever was willing (picked up some bad habits)... I am a late learner but almost fascist in my practicing, since the Tumbas entered my life 5 years ago I have sacrificed relationships, missed other opportunities and forgot about Djng..

These drums have brought so many good things into my life and helped me overcome personal issues.. I'm in a couple of bands and getting paid (sometimes) .. I'm still so hungry and fascinated by the drum that it just feels like the beginning...
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