A Brief Introduction to the Darbuka

Undoubtedly, most of you Darbuka players around will already have some kind of understanding of what the Darbuka is, but for those first-time visitors amongst you who are new to or just dabbling in the Darbuka world (or the Arabic Music world in general), this post should serve as a brief introduction to the Darbuka. So relax and read on for A Brief Introduction to the Darbuka

The Darbuka itself

The Darbuka, a drum that's typically classed in the World Percussion category of musical instruments, is a goblet-shaped drum that is considered to be the leader of percussion instruments in the Middle East and North Africa. 

The Darbuka is known as a goblet drum as it narrows in the middle and widens at the base, similar to a goblet or chalice glass. Historically, Darbukas were made of clay or wood with an animal skin stretched over the head; such materials would create high-quality sounds. However, contemporary darbukas tend to be made of aluminium, copper or synthetic fibers, which are ideal as they prevent damage to the darbuka and don't break as easily as clay. 

A traditional Clay Darbuka (left) and a modern metal Darbuka (right)

History of the Darbuka

The Darbuka has been around for millennia. Some have estimated that it's origins date back to as far as the Babylonian period. This is likely because hand drums have been an integral part of many cultures and societies, probably since early human history. The Darbuka, a goblet-shaped hand drum, has manifested itself in its current form in the Middle East and North Africa, but other instruments such as the Djembe, Tombak, and West African drums are likely to be different manifestations of the same original Babylonian drums. 

In present times the Darbuka is deeply embedded into Middle Eastern and North African heritage. It is used in countries like Algeria and Syria as a core part of any wedding or celebration, consequently, most children (male and female) grow up with some education on how to play the Darbuka. It's no surprise then that some of the Darbuka masters alive today hail from such countries. 

Differentiation from similar musical instruments

The single-headed feature of the Darbuka is what distinguishes it from other similar musical instruments such as the Tabla or the Dhol. It is also played with the hands, rather than with a stick or beater. This allows for intricate finger patterns to be used in Darbuka rhythms, which is what makes it such a popular instrument in the Middle East. The Turks have taken the Darbuka even further and invented their own playing style, the Turkish split-hand style - which uses all the fingers on each hand to create rapid fast drum rolls that would be impossible on any other drum. 

It is likely that the most similar instrument to the Darbuka is the Djembe, another similar shaped drum from Africa. The main difference between the Darbuka and the Djembe lies in the Djembe's typically wooden body and natural skin, and the Darbuka's typically metal body and plastic skin. The Darbuka creates a much higher pitched and sharp sound, whereas the Djembe produces a lower pitch and deeper sound. As such, a Darbuka will cut through a mix of musicians more easily.

A typical African Djembe 

The main strokes on the Darbuka 

The Darbuka has the potential to produce a wide array of sounds (for a percussion instrument), however, most of these techniques require a strong grounding in the basics and a few years of practice. Fortunately, the most basic strokes on the Darbuka are three: the Doum, Tek, and Ka.  

The Doum and Tek are played with the dominant hand (typically the hand you write with), and are the core strokes in most Arabic rhythms. The Doum is a deep and powerful bass stroke. It is played by hitting the head of the drum with a curved hand so that the palm area does not hit the drum. The bottom portion of your hand should hit the edge of the Darbuka (the metal section), the palm should not hit and the top two portions of all of your four fingers (phalanges) should hit the center. Remember that the hand should be kept fairly stiff in order to produce the correct deep sound. In contrast, the Tek is the high sound produced with the tips of your fingers hitting the edge of the drum, where the plastic skin meets the metal section of the Darbuka.

The Ka, by contrast, is played with the non-dominant hand. The Ka is the first of the ornamental strokes on the Darbuka, i.e. strokes which are used to make the rhythm sound good and are not necessarily part of the core rhythm. The Ka is played with the fourth finger of your non-dominant hand and it should produce a high-pitched, sharp sound. The Ka should ideally sound very similar to your Tek. Typically, the Ka tends to be quite weak at first, especially for people with little percussion experience. However, with some practice, the Ka can be built up into a very loud and powerful stroke. 


We hope you enjoyed this basic introduction to the Darbuka. It truly is one of our passions and we think it's a fantastic instrument. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch with us and we'll do our best to help. If you are interested in purchasing a Darbuka, check out our fantastic selection here. Also, subscribe to our mailing list to keep up with all of the latest goings-on here at Malik Instruments!

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