By Ibraheem Malik
When you first begin playing a there are several mistakes that could cause your instrument to not produce that deep, resonating ‘boom’ that we expect it to when we play a ‘Doum’ stroke on our Darbuka’s. Here are some common Doum mistakes you can watch out for. The result of these is almost always a Doum which is flat and without any bass. If you feel like your Doum falls into this category, be sure to read through this blog carefully.
Palm not landing
Without your palm landing, the fingers have no support. Fact. This will likely cause your fingers to hurt and/or bleed because of the lack of support. Furthermore, you won’t be able to produce a good, strong sound from your Doum. The palm is the key to playing the Doum correctly, as it allows you to strike with strength and power. This ensures that your palm lands firmly on the metal head of the Darbuka allowing you to produce the optimal sound.
Playing too far in the middle
A common mistake – playing too far in the middle of the skin. If you strike the skin of the Darbuka with your whole hand, including your palm (i.e. your palm lands on the skin), you might be setting yourself up to fail. While initially, this will create a slightly better sound than what you've been doing before, the reality is that the effect of the palm landing on the skin is that the Doum will not boom properly because the fleshy part of your palm has killed all of the sounds. Think about how the Doum is created; it relies on the vibration of the skin to create the sound waves that get sent through the hollow section inside the drum. If you land your palm on the skin, you will reduce how much the Darbuka skin is vibrating, and therefore reduce how strong your Doum sounds. To make sure that your Darbuka creates the proper sound you must create as many vibrations as possible, don’t hit too far into the middle of the Darbuka to do this. Ensure that your palm doesn't land flat on the skin to make certain that the optimal sounds are produced.
Not enough finger landing
I’ve seen this often happen with people who aren’t using the correct hand position when making contact with the Darbuka. If you are only landing the tips of your fingers and not two whole phalanges, you won’t be able to create a powerful sound at all. The resultant effect will "strike" too much, creating a very hard sound that sounds like you're smacking the skin, rather than a deep and bassy Doum. Make sure that you land the correct parts of your fingers onto the Darbuka to create the proper sounding Doum.
Not bouncing properly
Two issues can occur here with the bounce of the Doum:
- The first issue is that you don't bounce at all, and your hand falls flat on the Darbuka skin. If your hand falls flat on the skin, you will not allow the skin to vibrate and therefore create a strong Doum. You must bounce the hand away from the skin after making contact to "push" the Doum through the body of the drum.
- The second issue is bouncing too much and hitting the drum overly hard when you make contact, so much so that you can start to hear a high-pitched sound coming through in the overtones of the Doum. This problem is caused by too much of a "striking" effect on the metal section of the drum, which is what causes the high-pitched overtones. When you hit the drum, you should land your fingers and palm, make contact with the drum, and then bounce the fingers away, resulting in skin vibrating properly the Doum being "pushed" through the drum. By hitting the drum with too much force and "attack", you will reduce the effectiveness of your Doum.
I'll be honest; I didn't notice this as an issue until relatively late in my studies. I was with one of my very close friends, and we were about to perform at an event. It was a small event with some friends, and the room we were in was furnished with Moroccan sofas, which are sofas which sit only a few inches from the floor, so you when you sit down you end up sitting cross-legged on the floor almost. Anyways, the event started, and the Doums on our Darbukas just weren't booming, and we couldn't work out why! My friend said it was because there were Jinn (evil spirits) in the room, and it became a running joke that every time we performed at that particular venue, our Darbukas didn't work because of the Jinn. It was only when I gained some more experience that I realised that it was just because I was sitting on a sofa and the cushioning on the sofa was blocking the sound! It turns out the venue wasn't haunted after all…
Instead, the issue is to do with blocking the sound coming from the Darbuka.
When you choose where you will sit to play, practice or perform, you should consider how much space there is behind your Darbuka. You need space behind your drum to allow the sound to travel, and you need to ensure that there aren't any thick cloths or materials absorbing your Darbuka's sound. Assess your surroundings:
- Are you sitting on the floor in front of a sofa?
- Are you sitting on a chair with a thick curtain behind you?
- Are you sat on your bed reading this book on your laptop?!
All of these scenarios will kill any bass coming out of the back of your Darbuka and will make your playing sound flat. This is a common problem that beginners face when practising. The location they have chosen to practice doesn't facilitate sound to travel, and as such, their Darbuka will sound bad even if they're using the correct technique!
If in doubt, go to a location where you are confident there are optimal conditions for good sound to be created. A medium-sized room with wooden/tiled floors and mostly hard surfaces is ideal. Typically, in an ordinary house, most people find the best sound in their kitchen (if it's big enough!). Outside the house, a sports hall, performance hall or the like would be fantastic. If you're not sure how good your Darbuka is supposed to sound, find a good room and try it out! You might be surprised how different this space will sound compared to your bedroom!
This issue is less common on the Doum than on other strokes of the Darbuka, but if your tuning is terrible on your Darbuka, or your Darbuka is of very low quality, your Doum might not boom properly. Some of the first Darbukas I ever owned were from Fez, in Morocco, and the skins were so tight that they didn't boom properly. I only realised this later on in my journey when I played one that I bought from the internet and realised the apparent difference in quality.
The Darbuka Master’s Blog aims to help any Darbuka player answer every question they have about the Darbuka. This blog contents short answers that touch on concepts covered in our world-leading course, the Darbuka Mastery Program.
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