How to Choose the Best Doumbek

If you’re looking to start playing the doumbek, you have undoubtedly asked yourself: “How do I choose the best Doumbek”

Well, I’m here to help you with that question today! To start us off, a little history:

The original “dumbek” or Doumbeks were drums made of ceramic, most often terracotta, and had an extremely thin skin of fish stretched on top. Some were also made with a wooden body and goatskin heads. Depending on the originating culture, you can find them in a lot of different shapes and styles.Contemporary doumbeks are made of modern metal alloys and usually with Mylar heads. Though if you look hard enough, you can still find them with ceramic bodies and heads made of various skins, including goat. All the different kinds and materials have different areas in which they excel.Typically doubeks made in Turkey or Egypt are made with an emphasis on finger-work. They are very finger-sensitive, and excel with advanced techniques that use subtle differences in finger velocity that brings out a wider range of tonal separation. By design, these types have a very short sustain, which causes trills and finger rolls to be more distinct and pronounced that on other drums. The sound is very bright, due to the fact that they are made of metal, which gives them a substantial ability to project.Many professional doubek players use these style of doumbeks for both stage performances and studio work. They are also easily tuned and you can replace the head if needed. Metal bodies and Mylar heads make them extremely resilient to the bumps and bangs found on the road going to your next gig or the studio.

Those are the “Pros” of the Turkish and Egyptian drums. Here are the “Cons”:

  • Depending on your needs, the short sustain could be a big con for you. This is especially noticeable during slower parts or during more atmospheric passages.
  • They have very weak bass sounds (“Dum”\”Dom”).
  • They tend to be more difficult of beginners to learn on.

Next on the list are the Remo Doumbeks. I’m not a big fan of the Remo Doumbek finishes as I think they look a little like toys, but to each his own.

They feel a lot like classic dumbeks made of wood. Their heads come pre-tuned and can be re-tuned as needed. They also come in a variety of shapes.

Remo Doumbeks are great drums for beginners to start with. They are easy to play and you don’t need a huge amount of skill to make pretty decent music. The bass tones are very full and deep. They treble is a bit muted and rounded.

Remo Doumbeks Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Decent sound
  • Durable
  • Easy for beginner.
  • Long smooth sustain
  • Good bass

Remo Doumbeks Cons:

  • Poor finger-work details
  • Muted treble tones
  • Don’t cut through louder mixes
  • Light weight can cause slippage when playing

Personally, my favorite dumbeks are made with a ceramic body and mylar head. I use one from Mideast Manufacturing, and this baby has amazing bass tones and crisp treble. While it’s not quite as sensitive to finger-work as a Turkish model, it can still hold it’s own and does very well with muting techniques. The sustain is long and deep, and does a great job with damping techniques.The bad part about ceramic drums is that they are very fragile, and I have had multiple drums broken over the years. It’s also very heavy, which adds to the chances of you dropping it and breaking it. Heavy, fragile items do not make good companions on the road.Finally, you can go cheap and get a Pakistani model. These are the kind that you find in little mall shops and the like. They are not true doumbeks and are poorly made. Plus you play them in the djembe-style, and require a little different technique to play. That being said, they can sound pretty good when played by an experienced musician. Personally, I suggest you stick with the other models I mentioned above.Hopefully this helps answer the question “”How do I choose the best Doumbek”Thanks for reading!

What is a Tanbou?

Bonga with drumsWe get asked all the time: “What is a tanbou?”

The answer from Wikipedia is:

“A tanbou (Haitian Creole pronunciation: [tãbu]) is the national musical instrument and type of barrel drum from Haiti. The drum is used in many music genres of Haiti and has been influential in the rest of the Caribbean and Latin American world.”

For a little more context though:

The tanbou, or Haitian drum, is an important part of Hatian culture and should be preserved and played. The history of the drum in complex, and can be traced back to the African Vodun Systems. From a tanbou to sound right it must be created correctly, and are traditionally baptized.

The tanbout is a fun instrument to play and creates a very organic sound that can be used in a variety of ways. Some of them include: professiuonal recording, dance, pure entertainment, and healing. Kids have a great time playing them as well.

Here is a great video showing what great music that can be created using the tanbou:


The tanbout has been in use for 100’s of years and have been found in some of the oldest temples found in Haiti. Many prefer the sound of older drums to the newer ones.

There are many different kinds of tanbou drums, and each kind can be traced back to it’s African origins.

The drums are traditionally made with tronpèt, bwachen, or gomyé hardwood. The tops and then made from stretched cow or goat skin. The exact materials created under the specific conditions needed to produce a high quality, traditional tanbou can be very difficult to procure.

Bonga making drumFor this reason, finding a genuine tanbout in the United States can be very difficult and expensive.

Hopefully this short article gives you a better idea and answers the question: “What is a tanbou?”

What is a Dumbek or Doumbek

[ Brass Dumbek ]The dumbek or doumbek is an instrument that you will typically find in North Africa, Balkan states, or Turkey. It is a goblet shaped drum that is usually used in music from the middle east, usually as the main percussion instrument.

The name comes from combining the 2 sounds that can be made from with the Dumbek: “Dum” (the lower tone) and “Bek” (the higher tone made from striking the drums edge). Don’t let that fool you though, you can get a large number of sounds from a Doumbek.

Doumbek body’s are typically made from ceramic, compressed aluminum, of nickel. The top can be made from goat or fish leather, or plastic. Many modern professional dubmek players use tunable versions made of aluminum and plastic heads. They can easily be tuned and most commonly have a 10″ diameter and are 18″ tall.

[ Silver Dumbek ]The  dumbek to the right is made of aluminum and has a clear plastic top. You simply use an allen wrench to tune the head.
[ Clay Dumbek ]This brass dumbek has detailed engraving around the bottom. It has a synthetic fiber top and is tunable in the same was as the aluminum one.

 

The third doumbek is clay with a blue glaze applied. The head is made of natural skin glued on and has rope laced into it to make sure it stays tight. In my opinion, it gives the most pleasing tone but it is much more difficult to tone.

The opera Les Troyes is the first Western classical composition that is known about that used a dumbek. It was composed by Hector Berlioz in 1856. The doumbek was used in the 4th act in the song “Dance of the Nubian Slaves”

Halim El-Dabh composed the first goblet drum and orchestra songs in 1950 for the song Fantasia-Tahmeel. It was performed in NYC accompanied by Leopold Stokowski’s string orchestra in 1958. (Source)

 

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