The Open Tone on Conga or Djembe
From Hip Grooves for Hand Drums
Of the three basic strokes, the tone is in the middle register between the bass on the low end and the slap on top. Depending on the drum, the tone can sound dry and muted or round and bright.
When you make an open tone, the alignment of your hand in relation to the edge of the drumhead is critical. Your hand should make contact with the edge of the drumhead at the crease where your fingers join the palm:
The easiest way to get the feel of the open tone stroke is to pretend you're dribbling a basketball. Raise your fingers a few inches off the drum by flexing your wrist and lifting your forearm slightly. Keep your fingers relaxed and together or slightly apart, and keep your thumb extended away from your hand so you don't whack it on the edge of the drum.
Now bring your hand down and bounce your fingers off the drumhead. The part of your palm just below the crease where your fingers join the hand should make only light contact with the edge of the drum. Don't let your fingers linger on the drumhead or you'll muffle the tone:
Now that you understand the basic hand-position and motion required to make an open tone, we want to focus on some details about the stroke that you can't pick up by watching someone play. When you make an open tone, your fingers should make contact with the drumhead between the crease where the fingers join the palm and the last knuckle of each finger. The pads of your fingertips – the fingerprint zone – should touch the drumhead just barely or not at all. And the weight of your hand should be focused as much as possible on the bony joint at the first knuckle away from the palm:
Once you've played an open tone, if you don't need to make another stroke immediately with the same hand, you can let your wrist drop and leave your hand resting on the edge of the drum. You can also let your thumb drop down below the edge of the drum if you want. Just make sure your fingers are up so they don't muffle the head.