Drum Rhythm Transcriptions

Introduction

Here you will find transcriptions of rhythms I have learned over the years. While I have tried to give credit where appropriate, please assume that any mistakes are my own. Publishing rhythm transcriptions is a tricky business:

Rhythms are played differently in different areas.
Even within neighboring African villages, rhythms of the same name may be played differently. Unless you are from the culture, no transcription can be deemed authoritative. Likewise a rhythm's (or drum's) name and spelling will vary.
Notation cannot capture the feel of rhythm.
To fully learn a rhythm, you must know its feel. Some rhythms have a staccato sound, some are rolling, others have a swing feel. Notation cannot adequately capture this.
Traditional rhythms are part of a culture.
A transcription ignores a rhythm's reason for being. It ignores the people who have created and passed down the rhythm.

Respect those who have created the music in the world. To learn traditional rhythms, take classes with the masters.
Listen before you play. Communicate. Open your heart.

Contents

West African
Donba
Fanga
Kakilambe: US Version in 4/4
Kakilambe: Traditional 12/8
Lamba
Mandjani (version 1)
Manjiani (version 2)
Tor(d)o
Hatian/Cuban
Banda
Yenvalou (two versions: Classique and Rasombler)
Zepaule
Other
Ollin Arageed
Bibliography

Tor(d)o

Learned from:
Mamady Keita (9/95)
Description:
A boy's initiation rite from the Malinke people of NE Ghana.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
Kankini High bass drum. Played with sticks.
Sangba Middle bass drum with bell. Played with sticks.
Dununba Low bass drum with bell. Played with sticks. Important: This part is twice as long as the other parts (it repeats only every two measures).
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Mf Muffled sound made by pressing stick against drum head.
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
X Bell
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
Ck Two-handed slap. Also known as a flam. Pronounced "Crack."
  1 . & . 2 . & . 3 . & . 4 . & .
Kankini . . Gn Gn . . Mf . . . Gn Gn . . Mf .
Sangba X X . X X . X . X . (X) . X . X .
  Gn Gn . . Mf . Mf . Mf . . . Gn . Gn .
Dununba X X . X X . X . X . X X . X X .
  Gn Gn . . . . . . . . Gn Gn . Gn Gn .
Dununba cont'd X X . X X . X . X . X . X . X .
  Gn Gn . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Djembe #1 Go Do . Gn Pa . Pa . Pa . . Gn Pa . Pa .
(first time) Pa . . Gn Pa . Pa . Pa . . Gn Pa . Pa .
Djembe #2 Pa . . Ta Pa . Go Do Pa . . Ta Pa . Go Do
Break Ck . Go Do . Do . Do Go . Pa Ta Pa . . .

Fanga

Learned from: Babatunde Olatunji and others
Description:
This is a song of welcome from West Africa. There are many variations of this popular rhythm. Sometimes spelled "Funga".
Transcribed By: Jim Salem
Song:
One version of the song goes as follows. Each verse lasts for two measures.
Fanga Alafia Ashé Ashé
Fanga Alafia Ashé Ashé
Ashé Ashé Ashé Ashé
Ashé Ashé Ashé Ashé
Drums:
JunJun Bass drum with bell. Played with sticks.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
Mf Muffled sound made by pressing stick against drum head.
X Bell.
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
Ck Two-handed slap. Also known as a flam. Pronounced "Crack."
Comments:
1) I have not learned a traditional Junjun part to Fanga and am unsure whether there is one. In practice, the Junjun part listed fits well.
2) The Djembe variations are less commonly known but, if played well, add considerable richness. If the cannot be played precisely it is better not to add them as otherwise they tend to muddy the rhythm.
3) The break is played on Djembe to start or stop the rhythm.
4) There are many variations on this rhythm. This particular one is popular in Boston and in the northeast.
  1 . & . 2 . & . 3 . & . 4 . & .
Djembe (main) Gn . . Go . Go Do . Gn . Gn . Go Do . .
Djembe (high) Go Do . . Go Do . . Go Do . . Go Do . .
Djembe (var #1) Gn . . Gn Gn . Go Do Gn . Gn . Gn . Go Do
Djembe (var #2) Gn . Go Do Gn . . Gn . Gn Go Do Gn . . .
Junjun . . X X . . X X . . X X . . X X
Gn . . . Mf . . . Gn . Gn . Mf . . .
Break Ck . Pa Ta . Ta . Ta Pa . Pa . Pa . . .

Kakilambe: 16 beat US version

Learned from:
Various US teachers
Description:
While widely known and played throughout the USA, this version differs from most African versions. Often played very fast.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
JunJun Bass drum with bell. Played with sticks.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
X Bell.
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
Words: (phonetic translation)
Mime bo
Mime bo mama
Mime bo
Ka-ki lombay
Hey oomm bay
Comments:
1) There are two JunJun parts.  First, the slow part is played.  As the rhythm speeds up, the fast version is played. Note that the slow version is two measures long --- play the measures in succession.
2) The slap in the main djembe part is key.  Be sure to enunciate it.
3) The two djembe variations are interlocking and should be played together.   Unless they can be played very accurately, they are best omitted as the rhythm speeds up.
 
  1 . & . 2 . & . 3 . & . 4 . & .
Djembe (main) Gn . . Do Go . Pa . Gn . Go . Go . Pa .
Djembe (var #1) Go Do Go . . . . . Go . Go . . . . .
Djembe (var #2) . . . . Go Do Go . . . . . Go . Go .
Junjun (slow)
  first measure
X . . X . . X . . . X . X . X .
Gn . . Gn . . Gn . . . . . . . . .
Junjun (slow)
  second measure
X . X X . X . . . . X . X . X .
Gn . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Junjun (fast) . . X X . . X X . . X X . . X X
Gn . . . Mf . . . Gn . Gn . Mf . . .
Break (djembe) Fl . Pa Ta Pa . Pa . Go . Go . Go . . .

Kakilambe: Traditional 6/8 version

Learned from:
Various teachers
Description:
A 12/8 version of Kakilambe (though we always call it "6/8"). Nice to transition into after playing the 4/4 version (above). Again, this is an Americanized version of a common African rhythm.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
JunJuns Two bass drums with bell. Played with sticks.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
X Bell.
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
Lo Low Junjun
Hi Hi Junjun
Comments:
1) Played with a "rolling" feel.
2) The slap in the main djembe part is key. Be sure to enunciate it.
 
  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 .
Djembe Gn . Go Do Pa . Gn Go . Do Pa .
Junjun X . X . X . X X . X X .
. . . . Hi . . . . Hi Hi .
Lo . Lo . . . Lo Lo . . . .

Lamba

Learned from:
Various teachers
Description:
This is a celebratory wedding song from West Africa.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
JunJun Bass drum with bell. Played with sticks.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
X Bell.
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
 
Comments:
1) This should be played with a triplet feel -- the upbeats (i.e., dots) are played slightly closer to the downbeats (i.e., numbered beats).  For the main djembe part this sounds like ta-Gn pa ta-go do-pa ta-Gn... 
 
  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 .
Djembe (main) Gn . Pa Ta Go Do Pa Ta
Djembe (solo) Pa . . Gn Pa . Go Do
JunJun Gn . Gn . Gn . . Gn
Bell . . X X . . X X

Mandjani (version 1)

Learned from:
Various teachers
Description:
There are many variations of this popular rhythm from West Africa.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
JunJun Bass drum with bell. Played with sticks.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
Mf Muffled sound made by pressing stick against drum head.
X Bell.
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
 
Comments:
1) The interlocking JunJun parts are key to this piece. It's better to have more JunJuns than Djembes.
2) The solo Djembe part is really just a starting point.  It is played with a "swing" feel that is difficult to describe.
  1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . .
Djembe (main)
    which hand
Pa . Go Pa . Gn Pa . Go Pa . Gn
R   L R   L R   L R   L
Djembe (solo) Go Do Pa Ta Gn Pa Ta Gn Pa Ta Gn Pa
JunJun #1 Gn . Gn . . . Gn . Gn . . .
JunJun #2 . . Mf . Gn Gn . . Mf . Gn Gn
JunJun #3 Gn . Gn . . Mf . . Gn . Gn .
Bell X . X X . X X . X . X .

Manjiani (version 2)

Learned from:
Moussa Traore
Description:
This is an old traditional version of Manjiani from Mali.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
Dundun Two bass drums, upright on floor. Played with sticks.
Kenkeni One small bass drum, upright on floor. Played with sticks: one on edge of drum and one in middle of drum.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
X Stick against edge of bass drum. Makes a loud clicking sound
 
  1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . .
  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 . 5 . 6 .
Dundun (Right)
(Left)
Gn . Gn . . X . . Gn . Gn .
Gn . . Gn . . Gn . . Gn . .
Djembe (accompaniment)
    which hand
Pa . Go Pa . Gn Pa . Go Pa . Gn
R   R L   L R   R L   L
Djembe (solo - simple)
    which hand
Pa . . Ta Pa . . . Pa Ta Go Do
R . . L R . . . R L R L
Djembe (solo - variation)
   (Note: two measures long)
Pa . . Ta Pa . . Gn Pa Ta Go Do
Pa . . Ta Pa . . Gn Pa . Go Do

Donba

Learned from:
Various teachers, particularly Dean Buchanan
Description:
A popular dance from West Africa. Often called "Mandjani" in the Boston area.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Drums:
Dundunda Low bass drum with bell.
Sangba High bass drum with bell.
Djembe Hand drum.
Notation:
Gn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Gune".
Mf Muffled sound made by pressing stick against drum head.
X Bell.
Go or Do Open tone.
Pa or Ta Slap.
 
Comments:
1) The interlocking JunJun parts are key to this piece. It's better to have more JunJuns than Djembes.
2) The solo Djembe part is really just a starting point.  It is played with a "swing" feel that is difficult to describe.
  1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . .
Dununba X . X . X . X . X X . X
Gn . . . Gn . Gn . . Gn . .
Sangba X . X X . X X . X . X .
Gn . Gn . . Mf . . Gn . Gn .
Sangba (var.) Gn . Gn Gn . . . . Gn . . .
Djembe #1 Pa . Go Pa . Gn Pa . Go Pa . Gn
Djembe #1 (var.) Pa . Go Pa . . Pa . Go Pa . .
Djembe #2 Pa . Ta . Go Do Pa . Ta . Go Do
Break Pa Ta Pa Ta Pa Ta Pa Ta Pa Ta Pa Ta
Ck . Go Do . Go Do . Go Do . .

Yenvalou

Learned from:
Bonnie Devlin
Description:
Haitian Vodun ceremonial rhythm in praise of Legba. There are several versions of Yenvalou which may be played during the course of a ceremony. I've transcribed Classique and Rasombler. They differ only in the Seconde parts.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Instruments:
Bula High drum. Played with two thin sticks using a whipping motion.
Seconde Middle "conga" drum.
Maman Low "conga" drum. One hand plays bass; the other hand plays on the side of the drum using a stick. This is basic part played by the lead drummer.
Ogan Bell
Assôn Large gourd rattle, covered in beads.
Basic Conga Non-traditional, this is a synthesis of the Seconde and Maman parts that is commonly played at drum circles.
Notation:
X Beat on Ogan or Assôn.
R Right stick stroke on the bula.
L Left stick stroke on the bula.
S Slap on seconde.
T Open tone on seconde.
Ms Muffled slap on seconde. "Dry" sound. Right hand plays the sound while left hand rests on the drum.
Mt Muffled tone on seconde.
B Bass tone on maman.
St Using stick on side of maman.
Yenvalou Classique
  1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . .
Assôn X . . . . . X . . X . .
Ogan X . X . X . X X . X . X
Bula . R L . R L . R L . R L
Maman B . . . . . B . . . . .
St . . St . . St . . St . .
Seconde T T T . S . Mt T . . S .
Basic Conga B . T . T . B . T . T .
St . . St . . St . . St . .
 
Yenvalou Rasombler
  1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . .
Assôn X . . . . . X . . X . .
Ogan X . X . X . X X . X . X
Bula . R L . R L . R L . R L
Maman B . . . . . B . . . . .
St . . St . . St . . St . .
Seconde Ms . . Ms . . Ms . T . T .
 

Zepaule

Learned from:
Bonnie Devlin
Description:
Haitian Vodun ceremonial rhythm. Often follows Yenvalou.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Instruments:
Bula High drum. Played with two thin sticks using a whipping motion.
Seconde Middle "conga" drum. The most important notes are the repeating pair of open tones.
Maman Low "conga" drum. One hand plays bass; the other hand plays on the side of the drum using a stick.
Ogan Bell
Assôn Type of shaker
Notation:
X Beat on Ogan or Assôn.
R Right stick stroke on the bula.
L Left stick stroke on the bula.
T Open tone on seconde.
Ms Muffled slap on seconde. "Dry" sound. Right hand plays the sound while left hand rests on the drum.
B Bass tone on maman or seconde using left hand.
St Using stick on side of maman using right hand.
S Slap in the middle of the maman using left hand.
  1 . . 2 . . 3 . . 4 . .
Assôn X . . X . . X . . X . .
Ogan X . X . X . X X . X . X
Bula R L R L R R L R L R L R
Maman (Basic) B . . B . . B . . B . .
St . . St . . St . . St . .
Maman (Var.) B . S S . . B . S S . .
. . . . St St . . . . St St
Seconde B Ms Ms B T T B Ms Ms B T T

Banda

Learned from:
Bonnie Devlin via Warren Farber
Description:
Haitian Vodun ceremonial rhythm.
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Instruments:
Bula High drum. Played with two thin sticks using a whipping motion.
Seconde Middle "conga" drum.
Maman Low "conga" drum. One hand plays bass; the other hand plays on the side of the drum using a stick.
Ogan Bell
Notation:
X Beat on Ogan or Bula
T Open tone on maman or seconde.
B Bass tone on maman or seconde.
St Using stick on side of maman.
Sh Using stick on head of maman.
  1 . 2 . 3 . 4 .
Ogan X . . X . . X .
Bula X . X X . X X .
Seconde #1 B . . . B . T .
Seconde #2 T . T . B . . .
Maman St . . St . . St .
B . . . T . . .
Maman (var.) . Sh . Sh . . St .
B . . . T . . .

Ollin Arageed

Learned from:
Hamza El Din (from his album Eclipse)
Description:
A Nubian wedding song.  Beautiful and trance-like. Buy the record (err... CD).
Transcribed By:
Jim Salem
Sounds:
Clap Hand Clap
Tar Round, frame-type drum
Notation:
Dn Open bass tone. Pronounced "Doon".
Da Rim tone
Mf Muffled tone
X Handclap
Comments:
1) The three hand clap parts are played in succession (not at the same time!).
2) The tar part is considerably more complex than shown below.
3) The (X) indicates a clap that is only occasionally played.
  1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Clap X X X X X X X X . X X . X . . X
. . X . . . X . X X . X . X X .
. (X) . . . . (X) . . (X) . . . . X .
Tar Da Dn Mf Da Dn Da Mf Mf Da Dn Mf Da Dn Da Mf Mf

Good Rhythm Reference Books

Here are several books that contain some good rhythm transcriptions. Click on a title to buy it at Amazon!

African Rhythm and African Sensibility
    By John Chernoff / Univ. of Chicago Press / 1981
A "must read" for everyone interested in the social and cultural context of African drumming.

 

A Life for the Djembe - Traditional Rhythms of the Malinke
    By Mamady Keita and Uschi Billmeier / Arun (www.arun-verlag.de) / 1999 
Wonderful transcriptions of West African drumming.  CD included.  This is the best Djembe and Junjun resource book I've seen.

 

Drum Gahu: An Introduction to African Rhythm
    By David Locke / White Cliffs Media / 1998
Ghanian Ewe drumming described in detail with transcriptions.

 

The Music of Santeria Traditional Rhythms of the Bata Drums
    By John Amira, Steven Cornelius / White Cliffs Media / 1999
A master's book on Cuban Bata drumming.

 

Conga Drumming A Beginners Guide to Playing With Time
    By Alan Dworsky, et al / Dancing Hands Music / 1994
Good beginners book with clear transcriptions.

 

A Rhythmic Vocabulary A Musician's Guide to Understanding and Improvising With Rhythm
    By Alan Dworsky, et al / Scb Publishing / 1997
Rhythmic patterns from simple to complex.

Feedback

I'd appreciate any feedback as well as links to other rhythms. My email address is I would welcome submissions of new transcriptions if you can put them into a similar HTML form as the rhythms included here.

Jim Salem