Djembe notation

Djembe notation is a system used to write down and communicate the rhythms and beats played on the djembe, an African drum that has gained worldwide popularity. Djembe notation is important for preserving traditional rhythms and for teaching and learning the instrument. In this article, we’ll explore the basics of djembe notation and how it’s used in the world of drumming.

  1. Basic Symbols

Djembe notation uses a set of symbols to represent the different sounds produced by the drum. The symbols are based on the three basic sounds of the djembe – bass, tone, and slap. The bass is represented by a large circle, the tone by a smaller circle, and the slap by a triangle. These symbols are often combined to create more complex rhythms and patterns.

  1. Time Signature

Djembe notation also includes a time signature, which indicates the number of beats in each measure and the type of note that receives one beat. The most common time signature in djembe music is 4/4, which means there are four beats in each measure and a quarter note receives one beat. Other common time signatures include 6/8 and 12/8.

  1. Rhythm Notation

In djembe notation, rhythms are written using a combination of symbols and lines. The symbols represent the different sounds produced by the djembe, while the lines indicate the timing and duration of each sound. The lines are used to divide the beats into equal parts, and the symbols are placed above or below the lines to indicate which sound is played on each beat.

For example, the rhythm known as “Dundunba” is written in djembe notation as:

1 2 3 4 B S T T S T

In this notation, the “B” represents the bass, the “S” represents the slap, and the “T” represents the tone. The rhythm begins with a bass on the first beat, followed by a slap and a tone on the second beat, and so on.

  1. Ensemble Notation

Djembe notation is not limited to just the djembe – it can also be used to notate rhythms played by a group of instruments, such as a drum ensemble. In ensemble notation, each instrument is assigned a different symbol, and the rhythms are written using a combination of symbols and lines. This allows for complex rhythms and interlocking patterns to be notated and played by multiple instruments.

For example, a typical West African drum ensemble might include a lead djembe, one or more accompanying djembes, and one or more bass drums known as dunduns. The notation for a typical ensemble rhythm might look something like this:

1 2 3 4 D T B T

In this notation, the “D” represents the lead djembe, the “T” represents the accompanying djembe, and the “B” represents the dundun. The rhythm begins with the lead djembe playing a bass and a tone on the first beat, followed by the accompanying djembe playing a tone on the second beat. The dundun then enters on the third beat, playing a bass and a tone.

  1. Learning Djembe Notation

Learning djembe notation is a crucial part of learning to play the djembe, especially if you’re interested in traditional African rhythms. One way to learn djembe notation is to study written transcriptions of rhythms and try to play them on the drum. Another approach is to learn rhythms by ear and then try to notate them using the symbols and notation system.

There are also a number of resources available online that can help you learn djembe notation, including instructional videos


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