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Tuning Method

The lashings that hold the head on a djembe are known as the Mali Weave, and the process is sometimes called "pulling a diamond", since the pattern that results after several horizontal rows of lashings have been added is diamond shaped. I apologize that my skill with drawing on a computer is not as good as my skill with a drum, so the diamonds in my lower diagram are a little ragged, but you get the idea. It's really much simpler than it may look, and once you've done a few, you'll never forget. Note, however, that it does take a certain amount of strength, especially if the skin is already very tight, and wrapping the cord around a stick can help spare your hands. (I actually have a sailor's hand cleat, which is a dream for a drum builder.) Also, all natural skins will stretch continuously, though the longer they've been in place and the tighter they are, the less they need. New skins tend to stretch a lot and thus need more regular tuning if you want the best tone. Note: I advise everyone I work with to never put more than about three diamonds in at a time (i.e., go through the process no more than three times, not put three rows in!), the reason being that too much tension at once can tear a skin. Better to let it sit for a day, or play it for a little while, to let the tension work through the skin and even out. Sometimes people (myself included) use a mallet to tap down the rings and get the skin to adjust, but caution is recommended here as well.

tuning diagram

By the way, I am indebted to a company called Rhythm's Edge Percussion for the diagram, as it is inspired by a card that came with the first drum I ever bought. They are a fine mid-scale manufacturer in BC.

The picture has four parts. The left and right diagrams are mirror images of each other, because the cord may be running to the left or to the right. Some people will simply keep tuning in the same direction, running in a spiral up the drum. A neater, and presumably more authentic, method is to finish each row and step up the cord to start the next, which then runs in the reverse direction around the drum. The bottom two diagrams show the method for stepping up a row, depending again on the original direction.

Essentially, tuning is a process of pulling two adjacent cords together, which pulls the upper rings down slightly, adding tension to the skin. There are two nearly identical ways of doing it; one I've daigrammed above, and the other which is essentially it's inverse. Some things to keep in mind while tuning:
* keep the tuning cord low on the bowl, as it both adds better tension and leaves you room for more rows
* pull towards the bottom of the drum, not either straight out or towards the top, which will help your cord to stay low
* you always take the next two vertical cords in the direction you're going, and it's not a bad idea to count at the top rings, where the cord isn't twined around it's neighbor and may confuse you as to which are the next two over (i've had to fix more than a few like this, because it's not necessarily obvious until you've gone all the way around the drum)
* when you're running the tuning cord through the verticals and taking out the slack before pulling the diamond, do it towards the top of the drum where the cords are away from the side of the drum (usually), and it' a lot easier; then shift the cord down towards the bottom and make the pull.

So, a mnemonic (memory device) to use is: over 2, under 1, over1, under 2. The top diagrams show how this works. Using the next two vertical cords, you run the tuning cord (show in brown) over the two, turn around and go back under the last one, over the first one, turn around and go under them both. When you pull the free end, the two cords will be brought together and flip over each other to create the knot and you've "pulled a diamond".

Here's a little trick I learned after about my twentieth drum: take the lead cord, where it comes away from the diamond you are about to pull, and move it under the other cord (i.e., nearer to the base) before you pull. This is shown in pink. It makes the pulling process much easier, trust me.

Now, the other way, which is, as I said, the inverse of the proceeding description, is to reverse the mnemonic: you start going UNDER 2, then turn around and go over 1, under 1, and then pull the diamond (you don't go over 2 at the end, because you're already on the outside of the vertical cords). It works basically the same, but here's the difference, and why I prefer the diagrammed version: in the method diagrammed, once the diamond has been pulled, the cords have essentially locked down the free end to the side of the drum and it won't slip out, and the verticals won't be able to go back to their unpulled position. In the latter, inverse, method, the verticals will be able to snap back and undo your diamond, requiring the free end to be tied off while the diamond is held in place. The advantage to the latter method is that it is slightly easier to make the pull, but not a great deal, especially if you use the little trick of slipping the free end down, as I've shown (in pink). Some people I know prefer the latter method, and both will accomplish the same goal.

In any case, the decription is far more cumbersome than the process, and I assure you, after dozen successfully accomplished, you're a master tuner. Good luck!

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