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Drums are one of the world's most versatile musical instruments, available in dozens of different varieties, each with its own sound. Some of the world's most distinctive drums, such as the conga and bongos, trace their roots to a combination of African and Spanish origins in the Caribbean. The conga drum has long been a staple of rumba, salsa, merengue and reggae, but its mellow, harmonic sound is gradually finding its way into other styles of music on the modern stage. Since conga drums can be tuned to different notes, a drummer with a set of congas and a deft hand can create entire melodies with percussion alone. Such "congueros" use various hand motions and striking positions on the head of each conga to produce different sounds, virtually becoming bands unto themselves. To take full advantage of the conga drum, start by mastering the five basic strokes with which it is played. Two of these involve striking with four fingers near the drum's edge: a quick tap produces a clear "open tone", while holding the fingers in place to muffle the sound creates a "muffled" or "mute tone". The "bass tone" makes use of the full palm, while the "touch tone" is produced with a light tap of the fingers or heel of the hand. The most challenging stroke is the "slap tone", which generates a loud, snappy sound. The combination of tuning and stroke technique makes the conga a highly variable drum. Play congas in a set to create full, rich, melodic rhythms—or play them as an accent to a traditional drum set, ready to come in at the right time to spice up a song. No matter how you choose to bring the conga into your personal playing style, it is a rewarding drum that adds outstanding character to any type of music.
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