In the Cuban tradition the basic pattern to play is called the "martillo". This pattern is in 4/4 time, and has a loping feel like a horse clip-clopping along. Bongo players improvise freely most of the time, but the improvisation is always based on the structure and feel of traditional patterns such as the martillo. One of the most basic versions of this pattern counts out "ONE and two and three and FOUR and", with accents on the one and four.
Here is an MP3 recording of the basic martillo; first slowly, then a little faster, with some variations for fun.
Starting with the "and of One" (the 1/8th note setup before the first beat), the left hand strikes the center of the macho with the meaty base of the thumb as shown here:
Keep your left hand pressed against the head to mute it during the next stroke. Then on "ONE" the right hand strikes the upper edge of the macho with the tips of two or three fingers as shown here:
Give it a nice crisp accent. On the second "and", bring the left hand back and strike the upper edge of the macho (less sharply) with your fingertips:
On "two" the right hand strikes the macho with the fingertips. You can vary the tone by striking different areas of the head.
The next "and" is just like the first one, pressing the base of your thumb against the center of the drum head:
Beat "three" is just like "one" but without the accent:
The next "and" is just like the second one:
On beat "FOUR" the right hand strikes the center of the hembra solidly with the fingertips:
You want a nice strong THUD sound from the hembra, so let your fingers "stick" to the head for a second to damp any ringing harmonics. Use three fingertips together at first, until you get a feel for how to give a sharp strong strike with each finger.
Start again with the "and" of one. Remember to count out loud while you run through this pattern. And remember, this is just a starting point!
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