African Drumming Tuning Ritual

African Drumming Tuning Ritual (Ty Vandenberg)

Title: Cajon Drum Tuning Ritual

General Information about Item:

  • Material Folklore, Folk Instrument
  • Language: English
  • Country of Origin: South Africa
  • Informant: Jase Davis
  • Date Collected: 2/26/18

Informant Data:

  • Jase Davis is an ’18 student here at Dartmouth. He is in a couple bands on campus and is a well-versed music enthusiast and performer, and owns a Cajon Drum of his own. Jase learned how to play the Cajon drum a few years ago and quickly became acquainted with the tuning method that stemmed from South Africa.

Contextual Data:

  • Cultural Context: The Cajon drum is a drum that was made popular in South Africa, although it was developed in Peru. The drum relies heavily on snare resonance and tuning based on the density of the wood. The drum is usually made of different types of plywood with a thinner type with snares embedded inside, called the “Tapa” on the front of the drum. Slaves throughout Africa during periods of slavery began to craft and play the Cajon as it is easy and cheap to make. A tuning method became universally popular overtime
  • Social Context: Jase mentioned this method of tuning when I asked him about different sounds and vibrations that are produced from the Cajon. While the Cajon drum does not have any pegs for tuning, it can be tuned through a methodical shaving of the wood in certain areas of the drum. While the same sound could come from shaving any part of the Tapa, players of the drum have superstitions as to where the drum should be shaved.


  • The shaving of the Cajon, specifically the Tapa side of the drum is not done in just any area of the wood, or in any direction. The drum must be shaved along the edges of the drum rather than the middle in an attempt to not disrupt the vibration that comes from the heart of the drum. Similar to Bata Drums, the drums are seen as beings with hearts. Shaving off the middle of the drum to achieve a different sound is the equivalent to ripping out the heart of a loved one.

Associated file (a video, audio, or image file): 



  • “A really interesting aspect of the Cajon aside from the vibration of the snares that come from is the tuning of it. It’s pretty crazy actually, like wild stuff. They believe that the drum actually has like a beating heart which is the low bass notes, and if you shave the drum to tune it in the wrong spot, like in the middle, it’s as if you are stabbing it or ripping out its heart and then you can’t use the drum anymore.”

Informant’s Comments:

  • The Cajon drum is one of the easier, yet unique African Drums he’s ever played. This is because it replicated the simple bass snare progression that is in all of music today, yet it is so intricate in its culture.

Collector’s Comments:

  • I thought this was an awesome drum. It’s very aesthetically pleasing as most African Drums are, and it has a beautiful and rich sound. Additionally, it is a very intuitive instrument to play and easy to pick up on. I can definitely understand why they believe the aspect of the heart of the drum because the bass note in the middle of the Tapa sounds just like a heartbeat.

Collector’s Name: Ty Vandenberg


  • Material Lore
  • Folk Instrument
  • Cajon Drum