Musical Instrument Library: Bongos

The bongo is a unique drum. It is a percussion instrument that originates in the nation of Africa, although it is more commonly associated with Cuba. A typical bongo has a wooden or ceramic body and the drumhead is made of goatskin or rawhide stretched across the top to give it its unique sound. Bongos consist of two small connected drums, usually held together with a piece of wood. Bongos are compact and can be carried around easily. They can come in many different colors, sizes, styles, and the drumhead can be made of a synthetic material. Its unmistakable shape, look, and style give the bongo drum its unique sound and appealing dynamic.

Bongo History

The bongos were introduced into the Cuban culture during the slave trade and by the late 19th century, bongo drums had become a staple in Cuban culture, and have been credited with helping to develop salsa music, bolero, and other Latin American musical genres. The way bongos were created changed in the 1940s when metal tuning lungs were added to give them a deeper sound. A similar instrument to the bongo can be found in Morocco, Egypt, and other Middle Eastern nations; however, the bongos have roots in the African culture. Some people claim Moroccan bongos and African bongo styles were combined to create the modern Cuban bongo.


Bongos are usually played on one’s lap. A bongo stand can also be used in order for the instrument to be played standing up. Hitting the edge of the drum with the knuckles and letting your fingers bounce off of the drumhead will give the bongo its signature sound. You can also "slap" the bongo to give it a more pronounced sound. A basic muted technique is also often used, which involves the fingers resting on the head after you strike it so that it sounds a bit quieter. The best way to play the bongos is to keep the hands relaxed as you play, and let arm and hand motions occur naturally to the beat. There are many specific rhythms used to play the bongo, and with some practice, even a novice can learn to play them.

Various Types of Bongos

While most bongo drums are the same in principal, there are different styles and types. These differences usually consist in the way they are made and the materials used. For example, some bongo drums are made of a ceramic material, others wood, and others a wood composite. Most bongos come in a pair of two drums, but some popular Cuban styles come as three drums all connected. The drumhead itself can be made of all natural rawhide, goatskin, or other animal skin, or it can be made of a synthetic material. Bongos can be a natural wood color, painted in bright colors and patterns, or they can be custom made.

Bongo Sounds