The most popular question we get asked here at Malik Instruments usually sounds something like this:
"Help! This is the first time I am buying a Darbuka, and I've only just started learning how to play! Please please please could you amazing Darbuka gurus at Malik Instruments help me choose my first Darbuka!"
Alright, we admit, it doesn't quite sound exactly like that, but I think you get the point. It's a tough decision; there are so many Darbukas out there, just how exactly does one go about choosing their first Darbuka?
Hang On! What's the Difference Between a Darbuka, a Doumbek, a Sombaty, a Doholla, a Tabla, a Tarabana, and a Bongo.
Well, this is a confounding one for most. First things first. Never call a Darbuka a "bongos" or a "bongo drum". It is a cardinal sin. Secondly, please refer to the below for the definitions of the above:
- Darbuka - If you're on this page, you know what a Darbuka is. They are fantastic percussion instruments that create amazing sounds.
- Doumbek - Another word for Darbuka. Some brands would say that a Doumbek & Darbuka are different, but in practice, they are used interchangeably.
- Sombaty - A larger sized Darbuka.
- Doholla - A very large Darbuka.
- Tabla - In India, this instrument is a 2 part drum that's part of the Indian musical heritage. In Egpyt, a Tabla means a Darbuka! If you search "Egyptian Tabla" on Google, you will understand!
- Tarabana - Another word for a Darbuka, typically used in Eastern Europe
- Bongo - A completely different instrument that has nothing to do with a Darbuka.
A Darbuka / Doumbek / Egyptian Tabla / Tabarana etc.
What is the ideal Darbuka size?
Now, this is definitely a question that needs some careful consideration. There are a number of sizes available, and they range from around 13.5cm (5.3") to around 28cm (11"). Note that when we look at sizes, we are referring to the diameter of the head - the plastic section at the top of the Darbuka. Here are a few general good rules of thumb:
Anything below 20cm is too small
The logic behind this is that you need space on the Darbuka head for both your hands to actually fit and move around the drum and you need the Darbuka to be big enough to sit comfortably on your lap. Also, if it's too small, it will sound terrible! Do it the right way and get yourself a bigger drum than this!
22cm - 23cm is the most popular and ideal range
22cm is by far the most popular size of Darbuka, and it's a delight to play for everyone from a 10-year-old child to a large adult. The bass and high notes are also good enough that a competent player would be comfortable performing professionally with a decent 22cm model.
The 23cm Darbukas are a little bigger and about 2kg heavier. Word to the wise, if you think you're big enough of a human being to handle one, go for it! But if you're on the smaller side of the spectrum (or perhaps still growing), stick with a 22cm!
Darbukas bigger than 25cm are called Dohollas
Notice that the subtitle didn't say anything about how good these are? Well, that's because you need to know what you're doing before venturing into the Doholla world! A Doholla is a large Darbuka, and they can be loads of fun to play. However, if you pick up a bad one, this big Darbuka will burn a big hole in your pocket!
The reality is, Dohollas can be expensive, they can be very difficult for beginners to manage, and changing parts can be a nightmare. On the flip side, a well made Doholla can be a dream to play and produce amazing sounds. However, for a beginner, our recommendation would be to keep to the 22-23cm range!
What's the best material? Wood, clay or metal?
Now, this depends on your expected use. Let's briefly explore the options available:
Wood Darbukas are a thing of the past
To be honest, these are rare to come by, and when you do find them they tend to be quite... terrible. We wouldn't recommend getting a wood Darbuka.
Clay Darbukas can be amazing but are difficult to maintain
You may say that since Darbukas were traditionally made of clay, that these are the best kind of Darbuka, right? Well... Darbukas were also traditionally played in deserts, where it was always hot. Nowadays, the Darbuka is played around the world. Herein lies the core problem of the clay Darbuka; the skin is tied to the body using rope, and the skin is usually a natural animal skin. This means that it will lose its tension should the weather get cold, which is a real problem in Europe and the US! It's also very fragile, which means if you hit it against something hard or drop it, it will likely crack and become unplayable and unrepairable. If you're a beginner, this choice of Darbuka may be unwise!
Metal Darbukas are convenient and sound great
The invention of the metal Darbuka in the 20th century was indeed a brilliant idea. Now, you no longer have to worry about your Darbuka going out of tune when you need it most, nor do you have to worry about it dropping and breaking. Parts are easy to find and can be fitted yourself, and generally, they sound quite good too. Suffice to say, we recommend metal!
What's up with these flat-headed Turkish Darbukas?
A Turkish Darbuka
The Turkish Darbuka! An interesting spin on the classic round-headed design of the Arabic Darbuka. The Turkish Darbuka is characterised by its flat head with sharp edges and exposed tuning lugs. This makes finger snaps and very advanced Turkish split-hand rolls much easier to play. Furthermore, they're easier to make and so can be cheaper too!
Unfortunately, they are not ideal for beginners and are optimised more for someone playing using the Turkish split-hand technique. This is quite an advanced style of playing and might take years to build up towards. As such, typically a beginner would struggle to improve their playing skills on one of these Darbukas.
Just tell me which Darbuka to buy!
Well, if you insist, we would recommend checking out The Fuchsia Orchid or The Sapphire Orchid models. Both models are fantastic choices for beginners, and quite frankly will leave your fellow Darbuka players gob-smacked at their stunning beauty! We whole-heartedly recommend them!
Well, that's it from us, if you are a beginner and there is a question still left unanswered, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch with us and we will do our best to answer!
The Darbuka Master’s Blog aims to help any Darbuka player answer every question they have about the Darbuka. This blog contents short answers that touch on concepts covered in our world-leading course, the Darbuka Mastery Program.
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