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Perhaps you’re looking to get into the bongos or are looking for a child or a friend… Perhaps one of the first questions you might ask is how hard are the bongos to learn? After all, you don’t want to have to spend years to learn how to play them.
Are bongos difficult instruments to learn? Bongos are deep instruments that can be learned in many different levels. It’s possible to learn basic rhythms that can even be used in a recording within a month of consistent practice, while it may take years to master complicated rhythms and techniques.
How hard it is to learn the bongos is mostly dependent on your previous experience. Let’s dive into it and by the end you’ll know what’s ahead of you if you go for learning the bongos.
How Hard Is It to Learn the Bongos?
The answer is of course, it depends. It really depends on what your goals are. If you want to learn the bongo drums to play along with your friend jamming on the guitar, or if you want to learn so you can play along with your favorite songs on Spotify, then you may be closer than you think!
If you’re wanting to be a bongocero (another name for a bongo player), and learn traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms and become a master of the Martillo rhythm and its variations, then you may have a longer road ahead of you.
Let me explain a few reasons that make the bongo drums less intimidating to learn and easier to pick up than other types of instruments.
- Inexpensive: Full drumkits can cost thousands of dollars, and it’s common for high-quality violins and high-quality saxophones to be very expensive, but the most expensive bongos are less than $600. You can get really nice quality bongos for $150. (check out our bongos buying guide for an idea what you get for the money for bongo drums)
- Accessible: To get started playing the bongos, you only need something to hit the bongos with. Even if you don’t have full use of your fingers and hands there are options for striking the bongos making them one of the most approachable instruments around. (Check out our guide to playing the bongos with sticks for more detail on that)
- Works In Many Different Music Styles: Although the bongos evolved for Afro-Cuban styles of music, they can be used in any genre imaginable. Therefore, the range of rhythms that you can play with the bongos are huge, ranging from the very slow and simple, to incredibly fast and complex.
- Simple to Get Started: This can’t be said for many instruments--for a saxophone or a clarinet you have to get a reed and adjust it just so. Next,you have to figure out your embouchure (mouth shape), which can take a year of practice before you can make your instrument sound decent. For bongos from day 1 you can learn techniques and rhythms that sound good.
So… All of this to say, bongos are one of the easier instruments to pick up and play, because their concept is so simple.
Me and my wife have a son… and ever since he was very little--around 4 months old, he would try and hit the bongos--that’s how awesome the bongos are, even little children can participate and make sound.
It’ll be a while before he can jam with someone, but hey, it’s a start!
How To Play the Bongos
If you’re wondering how to get started playing the bongos, I made a comprehensive resource that will get you started. It explains not only how to strike the bongos, but also how to hold them as well as what the bongo anatomy is. Check out my guide to playing the bongos here.
What Are the Hardest Parts About Learning the Bongos?
Is this the part where I tell you the exact opposite of what I have been telling you?
Not quite. But I can see why you might feel that way. It’s true that learning the basics of the bongo drums is easy, but there are some difficult things that might trip some people up.
By far one of the most difficult parts about learning the bongos is learning and mastering bongo technique.
Technique? For bongos? Well, yes, it turns out you can make a wide range of sounds for the bongo drums and combine them in really cool and fascinating ways.
These are difficult to get a hang of and even more difficult to successfully and smoothly incorporate these techniques into different rhythms.
If you want to hear what the different bongo techniques sound like, check out my video here:
If you’re new to music, this may be one of the most difficult parts about learning the bongos or any rhythm instrument: Keeping a steady rhythm.
Learning to keep rhythm is very much tied to muscle memory--it takes a long time to get a knack for this.
To get better at keeping time, make it a habit to always practice with a metronome (I recommend SoundBrenner app), furthermore, practice each rhythm extremely slowly and increase your speed only when you feel solid in each rhythm. This will help lock in your ability to feel the rhythm and keep time.
Learning How to Read Music
This can feel very overwhelming to learn how to read music. As with any instrument, it is not strictly necessary to learn how to read music, but learning to read music will only be a help to you as you pick up new rhythms.
In fact, if you want to learn dozens of different rhythms from rhythm books, it’s super important to learn how to read music. For example, Trevor Salloum’s “The Bongo Book “ is an excellent resource for Afro-Cuban style rhythms, and his other book “School of Bongo” for rock, samba, jazz, and other music styles. Both of these books require learning how to read music to make some progress.
I also have made a huge resource with tons of different rhythms for the bongos--I’ve compiled the sheet music for them all here.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Bongos?
I actually did an experiment and tried to learn the bongos knowing next to nothing about traditional Afro-Cuban rhythms--I practiced for 30 days for an hour a day. Check out where I ended up:
If you are trying to learn the bongos with no musical experience than it will probably take you 3 months of consistent before you’re able to play some basic rhythms and keep time well enough to play with others.
If you are trying to play more difficult rhythms with traditional bongo technique, then it may take you 6 months before you can get to the point where you can play intermediate rhythms with a group.
If you’re interested in playing rock rhythms, there is much less emphasis on traditional bongo techniques, so if I had to guess I would say it will take half the time than it would take to learn Afro-Cuban rhythms.
I did a much deeper analysis in my post here to give you a better idea of how long it will take you to learn the bongos. I even split it up if you have musical experience, and if you are new to music. Check it out here!