The Best Hand Drum: Party in Your Hands
When you bring a hand drum to a session or to a simple party, the atmosphere changes immediately. And if you’re in a band where hand drums add exotic spice, that’s just hmm! If not, though, you can sing or rap to it solo. Let alone drum circles shaped by these! Hand drums are a multicultural and unisex thing, lightweight and easy to carry. They require few to no accessories — that is, they are versatile. The problem is to choose the best hand drum for you (given how diverse they are).
While paired bongos by Eastar seem the best option due to their energy-loaded variable sound, lightweight, and ease, there are other drums you might prefer. It’s all very individual, and, unlike other drum ratings where we compare very similar items, this hand drums review lets you see how diverse they are. Maybe you will prefer a single drum or a band-oriented set that lets you change your instrument regarding the song you perform.
The Best Hand Drum to Choose: Choosing among the Good
- The Best Hand Drum to Choose: Choosing among the Good
- 1. Eastar EBO-1 6 “+7” Bongo Drum: The Top Pick
- 2. MUSICUBE Bongo Drum Set: The Runner Up
- 3. Meinl Percussion ADJ7-M Series: The Premium Pick
- 4. Remo HD-8508-00 Fiberskyn Frame Drum: Great Value
- 5. Meinl Bongos with Durable Synthetic All-weather Shells: Playing in the Rain
- 6. First Act Percussion Pack, Bongo, Maracas, Tambourine: A Diverse Pack for Beginners
- 7. Remo SA0110-00 Hazy Ambassador Snare Drum Head: A Drum Warhead
- Hand Drum Buyers’ Guide: On Types, Qualities, and Manners
- Do the Conga, Do the Bongo, Do the Djembe, and So On!
As I’ve said, here you are rather to choose your type than select the best among a row of very similar items of varying quality and usability. Each drum (or hand drum set) reviewed here is unique. Even choosing a single best hand played drum is quite a task, and there are sets as well.
I preferred ones easy to carry, combining two bongos in one item, connected so you cannot lose one of them or leave it separately. These sets (to my mind) are the perfect embodiment of the idea of a hand drum for urban music, and they certainly represent the best hand drum for beginner learning. So, let’s see and compare.
1. Eastar EBO-1 6 “+7” Bongo Drum: The Top Pick
The Eastar is one of those manufacturers that don’t invest in marketing; I couldn’t even find its website. Instead, they interact with majors like Amazon or Walmart, so their goods are there, advertised by sellers. That’s how I ran into one in Walmart and was surprised.
This is a pair of 6” and 7” congas attached to each other, lightweight (under 7 pounds), easy to carry, yet loud and sensitive. The materials are natural: solid wood and (as they say) natural animal skin. Not green, but as wild as it should be. They are rounded, well-polished, completely safe, and come with a carrying bag.
Beginners may play them as they are. As for pros, they can use the wrench that comes with the set to adjust the tone. Having a hand drum set as one piece is quite comfortable, isn’t it? The preset is quite low, which is great for standalone usage. For playing in a band, you may want to tune them higher. Yes, they do sound good enough for a band, despite their price being around $40.
It’s an especially great instrument for drum circles; loud enough, providing variable sound, and easy to play n various positions. Sitting in a circle, holding this pair on your knees, feeling the rhythm – that’s what it’s made for. This moment you feel maybe that’s what you are made for.
- Made of superior solid wood: The bongo drum has a very crisp and bright sound, good durability and also allows the drums to sing at the same time.
- Suitable for all ages: This bongo drum set has no sharp edges, and the inside of the drum is polished into a smooth arc shape, which is safe for children and will not scratch hands. it is suitable for beginners and primary bongo drum lovers.
- Easy to play;
- Provide various sound;
- Adjustable tone;
- For bands or standalone playing.
- First they smell strong;
- Real animal skin is a con for vegans.
2. MUSICUBE Bongo Drum Set: The Runner Up
That’s the case where the sets are really similar – in most aspects. It’s also made by not a well-known manufacturer but feels and sounds great. It also consists of a 6” and a 7” bongos, made of natural wood and skin, and comes with a tuning wrench. Despite all similarities, though, they make quite a different impression.
The one by MUSICUBE feels wooden, more ethnical than rock-oriented, unlike the one by Eastar The manner it requires, though, is about the same. Keep it on your knees, raise it up in the air, carry it before yourself – do it as you like. Its size is so versatile that both kids and adults will handle it well. I’d only wish this one came with a carrying bag, but it’s not that critical.
As for the sound it makes, it’s loud and clear enough to play in a band or separately. The pair can provide a groove strong enough to accompany your singing or rapping. The sound is quite special, though, and one has to get accustomed to this for the bongos to deliver all the expression they are capable of.
- ✅ FSC CERTIFICATED - All packages and wood products are FSC certificated. Under Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) system, we are taking the responsibility to help management and production of the world’s forests. FSC sets high standards that ensure forestry is practiced in an environmentally responsible, socially beneficial, and economically viable way.
- ✅ GREAT TONE - Selected authentic natural skin heads, delivers the tenability superior lively tone with and a good mix of melodic options. Natural glossy finish ensure for the well performance in your hand. Along with a tuning wrench for easily accurate tuning.
- Easy to play and carry;
- Natural look and feel;
- Comes with a tuning wrench;
- Loud enough to join a band;
- Good for kids and adults.
- Comes without a bag;
- Requires skill and accommodation to play well.
3. Meinl Percussion ADJ7-M Series: The Premium Pick
While the previous two, good as they are, are manufactured by some no-name vendors, Meinl is quite a big name in the music industry. Well-known for its professional drums, Meinl was expected to make a big thing – in all the meaning. So it did. Made of one solid piece of mahogany, this one is black with yellow and red, feeling exotic and impressive.
ADJ7-M is a 20” high djembe, a big hand drum that looks and sounds adult. With ahead 10” in diameter, made of real goatskin, finished manually, it feels like a piece of luxury. It comes especially clear if you look at the inside. If you are into African hand drums, you will appreciate both its look and its sound that fit perfectly.
As for its sound, it can be deep and low or small and high-pitched, depending on your manner. Due to the well-thought-out resonance, it’s powerful enough, though it’s not the largest djembe around (though it’s only a reason to complain if you have big, big hands). It does not need electric amplification for playing with a band; acoustic impact is enough. Natural materials provide that unmistakable warmth. If you are new to djembes, you’ll find helpful the manuals and instructions it comes with. The price is rather high but absolutely reasonable.
- CARVED FROM ONE SOLID PIECE OF MAHOGANY: The Meinl African Style Fire Rhythms djembes have outstanding acoustic properties that reach from deep, resonant bass notes to cutting, high-pitched slaps. The hand carved Mahogany shells feature a flowing motif, as well as horizontal patterns of decorative colored rope that give the impression of fire. Made using eco-friendly plantation grown mahogany wood.
- HAND SELECTED GOAT SKIN HEADS (BLACK): Hand selected goat heads are secured and tuned by the traditional Mali-Weave system made of high quality nylon rope. These heads produce classic djembe sounds with a warm, yet cutting tone. Finished in black.
- Great size;
- Impressive handmade quality;
- Exotic look and sound;
- Very variable sound;
- Decent for professional players.
- Quite expensive;
- Big-handed players need a bigger one;
- Not vegan.
4. Remo HD-8508-00 Fiberskyn Frame Drum: Great Value
It’s another one by a large drum and drum accessories manufacturer. Despite that, it’s very affordable – probably because of its simplicity. Yes, it looks like a tambourine without bells (and whistles, of course). And so it can be played like one.
Effectively, it’s a drumhead (one of those Remo is famous for) on a simple round resonating shell. The drumhead utilizes the patented Remo Fiberskyn Frame Drum technology which provides the sound it’s appreciated for. Though the drum itself is simple, its size and construction allow for playing with bare hands or with mallets, and choosing the right pair and hitting the right spots makes the sound quite diverse. Combining different manners may be the exclusive feature of this model.
It comes in various sizes, including 8”, 10”, 12”, and 14”. The sound depends on the diameter: the larger is the drum, the lower and deeper it sounds. Any option, though, is quite lightweight, measured by ounces rather than pounds. You can sit with this one on your lap. Or hold it in your hand and play and dance or sing at the same time.
If you are just beginning your experience with hand drums, this one is a perfect guide. Don’t be afraid of cheap hand drums: even Remo has affordable yet professional-sounding models. They may save on some extras, but the head will be top-notch. And that’s for under $30, and if you’re lucky enough to catch a discount, for even under $20.
- Wide body shell
- Thumb notch and four holes located around the circumference of the Acoustic on shell
- Can be played on the move;
- Available in different sizes;
- Great for hands or mallets;
- More than affordable.
- Not so diverse in terms of sound;
- Looks quite simple.
5. Meinl Bongos with Durable Synthetic All-weather Shells: Playing in the Rain
Playing drums in the rain may feel so romantic, but natural wood shells may disagree with you and go on a fatal strike. Synthetic shells stand the rain and the moisture way better, not affecting the sound – at least, not making it worse. So take a look at these paired hand drums. They are slightly larger than our leaders, with 6.5” and 7.5” heads, but it’s even better for hand drumming if your hands happen to be bigger. The size and the construction are perfect both for handheld manner or for putting these on the stand to play (maybe along with other drums).
The manner this one (or two) requires is similar to that needed for our leaders, again. The effect will be a bit different due to buffalo skinheads, thick and tight, so these will produce deep warm sounds. Again, it depends on the manner (you can apply more force on these) and on the tuning. It comes with a tuning wrench, so you can tighten or loosen the head to make it light or heavy funky, or just to achieve the right pitch for a particular record.
The overall quality is typically high for Meinl. If you like it when your hand drum beats to the rain – that’s the one to consider. Not the cheapest pair, slightly above $150 (a wooden shell version is under $100), but synthetic materials also have some pros. If it also had a carrying bag, it would have been excellent.
- Built for any setting — whether you’re expanding your percussion set up, adding bongos to your drum kit, playing casual jam sessions or stripped-down acoustic music, the Meinl Journey Series bongos fit into virtually any style in any musical setting
- Durable synthetic shells (black) — for a strong dose of ruggedness, the Meinl Journey Series bongos are made with synthetic shells that stand up to changes in weather and common traveling hazards while delivering resonance, projection, clarity and warmth
- Resistible to moisture;
- Great sound;
- Natural buffalo skin heads;
- Great for heavy hitters;
- Both handheld and stand-rested.
- Not the most affordable one;
- No bag included.
6. First Act Percussion Pack, Bongo, Maracas, Tambourine: A Diverse Pack for Beginners
While all of those reviewed before was effectively single items with accessories, this is a complete set of various hand-held drums, for under $40. Along with the hand-held bongo, it includes a big tambourine with 5 chrome-plated jingles and two maracas.
While this seems to make a good entry-level set for ethno-spiced music, its quality expresses that the set is not made for this. It will decently work in a drum circle, for meditation, or for introducing kids to the world of drums – but on the stage, they will inevitably fail. One should expect a louder sound from maracas, a more durable bongo head, and a brighter tambourine.
On the other hand, if you have kids and they want to play a band, you will thank the manufacturers for not making these louder. By the way, the kids will definitely want — on seeing these bright noisy things. The same applies if you want to tap a bongo and meditate a bit while someone else is in.
Well, given that the set is slightly above $30, hardly would you expect professional quality for this money, given that the set includes three various instruments. It’s the perfect gift for children learning how to play a hand drum. If they express more than mere interest, they can switch to something more professional, of higher quality. These will remain in a hand drum box as a sweet reminder of how it all began.
- With the First Act Percussion Pack, finding your rhythm is fun and easy
- All instruments are pre-tuned and handcrafted of solid wood with a natural finish
- A great set for introducing to drumming;
- Various instruments;
- Good for meditation or drum circles;
- More than affordable.
- Not a pro class;
- The sound is too low.
7. Remo SA0110-00 Hazy Ambassador Snare Drum Head: A Drum Warhead
Playing the drumhead without the shell? You must be joking. If not, that’s quite challenging. But if you want to experiment like this, choose the best one available – that is, one by Remo again. Though it’s made for full-size snare drums, it’s quite playable with fingers. Not with sticks: it’s meant to be the bottom, so sticks applied with the right force will just ruin it.
Of course, the sound will differ from what you get with a full snare drum. It’s not even the top head of it. But they say that anything can be a percussion instrument – why not a part of an actual drum? The sound it makes is a bit deafened compared to congas, and lack of a resonator also shows. But of you place this surface on a compatible stand and apply enough force with your fingers, the result may be astonishing; that’s how I came to this idea at all.
The head is available in various sizes, from 10” to 14”. I’d recommend starting with the smallest one – though, of course, each one will provide a different sound, the larger the deeper. It’s quite a choice if you already own a drum set (or at least a single snare drum). Then you can have an extra bottom head – just in case, and at the same time use it for hand playing. Or you can just purchase it out of pure curiosity. Being under $20, it will not hit your wallet hard.
Otherwise, you can try it just to show off your inventiveness and creativity. If you can play even a broken drum, then you can be the perfect percussionist. Mr. Miyagi would have agreed and waved his sticks with a fly freshly caught.
- 10" diameter Hazy Ambassador snare drum head
- Medium-weight heads
- Pro quality;
- Available in various sizes;
- Lightweight and compact;
- Shows off your creativity;
- Very, very cheap.
- Not meant for playing at all;
- Don’t use sticks with it!
Hand Drum Buyers’ Guide: On Types, Qualities, and Manners
If you have made up your mind to get yourself a hand drum but haven’t decided on a certain type or model, here is a guide that can help you with it.
What is a hand drum?
Captain Obvious to the rescue! Hand drums are the drums that are played with bare hands instead of sticks or mallets (hence the name). In fact, it tells little about the drum itself, as this technique can be applied to a huge variety of percussion instruments. The manner you can play with all your fingers and palms.
Very few of these drums originate in Europe or North America (except for an exotic Irish drum named Bodhran). Most of them come from Africa and the Middle East, especially from Muslim cultures, mostly because some Muslim traditions ban string and wind instruments but allow percussion. Not that these traditions completely deprived the Islamic world of strings and winds; they rather fostered the development of exquisite pitched percussion instruments.
L such drums have been brought to Latin America and getting another life there. On the other hand, in the XXI century, European masters strike back, presenting hi-tech handpans that deserve another story.
Types of hand drums
There are many types of hand drums. So we will only review the most popular ones.
- Congas. These were invented in Cuba, so they color the music with distinct Cuban spice. They have a long rounded shell and a drumhead with adjustable tightness that changes the sound. A full-sized conga is about 30 inches high, though the size (as well as the head area) may vary. This concerns all the hand drums, though.
- Bongos. These are also of Afro-Cuban origin, though they are completely different from congas. Bongos are much smaller (about 8 inches high) and are played in pairs. So, the top positions of our list are occupied by quite typical bongos. In terms of portability, these are the hand drum instrument type. Though, of course, their sound is much smaller.
- Djembe. It’s an African drum that was the most popular in Mali and now is played all over the world. It’s a large hand drum made of a solid log, with a goatskin head, the resonating force of which makes it very distinct and able to act as powerfully as an entire band. Its unique acoustic properties attract both musicians and scientists! As you see, the djembe by Meinl I listed is the right sort of djembe.
- Cajon. This is the box-shaped hand drum you sit on, which originated in Peru. Due to its size and construction, it’s rather loud and rich-sounding. Original as they are, they are not so easy to bring with you, so this is rather an instrument you choose consciously.
- Handpans. This is the most recent sort of hand drums, used to play tunes instead of just rhythms. They usually have special pitched areas for playing any certain note. They include steel drums, steel tongue drums, Hangs and their analogs, and some more. This group is developing the fastest today, so maybe soon we’ll discover more handpans that bring new styles of hand drumming to life.
Of course, this list is not exhaustive, there are many more types of drums. In fact, everything that produces sound when it is a sort of drum. So new ones will be invented, as well as some exotic ones uncovered and promoted can become common.
How to choose the best hand drums?
First of all, decide on the type you want to have. Then compare various drums and pay attention to the following:
- Loudness. It’s one thing if you need it for meditations or for narrow drum circles. It’s quite different if you plan to take to the stage with it. Hand drums for gigs should be way louder and crisper.
- Comfort. Do your hands feel comfortable on the head? That’s the primary concern after you have chosen the type. If they feel too big for this head, you should select a larger version.
- Durability. Percussion instruments are meant to be hit constantly, and if you feel the drive, you can lose control and hit it too hard, too expressively. If the instrument is not sturdy enough, it will break and disappoint both you and your audience (let alone your wallet).
- Looks. It should look inspiring to you; after all, it’s all about creativity, and its tools should foster you to project your inner visions and rhythms.
It seems a good idea to listen to these drums on YouTube. But it will not provide the whole picture because of limitations. The mic used to make a record may skip the lowest range and record too much noise, especially if it’s an internal mic of a smartphone. On the other hand, your speakers will only play within their frequency range. Taken together, they can cut an important part of the sound – usually the lowest range, under 60 Hz. So, in real life drums will sound juicier, deeper, with low frequencies impacting the entire soundscape.
How to handle hand drums?
The proper care of hand drums includes the following measures and precautions:
- Avoid overheating. No, I don’t mean too expressive manner of playing. Just don’t leave them next to heaters or open fire. Direct sunlight is also to be avoided.
- Avoid water. Plastic shells are water-resistant, but wood or metal may be damaged, as well as animal skin heads. Even when it’s just humid, you better store it in wool or other hygroscopic material.
- Store it wrapped and face up to avoid deformation.
- Keep the head a bit loosened when stored. Do not leave it tight; you better tighten it up before the session.
It’s hard to recommend not to hit the drum too hard when playing. You know, sometimes you just can’t control your expressiveness and the force you use on the drum. But while at the drum kit, you will probably just break a stick (and replace it immediately), damaging a hand drum is a more severe thing. So you better keep tuning your technique for your particular drum to keep from going beyond its durability.
Even after writing all these reviews, I feel like answering the most frequent questions about hand drums. So let’s make everything as clear as the sound of a good conga.
What are the best-sounding hand drums?
That’s what the reviews above are about. Definitely, the top picks will sound better than, say, a purely educational set by First Act. Don’t be afraid of small hand drums: they may seem small, but the sound they make (due to well-thought resonance) can fill a large room and rock a party. As for a large hand drum, it can be fantastic if mastered well. Once I saw a Moroccan guy who played a darbuka with fantastic skill. He sounded as powerful as an entire band, making me jealous, though it’s not exactly my type of music.
All of these above, except for positions 5 and maybe 7, are excellent for playing and even recording.
What are the drums called that you play with your hands?
Surprise: they are called hand drums. As for their types, read the next section: I’ll cover the most popular types of them.
What are the types of hand drums?
There are several types of hand drums, or rather categories where variants belong. I have listed them above, but there are several more I’d like to just mention. They include tabla (another type of a big hand drum), darbuka (Middle-Eastern goblet-shaped drum, looking similar to djembe but made of metal), and others. There is always a chance you will run into an exotic hand drum you’ve never seen before.
How to start playing hand drums?
No matter which one you have, place it before you, head up (except for a Cajon). If the drum has a hollow shell with a hole on the bottom, keep it open for the right resonation.
Try to hit it in different ways and produce different sounds. Use your entire palm to hit the center of the head to make it sound fat and bassy – an analog to a bass drum. To make it sound like an open snare, close your fingers together and hit the edge of the drum. The faster you remove your hand, the longer it takes for the sound to fade. Keep it on the drum for a closed tone. Use your fingers for smaller, crisper sounds that you can produce quickly.
Keep mastering all of these techniques. And feel free to combine them or try new approaches to your drum. As you see, even a separate drumhead can be used as a standalone hand drum; if you have a full-fledged one, you can experiment with it any way you like!
Do the Conga, Do the Bongo, Do the Djembe, and So On!
The world of hand drums is enormous. Though both beginners and experienced musicians will benefit from getting a bongo pair by Eastar, there are many others waiting for you to come up and hit them. They will not be offended or sue you!
If you have something to tell about your experience with hand drums, come on and share it in the comments. Got a video of you or your friends playing? That’s even better, we’ll make a great jam session! Or share it on Facebook or Twitter to start your own drum circle there.