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What is a Doumbek?

By Matthew F.
Updated May 23, 2024
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The doumbek is one of many types of goblet shaped drums that originated in Egypt. It is a small, portable hand drum that is popular in different music worldwide. Many Middle Eastern countries have their own version of the doumbek, with different names and small variations. It is popular as an Egyptian percussion instrument and is often ceramic.

The doumbek produces a combination of deep and high tones, with varying of from the hand, and is used for its clear, quiet sounds. It has been used for island belly dancing and for Indian drum circles. Authentic doumbeks are homemade and are often made by stretching an animal skin over a tubing shell, often a goat skin. The shell is often homemade also, and generally ceramic. The doumbek, though maintaining a general sound, can be varied slightly, with larger drums giving a wider range of sounds.

The doumbek can be played, like many hand drums, with different strikes from different parts of the hand. There are three main sounds played on a doumbek: dum, tek, and ka. Dum is played with your right hand in the middle of the drum and is a bass sound. Tek is played on the outside edge of the drum head, where it meets with the skin. This is played as a high sound. Ka is played the same as tek, and is also a bass sound, but with the left hand.

The doumbek is an ancient drum, and its origin is impossible to trace. Hand drums like the doumbek are among the first instruments played by man. The doumbek was originally played in Egypt, Armenia, and Turkey, and varieties are found across the Middle East. These varieties include the Hungarian dobouk, the Assyrian dombuk, and the Palestinian durbakeh, though as many as a dozen other countries offer their own variety.

The doumbek, like many hand drums, is played sitting down, though it is small enough to play standing up. The drum is played laid across the lap with the head of the drum facing the right side of the body. The left hand may be laid across the top of the drum for support or for accompanying notes. It can also be played between the legs with both hands. The doumbek, though, is never played with a stick or mallet.

The doumbek has been found in many African styles dating back centuries. It has also transitioned to limited use in Western music, such as a curious presence in many classical performances from the middle of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th century.

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