What you Need to Know About Cajons
A drum set is a percussionist's throne.
You pick up the drumsticks, and it is you, not the guitarist, lead singer, or bassist, that drives the song forward. You keep the tempo and you set the tone.
As epic as drum sets are, they can be quite a hassle to transport, assemble, and squeeze into a tighter gig or open mic settings.
So what is a good alternative to a drum set?
A cajon is an effective and convenient substitute to the drum set.
Let's take a look at the some of the benefits a Cajon offers, and what to think about while shopping around.
Table Of Contents
- What is a Cajon?
- How To play a Cajon
- Look Into Playing Styles
- Use Your Ears, Not Your eyes
- Expand Your Percussion Knowledge
What is a Cajon?
First things first, let's tackle what a cajon actually is.
A cajon is a box-like instrument that the percussionist sits on and uses their hands, palms, and fingertips to create sound. The instrument is relatively 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide.
It may sound a little primal, but the tones you can achieve with a cajon are remarkable.
Cajon's are made up of hardwood and an extra layer of plywood that is nailed to the designated "front" side. This front striking surface (known as the face or tapa) where you hit your hand determines the tone that is emitted.
Basically, you can hit the Cajon just about anywhere on its face, and you'll produce a unique sound. A circular sound hole is cut out of one of the sides, which is where the sound escapes, and this side is always behind you.
The size and weight of a cajon make it a wonderful instrument to be able to travel and spontaneously perform with. The more you get a chance to mess around with it, you'll feel comfortable enough to pull it up on stage with you and learn all the sounds it can create inside and out.
Cajons originated in Peru and are prominent in Flamenco music, however, they are becoming more popular in a variety of genres such as folk, rock, jazz, pop, and more.
How to Play the Cajon | How to Sit on the Cajon
You want to make sure that you're playing the cajon in a way that is comfortable and will not cause any injury.
The most common way to play the cajon is by sitting on top of it and reach over the front to smack the face. Some percussionists choose to sit behind the cajon on a chair and straddle it with their upper body while they perform. Others will tilt it inward as they play. One of the cool aspects of the Cajon is the fact it is open to various styles.
It's important to find out which works best for you.
For health and safety, it is important to stretch before performing and intermittently throughout. Posture is also something you'll want to keep in mind. Keep your back straight rather than hunched over, but don't keep things too tense.
While keeping your back reasonably straight, you will be able to reach all the parts of the cajon face that you need to (including the lower bass tones).
For additional information:
Look Into Playing Style
While the cajon is excellent at creating surprisingly loud and crisp percussion, take some time to understand the different tones that can be utilized while playing.
Even though you don't have a bass drum, snare, or high hat, it does not mean that you are completely limited. The two primary tones you can produce are:
- Bass Tones
- High Tones
The bass tone is created by striking the face (front section) of the cajon about half a foot down. The lower section of the cajon will resonate, and a deep, solid bass tone will be emitted. Learning to hit the lower part of the cajon to reach those bass tones can initially be a little tricky, as you'll have to reach down while still keeping a consistent rhythm. But, like everything else in life, practice makes perfect.
To achieve the high tone, you can tap the upper corners of the cajon. By doing so, there is less vibration, and the pitch will be higher than hitting the middle or bottom of the cajon. The resulting sound imitates that of a snare drum.
You can play around with your palm orientation and finger use to create dynamics and different rhythms that are more staccato or muted. All of these stylistic options can be learned and discovered by familiarizing yourself with the instrument.
For some tips on techniques, click here.
Use Your Ears, Not Your Eyes
Aesthetics are a compelling quality in our world. Looks, however, can be quite deceiving if you don't take necessary precautions.
When shopping around for a cajon, you may spot one with a beautifully painted, crafted, or decorated face. Without a doubt, there are some beautiful looking cajons in the world. But does that implicitly mean that it plays better or has a better sound than a less flashy cajon?
You always want to test a cajon before purchase. Don't be swayed by brand name or physical appearance. Quality is not determined by these factors.
An important factor to consider is what wood the cajon is made of.
The type of wood used can make two identical appearing cajons sound entirely different. One may have a deep, rich tone that resonates well, while the other has a dull tone, buzzing, and poor projection.
Birch, oak, and pine are typically good sources for a well-manufactured cajon. That's not to say any other cheaper wood can't make a fine instrument; you shouldn't rule anything out. The most important thing is to try it out for yourself before making a decision. It's also not a bad idea to bring a friend to play it so you can hear what it sounds like on the receiving end.
If you are a craftsman, you could always consider building your own cajon, too.
When purchasing a cajon, don't overlook a case. Like any instruments, cajons are prone to travel wear and tear. To prolong the life of your cajon, you'll want to give it adequate protection.
Expand Your Percussion Knowledge
If you love drumming and have done research for yourself, you are aware there are many percussion instruments beyond just the drum set and cajon.
However, the skills you learn can help you adapt to each and every instrument and provide experience going forward. If you want to be one of the greatest drummers of all time, you have to put the work and time in.
One great way to for you to learn rapidly and discover your true potential is attending a music school.
At the Atlanta Institute of Music and Media, we provide our students with an excellent drumming program that will connect you with experienced professors and allow you to network with other ambitious musicians.
Click the link below for more information on how AIMM's drum program can benefit you and your skillset today.