The first thing I do when I pick up a new darbuka, I give it a nice healthy Doum. An open, resonant, and deep Doum sound, should tell me if this darbuka is healthy or “doesn’t feel good”. If I hear that the Doum is choked, and doesn’t resonate, than it’s not a good sounding darbuka, and I move to the next one.
The next thing I check is the Ta sound. It should be a high pitch,
sweet sounding Ta. If the Ta sounds too low and too open, then it’s not the right sound.
After I checked that the body, head, and ring of the darbuka have no cracks and are in good condition, I check the last important element.
The head and the ring of the darbuka should be on the same level. This is for the strokes, so It won’t hurt my fingers, and that I will have a clean surface to play on.
Let me elaborate on this point.
If the ring is higher than the head, and the doum and ta sounds are low, then I can tune it up by leveling the ring down. By doing that, I will get the right sound and I will level the surface. But if the doum and ta sounds are already high, and the ring is higher than the head, I will choke the sound by tuning it up more.
Now let’s check the opposite condition. If the ring is lower than the head, and the doum and ta sounds are too high and choked, then I need to loosen it up. By doing that, I will tune it lower and get a more open sound, and the ring will come up and level with the head. But if the doum and ta sounds are low, and the ring is lower than the head,
then I don’t want to tune it up more, because I will create a bigger gap between the ring and the head. Sometimes there is no more room for the ring to get lower anyway, in this case I can’t tune it up more, and the darbuka is doomed. Get it…doum(ed)!
When I’m looking for a new Darbuka, I want it to be balanced, meaning, that there is a good balance between the Doum (it should be deep and open), and the Ta (high pitch), while the ring and the head are more or less at the same level. That way, I can play up or down slightly with the tuning.
Last but not least, I want to find a drum that I will connect with, and that it will have my color, shape, and sound.