Cajon 101 - Hands On Practice

If you're curious about how to play or you have a new Malmark Cajon (Congratulations!) some basic practice can help you become familiar with the how-tos of playing. One of the great features of the Cajon is how versatile the instrument can be - professional or novice players can both sound great! We are grateful to James Mobley for the Cajon playing information presented here.

Posture on the instrument

When sitting on the Cajon focus on just two simple things:

1. Sit as far back on the Cajon as you can, with your legs spread comfortably apart. You need to be able to place the palm of your hand on the top front corners of the Cajon.
2. Sit up! You should never need to hunch over the Cajon to play properly. Sitting up straight but relaxed, will keep you from placing strain on your lower back.


The basic strokes are very similar to some of the strokes used on other Afro-Cuban and African hand percussion instruments. 

Note: There are many variations to these basic strokes and many different approaches of teaching them. There are also a multitude of advanced techniques. My goal is to simply give you a starting point. Experience, experiment and study to find the full potential of the instrument and the instrumentalist and have fun playing!

We will focus on these three strokes:

1. Bass: with a relaxed flat hand, reach down 4-6 inches down the center of the tapa. Stroke the tapa with your hand. The palm will create most of the sound but it is o.k. to allow the pads of your fingers to strike the tapa at the same time.
2. Ghost Tone (Tips): with all four fingers hit the top part of the tapa with your fingertips.
3. Slap (Snare): This tone is created by keeping the fingers relaxed! With your hand cupped slightly, stroke down so that the palm knuckles of your hand hits the top edge of the Cajon. As the palm strikes the edge, the fingers will whip to the tapa, creating a high pitched "pop" tone.

For a printable PDF, click HERE.

Cajon Exercises

Jim Mobley has been an educator and professional musician for nearly 25 years. He currently teaches instrumental music at Brownstown Middle School, in Brownstown, Michigan. He is also the Associate Director of the Saline Big Band, where he has been the drummer for 20 years. In addition, he is currently the drummer for St. Luke Lutheran Ann Arbor, and the Depot Town Big Band. He also performs with various acts in the Ann Arbor area, and is an active clinician. Mr. Mobley is a member of the Vic Firth education team.

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