Roping the Drum - Instructions for how to head an
African Djembe Drum with Goat skin

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Roping the Drum - Instructions for how to head an African Djembe Drum with Goatskin



Page Three - Roping the Djembe Drum


This whole page is about roping the cradles, tying knots and threading the vertical rope. It is the part of this task that is the most scary for your first time. If you are re heading a drum that was badly roped, consider ripping it all out and starting fresh!

I measure out a length of rope. For this drum with a circumference of 42" I multiplied by a short 5 and started with 200". You can use a foot shorter length for the bottom cradle rope. This drum has 24 knots ( I like to use even numbers here) and if you use more knots you'll need more rope! I like to use extra here,as then I don't run short and I use the extra to tie the self tightening knot which takes more rope. I plan to have 16" additional extra that becomes the skeleton of a carrying handle later.


Begin with the top ring. I find the middle by folding and the just slip the two ends around the ring back. over the top and down through the center fold. If it looks weird for you, try flipping the ring over. It should look like the knot on the left here. I start in the middle and work first one way (to the right here), and then the other (to the left). It is a rope handling trick so you handle as little rope as possible as you work. So take the right hand rope. go over the ring from the outside, and as you come around go through the loop of rope that the connection to the first know left. Here I'm about to go through that loop Note I am pushing a loop of rope through, then I pull the rest through. Beginning to add the cradle to the top ring
Now I have snugged the first knot tight (left) and leaving the width of two fingers, have snugged the first half of the second tight. I am about to complete the second knot by following the black lines and going behind and under the ring, and again through the through the loop just made by that action. That is the pattern:
    Over the ring, through the loop
    Under the ring, through the loop.
Second cradle knot 
I keep them nicely snugged as I go, Two fingers apart. You will need to adjust them when you meet with each end on the far side. I've found you can always pull them, a little tighter to space them more, and it is easy to slide them closer together. These will stretch as you tune the drum, so no need to leave slack. The tension will make them slack! finished cradle pair
I did twelve on to the right and found I was just under half way (and running out of rope. I reversed and started from knot One and went left. The amazing thing is either way the mantra works:
    Over the ring, through the loop
    Under the ring, through the loop.
Here you see the end two knots, 24 in total and the ends stretched opposite directions where they meet. Now the beginning knot is actually in the middle of the far side, so know I renamed the knots now #24 on the left, #1 on the right. What I am going to do is thread the rope that leaves knot #24 headed right, and thread it all the way through, following the exact path, of knot #1. Then we'll take the end from knot # 1 and as it heads left, thread it all the way through knot # 24, following it's path. To do this we loosen both knots a little. I have tried to color code the ropes to make it easier to follow. If this gets too difficult you can also tie the ends in a square knot in that last horizontal gap, and the tie a half hitch in the ends and snug it to the square knot so it can't slip. I used to do it that way but find it inferior now.
Completing the Cradle rope on the top ring
We are looking at knot #1 which is marked in purple. We take the rope that heads to the right from Knot #24 (marked red)and follow the purple path... First up through the small horizontal center piece of the knot, in front of, over, and around the back of the ring and through the left side loop. Then you can see here I am about to parallel the center piece and go through the right side loop...and then follow the red path and come up behind the ring, over and down through the center...Phew, that is scary! Beginning the self tightening knot.
Self tightening knot close up
Here is a close up of the knot 24's end threading to the right through # 1's path. Don't tighten it yet, once you get it. Note; my hand s have glue residue from wrapping the rings with cloth, They aren't actually that bad!
Begin second half of self tightening knot
Ok breathe, but don't quit now! Take the rope leading left from Knot #1 and start by going up through the center of knot #24 as pictured.
Begin Second half
take the purple marked rope and follow to the right the path of the the red rope till you come down through the center.
Got it!

I think I got it!

tighten it
One last task, to tighten it... Take the rope entering knot #24 from the left. Tug it so you know where it enters the knot and tighten it pulling right at each part...then follow it all the way through knot #1 taking all the slack right with you. Then take the rope entering knot #1 from the left and snug and move all the slack left...all the way through knot # 24.
Voila!
Hopefully your spacing is about the same as the other knots. If not, no worries, hey you did it! The beauty of this knot is it is self tightening (the tighter the pressure the tighter it grips) AND if you need to re-do the cradle you can untie this and you have a little extra rope here to use.
Now we do the bottom ring the same way. "But it is so hard to work under the bowl, and everything is upside down", you say. do as pictured here, flip the drum upside down and now it works exactly as it did for the top ring. Same mantra:
    Over the ring, through the loop
    Under the ring, through the loop.
Begin the bottom ring cradle rope
You have determined the number of cradle ropes, 24 in this case with the top ring. You need 24 exactly in the bottom ring now. What I do is space them one finger apart here and then check after 1/4 of the number of knots I need(6 in this case). Am I just under a quarter way around the bottom ring? Space the bottom cradle one finger apart
You have determined the number of cradle ropes, 24 in this case with the top ring. You need 24 exactly in the bottom ring now. What I do is space them one finger apart here and then check after 1/4 of the number of knots I need(6 in this case). Am I just under a quarter way around the bottom ring? Space the bottom cradle one finger apart
Ok, yes I saved the hardest till last! Now you do the same self locking knot at the bottom. You have a little tighter work area but exactly the same process. locking knot at bottom
See, I knew you could do it!

Note Drum is upside down here.
Done and snug
The rope is all prepared, Note I lined up the two sets of cradle rope end tails so I can have a four rope skeleton for the handle later. I want to line up the spine with the design on the trumpet, so I have aligned the ovaled hide ring and then marked where the tail end spine of the hide will be aligned with electric tape. Once I get the skin tied on the hide ring I can just pull the tape off. The rope ring is just barely snug enough to hang there for this photo. Once the two layers of hide are between the rope ring and drum body it will be nicely snug. If I make one too tight or loose I try to adjust with rope size in the cradles... But then I have a stash of different sizes of rope.

For me, I have had the head soaking now for an hour, and I've got this ready to rock in that time...otherwise get that skin soaking! Now let move on to Mounting the Goat Skin Head

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This page was last modified on 02/17/15 11:38:47 AM