How to Play Bongos: 11 Patterns for Beginners (With Sheet Music)

How to Play Bongos - 8 Patterns for Beginners (With Sheet Music)

Bongos are one of the best percussion instruments to play, as learning how to play them is relatively easy at first. It doesn’t take too long to get a few rhythms going, so I always suggest them to people who are looking for a percussive outlet. 

In this guide, I’m going to give you a brief overview of what bongos are and how you play them. After that, I’ll give you eight different patterns to try out that work for various different types of music. By the end, you’ll be playing some really cool bongo rhythms!

Bongo Anatomy

Before getting into the specifics of playing the bongos, it’s good to understand how they’re designed. With that knowledge in mind, it makes it a bit easier to learn what you’re doing. 

Thankfully, bongos are quite simplistic in their design. 


Bongos always come in pairs, and the hembra is the larger drum of the two. This one has a slightly larger diameter and depth, making it sound deeper when you strike it. 

It also feels a bit looser, but the difference in tension really isn’t too drastic compared to the smaller drum of the pair. 


The macho is the smaller drum, having a shallower shell and slightly smaller diameter. It produces a higher-pitched tone than the hembra, often making it the better drum to strike for accents. 

With only two drums to strike, you’d assume that you can’t play too many tones. However, you can create some fantastic dynamic patterns with different striking movements, which I’ll show you in a bit. 

Before we get there, though, I’ll briefly touch on how to position your bongos. 

How to Position Bongos


You can play bongos while sitting on a chair or the floor. I’d recommend sitting on a chair, as you get a bit more freedom with how you can position them. 

Make sure to keep the smaller bongo (the macho) on your right side and the larger bongo (the hembra) on your left. 

You should then use your knees to hold the bongos in place while facing them slightly outward so that your hands can rest in a comfortable playing position. 

One small tip that I’ve figured out over the years is to also make sure that the tension rods aren’t digging into your legs. If they press against your legs, you’re going to feel a bit of pain after a while. 


If you want to play bongos while standing, you’ll need to get a hardware stand to keep them in position. You can then aim to place them in a similar position to how they were when you were sitting. 

You could also choose to keep them at a flatter angle, which isn’t as bad as it would be when sitting down, considering that your wrists will be more level with the heads of the bongos. 

How to Strike Bongos

How to Strike Bongos

There are four distinct ways of playing the bongos that will offer you different tones from the shells. You can use each of these methods with the patterns that I’ll mention, and you’ll get varied sounds. 

To have the ability to play diverse rhythms, I recommend learning and mastering each one of these hand movements. 

Open Strokes

This is when you strike the bongo with your fingers or palms and then bounce them off to get a resonating sound. The sound is very clean, and you can get the loudest tone by striking a bongo near the edge. 

Muted Strokes

This is when you strike the bongo and then place your hand on the head straight away to deaden the sound. You stop it from resonating when you put pressure on the skin, and it creates quite a distinct and effective sound. 

It usually works best to strike the bongo with one hand and then mute it with your other one, but you could also strike the skin and then hold that same hand down to mute it. 


This is the loudest movement when playing bongos. To do it, you need to cup your fingers slightly to create a solid impact while striking the edge. While it’s similar to an open stroke, you’re going to pull your hand back slightly so that there’s less contact between your fingers and the skins. 

You’ll do this movement when you really want to play a loud accent and make it sound impactful. 

Heel-Toe Movements

This movement is a bit more complex, but it allows you to play quicker patterns with less effort from your arms. 

You’re going to rest your hand on the bongo drumhead, and then you’re going to rock back and forth between your fingers and your palm. You’ll use the side of your palm closest to the base of your thumb. 

Make sure that your hand is resting on the head while doing this so that you don’t have too much movement to slow you down. 

Bongo Patterns for Beginners

Pattern 1

Bongo Pattern 1

This first pattern is a really basic one to get you used to playing between the two bongos. You’re just going to play consistent eighth notes. You’ll strike the hembra twice and then do the same on the macho. Repeat that pattern and try get accustomed to how it feels to strike the drums.

With this being such an easy pattern, you can also use it to practice the different striking techniques that I mentioned earlier. I think it sounds great when playing through different dynamic levels with this kind of pattern. 

Pattern 2

Bongo Pattern 2

The next pattern is a more common one that you’ll hear being played in countless songs that include percussion sections. 

You’re going to start by playing a single note on the larger bongo. This will be a quarter note, so you’ll leave a bit of space before playing the smaller bongo. You’ll then play two notes on the smaller one, followed by two notes on the larger one again. 

To round things off, you’ll play one final note on the smaller one.

Pattern 3

Bongo Pattern 3

Our next groove also has a combination of quarter notes and eighth notes. You’re going to play most of the notes on the macho drum, ending off the pattern with two notes on the hembra. 

You’ll start by playing three notes in a row. After the third note, you’re going to give a little pause before playing another two eighth notes on the macho. You’ll then keep those eighth notes going, but move them to the hembra.

Pattern 4

Bongo Pattern 4

Here’s one of my favorite patterns to play on the bongos. You’re going to leave your hands resting on each drum, and then you’re going to play consistent eighth notes between them to create a musical phrase. 

As you play this, you’ll hear how the hembra drum is playing quite a distinct phrase of three notes while the macho fills in with a bit of texture. 

Pattern 5

Bongo Pattern 5

Let’s move on to playing a few sixteenth notes. You’ll play them on the hembra, using two hands to get those out smoothly and quickly. 

You’ll then play eighth notes for the rest of the pattern, switching between the hembra and macho drums. 

Pattern 6

Bongo Pattern 6

This next pattern may look a bit complex, but it’s actually quite simple. It’s a barebones version of what is known as a soca rhythm. 

You’ll keep a quarter note pulse going on the hembra while playing a syncopated pattern on the macho. 

This starts sounding really cool when you speed it up, so work on solidifying the pattern and then raise the energy a bit! 

Pattern 7

Bongo Pattern 7

Here’s another very common bongo rhythm. While it’s simple to play, it can be a bit tricky to get the timing right. 

You’re going to have a brief pause before playing two quick notes in a row. You’ll then pause again before playing the same pattern on the other bongo drum. 

I’d recommend alternating your hands while playing these notes to make the rhythm sound a lot cleaner. 

Pattern 8

Bongo Pattern 8

Our final bongo pattern incorporates a bit of syncopation, which means you have rhythmic gaps between notes. 

You’ll start by playing a group of sixteenth notes on the macho, and then follow that with two eighth notes on the hembra. 

You’ll then have a short rest before playing another three sixteenth notes leading to two eighth notes again. 

Pattern 9

Bongo Pattern 9

Now we’re going to bring dynamics into the mix. They’re great for adding a bit more feel into the patterns that you play on the bongos. 

For this one, you’re going to play an accent on the macho on the “and” counts of beat 1 and 3. You’re then going to play a bit softer on the “and” counts of beat 2 and 4. 

Pattern 10

Bongo Pattern 10

Here’s a very fun pattern to play that mainly involves the macho. You’re going to play two quick notes in a row, with the second one being played much louder on the edge. 

You’ll repeat that three more times before playing the hembra and then the macho again. The gap will be a bit longer between those last two notes. 

Pattern 11

Bongo Pattern 11

Our final pattern will have you playing various dynamics between the macho and hembra. You’ll need to alternate your hands here to play the pattern comfortably at higher speeds.

Just remember to slap the edges to produce louder sounds much easier. 


While some of those patterns were trickier than others, you should get a good grip on most of them fairly quickly. The best way to practice them is by playing them along with your favorite songs. Since bongos just produce rhythms and not specific tones, they fit nicely with anything. 

If you really want to get deep into bongo playing, I’d recommend researching where they came from and how they were used in Cuban music. You can pull countless more patterns and rhythms to practice through that process. 

Remember to use your hands to get a variety of dynamics to make things sound musical. Lastly, make sure you have fun while doing it!

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