“Acoustic and modal analysis of an African djembe drum” by Russell and Haveman

The study “Acoustic and modal analysis of an African djembe drum” by Russell and Haveman (2000) provides a detailed examination of the djembe drum’s unique sound characteristics from an acoustic and physical perspective. The African djembe drum, known for its distinct sound and cultural significance, consists of a goat skin stretched over a hand-carved shell with a large cavity open at the bottom. This configuration gives the djembe a wide range of tones, from deep bass to sharp slaps, making it a versatile instrument in various musical contexts.

Key Findings:

  • Helmholtz Resonator: The shape of the djembe’s shell cavity acts as a Helmholtz resonator. This is significant because it provides the drum with a strong bass component centered around 75 Hz. The Helmholtz resonance is a phenomenon where the air in the cavity vibrates at a specific frequency, enhancing the bass sound that is characteristic of the djembe.
  • Modal Analysis: The study also explored the modal characteristics of the djembe, finding that the shell exhibits several bell- or wineglass modes. These are specific vibration patterns that the shell can exhibit when struck. Some of these modes have frequencies close to the membrane modes (vibrations of the goat skin), indicating a complex interaction between the shell’s structure and the membrane that contributes to the djembe’s unique sound.
  • Coupling of Shell, Cavity, and Membrane: One of the critical insights from the analysis was how the shell, cavity, and membrane couple together to produce the distinctive sound of the djembe. The interaction between these components is complex and leads to the wide variety of sounds the djembe can produce. For example, striking the center of the drumhead produces a deep, resonant bass due to the coupling of the membrane with the Helmholtz resonance of the cavity. In contrast, hitting the edge of the drumhead results in a sharp, high-pitched slap, influenced by the higher frequency modes of the membrane and shell.
  • Frequency Spectra and Mode Shapes: The study presented detailed results on the frequency spectra (the range of frequencies produced) and the mode shapes (the pattern of vibrations across the drumhead and shell) of the djembe. These results highlight the complexity of the vibrations involved in producing the djembe’s sound, influenced by the material properties of the goat skin, the shape and material of the shell, and the size and shape of the cavity.


The acoustic and modal analysis of the African djembe drum by Russell and Haveman (2000) sheds light on the physical principles underlying the instrument’s distinctive sound. Understanding these principles not only contributes to the appreciation of the djembe’s musical versatility but also informs the design and construction of the drums, allowing for the replication and refinement of their unique acoustic properties.

This study is a significant contribution to the field of musical acoustics, providing valuable insights into the interaction between material, shape, and sound in one of the most popular percussion instruments in both traditional and contemporary music settings globally.