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A Beginner’s Guide to the Darbuka Instrument – Origin, Construction, Sound and more!

Darbuka instrument from two different angles

Darbuka is the Christian Bale of percussion instruments- it is cool, versatile, and can take on various forms (depending on different cultural influences and geographies). This goblet-shaped drum, thus, is known by many names such as ‘Doumbek’, ‘Tabla’, ‘tarabuka’ or sometimes just the ‘goblet drum’ for people who don’t like to put effort when naming things. 

But where is the Darbuka from?  (The Origin story)

While you might know that Christian Bale is an English actor born in Wales, the origin of the Darbuka is still a subject of ongoing debate among scholars. 

Though most consider the instrument to be of Egyptian origin, some argue that the Darbuka has its roots in Turkey. Now for an instrument that has been around for over 2000 years, that is a difficult debate to settle, especially when none of us have lived long enough to give a definite answer. So, for ease of understanding, let’s just say Darbuka is an instrument from the Middle East and the North African region.

Today, however, the Darbuka has traversed continents and become part of many cultures. In Turkey, it is not uncommon to see buskers play the Darbuka on the street while on-goers and belly dancers groove to its rhythmic beats. Here is a video for reference:


Now if you are anything like me, you might be wondering,

How did Darbuka get its name?

Well, the word Darbuka is believed to have derived from a rural egyptian-arabic slang that improvised on the word ‘darb’ which means ‘to strike’ to ‘Darbuka’- which is a fitting name given that it is an instrument that is played by quite literally ‘striking’ on it.

Now let’s talk about,

The Construction of Darbuka Drums

Darbuka a.k.a. Doumbek comes in a diverse range of materials and design. However, the main structure of the instrument consists of two major parts- the Doumbek head and the body.


The instrument typically looks like a vase with a flat bottom put face down, in a way that the flat bottom doubles up as the percussion (Darbuka) head.

Get it?


Let me make it easier for you; here is a picture for the ones who struggle with their imagination:

A comparison picture of a vase turned upside down with a picture of a Darbuka, showing how similar they are

They look pretty similar, isn’t it? However, we do not recommend using your vase as a replacement for a Darbuka, there are better options available like this Wambooka diamond Darbuka by the house of Kadence. Find out why we recommend this Darbuka here.

And unlike your vase, this Darbuka will never break!


Historically, goblet drums were crafted from clay, wood, or metal (brass/copper), and topped with goat or fish skin, where each material contributed to the drum’s unique sound characteristics. 

In modern times, however, the instrument has gone through a makeover and can now be seen in stylish hardened plastic skins and metal bodies. This change in material has made the modern day Darbuka far more durable and resistant to frequent weather changes. 

For instance, the Wambooka Diamond Darbuka by Kadence is made from a custom polymer blend that makes the instrument unbreakable while also maintaining an authentic darbuka’s sound and tonal qualities.

Thanks to its material, you can carry this Darbuka anywhere without having to worry about any wear and tear. Not to mention, its beautiful looks which also allows you to customize it with led lights and play- something you could not have done with a traditional Darbuka.

Ok now enough about the Doumbek’s material, let’s get to the good part,

Darbuka’s sound

The Darbuka’s sound can be categorized into two main tones- The ‘Doum’ and the ‘Tek’, and an additional one- ‘Ka’, which sounds the same as tek but is played with a different hand.

It is believed that the reason why the instrument is referred to as ‘doumbek’ in the western countries is because the term doumbek resembles how the Darbuka sounds like- Doum + Bek (very similar to Tek).This is a classic case of anglicization.

Let’s now understand the sounds of the doumbek ,


The Doum is the deep, low-pitched sound that is generated when you hit the center of the Darbuka. This sound offers the deep bass effect and is usually played with the primary hand (usually, the right hand)


Tek is a much lighter, high-pitched sound that is generated from hitting the outside edge of the Darbuka head, exactly where the instrument’s edge and its skin meet. This ringing sound effect is usually produced with the primary hand.


Ka, as mentioned before, produces the same sound as Tek with the difference that it is played with the secondary hand (usually, the left hand).

Sizes of Darbuka Drums

The size of the Darbuka is determined by the diameter of its drum head without the edges.

Here’s why the size matters!

You don’t want it too small because then your hands won’t have enough room to groove around the drum and if it is too big it becomes difficult to carry around and manage, not to mention, playing different styles will be a task for the ones with smaller hands.

Which size is the best for you?

Generally, the sweet spot for most folks is around 8.5 inches to 9 inches or 23 to 25 cms, which happens to be the standard size for most Darbukas. So, if you’re unsure, just roll with that size

Now, if you’re into more bass vibes or you’ve got bigger hands, check out the Sombati Darbuka – it’s like the Goldilocks of medium bass Darbukas. But if you’re all about that ultimate bass sound, then the Dohola or Dahola, aka the Bass Darbuka, is where it’s at. 

Finding the right size ensures you’ll have a blast playing and hitting all the right beats tailored to your style.

Now if all that information has got you interested in the Darbuka and you want to learn this unique instrument, we have something for you:

Click here to check out this Darbuka course

This course promises to teach you how to play the Darbuka in just 20 minutes! And hey, that is not even the best part, you can now avail this course for free on the purchase of a Darbuka from Kadence- Click here to find out more.

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