Doumbek vs Darbuka Drums – Key Differences

Author: Brett Clur | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Doumbeks and Darbukas are percussive drums that often get confused for each other. They’re extremely similar in appearance, yet there are a few notable things that differentiate them when it comes to sound and origin.

People will even confuse them for djembes at times which are African drums. So, let’s look at some key differences between the two drums.

Origins

The doumbek originated in the Middle East. It heavily ties to the Ottoman Empire and began to spread around the world, thanks to their movements. The doumbek was seen as a gentle instrument that was played with love. It supported dancing and celebration.

The darbuka is often referred to as a more modern version of the doumbek. It looks extremely similar. However, the origins are a bit different.

Still originating in the Middle East, the darbuka was a lot more popular and seen being used by many different countries. That still holds true today as the darbuka is more commonly used than the doumbek.

Construction

Both drums are goblet-shaped and played while holding them with your leg. However, there are a few notable differences in their construction. Most doumbeks are 18” tall with a 10” drum head. Some are made from wood, but most are made from metals such as aluminum or copper.

The skins on the head of a doumbek are quite difficult to get access to. This is probably why they’re the less popular of the two drums as you may get stuck if a head breaks or needs some sort of tweaking.

The darbuka is the smaller of the two drums. The big difference is that darbukas are exclusively made of metals. You won’t find one made from wood. The popularity of them also makes maintenance a lot more accessible to everyone.

You’ll be able to find a replacement drum skin pretty easily. They’re also a lot easier to tune than doumbeks are.

Sound

The biggest difference between the two drums is how they sound. The doumbek has the more subtle tone of the two. If you think back to its origins, it was played with love. So, imagine a warm tone that sits comfortably within the atmosphere.

The darbuka, on the other hand, is pretty aggressive. It produces attacking tones that cut extremely easily. It has a rim that is exposed on the top of the drum which allows for sharp hits with the hands. Very similar to rimshots on a snare drum.

The darbuka is slightly heavier than the doumbek, aiding in producing the heavy sound that it’s so well known for.

Overall, the darbuka is loud and punchy while the doumbek is subtle and warm.

Musical Context

The main use for both drums would be for the dancing circles formed in the countries that they came from. Belly dancing is the main type of dancing that they’re used for. Imagine the frantic rhythms being played while the dancer is expressing herself in the middle of the circle.

When it comes to other forms of music, their tones are what differentiate their musical contexts. Since the doumbek is the warmer drum, it’s used in gentler music that is soothing and easy to listen to.

The darbuka is used in higher tempo music that is upfront and aggressive. It’s commonly used in a lot of Arabian-style music as it suits that frantic atmosphere so well.

Many percussionists in modern music also like to use these two drums. They’ll switch between them to fit the particular song that they’re playing.

Conclusion

Both drums are not as well-known as the djembe. However, they produce some great tones that deserve some recognition. They’re very popular in Eastern music, but Western music has yet to popularize them.

There are many modern composers that make use of both the doumbek and darbuka. So,  they are slowly gaining popularity in the Western world. Just remember that if you see something that you think is a djembe, but it’s made of metal, it’s most probably a doumbek or darbuka.

If it sounds warm and subtle when you hit it, it’s a doumbek. If it sounds loud and punchy, it’s a darbuka. Both drums are often marked with unique artistic patterns on the sides.

About Brett Clur

Brett has been drumming for almost two decades. He also helps his students get better at drumming. He can be found on Instagram (@brettclurdrums), where you can regularly catch glimpses of his drumming.

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