I'm learning to play Darkbuka these days and when reading notes, I see that some letters representing notes are capital and some are not and I looked for the reason online and couldn't find it, so what is the meaning of it, please?

Here's an example: enter image description here


2 Answers 2


Notation for several African drums can be written with letter notation. This uses three letters: D, T and K. Each of these represents a different sound, produced by striking the drum in different ways. They relate to the spoken sound of these drum strikes:

  • D: a resonant "dum" sound, made by striking the drum head at it's sweet spot with the stronger hand.
  • T: a "tak" sound, made by striking the rim with the weaker hand.
  • K: a "ka" sound, made by striking the rim with the stronger hand.

Capital letters show that these notes are accented; lower case letters show unaccented notes.

Using onomatopoeic words (the word sounds like the sound) for techniques in this music, is presumably because the method of teaching, demonstrating and sharing music is primarily verbal, with written notation being based upon these vocalisations, rather than written notation being the primary means of sharing music.

And it's not just techniques that are onomatopoeic, many instrument names are too - in other words, the name simply sounds like the sound it makes! The Wikipedia page about the Dunun has some interesting info about this:

The names of the drums are onomatopoeic, meaning that they sound like the thing they describe. This is common for West African instruments. Shekere (gourd rattle), sege sege (metal djembe rattle), kese kese (woven basket rattle), and kenken (a bell played with dunun) are Malinké onomatopoeic terms for other instruments that are commonly played together with dunun and djembe.


The capital letters represent accents.

From the Wikipedia article on Dumbek rhythms

In a simple notation, these three sounds are represented by three letters: D, T, and K. When capitalized, the beat is emphasized, and when lower-case, it is played less emphatically

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.