A few years ago I was just a drummer and didn’t know how to play a Cajon. I was introduced to it like a necessity for acoustic gigs in my hometown.
I purchased $60 Cajon, played around a little bit and after a few gigs, it all came natural.
In comparison to drums, it is a way more simple, anyone can learn to play it in a few hours.
The main catch for me were the arrangements of the songs. I had a tough time adjusting it to Cajon and to the acoustic gig.
If you are a drummer, a few days will be enough to get comfortable with playing a Cajon. If not, probably a week or two.
In this article, I will guide you through all the stuff that you need to know in order to start playing a Cajon.
Let’s go step by step…
How to sit propperly
I suggest establishing the proper sitting position right away so in the future you don’t cause back problems or injuries. I run into this video where you can learn all about sitting properly on Cajon, check it out.
How to play a Cajon
Cajon has two hitting areas. The sound is completely different in each area. The middle area produces a low-end sound similar to the bass drum sound.
The upper area, closer to the edge produces a high-end sound similar to a snare drum.
Since you are limited to only two areas your creativity of playing a Cajon will play an important role.
You can experiment with hand positioning, hitting with another part of the hand or connecting your fingers but you are pretty limited, the sound doesn’t change that much.
How to place a cajon
You see how I tilted the Cajon on the photo.
You don’t have to do that but when you do sound gets larger and the tone gets better.
Also, one more advantage of tilting the Cajon is the accessibility of a middle area.
If you tilt it you shorten the distance between your hands and the middle of Cajon while you play.
How to place the hand to get a better sound
In comparison to drums where you have the sticks, here it all falls on the hands. I went over some videos and tried to figure out how to place the hands.
In the end, I ended up playing around and figuring out how to place the hands to get the best sound.
Every change influences the sound so here is what works for me.
- Relax your hands
- Straighten your hand so you are able to play a Cajon with the middle area of the hand. Just where fingers start.
Here is a quick example of how I play a Cajon. I hit the “bass” surface with the middle part of my hand trying to pull out as much sound I could get.
With the hand on the “snare” surface, I try to get the “snap” sound. In order to achieve that I sometimes hit it very high, almost with my cheekbones.
Check out the difference in sound when I change the hitting area.
I also figure out that tone changes when you connect your fingers. That can come handy because Cajon is not so versatile instrument so every little change in tone counts.
Here I demonstrate the basic rhythm on the Cajon. I added some ghost notes to fill the space.
Steve Gadd Mozambique on Cajon
I just wanted to give you an idea of how to adjust the arrangement. Here I played a famous Steve Gadd Mozambique rhythm that you probably heard in his videos.
How to mic a cajon
I tried many positions and discovered the best way how to mic a Cajon. I use two mics from my drum set.
Bass drum and snare drum mic. I use Shure beta 57 and Audix D6 but you can use what you have. Let me show you how to place them.
The Cajon has a hole on the back. I place the bass drum mic in the center but not too much inside.
When I tilt the Cajon it will go more inside. With this mic I am aiming for low end sounds to replicate the bass drum.
I position the front mic towards the right corner of the Cajon.
You can aim for the middle area, the difference is not big. I personally like this way.
If you plan to tilt the Cajon place mic higher so the final position of the mic aims the right angle.
If you miss it when you tilt the Cajon you could lose volume.
Why Cajon playing is hard
As a drummer and first time percussionist two things come hard to me.
- Sitting on a bare wood
- Playing a Cajon with fingers
My gig lasts for 3 hours. Every drummer knows that sitting on a drum throne for 3 hours is tough but sitting on a block of wood is almost unbearable.
I play drums energetic so I apply the same principle on the Cajon. That comes with consequences. I still struggle with swollen fingers after every gig.
If you are a different type of player, maybe this will come easier for you. When you play drums you get callus, but when you play a Cajon your fingers get swollen and they hurt. It is the same, after some time your hands indurate and gets used to.
Facilitate Cajon playing
The solution to a seating problem I mention comes with a Cajon seat. There are a few types. I use this one made by LP.
It is not as comfortable as a drum throne but you can get it for $20 to $40 and anything is better than sitting on a block of wood.
The only solution I was able to find for swollen fingers is submerging hands in ice.
This is a temporary solution. After some time your fingers will get used and you can forget doing this.
Few buying tips
Like every instrument Cajon price increases with the qualit of wood. The premium Cajons have different hitting surface made out off exotic wood.
The Cajon frequency range is very small and the sound it produces is short so I woudn’t say that high price of the Cajon justifies the sound. In simple words sound doesn’t change that much.
Cajon may have a knob for snare or wire adjusting. Here is what it looks on the inside.
This is one type. Others may have more snare wires or a guitar wire (Flamenco Cajon). That all influence the price. My suggestion is not to overpay this kind of instrument.
If you are in a position go with the one that has adjusting knob. You will have more sounds variation.
Don’t start without a Cajon seat, it worths every penny.
The last possibility is addon is a Cajon pedal. For me, not so affordable since my Cajon cost 60 bucks, buying a pedal 3 times more expensive was not an option.
Similar to a seat, it will make your life easier. You will be able to sit more naturally. Here is what it looks like.
If you add this kind of pedal you will play only the upper part of the Cajon and your shoulders will not suffer from the pain caused by bending over to hit a bass surface.
I hope this article was helpful and answered all of your questions on how to play a Cajon. Cheers and good luck!