7 Differences Between Congas and Bongo Drums

Many people get confused by the differences between congas and bongo drums and mix them up quite easily. The fact that many players also play them at the same time doesn’t help!

They do, however, have many differences, the main ones being their shape and size as well as the sound they produce. In this article, I am going to explain all the differences in detail, helping you make a choice and pick the right drums for yourself and your music style.

At a Glance

Congas and Bongo drums differ in several aspects:

  • Size – Congas are much larger with longer shells.
  • Sound – Bongos are high-pitched whereas Congas produce a deeper sound.
  • Shape – Bongos have a short, hollow body. Congas have a tall, barrel-like body.
  • Origin – Both originated in Cuba although the exact origins are unclear.
  • Playing Technique – Bongos are played with 1 to 3 fingers, while Congas are played with the edge of the palm and the thumb.
  • Price – Bongos are cheaper due to their small size as opposed to the Congas.
  • Player Names – Conga player – conguero, Bongo player – bongosero.

1. Differences in Sizes


The main difference between congas and bongo drums is obviously their size. Congas are larger, with the drum heads’ size going at 11”, 11.75”, and 12.5”. Also, their shells are much longer and have a unique barrel shape.

Bongo drums, on the other side, are quite small, with drum heads usually going at 7” and 8.5”. Their shells are also much shorter, so you can easily play them on your lap, which isn’t really possible with congas.

You should note that the sizes of these drums can vary dramatically, but the ones I presented are the industry standards for mass-produced drums of this type.

2. How They Sound

In general, the sound of congas and bongo drums is similar, and to the untrained ear, it could seem the same. However, they do have some differences. Bongos are higher-pitched, while congas have a deeper sound with more percussive elements when played with certain techniques.

3. Differences in Shape and Their Influence on The Sound

As I already mentioned, bongo drums and congas have a significant size difference. Apart from the head size, bongos have a short, hollow body, while congas come with a tall, barrel-like body. All of this adds to their sound difference, as there is simply more resonating space in congas.

4. Origin of Congas and Bongo Drums?

Conga and bongo drums originated in Cuba. The exact origins are unclear, with some disputed theories that they were inspired by African percussion instruments. Both instruments adopted their current shape in the late 19th and the beginning of the 20th century.

5. Differences in Playing Technique

Both drums are played with bare hands, but the techniques are different. You play the bongos using your fingers by striking the drum with one or three fingers—depending on the type of hit, you will get different sounds.

As for congas, they are usually played by hitting the edge of the head with the edge of your palm and thumb. Also, playing the congas will require you to hit the drum harder, as it is a bigger instrument.

Of course, there are more techniques that players use, but these are the basic ones. You will also see players use open-hand slaps on both of the drums. The main difference between the two is that conga is played with your hand mainly, and fingers are only used occasionally, but bongo is primarily played with fingers while hands are rarely involved.

6. Prices

Again, I return to the topic of size. Because bongos are much smaller, they are, naturally, the cheaper of the two. They are perfect for practice at home, and you can get them fairly easily nowadays over the internet and in good quality too.

On the other hand, congas are much larger, so you would need to spend more money to get one. They are also easy to buy, and you can choose from a wide selection.

Depending on your needs, you can choose anywhere between lower quality all the way to the top shelf professional-quality drums.

7. Names of Musicians Who Play Them

conguero is a person who plays a conga, while a bongo player is called a bongosero. Because there are significant differences between the two drums, there are also different names given to their players.

What Style of Music Are Congas and Bongos Used In?

Both of these drums have extensive use in music all over the world. They are most prominent in salsa and son Cubano music, as these are the original Cuban sounds through which the world learned of these instruments. They are nowadays widely used in any Latino music genre but can also be found in pop and jazz music. Pretty much any genre can find a use for these drums.

Are Bongos Easy To Play?

The short answer is yes, of course. You don’t need any equipment, apart from the drums, to practice and play them. They are small, portable, and not too loud, so you can practice them even in your apartment without the fear of your neighbors complaining. But as with everything, regular practice is key to success!

Can Bongos Be Played With Sticks?

Yes, they can, but you should follow a few steps to not destroy the skin on your bongos. First and foremost—avoid hitting the bearing edge of the skin. This is the easiest part to break when playing bongos, and avoiding it will definitely give your drumheads extended longevity.

You should also consider using lighter sticks when playing, but this is not crucial. However, it is reasonable that if you use lighter sticks, you will put less strain on your drums.

Are Bongos and Congas Tunable?

There is no definite answer to this question, as it depends on the maker of the drums. But the general tendency for high-end quality products is that, yes, they are tunable. They come in standard keys, and you can tune them to your preferences. Unfortunately, this cannot be said for some of the cheaper drums that come as they are, and you can’t affect their sound much through tuning.

How Are Bongos and Congas Arranged?

Both drums are usually played in pairs. Bongos always come in pairs, with one larger (hembra) and one smaller (macho) standing next to each other. They can be mounted on drum kits or even matched with conga drums in combination. Also, because of their compact size, they can sit comfortably in your lap, so you don’t have to buy stands just to use them.

Conga drums also come in pairs or trios, with different sounds and sizes, but they can be played as a single drum as well. They always have to be on the stand. If you’re using them together with bongos, the bongos are attached to the front or the back of the congas, giving the player a full range of sound.


I hope that this article has helped you learn something new and answer all of your questions on bongos and conga drums. Even though many people get confused and mix the two up, they are separate instruments and have their own characteristics. If you’re considering getting one for yourself, you should lay out all of the pros and cons of both and see what fits your needs the best.

Brian Clark

Brian Clark

I’ve been a writer with Musician Wave for six years, turning my 17-year journey as a multi-instrumentalist and music producer into insightful news, tutorials, reviews, and features.

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