Like the palitos, the conga is an ancient musical instrument not originating in Puerto Rico. The conga drum was adapted from Africa where it began as solid, hollowed out log with a nailed-on skin. It took various shapes and sizes to vary its sound. There are four different sizes of conga drums. The largest is called the tumba, and the smallest is called the niño. Some artists use a set of all four sizes.

Today, conga drums are sometimes made out of fiberglass as well as wood. In its present form, the conga has a tuneable skin. Regardless of its physical design, this instrument is a vital part of the percussion section so typical of Puerto Rican music.

The large makuta drum of Bantu origin has been identified as a possible ancestor of the barrel-shaped Cuban hand drum known as tumbadora, better known aboard as conga. Tumbadoras come in three sizes- the large, true conga (or bass tumbadora), the medium-sized tres por dos and the smaller quinto, the latter of which plays the most elaborate rhythmic patterns, while the basic rhythm is carried by the other two drums.

Some people do not regard the high-pitched quinto as a real tumbadora or conga drum.

Despite any remote African ancestry, it should be noted that the tumbadora, like the bongos, could not have been developed without the European manufacturing techniques and materials, including the Spanish wine barrels.

On any percussion instrument of this type, tones can be played by either the heel of the hand or by one or more fingers. In addition to such tones, the drum head can be slapped. In the standard conga pattern for one drum, consecutive "dead" tones are played with a rocking motion - heel, fingers for two tones and fingers, heel, fingers for groups of three tones.

The "rebound" is played with the same hand position as a slap but instead of slapping it merely falls on the head in order to imitate a dead tone.

With permission of Billy Hulting
D = dead tone; S = slap; O = open; R=rebound

The pattern just described would sound like this sound (sample audio clip)

A 3-2 clave pattern for two drums, would sound like this...

With permission of Billy Hulting
D = dead tone; S = slap; O = open; R=rebound

The second pattern just described would sound like this partial Real Audio clip sound (sample audio clip)