Zero to Busking with the Cajon in 30 Days

I have recently purchased a cajon! I love the sound it makes and the ability to just play along to essentially any music.

I bought this cajon from Rodrigo Percussion – They make really nice quality cajons and have been doing it for years!

What is a Cajón?

cajón (Spanish: [kaˈxon]; “box”, “crate” or “drawer”) is a box-shaped percussion instrument originally from Peru, played by slapping the front or rear faces (generally thin plywood) with the hands, fingers, or sometimes implements such as brushes, mallets, or sticks. Cajones are primarily played in Afro-Peruvian music (specifically música criolla), but has made its way into flamenco as well.

I’ve only really discovered these instruments in the past couple of years, where I saw Rodrigo playing at the Old Bus Depot Markets here in Canberra.

Considering I’ve always enjoyed tapping away on surfaces to make beats, I thought it was fitting as an instrument for me.

I wanted to complete a 30-day challenging learning the cajon. While it isn’t really that difficult, it can be challenging to make sure the beats line up with music and match the rhythm. My primary goal for this 30 day challenge is to be able to play the cajon along to any song. My plan is to do some busking, and if I can request random songs from the audience and play along pretty well, I think that would be quite beneficial. So lets get started!

For those who want the video version to this challenge, check it out here:

Day 1 – 18 April 2020

After buying the cajon, I wanted to make a video of the first time I played it. I think it went well, found some beats and rhythms! Check out the video below!

I found that I had to think ahead slightly to match up the beat with the right sound. One thing I noticed is that I need understand where to hit the cajon to get the desired sound. After 10 minutes of this, I think I was in a good starting point.

Day 2 – 19 April 2020

To learn techniques, rhythms, beats, and other play styles, my main place of learning will be YouTube. There are hundreds of videos about the cajon on YouTube which will really help me to develop my cajon-playing skills.

Once creator I came across on Youtube, who has a crazy amount of cajon videos, lessons, and turorials, is Ross McCallum. I’ll be watching a lot of his videos throughout this! Check out his channel here.

Day 3 – 20 April 2020

Something that I’ve been a bit late to the game with, which has proven to be a really great way to practice and upload short videos is TikTok. I know what you’re thinking but hear me out. TikTok has an insane amount of organic reach with it’s videos – and with it’s simple record and post format, I’ve been able to create a lot of videos of me playing the cajon (and other stuff like juggling). It’s super useful for anyone who loves making short clips. Check out my channel here:

Day 4 – 21 April 2020

One thing I’ll be practicing throughout the 30 days is playing the cajon along with a metronome. The simple metronome videos on YouTube have worked really well and just tapping along to 120bpm or 140bpm is quite fun. It also keeps my in rhythm so I can add any fills throughout.

For example, see below for a video of me playing against the 120bpm metronome!

I’ll be making a video series of me playing at all different beats per minute! This will really help with my learning, and playing along to a beat – as essentially all music has some sort of beat. If I can play along to a metronome and differing beats per minute, It’ll be a lot easier to match my playing against music!

Day 8 – 25 April 2020

After following YouTube tutorials and hearing a few more beats played on the Cajon, I tried putting on some background music and playing along. I chose ‘Another One Bites the Dust’ by Queen, and a few other similar songs.

I found that I could play along really easily – more so because the drum beat is super simple in most Queen songs. Still it was great practice and also importantly, it’s shown me and teaching me that you don’t need speed and a lot of notes for it to sound good. I do try to throw in a couple of filler beats in sections that build up – which is getting better over time.

This is really helping towards my goal of being able to drum along to any music.

For the next few days, I really want to explore this more trying out different sounding songs, slow, fast, genre, and anything else. This will all help towards my busking goal of being able to drum along to pretty much any song the crowd throws at me.

To practice this, I’m going to be doing some live video streaming on Instagram, Facebook, or any other media and play along to some songs that the audience suggests.

Day 10 – 27 April 2020

After a few more days drumming along to some songs, I went live again on Facebook and then Instagram. I chose a few songs with a good drum beat, and asked anyone watching to request a song and I’ll play it. I didn’t get any takers for that time, but I did find some other songs to add to my busking checklist.

It was really fun, and after about 15min live on each platform, I noticed my hand getting pretty sore 😛 I think very short breaks in between songs would be ideal.

I’m super keen to see how busking goes though. My plan is to just sit down, have a speaker or my phone, start playing along, with a sign saying something like ‘Request a song and I’ll play it on the Cajon!’. Hopefully between me just playing some random beats/songs that someone will come up and ask for a song.

I’ve looked up the busking restrictions for the ACT, and I’m glad to see the busking guidelines are very relaxed other than the obvious don’t obstruct people, etc.

Day 12 – 29 April 2020

I recorded more videos towards my cajon playlist for my YouTube channel.

I played alongside a metronome at 140, 160, and 180 beats per minute. It’s really fun, and a good way to keep with timing.

I’m finding it easier to play along to music as well. The past few days I have been playing with music in the background and drumming. I’ve been doing some live videos on facebook and instagram, which also doubles up as playtime and content.

Day 20 – 7 May 2020

I have been practicing to hit the bass note with my left hand more often – when I look at videos of myself playing, I usually only use my right hand. But using the left as well can really add some new grooves and beats!

I’ve been playing every day, and most of the time to songs that I like and have noticed they have the perfect beat! So keen for busking!

Day 26 – 13 May 2020

I’ve been practicing using my left hand for the bass, and it’s helped me to find some new and unique beats – very tricky at this stage to keep them going, but with enough practice it’ll be just another one of many types of rhythms I can play. I used some of my new left hand techniques to make one of my videos going along to a 160bpm metronome:

I’ve been also playing along to lots of types of music, mostly with current or recent popular songs (Blinding Lights – The Weeknd, Circles – Post Malone, anything by Imagine Dragons, Queen, etc.). I’m finding it very easy to pick out the drum beat and play long.

The live streams on Facebook and Instagram have been helpful for practice. As well as watching some YouTube tutorials on different fills and songs.

I don’t feel like there is much more I can learn. Playing the Cajon is fairly simple – there are other things to add in like finger tapping and heel slides – but nothing too complicated. It’s more so just finding new and great sounding beats to play.

Day 30 – 17 May 2020

My main goal of this challenge was to be able to play the cajon along with music.

So on Sunday, 17 May, I went out to a local spot along lake burley griffin.. and did some busking!

It was great fun! My partner and I made an awesome busking box – asking for viewers to request a song for me to play:

I absolutely love the look of this box!

So we headed towards a nice spot along the lake, and I started to play my cajon.

I didn’t have much engagement – but there was one small family who came up and enjoyed what I played.

I didn’t end up earning any money busking – which isn’t a problem. I went out there to practice and play the cajon along with music, as well as just making some cool beats for those who walked past.

It was a great experience and something I’d love to do again. Next time, I’ll head into the city area and sit down just outside the entrance to the big shopping mall, and see what happens.

So that ends my 30 day challenge learning to play the cajon – I think it was an all-round success! I can easily play along to music, without music, use a mixture of both hands, play lots of different beats and rhythms, and just generally have fun playing.

I’ll be continuing to make some videos of me playing the cajon for my YouTube channel, Nathan Challenges Life.

That’s all for now!


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