Cajon Step-by-Step: Beginner > Intermediate > Advanced
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Cajon Step-by-Step: Beginner > Intermediate > Advanced

Learn cajon with one of the world's most trusted cajon educators
4.6 (14 ratings)
Instead of using a simple lifetime average, Udemy calculates a course's star rating by considering a number of different factors such as the number of ratings, the age of ratings, and the likelihood of fraudulent ratings.
127 students enrolled
Created by Paul Jennings
Last updated 2/2017
Current price: $10 Original price: $50 Discount: 80% off
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  • 3 hours on-demand video
  • 3 Supplemental Resources
  • Full lifetime access
  • Access on mobile and TV
  • Certificate of Completion
What Will I Learn?
  • Master the basics of the cajon
  • Know the tones
  • Play exercises to build technique
  • Know many popular rhythms including: rock, rumba, funk, flamenco, blues, reggae, hip hop, and more
  • Know hand drumming techniques including: the flam, ghost notes, finger triplets, warmup exercises, and bass roll
  • Using brushes on cajon
  • Using shakers with cajon
  • Using Cymbals with cajon
  • Know beginner, intermediate, and advanced cajon techniques
View Curriculum
  • You should have a cajon drum

In this step-by-step cajon course you will learn basics, fundamental techniques, a wide range of rhythms, and be ready to take your playing to the top level.

Your instructor, Paul Jennings, one of the most trusted and popular teachers of the instrument and is the author of the best-selling Hal Leonard Cajon Method.

Cajon Step-by-Step consists of 45 lesson videos that will take you through the basics of the instrument, then on to the intermediate level, and finally the advanced level. 

In the beginner section we will focus on the basics including: how to sit correctly, the tones, warm ups, basic exercises, first rhythms, rock, and rumba.

The intermediate section will cover many intermediate level techniques and rhythms including: how to change the pitch of your cajon with the foot slide, playing rhythms with sixteenth beat ghost notes, playing fills, using the sides of your cajon, and new rhythms including funk, blues, reggae, hip hop, rumba 2 & 3, and train beat.

Finally, in the advanced section you will learn many of the key advanced techniques including: bass roll technique, using cymbals and shakers with cajon, using brushes on cajon, thumb triplets, advanced fills, la mano secreta, and rhythms including guaguanco, Purdie shuffle, funk 2, and Flamenco bulerias.

Cajon Step-by-Step will give you the tools to become a master cajon player.

Who is the target audience?
  • This course is for people learning cajon and will teach levels: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced
Compare to Other Drums Courses
Curriculum For This Course
45 Lectures
15 Lectures 01:05:13

The beginner section is the perfect starting point if you are new to the cajon. You will learn the fundamentals of the cajon including how to have correct posture, the tones, basic exercises, basic techniques, and rhythms including rock, and rumba. 


  • The Tones: Bass, Slap, High Slap, Mid Tone
  • Exercises to help you play your tones stronger
  • Playing Doubles
  • Using a Flam
  • Ghost Notes
  • Basic Rhythms
  • Rock
  • Rumba

This course will give you the knowledge and the tools you will need to become get your playing off the ground and master the basics.

When learning a new skill, it goes without saying that practice really does make perfect. With all of the PlayCajon Courses is very important that you practice what you learn so that you can turn the rhythms, techniques, and exercises into muscle-memory and they become second nature.

I highly recommend sitting down with a pen and paper and outlining a practice routine for yourself. This practice routine will need to change as you learn new techniques, rhythms, and exercises.

Your practice routine can be however long you want it to be, but remember, the more you put into it, the better you will become in a shorter space of time.


It is important to know the difference between practicing your instrument and playing your instrument. I believe that both aspects are important to put time into.

Practice is when you are trying to learn new techniques or a new rhythm and you are repeating it over and over again until your mind and body can do it without thinking about it too much. With many drumming techniques we want to practice a certain technique or exercise so that we can play it a little faster and stronger each time.

Playing is when you are just playing what you already know. For example, jamming along with your favorite songs or playing with other musicians where you are playing rhythms and techniques you have already learned and are comfortable with. Playing your instrument is also very important but if it is all you do, you will not progress very far beyond what you already know.

Key points when creating a practice routine

  • Warm ups and stretching
  • Spend an adequate amount of time on each thing
  • Use a metronome
  • Know the difference between practice and playing
  • Change your routine as you learn new things
  • Pace yourself and take breaks. The cajon is a very physically demanding instrument


I truly hope that you enjoy learning from the PlayCajon Beginner Course. I have constructed this course in manageable segments so that you can take it at your own pace. Take as much time as you need with each lesson and make sure you go back to previous lessons if you need to.

Of course the main thing when learning a new instrument is to have fun with it and know that with each day you are getting better and further towards your goal.

Preview 01:07


Due to that nature of how the cajon is played, having good posture when playing the cajon is essential.

First of all, when you take your seat on the cajon you need to sit back far enough so that your hands can have good access to the playing surface.

While playing the cajon do not slouch or hunch over. Your back should be straight but also relaxed.

You should be able to play everything you need to without causing any pain or injury to your back.

Hand Stretches

It is always a good idea to take a few minutes and do some hand stretches before starting to play. There are many different hand stretches you can find on the internet.

In this video you will learn two easy hand stretches that work great for hand percussion.

Posture & Hand Stretches

Bass Tone

The bass tone is the very first tone you should learn on the cajon.

To achieve a nice bass tone you do not need to go too far down the front of the cajon. In fact, a better bass tone can be found towards the top of the cajon, within the top 8 inches or so. 

To get the bass tone you should have your hand slightly cupped but relaxed. When you strike the cajon, the bottom of your palm should be just below the top of your cajon.

When you strike the cajon your hand should bounce off so that the bass tone can resonate.

Bass Tone Exercise

Play singles on the bass tone. One hit on the right hand and one hit on the left hand. When you are beginning the cajon you should build this into your practice routine. Spend at least five minutes on your tones each day.

Slap Tone

Along with the bass tone, the slap tone is the other main tone you will use on the cajon.

To achieve the slap tone your hand will strike the cajon at the top. Your hand will hit at the top rim approximately at the palm side of your knuckles.

Your fingers should bounce off of the cajon with your palm staying on the top rim of your cajon creating the slap.

Slap Tone Exercise

Play singles on the slap tone. One hit on the right hand and one hit on the left hand. Like with the bass tone, when you are beginning the cajon you should build this into your practice routine. Spend at least five minutes on your tones each day.

Practice Tips

  • Keep going at a steady speed
  • Focus on your tone
  • Take a break if your hands get sore
  • Put your mind into your hands and the sound they are creating with your cajon.

Bass & Slap Tones

In this lesson you will learn two basic exercises that will help you refine your bass and slap tone. Use these exercises in your practice routine and you will become more comfortable playing your bass and slap tones.

Exercise 1

In this exercise we will just play one bass tone on the right hand then one slap tone on the right hand. Then switch it over to the left hand.

Exercise 2

In exercise 2 we will play two hits on the bass tone (right hand then left). Then play the same on the slap tone.

Bass & Slap Tone Exercises

High Slap Tone

The high slap tone is a great variation of the regular slap tone. You can use it in rhythms or fills, or in any way that sounds good and you see fit to be honest.

To achieve the high slap tone place your hands where the regular slap tone would land and slide them up so that the ends of your fingers are on the top edge ready to make the hit.

Unlike the regular slap tone, your fingers can stick to the cajon after the hit or bounce off.

Most or the power for the high slap tone will come from the wrist.

High Slap Tone Exercise

Play singles on the high slap tone. One hit on the right hand and one hit on the left hand. When you are beginning the cajon you should build this into your practice routine. Spend at least five minutes on your tones each day.

High Slap Tone

Congratulations! Now you will learn your first rhythm of the beginner section It is a simple rhythm in the time signature of 4/4. What this means is in each measure there are 4 beats. For more information on time signatures check out this great article.

The rhythm starts on beat 1 with a right had bass tone hit, followed by a left hand slap tone, then a right hand slap tone.


All of the rhythms I teach on PlayCajon are with a right had dominance. This is simply because I am right handed. If you are left handed or it feels more natural to you to play with a left hand lead feel free to switch to beginning the rhythm with your left hand and playing all subsequent hits with the opposite hand to which I am teaching.

Basic 4/4 Rhythm

The mid tone is a very useful tone to have at your disposal. This tone is used for rhythms but I use it a lot for fills and also for the all important cajon pitch change foot slide that you can learn in the PlayCajon Intermediate Course.

To achieve the mid tone first cup your hands so that your fingers are pressed against each other. Not too tight though. You will hit the cajon with the tips of your fingers around 4 to 6 inches from the top of the cajon. Make sure you are getting most of the power from your wrists

Each cajon is slightly different so move around until you find the sweet spot.

Preview 04:08

Once we have learned how to play each tone it is very important that we practice the tones so that you can play them easily and they feel second nature to you.

These two tone exercises will help you become comfortable playing the tones of the cajon and also help you get used to moving between the tones.

As you practice and play more, you will notice that as the days and weeks go on certain parts of your hands will become hard and calloused. This is normal for percussionists.

It is also highly probable that your hands will hurt at points and you may even notice slight bruising and even blood! Your hands will adapt to the new level of abuse you are showing them but you must make sure you are taking breaks when you get sore hands.

I will say, if you are bleeding you should stop and take a few days off to let your hands heel. Once they have heeled, your hands will come back stronger and ready to play again.

Tone Exercises

Many are played hand-to-hand, meaning no two hits or more are played on one hand before moving to the other. It is important to get used to playing double hits on any percussion instrument.

This exercise will help you get more comfortable playing doubles on the cajon.

To play the exercise simply play two bass tone hits on the right hand followed by two bass tone hits on the left hand, then move the same pattern up to the slap tone. Repeat this exercise for at least a few minuets as part of your practice routine.

Doubles Exercise

This exercise is a great one for warming up. It is also great to get your brain working better with your hands. It is used by many drum set players or marching snare drummers but can also work well on the cajon and most other hand drums too.

To play the 1 to 8 exercise we play 8 hits on the right hand, then 8 on the left. We then do the same with 7 hits, then 6, then 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. Then when we get to just one hit on each hand we work our way back up to 8 again.

1 to 8 Warmup Exercise

Now you will learn how to play a basic rock rhythm on the cajon. You can use this rhythm to play along with many songs. I would definitely recommend choosing a couple of your favorite songs to play along with as well as practicing this rhythm on its own with a metronome.

The rhythm starts with 1 bass tone hit on the right hand, then 1 slap tone hit on the left hand, followed by 2 bass tone hits on the right hand, and 1 slap tone hit on the left hand. Repeat this pattern and you are playing a rock beat.

Rock 1

Now you are going to learn a technique that is widely used in both hand drumming and drum set playing. It is called the flam and it is can be used in all kinds of ways from placing in rhythms, to playing in fills.

The flam is a simple hit that lands on one beat but before the main hit there is a quick lead-in hit that is played softer.

Practice your flam technique as it is something that you will find yourself using time and time again.

The Flam

Here is another rock rhythm for you to learn. There are many rock variations. After learning this rock rhythm, try playing rock 1 and rock 2 together. Start with rock 1, then go into playing rock 2 after a few bars, then back to rock 1 again. Experiment with your own combinations.

Rock 2

Ghost notes are notes or hits that are played at a low volume and that are played under the main groove. Sometimes the ghost notes of a particular groove can be barely audible but they serve as an important part of the feel of the groove.

Many cajon rhythms have an underlying sixteenth note ghosting feel. As you progress further in the intermediate, and advanced courses you will play more grooves with this feel and it will start to make more sense

Ghost Notes

Rumba is a fantastic rhythm and is very common for cajon and many types of Latin music. There are many types of rumba that are played in many parts of the world. This rumba rhythm is a popular and basic one to get you introduced to this fantastic groove.

Rumba 1 has just 3 hits but it important to pay attention to where they fall in the bar and in relation to the click. 1 right hand bass tone hit, then 1 left hand slap tone hit, then 1 right hand slap tone hit, then repeat.

Once you have learned this Rumba 1 rhythm you will have completed the beginner section. Congratulations! Be proud of yourself. You are now well on your way as a cajon player.

Now it’s time to move on to the intermediate section. Good luck!

Rumba 1
15 Lectures 01:02:14

Welcome to the Intermediate section. By now you should have a good a good grasp of the basics and want to take your playing to the next level.

What you will learn

  • How to change the pitch of your cajon
  • How to play fills
  • Playing rhythms with sixteenth beat ghost notes
  • New rudiments
  • New rhythms including: Funk, Rumba, Train Beat, Hip Hop, and Blues

Rumba 2 is a nice variation of Rumba 1 which was in the beginner course. You do not have to have learned Rumba 1 to learn this one.

Rumba is a great thing to play on the cajon. There are a great many variations of rumba and it is a rhythm and dance that is played in many cultures of the world.

You will want to be playing the ghost notes underneath the main groove to give it the feel it requires.

Rumba 2

Funk is a genre that is similar to rock but has a different (funky) feel. Funk music has a great emphasis on the groove and also, typically the space that is created within the groove. In a typical funk song the drums, bass, and guitar are locked in together usually with the bass drum or, on the cajon, the bass tone.

These points are not absolute rules though and you should not think that you need to stick to them all of the time. If it feels funky, it probably is!

Musicians: Ryan Butler (Bass), Alex Kosak (Guitar)

Funk 1

Changing the pitch of the cajon with the foot slide technique is something that most cajon players use. It is a fantastic way to get a wide range of tones from your cajon and also works great for use in both fills and rhythms.

The foot slide looks simple but there is a little more technique involved than you might first think.

Place your foot (left or right) on the floor at the bottom of your cajon’s playing surface.

Press your heal lightly against the playing surface

Slide your foot up and down the cajon while playing. (The Mid Tone works great for pulling out the tones).

Make sure you are not pressing too hard. Doing so can make it harder and cause pain in your hips.

Changing Pitch (Foot Slide Technique)

Now, here are two exercises that you can use to work on and refine your pitch change technique.

  • Play singles on the mid tone as you bring your foot up and down the cajon to change the pitch.
  • Play doubles on the mid tone as you bring your foot up and down the cajon to change pitch.
Pitch Change Exercises

In this lesson you will learn a rock rhythm with a sixteenth beat feel. When you are playing the beat your hands will be playing the sixteenth note ghosts in between punching out the main accented beats of the rhythm.

Sixteenth Beat Rock

In this lesson you will learn a rock rhythm with a sixteenth beat feel. When you are playing the beat your hands will be playing the sixteenth note ghosts in between punching out the main accented beats of the rhythm.

Sixteenth Beat Rock with Pitch Change

As drummers and percussionists our main focus should be with playing the right groove or part that fits the music we are playing. Placing fills in the right place can really add to a piece of music and also punctuate a verse or chorus.

Try placing these two fills throughout playing a groove or while jamming along with a song.

Three Fills in 4/4

Here is another variation of rumba. Try taking the other rumba rhythms you have learned and use them with Rumba 3.

Rumba 3

Hip hop is a fantastic funky style to play on cajon. It could also be played as a funk rhythm but the style we are playing it is is hip hop.

Musicians: Ryan Butler (Bass), Alex Kosak (Guitar)

Preview 05:03

Of course most of the time when we play the cajon we are playing the front surface (tapa) to create the sound. It is possible to incorporate some of the other surfaces of the the cajon though. Many cajon players are now using the sides of the instrument to get additional tones.

Using the sides is possible with most cajons however, some will react better than others. The one I am using in the video is the La Rosa Daddi Bahmani signature cajon and was specially designed with “SFX sides” that make it easier to achieve a tone on the side.

It is definitely a nice technique though and one that I, personally are using more and more.

Playing the Sides of Your Cajon

Now your will learn a nice reggae rhythm for cajon. Pay close attention to the high hat pattern being played on the high slap tone along with the emphasis being played on beat 3 of the bar.

Musicians: Ryan Butler (Bass), Alex Kosak (Guitar)

Reggae 1

The paradiddle is one of the most popular rudiments in drumming. It is used widely in snare drumming and also drum set playing and is also very useful on the cajon.

Paradiddle on Cajon

Here is a blues shuffle rhythm on the cajon. Listen closely to the shuffle triplet feel of the rhythm and also the high hat pattern that I am playing on the high slap tone.

Musicians: Ryan Butler (Bass), Alex Kosak (Guitar)

Blues Shuffle

The train beat is a widely used rhythm in bluegrass, country, and other roots genres. The train beat also works great on cajon and many players use the train beat for all kinds of songs.

Your hands will be going in a sixteenth note pattern continuously while punching out the bass and slap tone accented beats. Bass on the 1 and 3, slap on the 2, and 4.

Musicians: Ryan Butler (Bass), Alex Kosak (Guitar)

Train Beat
15 Lectures 59:52

Welcome to the PlayCajon Advanced Course. If you have mastered the basics and are playing comfortably at an intermediate level, you are in the right place.

  • Palm rolls & finger triplet techniques
  • Using brushes on cajon
  • Advanced fills & rudiments
  • Using cymbals with cajon
  • New rhythms including: Guaguanco, Purdie Shuffle, Funk 2, and 3/4 rhythms.
  • Flamenco Bularias

The bass roll is a technique that I personally use all the time. It allows you to play bass tones faster with good power while using less energy.

It works in in a similar way to the Moeller technique in drumming where you are able to create two hits by using the same movement and burst of energy you would normally use to create one hit.

The bass roll is achieved by playing one regular bass tone hit but when your hand comes away from the cajon your fingertips of the same hand play another hit.

Make sure to take some time to practice the bass roll. It is a really useful tool to have for the cajon. It will allow you to play faster while using less energy.

It my also take some time for it to feel natural so stick with it and each day you will get a little better at it.

Bass Roll Technique

Guaguanco is a form of Cuban rumba. It is a great rhythm that can also work well when played in conjunction with a drum set playing a rock or funk groove.


The famous Purdie Shuffle is a rhythm created by Bernard Purdie. Variations of the Rhythm have also been used in hit songs by Led Zeppelin, Toto, and Steely Dan.

Musicians: Ryan Butler (Bass), Alex Kosak (Guitar)

Purdie Shuffle

Brushes on the cajon sound great and more and more players are now using brushes on the cajon.

The way you hold brushes for cajon is a little different than how you hold brushes or sticks for regular drum set or snare drum playing.

You want to have both brushes pointed down at the floor or toward the bottom of your cajon. Watch the video for how to hold them correctly.

Using Brushes on Cajon

Now you will learn a rhythm in the time signature of 3/4 that you can play with your brushes. You can also play this rhythm with your hands.

3/4 Rhythm with Brushes

Now you will learn Funk 2 rhythm. It is a widely used funk groove that has a late snare hit that gives it a nice funky vibe.

Funk 2

In hand percussion many players use finger and palm rolling techniques that allow them to play faster rolls and other fills and rhythms.

In this lesson I will breakdown the palm roll technique as well as a finger roll that is used on cajon.

Palm roll

To play the palm roll first place both of your hands, palm and finger tips against your cajon. Allow for a slight, natural cup to occur.

Now lift your right hand and play a tone with the palm and fingers hitting at the same time. Now immediately play a second hit with the finger tips on the with the same hand.

Your palm should stay on the cajon while your finger tips come up to make the second hit.

Do the same with the left hand and repeat the motion over again. Eventually, as you get faster your hands will go into a rolling motion.

Finger roll

The finger roll is essentially the same idea as the palm roll but instead of using your palm and fingertips, you will be using your thumb and fingertips.

To play the finger roll start with one hit on with your right thumb, then flick your wrist down to your fingertips on the same hand. Now on the left hand start with the fingertips and flick your wrist up to the left hand thumb.

Repeat this motion over and over. Start slow and build up to a roll.


Both of these techniques are used widely on hand percussion and you should definitely work on both of them every time you practice.

Palm & Finger Rolling Techniques

Now you will learn a fill that I use a lot. I call it a polyrhythmic fill as the nature of it is that it plays against the main rhythm or pulse in 4/4. Listen carefully to how the fills accents land at different points throughout the pulse.

What is a polyrhythm 

A polyrhythm is when two or more conflicting rhythms are used that do not seem like they are derived from one another. A simple example of a polyrhythm is playing 2 against 3.

Polyrhythmic Fill

The thumb triplet is a very useful technique and can really bring a rhythm to life or be used in fills. I have called the technique “Thumb Triplets” but the technique also incorporates the use of your fingers.


A triplet is a group of three notes that are played in the space of two. Three evenly spaced notes that are played in the space of two notes of the same rhythmic value.

Thumb triplet 1

The first hit of the triplet is made with the tips of your fingers on your right hand. The next hit is on the left hand finger tips, then the final hit of the triplet is with your left hand thumb.

Thumb triplet 2

The second triplet starts with a hit with your right thumb then down to your right hand finger tips for the next hit. The final hit of the triplet is with your left hand. You can hit any tone you feel that works for what you are doing for the last hit.

Thumb Triplets

In this lesson you will learn a rock rhythm that incorporates the first thumb triplet from lesson 10.

You can also try placing the thumb triplet in other rhythms and fills. It is a simple technique that will take some practice to get right but it can really add in impressive element to your playing.

Thumb Triplet Rock

Using shakers with the cajon is a popular thing to do these days. You can use them in a number of ways but one of the most commonly used ways is to punch out the bass and slap parts while playing what could be considered your high hat part on the shaker.

Play the shaker in a sixteenth note pattern. Start by playing even sixteenths then accent the on beat quarter notes (1, 2, 3, 4).

You can also accent the “and” beats or also known as the “off beat”. These are in the opposite place of the on beats.

Preview 04:52

Another common addition to the cajon is cymbals. Many percussionists use cymbals with their hybrid cajon setups these days. Sometimes even just one cymbal can be an affective addition.

Using Cymbals with Cajon

La Mano Secreta or, “the secret hand” is a popular technique or rudiment that is typically used on congas. You can also use the technique on other drums including the cajon.

There are a few different variations, 5, 7 and 9 beat versions are popular. The one you will learn in this lesson is a 5 hit version.

You will need to put some time into working on this technique as it can be tricky to get down. Once you get it up to speed though, it will really take your playing to the next level.

La Mano Secreta

Bulerias is a Flamenco rhythm that is widely used on cajon particularly in Spain. It is a very unique rhythm and the feel of it when applied to Flamenco depends largely on the piece of music that is being played.

Bulerias is in the time signature of 12/6 and when we count bulerias we actually start the bar on beat 12.

Flamenco music is a wonderful world and there are many amazing Flamenco cajon players. Like with many types of music that are within rich cultures Flamenco needs to be absorbed through listening and playing.

I would recommend checking out some of the videos that are recorded at the Diego Guerrero Flamenco Jam in Madrid, Spain.

Once you have learned this Bulerias rhythm you will have completed Cajon Step-By-Step. Congratulations! You are now playing at an advanced level and you are well on your way to being a top cajon player.

I thank you for taking this course and I wish you all the best with your journey as a percussionist.

We also have many other videos you can check out in our video library at

Flamenco Bulerias
About the Instructor
Paul Jennings
4.6 Average rating
14 Reviews
127 Students
1 Course
Author of Hal Leonard Cajon Method & Djembe Method

Percussionist Paul Jennings is the author of two best-selling method books, Hal Leonard Cajon Method and Hal Leonard Djembe Method, and is the founder of PlayCajon, one of the world's most popular lesson websites for hand percussion.

Paul's 20 year career in the music industry has taken him to over 25 countries. Playing sell out runs on Broadway, New York to major sporting events in Hong Kong and Bahrain, with a diverse range of artists including Jethro TullRed Hot Chilli Pipers, and James Devine (world's fastest tap dancer, Guinness World Records).

Paul is the founder and CEO of PlayCajon an educational website which provides online video lessons and courses for cajon. Now PlayCajon is one of the most popular sites for hand percussion lessons on the internet and has over 28,000 YouTube subscribers

Paul has produced over 200 lesson videos for percussion and recently collaborated with TED Ed to create a video animation lesson called Rhythm in a Box: The Story of the Cajon

Paul has been recognized for his work in The New York TimesThe Boston Globe, and Modern Drummer, and has had primetime television appearances on the BBCWNBCPBS, and CBC. Paul has also been a featured performer at the Hal Leonard booth at the NAMM Show alongside bass legends Victor Wooten, and Billy Sheehan.