How to do a modified Mali weave – 4 vertical cross over

Using the 4 cross-over gives you more tightening power for each diamond you pull.  Using this technique, it is easier to get a drum up to full tightness and keep it there, and you will rarely have to take it apart to retighten the verticals again.  It is quite a bit more complicated and may require more force to pull than the regular Mali weave, but may be worth the effort for those who wish to get the best performance out of their djembe drum.  It should only be used on drums that have an adequate number of verticals - I would recommend around 24 for an average size drum.

I used this technique for awhile before I built my drum tightening jig (see the page I put up on how to do this yourself).  Using a tightening lever with a clam cleat, even when I put an extension bar on it, would not get the verticals as tight on a new drum as I liked, and I would usually end up having to pull many diamonds and fairly quickly need to undo them all to re-tighten the verticals.  Maybe that is because I am a wimp and can't pull hard enough with the bar; I don't know.  Using the 4-crossover technique allowed me to get the drums up to full tension more easily.  But now that I use the tightening jig, I am able to get the verticals on new drums pulled so tight that they are close to being ready to play without putting in any diamonds at all.  As the skin stretches, I still have to put some in, but I often don't even need to finish the first row of diamonds in order to get a drum up to full playing tightness even accounting for the stretching.  I highly recommend making a tightening jig if you spend much time at all on this, as it really makes the process much faster, easier, and less stress on the body.  Plus you can get the verticals tighter with the jig than you could ever with a lever.  I have broken a couple of new heads just using the tightening jig, without putting in any verticals at all (I really hate it when that happens).

The instructions below are as detailed as I could think to make them, with pictures of each step.  I know it looks complicated, and I apologize for being so long-winded, but I figured better to have too many pictures than not enough.

Don't try this unless you already know how to do the regular Mali weave pattern.  Instructions on this pattern can be found on several web sites:

You can Google on "Mali weave" to find other sites are well - these above are really good ones.

How tight should my drum be?  Why go to all this bother?

It should be acknowledged that there is some controversy concerning this point.  Before the advent of steel rings and low-stretch rope, drums were made with natural materials and it was probably impossible to get them as tight as they can be these days.  However, the vast majority of advanced djembe players keep their drums very tight.  The adage goes that you should tighten it until the skin breaks, then back off one diamond.  You should of course tighten your drum until you like the sound you get.  As you make it tighter, you will dampen the bass, but you will brighten the tone and slap.  More importantly, you will suppress any ringing, which most people don't seem to like a lot.  Many of the masters have their drums so tight that you can hardly hear the bass, but the tones and slaps are clear and crisp.  Most soloing is done using just tones and slaps, and a soloist usually will have the tightest drum in the group, so his or her sounds can be heard floating over the top of the rest of the ensemble.  Another old adage is that you can't break a goatskin using the standard Mali weave with just your hands.  That may be largely true, but if you are using a stick or a rope puller, it is possible to break a skin.  You should test the skin between pulling each diamond and also check the tone.  A fully tightened skin has almost no give in the center, and the tones and slaps are high, crisp, and bright.

The vast majority of beginning and intermediate drummers do not take the time and effort to keep their drums tightened, and don't sound as clear as they could.  It takes some real effort (and some courage) to get a drum tight.  New skins will stretch a lot (kind of like a new nylon guitar string) for awhile after they are put on.  I find it takes a month or two of pulling 1-3 diamonds every day or two for a skin to settle in.  After the skin has been stretched out, it will usually stay pretty tight without a lot more intervention - just an occasional diamond.

Heating your drum head will cause the head to tighten - this is a great way to pop your drum head if you are not careful and it is already fairly tight.  Humidity will cause it to loosen.  Oils will also cause it to loosen.  There is also controversy over whether one should put a layer of oil on a new skin.  I personally would not use anything except maybe a little shea butter as I think oils make the skin dull and sounds flat.  As you play, the oils from your hands will transfer to the drum, and skins that have been played awhile will often be darker in the playing area where they have more oil.  I usually put a very thin coating of shea butter on my newly mounted skins.  This will make them darker (which some people don't like), but the skin stretches out noticeably as the oil penetrates.  This thin layer of shea butter also helps protect the skin.  Some say it makes the slaps and tones duller, but I find it has only a little effect on them, while helping to suppress some of the ringing.  If you do consider putting some oil on your skin, be careful, because once it is on there, you will never get it off!

Pulling diamonds on the first row

I am starting at this point because this site is mostly for people who have one of my drums that has this pattern and want to figure our how to tighten it.  If you want to start from scratch, first read this section, then read the section on "Starting the 4-crossover from the beginning," below.  This is how to put in new diamonds in the first row after the first row is already set up. 

Your drum should start out looking like the picture at below.  Your first step is to take the free end and pass it under the next 2 verticals as shown.  Doing this at the top will allow you to pull out most of the slack easily before you pull it down to the bottom.


Step 2

Now you will need to come back and pass the free end under 2 verticals again, ignoring (that is, going over) the slanted vertical that is coming across at the top.


This is how it looks when you have taken out all the slack and pulled it to the bottom of the drum.  Note that the angled vertical is no longer in the way of the area you will be pulling.

Step 3

Now you need to pass the free end back under the vertical in the middle of the area you will be pulling.  I call this the “lock step,” because you will be using this later to lock the diamond in place.  You will actually pull on the loop of rope before the lock step (I have made the loop smaller than usual for this picture so that you can see how the rope goes.  In order to pull here you need to put some more slack in it).  Go ahead and pull now (see details about pulling below).  Note that the right side vertical will end up passing under the middle one as you pull.

After pulling it will look like below.

The rope still passes under the middle vertical where you placed it for the “lock step.”  Go ahead and pull this down to the bottom now, and you will see how this step locks the diamond in place.

This is how it looks when you have pulled the lock step down – you are now ready to start another diamond.


Notes on pulling technique

Even smaller people who are not body builders can pull quite effectively by using leverage properly.  You can buy devices for gripping the rope for pulling, but I find it works better to simply use a drumstick or large dowel.  I use the the dundun sticks for pulling djembes.  You will need to make a slip knot to attach the rope to the stick.

This slip knot will allow the stick to hold the rope firmly, but will come apart easily after pulling, even if you have pulled hard:



To pull effectively, sit on the floor in your stocking feet with your drum and the stick.  Attach the stick to the rope about 6-12” from the drum using the slip knot shown above.  Then holding the stick in two hands with one on either side of the slip knot, put both feet on the drum.  Pull using your back and shoulder muscles, with your arms straight, leaning back to use your body rather than your arm muscles to pull.  Pull in a direction about 45o downwards from horizontal (that is, horizontal or perpendicular from the drum) in order to keep the diamonds as close to the bottom as possible.  When the diamond has formed, it may stay in place by itself or you may need to hold it until you can lock the diamond – sometimes it helps to have someone else to do this part while you pull.

Another effective way to pull is to buy a specialized bar with a clam cleat for holding the rope that is used as a lever for pulling.   There are a number of web sites that sell them and they run usually around $40-60.  This is a lot if you only have one drum, and for most people I recommend the technique above.

If you do use a puller for making diamonds, just remember to be careful - you have a lot of leverage and it is not too hard to break a skin, something I have done many times (I hate that loud "pop" that means I have to start over again!).

Starting out the 4 cross-over from the beginning

This section shows how to start the pattern from scratch.  Getting the first diamond right is a little more complicated, but only needs to be done once.  

After the verticals have been tightened, your drum will look like this.  The vice-grip keeps the rope from loosening.


This is the starting pattern – be careful about whether you are going over or under each vertical.


This is how it looks pulled down to the bottom.  At the top I have done the lock step.  It is ready to pull, which will be done at the loop, and the lock step pulled down afterwards, just as for the other diamonds in the first row as described above.


 Going to the second row

When going up to the second row, after all the diamonds have been put in the first row, you can either reverse the direction you are proceeding around the drum or you can continue in the same direction.  In many cases you will want to go in the same direction for this pattern - the diamonds each move the top ring down a fair amount, and if you double back you are likely to have an imbalance in your top ring - it may look off kilter, or even worse, slip the top ring off the ring(s) below (this can only happen if your rings are a little too big, which of course is not the case for my drums!).  If your top rings are level after doing the first row, you can double back and proceed in the reverse direction.  Either way works OK, however, if you double back, it will be easier to pull the second row down close to the first row than if you continue in the same direction.  In the example below, I have continued going in the same direction, but the instructions are similar either way you go.

Here we are ready to get going on the last diamond of the first row.

We have set up the usual pattern – under 2, back under 2 (ignoring the angled vertical).  Note that the lock step is pulled way to the right at the bottom, so it no longer goes through the center of the area to be pulled.


The diamond has been pulled and also the lock step.  Now we need to anchor the rope in order to start the next row, just like for the regular Mali weave.


The rope is passed under the adjacent vertical like so . . . 


 . . . and passed under somewhere to anchor it.  Usually the rope is passed under the horizontal part of the first row, but the rope is too tight in this case to get the free end under there, so I have found another place to put it.  Exactly where it goes is not important as long as it is anchored.  You are now ready to start the 2nd row.  You will be pulling verticals together that are next to each other at the top now, so the pattern gets a little easier.  Starting out is a little complicated, but after that it looks a lot like the usual Mali weave pattern.


 To start, I go under 2 verticals to pick up the vertical on the right (the one just inside the loop at the top), going under it then back over it and back under the 2 verticals  . . .


This is what it looks like when pulled down to the bottom.  The 2 verticals that are in the center at the top are the ones that will be pulled, and they will pass through the 2 verticals that are in the center at the bottom.


Now I pass the rope under once more in order to get the free end in a place where I can pull it without obstruction.


This is what it looks like after it is pulled (it would not stay locked for this picture).  I have taken the free end and passed it under the next vertical (which is the start of the pattern for the next diamond), which will serve as the lock step for this diamond.


 Below we have now pulled the first diamond of the second row and locked it in place; we have now established the 2nd row.  Luckily, the pattern gets much easier from here on . . .

Note that the two adjacent verticals at the top now run parallel to each other, rather than the wide angles that they do after the first row is pulled.

When you pull this, make sure you pull down towards the bottom of the drum to make the 2nd row as close to the 1st as you can.


  At the top, this looks exactly like the regular Mali weave pattern.


 This is pulled down to the bottom and the free end is now placed under the first vertical of the next diamond to be pulled – this will serve as the lock step.


Pulled and ready to pull down the lock step.  I pulled the diamond at the loop, not at the free end, just like for the first row.


The lock step is pulled down, and now you are ready to go on to the next diamond. 

Note:  you can actually pull the diamond from the free end of the rope after the lock step, and it will automatically lock.  This looks more complicated and makes it a little harder to pull, but it does save one step (of pulling the lock step down), and since it locks itself, you don't need to hold it after pulling.

Going to the 3rd row

If you should need a 3rd row, you will want to use a standard Mali weave pattern - you will not have enough space to do the crossover.  If you have an Ashiko with very long verticals, you could proceed with another 2 rows of crossover if you have enough space left.


This is of course only one variation of the Mali weave pattern.  I have posted this one so anyone who ends up owning one of my drums with this pattern can figure out how to tighten it.  It would be in theory possible to do a 3-crossover or a 5-crossover (this one is technically a 4-crossover and the standard Mali weave would be a 2-crossover).

One possible variation that can be used with any of these patterns is an auto-locking weave.  To do this for the standard Mali weave pattern, instead of doing the "under 2, back under one" with the free end, you reverse it with "over 2 and back over one."  This causes the diamond to flip as it is pulled and lock itself in place.  Sometimes when pulling this way it makes a satisfying "pop" when it falls into place.  There are a number of reasons I do not like this technique:

 - It is considerably harder to pull

 - It is much harder to take apart when you need to undo it to re-tighten the verticals

 - I have never had a burning need to have the verticals lock anyway.  Most of the time they stay in place with the standard pattern, and if they don't, just placing a thumb over the diamond until the lock step is pulled usually suffices.  If worse comes to worst, you can pull after the lock step to complete the diamond.

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