Richard Feynman plays the bongos

Here are two videos of the amazing physicist Richard Feynman tearing it up on the bongos drums.


  1. The accelerando in the first video wasn’t very smooth. Perhaps it was intended that way?

    As for the second video, well, bongo drums are always a pair of drums tuned to different pitch, almost always played together. It’s impossible to say for sure, but the way he’s holding and playing, isn’t that an ashiko drum?

  2. He was an incredibly cool guy, a genius, and I love him to bits but we may have to face the fact that he was a lousy drummer, whatever instrument he may be playing in the second clip.

    …and somebody get that man some orange juice.

  3. “Hey, man, how come you got Feynman Diagrams painted all over your van?”

    “Because I’m Richard Feynman! Wooooooo!”

    Gods he ruled.

    /Tuva or bust!

  4. Cool,daddio! Now: who’s going to make the short list of Nobel Prizewinners are *aren’t* pompous asses?

  5. Funny enough, Feynman himself more or less confessed to being a fairly crummy drummer in, “Surely You’re Joking Mr Feynman” where he told the whole story of his early drum-playing “career”.

    What a character. Looking at those videos, it would be awfully tempting to write the guy in them off as some absurd crackpot. But anyone who has studied graduate-level physics knows that this guy was one of the top 10 minds of the 20th century (and that’s really saying something).

  6. Pretty sure that’s Ralph Leighton (collector of the stories) with him.

    Feynman could drum some pretty complex rhythms. He wasn’t a horrible drummer.

    Feynman is one of my favorite people. I’ve read his stories many times (btw, they’re all in one volume as of 2005 or so) and they’re inspirational each time I read them. His biography _Genius_ is terrific, too. So is the Gribbons’ book on him.

    I visit Caltech and wonder what it would have been like to know him.

  7. That is Ralph Leighton with him. Ralph was his closest friend in Feynman’s later years.

    The thing about his drumming is, he didn’t really care how good he was, he enjoyed the idea of a Nobel prize winning physicist playing drums and hanging out with artists.

    I met Leighton just after Feynman died and before he went off to Tuva. Too bad Feynman never got there, he’d have loved the place. Now throat singers are everywhere and the Tuvan guys who Leighton brought back are world famous.

  8. Bits of the second clip got into the album “Back Tuva Future” by the Tuvan throat-singer Ondar who was a friend of Feynman’s. You can distinctly hear him chanting about orange juice in the first track of the album.

  9. This guy was great; he pretty much solved the mystery of the Challenger explosion in 1986 by walking around and talking to people.

    But yeah, I’m with Pantograph. Get him some orange juice, for god’s sake!

  10. @10: According to his account, the reason for Challenger was an “open secret” and the people he talked to basically told him what it was. They just needed the appearance of a Nobel physicist to give it the air of a super-subtle problem, instead of basic incompetence.

    That is Feynman’s account of it. Maybe he really was just super-smart and figured it out, but he didn’t think so.

  11. Please watch how they should be played. As a drummer feyman makes a good physicist

  12. Wow, why all the critiques of his drumming? He’s only having fun and expressing himself! Me, I like it for that very reason.

    Read his books of anecdotes, you’ll like them.

  13. Isn’t the point that he was a better drummer for a physicist than Tito Puente was a physicist for a drummer? (OK, timbalero, but you get my point)

  14. How fun is that?!

    Synchronicity, man: I just finished re-reading “Surely You’re Joking…” this morning. Brought back fond memories of Feynman-inspired youthful idiocy — figuring out ways to pick old locks/crack cheap safes; getting in trouble at my first after school job (dishwasher) for setting up a ghetto isolation chamber in the walk-in cooler (the darkest, quietest place I could think of), and even trying out his methods for picking up girls (they worked!)…

  15. Pantograph, I once heard a talk by a scientist who had, in his youth, played music with Albert Einstein. According to him, Einstein was no great shakes as a violinist either.

    (Though I am not a very good ukulele player, I am also not a genius, nor am I likely to win a Nobel Prize. So I have no excuse whatsoever.)

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