Saturday, December 19, 2009

34 Easy Ways To Improve Your Drum Circle


by Jim Donovan
(Special thanks and hi-fives to all of my friends on my Blog, Twitter and Facebook for your contributions to this article!!)

If you're anything like me, you like FUN...and FUN is probably why you decided to give this drumming thing a whirl.
So let's pretend for a moment that you have your drum and you made it to the drum circle...
Now what?

Beyond the stress relief, sense of togetherness, and joy you can get from drumming with others is your ability enhance the overall quality of the drum circle experience by the way you interact with the people around you.

Here are 34 easy ideas that you can use to maximize your fun and improve your drum circles right away. Think of these tips as "drum circle etiquette".

And if you have ideas that aren't on the list, leave them below...
Happy drumming!

34 Easy Ways To Improve Your Drum Circle

1. Remove your rings if you are borrowing someones drum.

2. Turn off your cell phone...and resist the urge to text. (Your Twitter followers can wait...)

3. Listen first, play second.

4. Ask permission to use someone's drum before just picking it up.

5. Resist the urge to play louder than everyone else.

6. Get to know each other after the circle, hang out and chat after drumming.

7. Respect the drums you're borrowing.

8. Space! Leave space for others to play.

9. Make the betterment of the "group sound" be your number one priority.

10. If you are a newbie, pay attention to the more experienced drummers around you and learn from them.

11. If you are an expert, remember the newbies in the group and give them encouragement and guidance from time to time. Remember what it was like when you first started drumming!

12. Worrying about mistakes? Fuughet abahht it!
If you are a beginner, you may feel as though everyone is listening to you and your "mistakes" (even though they aren't!) Be brave and just play.

13. Unless you are facilitating, resist playing faster and louder in an attempt to speed up the group.

14. If you get lost, listen for the downbeat - the main "pulse" of the rhythm to find your way back.

15. Tired of drumming? Just dance!

16. Made a mistake during a session? Just SMILE and keep going and get back INTO the group's vibe!

17. It's okay to not drum sometimes, so that you can really listen.

18. How about some hand percussion? Try a shaker, woodblock, or bell.

19. If playing a bell, make sure there is lots of space in your rhythm. Keep the bell rhythm simple and steady.

20. Keep solos short and sweet and then come back and support the group so others can take a "solo".

21. Drum with joy. Remember how fortunate we are to have the opportunity to make music together. Have fun, you deserve it.

22. Breathe...relax...and open your heart to collective possibility..

23. Most importantly (in drumming or dance or life) drop into your heart. Move beyond the thoughts of *how* to do it, or impressing someone, etc....and into "what deep essence wishes to express through me/the drum in this now moment?"

24. Open up to the healing energy that we create when we drum.

25. Feel the group pulse, as if it were your own.

26. In the words of the late great percussionist Bill Roth:
"It's not just what you play, it's also what you don't play."
"It's not just when you play, it's also when you don't play."

27. Realize that there are many different kinds of drum circles that will lead to different kinds of experiences.  Appreciate the value of diversity and try to be conscious of the group dynamic or you may feel disappointed that "they" didn't play the way you like!

28. Bring your best self! Your energy can positively or negatively impact the circle - let go of negativity, feel the rhythm - listen - drum - dance - be

29. Leave your ego at the door! (Or even in the car...)

30. Listen, feel, listen, breathe, listen..

31. Bringing children to a circle can be a great thing, and it can also be incredibly disruptive depending on how it's approached. Etiquette would mandate that if you bring young children, spend a bit of time with them prior, so they understand what's going on.

32. Understand that some people come to the circle with a different method of "feeling" the music due to disabilities they are triumphing over.

33. Why not turn the circle into an excuse to eat as well? Have a potluck afterwards and get to know each other.

34. Relax.

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Are you looking for some new grooves?
Check out my play-along learning tool "World Rhythm Seeds CD".


  1. Let Go of all your insecurties, and don't judge anyone.

  2. Bring interesting/unconventional "percussion toys" or make your own instrument!

  3. Yes..more could even do "all percussion" circles without drums for some variation..

  4. Great work Jim ~

    I would also add "Honoring the musical impulses of all who attend by grounding, reflecting, and supporting the efforts of as many different people as possible."

    Thank you for all that you do,

  5. shakers are easy to make and bring - any empty container (even plastic water bottles) partially filled with rice, beans, rocks, beads, anything.

  6. I appreciate the shaker ideas Glenn. Just one more reason to love beans.

  7. Hi Jim, nice blog, good info. In your video here on getting the sounds from the djembe, I think it is important to mention that in order to get bass to come out, the bottom of the drum must be open. Many beginners do not realize this. As I'm sure you know, the tone, slap and muted sounds will work with the bottom closed.