Drum Circle Facilitation

By Kalani • February 14th, 2012

What is Drum Circle Facilitation?

Before we answer the above question, let's consider the definition of a drum circle. A drum circle is a gathering of people who come together for the purpose of creating music together and who create that music through a process of improvisation. Simply put, a drum circle is a community–oriented jam session where most, if not all, of the participants are playing drums and percussion instruments.

In order to understand what makes a drum circle a drum circle, there are a couple of other points worth mentioning. Firstly: It's not crucial that the participants in a drum circle form of physical circle. Many times this is the case, but it's much more important to the definition of a  “drum circle” that the music be co-created by the participants–no matter what shape they form. Secondly: Some could argue that the use of drums, or at least specific types of drums, is not crucial to the definition. An example of  a 'non–drum' drum circle, would be people who use found objects such as boxes, cans, and other storage containers to create music together. There are  vocal equivalents to drum circles, called zephyrs, where people gather together to vocalize beats (beat boxing), rap,  and improvise music.

Griffith Park DrumCircle (Video)

In a drum circle, participants share their ideas, shaped the music, and decide themselves to what degree they participate. There is no single leader. Everyone is a co-leader.  You could say that the music itself guides the participants as they use their intuition and skills to uncover and bring the music to life. Traditionally, a drum circle is also a “place” where beginning drummers can go to work on their drumming skills, learn new rhythms, and socialize with other people who enjoy drumming, dance and music.

Drum circle facilitation is the  process of making it easier for people to participate in a drum circle. As mentioned above, a drum circle does not have a leader, but it's quite common to find one or more individuals who consistently  host, guide and support the efforts of the participants. Successfully facilitating a drum circle requires intimate knowledge and understanding of the art of drumming, experience as a drum circle participant, and a deep desire to be of service to one's community.

While there are no objective requirements or standards that must be met to participate in a drum circle–or even to facilitate a drum circle, there are a few qualities, skills and competencies that help. Let's look at these from the perspective of being a drum circle facilitator.

Drumming Skills: It pretty much goes without saying that someone who is designating themselves as a facilitator of drumming have drumming skills him/herself. This means having a working knowledge of a variety of drums and percussion instruments (how to identify them by name, how to hold them, how to play basic sounds, how each instrument fits into the musical ensemble, and how to help people use the instruments). While most of the music in a drum circle is improvised,  a working knowledge of common hand drum rhythms is helpful in the facilitation process. Drummers are musicians, despite the many drummer jokes that are floating around out there! It actually takes years of practice and experience to become a proficient drummer, even though drums and percussion instruments are perhaps more accessible, initially, than many other instruments. Check DCM University for a list of online learning resources.

General  Musicality: Musicality refers to one's aptitude with regard to working with the elements of music. It includes things like;  being able to create and maintain a steady rhythm, to play specific rhythmic patterns, to varying one's dynamics & tempo and  blend with, stand out from, and influence the music of the group. Musicality also includes being able to identify and work with patterns, phrases, and musical forms.

Within the DCM approach, drum circle facilitation relies on one's ability to create and use specific music-based techniques and strategies to shape and influence the music of the group in order to make the process easier and more enjoyable for the participants.  Some of these techniques include things like; being able to match the dynamics, tempo and patterns that exist within the music; using dynamic changes to amplify, feature and bring out specific musical elements; using  dynamic changes in one's own playing to shape the music as a whole; and to provide a strong rhythmic ground upon which musical structures may be built.

Interpersonal Connectivity: The DCM approach to drum circle facilitation emphasizes interpersonal relationships, even above musical relationships.  If the purpose of a drum circle is to help participants feel included, connected and enjoying the experience, then it only makes sense that the music serve the people–and not the other way around.  For this reason, DCM facilitators are more likely to take an observational and supportive position, rather than one of leadership and authority. DCM asserts that quality musical experiences often arise out of quality interpersonal experiences, and–vice versa.

An Attitude of Service: Drum circle facilitation, using the DCM approach as a platform, requires the facilitator to take a position of service with regard to the overall community.  This means  he/she takes time to observe the group, how people are participating, interacting and expressing themselves.  This means helping the group  to go where it appears it is trying to go–not taking it somewhere because that's where the facilitator wants it to be!  As mentioned above, facilitation is the art of making something easier; therefore, something must first exist before it can be made easier. That “thing” is the music of the group and the interpersonal relationships that form within the music. Understanding this is crucial to effective drum circle facilitation.

Drum circle facilitation training  is part of every DCM course.  DCM leaders  learn how to facilitate drum circles in addition to other types of community drumming and community music making.  If you are seeking to  learn or improve your drum circle facilitation skills, consider joining a DCM leadership training course. Drum circles are a great starting place for new drummers and new facilitators. From there, facilitators and leaders can expand their skills to include a wise range of other types of community drumming experiences. For a list of group drumming types, see the Music Therapy Drumming website.


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