Sometime during the 1960s, drummers began meeting together in public places like parks or beaches to make music. Participants faced each other in a circle and played, allowing the voices of their individual drums to join in a shared group rhythm.
Today, the trend is still strong. Most major cities in the United States have an established group meeting on either a monthly or weekly basis.
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Beginners at a Drum Circle
Typically, the atmosphere in a drum circle is encouraging and welcoming. All ages are generally invited to participate, and no drumming experience is necessary.
Drum circles offer an environment where drummers of all levels can feel comfortable expressing themselves rhythmically. Community circles are not intended to be a polished performance or even a rehearsal. Instead, group members create a finished piece on the spot as they attempt to join their individual instruments into a united group sound.
Drum Circle Rhythms
Drum circle rhythms are improvisational, meaning percussionists create their music as they play. Musicians are free to explore without needing to worry about right or wrong.
Some circles may adhere to a certain tradition of drumming such as West African or Cuban; musicians in these circles will have authentic instruments and be familiar with rhythms from the culture.
In many circles though, there is no specific culture designated. Drummers bring instruments from Africa, South America, the Middle East, Europe, and the Orient. It’s also common to see homemade drums or instruments made from recycled materials. When playing in this type of drum circle, musicians don’t adhere to traditions or classical methods. A drum circle is a time to play for the pure enjoyment of playing.
The Drum Circle Facilitator
Some groups are directed by a leader, or facilitator. The facilitator may offer pointers to improve the session’s quality, but their main responsibility is to make sure everyone is having a good time.
Facilitators often get musicians involved through various rhythm activities. They can get one group started on a certain rhythm then add more layers by teaching new parts to other groups. They may also warm the circle up by playing rhythms for the group to repeat back.
Many circles are more of an informal jam with no one person driving the event. During these jams, players take turns introducing new rhythms which build and evolve according to contributions from the group’s participants.