Thursday, April 14, 2011

Can You Get Free Drum Circle Facilitating Training?

These days, not everyone can afford to spend the money for drum circle facilitation training. Some others aren’t able to leave the area they live in to travel somewhere to take a training program, intensive weekend workshop, or ect. It’s just the reality of how things are in the real world right now.

Let’s say you want to learn to facilitate drum circles for a group, or even for a living. Maybe you just want to get a community drum circle started somewhere. That’s the intent of my article. Please keep in mind, these are just my opinions based on my experiences.

Is taking classes, or training a good idea? Of course it is. Just like with most other art forms, some training is good, but the best way to learn, is to do. To get experience go out and do it. That is a viable way to go about this.

If you have some musical background, the odds are you can keep basic time, and that is the foundation of a fun drum circle in my opinion. But, let’s say you have never touched a hand drum before, and you want to learn to facilitate drum circles, or host one. If you are not a musician, start by just listening to some of your favorite music that has a strong beat. Try keeping time with both of your hands tapping on your thighs or on a table. Keep at it until you can stay on the beat. Try some different songs out and follow them along. When you are on beat, you are keeping good time.

You can do this, and be out there organizing a drum circle in a month or two. Are you going to make mistakes? Yes. Are you also going to get some things right? Yes. You will remember the things you did right, and the ones you did wrong. This helps you on the next one, and it’s how you get better and better. Like with any other craft, you have to put the work in.

So where to start right now for free? YouTube is a good place to see clips of other facilitators. How they start a rhythm, end one, do a rumble, or even a few rhythm examples, and games. Do a search on the keywords drum circle + Facilitator, or facilitating. Lots of stuff will come up. Check a few out. There are many different styles, methods, and approaches to facilitation. Learn as many as you can, and develop your own style. You don’t want to just copy somebody. It’s like a band that just plays cover tunes. You probably aren’t going very far unless you have some original material.

So what about being “certified” as a drum circle facilitator?

I have had people tell me that they are under the impression that drum circle facilitators have to be certified. Okay, doctors, dentists, lawyers, yes. I wouldn't want to use one that hadn't gone through the process of accreditation and/or licensing. But, facilitators don't have any kind of official governing body. Anyone can decide to teach, hold workshops, etc. and then give out a certificate. But, all it means is that the person spent some money on training in one style of facilitation. Like in any other field, some are better than others. Is certification necessary to facilitate drum circles? No. Does it help? Yes. Their logo looks good on your resume, and it adds some credibility to you. Most of them cost a bit also. Do you need certification by someone in order to work and earn a living? No. Many individuals and companies offer their own brand of facilitation. One isn't necessarily better than another, some are promoted more, and widely known than others.

Practically speaking, even if you are a newcomer you can buy a few books on the subject, watch a few videos, and get out there and host a drum circle just fine. But you need to be able to hold a beat. Like I mentioned, I think you learn the most by doing. Go to some drum circles in your area, participate and observe other facilitators if you get the chance. Check out my drum circle finder page, and see if there is anything going on around you within a couple of hours driving distance. It is worth the drive to attend a few and see what works, and also what doesn’t. There might be a few facilitators that you can go participate with, and observe.

Would you only want to know one style of cooking to prepare dinners? Many good books on facilitating approaches have been written. Look for used ones in places like Ebay and Amazon. There are also some good DVD’s on this also. Look in the same places for those. Forty bucks will buy you a lot of reference material, and give you a lot more understanding and insight into this art form.

I think to a certain extent, a good drum circle is an extension of the old Bluegrass days of 100 years ago. There were no cars, so people couldn't travel long distances. There was nothing to do for entertainment but get together and get out the fiddles, washboards, spoons, jugs, drums, and sing and dance and make music. For years, it was about the group ensemble, and the musicality. Any facilitating that needed to be done, was done through the music, not by someone playing conductor. That concept still works. And, it brings out the improvisational skills of the participants. The better things sound, the more fun it is for the group. Almost every culture has a rich history of group drumming, so you are about to do something that has transcended the test of time, and more importantly, brings people together.

Under most circumstances, I like to begin a drumming session by letting everyone just choose something, sit down in the circle, and start playing. This approach helps everyone to relax before the welcome, introductions, and then into some more organized rhythms. The reason I encourage everyone to play first is the nerves. The barriers just begin to melt away. After the first jam, I offer a few pointers about hand technique, and volume, so nobody gets injured, or is uncomfortable. I let people know that a support rhythm is just a starting place. You don’t need to play what I play. You can if you want, but I encourage you to improvise and experiment. Have fun! We get to be kids again, and make up our own rules. You may invent a new way to play, or a new sound from your drum, that’s what good musicians do. They find new ways to do things, not just copy others.


When suggesting a drum circle rhythm, I like to vocalize the first few measures before we play it. I think the logical analytical side of the brain can process it quicker, which then frees up the creative intuitive side. People can then play what they feel, rather than over thinking it.

Plus, I start it out very slowly, then I can gradually bring it up to the desired tempo (speed) once they are comfortable with it. I always mention that this is just a starting point, and you don't have to play this support rhythm, play whatever you feel fits.

Interestingly, I've found that most people can wrap their heads around a rhythm quicker if I vocalize out sounds with a "K" in them. ie: Heartbeat rhythm: Boom Boom chicka-chicka Boom Boom. (pause, & repeat). Or, Doum Doum, tekka-tekka Doum Doum. Or, I just "scat" them out jazz style any way I can think of. My goal is to get them out of their heads and playing as quickly as possible. Drumming uses the brain in a different pattern than the linear thought process that’s usually needed in everyday life, and even the work environment.

Playing a drum brings you to a more open mental and psychological thought process. Once you vocalize out a rhythm, the creative side of the brain is quickly freed up to improvise. And most importantly, they are not thinking about remembering, or trying to figure out what to play. Help start them out, and let it go. Boom.

Another idea is drumming to common word phrases, rhymes or well known commercial jingles, or songs to get things rolling. For example: "Yum, Yum, tastes like chic-ken" (D, D, t k t-k) or try "pep-per-oni-Piz-Za" (t-k-t-k D D) An easy way to start a Clave rhythm is to remind them of the beat in the song, “Hand Jive“.

There's a variety of different ways I like to use to notate a drum rhythm. There are 5 examples in an earlier post of mine, as well as a list of notated support rhythms from around the world to help get you going. The list is also a free download in a word doc on my website. No registering, or signing up for anything is required.

Later as the rhythms join together, everyone joins together. We join together musically. The result is there is no distinction between you or me. We just all sense the feeling of the one song we are creating in the moment. This was the tried and true approach of the elders who would begin their gatherings, and ceremonies this way. The babbling came later.

So, you have done some research, read up, watched some stuff, now what? In my opinion, you need to be a musician first. You don’t need to be a great one, just good enough to be able to start a rhythm out, and keep time. If you can’t keep time, often what ends up happening is something that sounds like a bunch of dog paddling, or a pile of rocks rolling down a hill. It’s not a very satisfying experience for everyone. Sure people will still have a good time noodling around for an hour, but if you can help guide them into some good sounding music, people will have a great time, and then they can’t wait for the next drum circle.

Some disagree with me on this, and think it creates a dependency on you. Well, guess what, sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed to get them jamming. Sometimes they are dependent on you, or the circle sounds like crap. Not always, but sometimes you need to be there to hold things steady until the group finds it’s groove. Usually after a rhythm or two, you can back off a little and let the group go with a given rhythm, but I like to participate, playing my drum all the time. I want to set the tone that I just want to jam with everyone, not be a control freak. This way, others will likely start up a rhythm, and you can go with that. This is how to create a good group dynamic.

I prefer to facilitate from the edge of the drum circle, leaving the middle open for self expression. People will get in there and dance if the groove is right, and they are feeling it. One thing I bring along is a few hula hoops, and a couple of belly dancing wraps. Hoops are 5 bucks, and belly dancing wrap skirts are fifteen. These entice people to get in the center and do their thing. The drumming elevates to a whole new level when this happens. Sometimes the dancers, or hoopdancers will drive a rhythm a bit longer than you had planned, but I never stop a good groove from going on. You can sense when it’s over, or, they leave the center. That’s your cue to “wrap” it up, and start another one.

I approach a drum circle like a band set. 45 minutes to an hour long. Sometimes two 45 minute sessions with a “let’s take 5” brake in between. I bring along a “set list” just like most bands have. Usually it gets changed, or goes right out the window, but you are prepared to introduce rhythms for an hour if you need to. I like to vary the rhythms a little. Some up tempo, some slower and grooving, some even meditative. Sometimes it’s a jam out, but I like to end things that way. Always leave them wanting more. When the hour is up I say, “Okay time’s up, thanks everyone…wait a minute…should we do one more?” Everyone will say yes, so do one more and make em’ happy.

I like to play different rhythms from different cultures. The variety makes it more fun. Play some Latin, African, Bellydancing, Funky, Hip Hop, Soul, whatever feels right. An hour is usually enough time for 7 or 8 rhythms. So you don’t need to have a huge list, but you don’t want to play the same things next circle either. It makes sense to have a good body of reference rhythms to draw from, so you can put together a good set list each week, or each month. At least vary the tempos if you don’t want to try cultural rhythms.

I offer a 2 hour DVD of djembe drum rhythms called 101 Drum Circle Rhythms. It is ideally suited for this purpose. It’s $15 and includes a drum circle jam CD. I priced it low so it is affordable to everyone. I also have a long list of notated drum circle rhythms in a word doc. format. You can download it free on my website drum circles.net There are also drum circle mp3’s to check out, and lots more. This will also give you a visual aid to help you learn rhythms, and to keep time. With that, and a little experience, you can be out there rockin’ in no time.

You’re going to need a fairly decent drum to play. Somewhere in the $100 - $200 range is good enough to get you started. If you do end up not liking this, the good news is that most drums have a pretty decent resale value. But I do hope you don’t go there. If you need some advice on what kind of drum to get, read a few of my prior blog posts about choosing a first djembe drum. You need something durable that will allow you to play louder than the group if you need to. Sometimes it’s necessary, but most of the time if you feel a rhythm heading for a train wreck, let it go. Laugh it off and move on. It sets the tone that you aren’t a control freak, and willing to take risks with everyone else.

Another thing you will need to slowly invest a few bucks in is a few drums for other people to play. A dozen or so, and some smaller percussion instruments to fill it out, is enough to get you started. 30 body drums is a good target number. I suggest getting aluminum doumbeks (that have synthetic heads), rather than wood shell djembe drums with goatskin heads. They are much less expensive, yet still pack a decent punch musically. Djembe heads break easily, and the drums are heavier. I can get 30 doumbeks in my Yugo, no problem. And still have room for a couple of plastic bins full of tambourines, frog rasps, maracas, shakers, etc.

The doumbeks are easier to move, transport, carry, and people enjoy playing them. Plus they take up less space, and are more durable. They are lug tuned with an allen wrench, and you can change a $10 head yourself if it breaks. (Which isn’t easy to do with a rope tuned djembe). With a kit of djembes, if one kid whacks it with a stick, it’s pop, bye bye 60 bucks. Bongos are very durable, small, and inexpensive also. You need some variety, and frame drums played with a mallet are good to have, because some people have physical limitations and can only play with one hand. The idea of a good drum circle is including everyone.

I bought most of my drums second hand, one at a time, in places like Craig’s, and Ebay. Many were $35 - $50 each. You can round out your kit with some frame drums, or sound shapes. Not everyone wants to, or can, play a body drum, so having a few choices is a good idea. Frame drums are as low as $20. Last time I bought a pack of soundshapes they were in the $80 range for 6. (new) They store flat easily, and people like playing them.

Okay so you are ready to start up a drum circle, or get out there and try your chops at facilitating one. Unless you are in it for the love of it, you might need to do it for next to nothing for awhile, or even for nothing, but that’s a good place to start and get that valuable experience.

You can start one in a café, new age shop, park, community center, art center, or even at the beach. A regular meeting drum circle gives you an important thing, a home base to operate from, and a place to build up a community, as well as get leads for future work.

Around the country right now many places like night clubs, bars, and coffee shops are struggling to find working formulas for weeknights. I’ve started them at a micro brewery, even a comedy club. Both of those went very well, despite the serving of alcoholic beverages. Fortunately most people that know each other at a local drum circle see each other a lot, so they don’t want to get too hammered and make a fool out of themselves. But drum circles at places that serve alcohol, that’s an important factor to consider. Wherever you do it, having a drum circle night quickly builds up a community around it with a loyal following that grows very quickly. You are also bringing lots of people together, and these days, it’s needed more than ever.

The cost to do this is minimal, I've been doing it successfully for years at various venues. All that’s needed is you the facilitator, or organizer to help keep things running smoothly, and promote the drum circle. If you do this at a business establishment, keep in mind that it isn't the drummers, musicians, or dancers that do the majority of buying their products. They will help support the venue and buy one or two, but it's the onlookers that are attracted, who will be doing most of that. They are after all a business and in business to make money. A following will grow very quickly if people have a good time. That’s your job, and it takes some time to hone your skills. Each time you will get better at it.

Try it on a trial basis for a few weeks, and when it takes off, ask for a small percentage of sales to cover your costs, damage, etc. You will be dealing with a lot of different personalities, so issues and problems will arise from time to time. You may need to make some tough calls on the spot. Some may be wrong, but you will learn from them as they occur. For the most part, things seem to run smoothly.

The reason for a home base, is that eventually better paying jobs will come to you. After the circle is established, people will want you for birthday parties, city events and festivals, gatherings, schools, even weddings and churches. So start putting together press materials as soon as possible, photos, videos, newspaper articles they write about your drum circle, and get some good looking business cards made, to leave out prominently on a table by the door. I’ve been very pleased with Vista Print.

Try to get the website, and social networking thing happening as quickly as you can. It is very effective in getting things rolling. If you want to get more in depth with all of this, please consider picking up my book. It is 300 pages of scintillating drum circle information for eighteen bucks. I include a facilitated drum circle CD along with it free. If you do choose to purchase my book or DVD, thanks in advance for helping out. I really do appreciate it.

Drum some, and have fun. I am here if you need to ask a question, or need an opinion on something drumming related.

Check out my website: drumcircles.net & my blog: drumcircleworld.blogspot.com/for lots more resources and ideas.

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

2 comments:

  1. This was an interesting article to read. I partake in two drum circles in my area. A small group of females at a college and a much larger 28+ group of all ages at a Spiritual Center. Each group is different. In the last month I have listened to the beats on 101 drums FB that was attached to the drum circle FB. Totally enjoyed those learning sessions. I forwarded the FB address to the facilitator of the Spiritual Center. And after reading this blog, I feel I will put drumcircle.net on labels to had out next month at the larger group so the younger ones can learn. Thanks for being on FB.

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  2. You are very inspiring. I am working in making my own circle and this really helps.Thank you!

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