Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Deaf Drum Circles (or) Drumming With Hearing Impaired

Deaf Drum Circles (or) Drumming With Hearing Impaired

At first glance one might think a deaf drum circle presents a lot of challenges. It really doesn't. I learned from experience to just facilitate it like you would a regular drum circle. Don't over-think it. I did that early on, and it was a mistake that I quickly had to get corrected. 

Rhythm games, passing shakers, and pie slices type of thing just wastes valuable time. We are there to have a rhythm session as a group, not play games or talk. Let's just start playing, and shake out those nerves. Then the real fun can begin. Exploring rhythms with different tempos, cultures, and styles.

There are a few mechanical adjustments I make after testing the acoustics of the room, (beforehand if possible loud hand claps, or yell a loud Hey in the likely spots to facilitate the circle). Forgive me for this, but I call it the clap test. If there's an echo in that spot, find a place that is more ideal. Sometimes you have to work with where they want it, or in large gyms, so echo is important to minimize if you can.

One, that is most important, is that neither myself, or the person signing is in front of a window, or less than ideal lighting. I made that mistake early on. You become silhouetted or worse. 

The other thing is to remember to keep my head up when I speak, because many are so sharp, they read lips rather than even look at the signer. So heads up, no bright light behind you.

I tend to not say much during a drum circle, because an hour goes by so fast. I mix in a little about volume, history and names of a few rhythms, what they mean, a little about the drums, good safe hand technique, and little else. We can chat a little when drum circle time is up. Let's just get to that warm up that lets everyone relax, and realize they can just have fun, and not worry about silly things, like making a mistake. I was very self-conscious when I approached my first drum as a teen.

Anyway, I just start things off with a basic warm up boom cha la ka where the tempo is nice and slow until everyone finds a place. Then up to faster tempo for 5 minutes or so, and end it up with a nice up and down massive rumble, wailing away, and everyone comes out of that joyous, smiling, and feeling good! That sets a nice tone for the whole session. That this is going to be fun. I'm going to improvise, and make some music with my own two hands.

Generally speaking, a group dynamic happens after 45 minutes, so we are just getting to the real groove on the beam at that point. It's the same with children or adults. I often go an extra half hour because of this. I want them to have as much fun as possible, and it is at this point where they start to feel what playing and experiencing a real groove feels like. It goes deep into your spirit and soul.

After that warm up, I usually have a set list in my head. I also keep it in my pocket, and that way, I don't need to look at it. But it's nice to know it's there in case of a mental hiccup. Sometimes it just happens as a performer. We all make mistakes, move past it, and go on to the next rhythm. I keep duration of rhythms to 5 -7 minutes so we can try out a bunch of them from different cultures. It's all part of giving a full experience. I almost always include African Fanga, something in 6/8, something Native American, and Mid-East Beledi as a part of my experience. Most of it is in 4/4 time.

I always start each rhythm out with a 2 measure vocalization of the beat, and then I start playing it at a very slow tempo so everyone can latch on, and then I slowly bring it up to a comfortable pace. Encourage them to experiment, and find a place in the rhythm when they feel comfortable. I try to keep each rhythm no more than 7 minutes long, as an hour goes by so fast. I can get maybe 7 or 8 drum rhythms in there.

I like to have them experience different cultures as I play along with them. As for endings, I try to mix them up a bit, but nothing beats a good rumble ending. Drum circle chairs set-up: Chairs about 20 feet across the circle, or as you see in the photos, sometimes a semi-circle so everyone can see.

I use only body drums, djembes, doumbeks, darbukas, congas, bottom drums, and a few frame drums. 

No lollipop drums or sound tubes, give them a real drum to play if you can, they can feel the resonation more.

My experience working with deaf, or the pc version hearing impaired, is many prefer to embrace the term deaf, and why not? It makes sense if I think about it. Something else as many know, is if one sense is weakened, often one or all the other senses, are heightened. So, good hygiene, no colognes or perfumes. 

I don't really care for TV shows with sub-titles, but this Russian series titles Sniffer is about a guy with a heightened sense of smell, and it's pretty good also. It's beautifully shot, the relationships of the characters fascinated me, and the plot lines were pretty good as well. 

There was this strange familiarity of the main characters for me. It was like I had seen them somewhere in something. I used to get that look a lot from my acting peers when I had a number of commercials running on cable TV.

That's the life of working as an actor, you tend to watch more than what you see, and it takes a well produced film or TV series for me not to be looking at the filmmaking process or mistakes. It needs to draw me away from that world, and Sniffer did that. Maybe you will enjoy it as well. I'm definitely not a film critic.

I'm not an expert on deaf drum circles, but I do have many years of drum circle facilitating experience, both with adult, kids, and mixed families. My hope is, if you are offered to facilitate a deaf drum circle, some of this may help you.

Something I didn't know much about early on, is that there are varying degrees of deafness. Someone who might be clinically considered deaf may have limited hearing of certain different pitches and sounds. It meant that they could only hear sounds in a very high sound register. Like in super soprano, but that was all they could hear. Others can only hear just a hint of, or feel a hint of the bottom bass beat. My experience is that on the whole, people who are deaf still can be highly functional, and very musical.

Some only can feel the vibration of the drumming. Repetition, repetition, repetition. This is one reason I like to bring 2 beach towels, or yoga mats, and have people lay down flat in the center of the circle and close their eyes for a moment somewhere during the circle. To see things without the eyes, and to feel, even if they can't hear a rhythm, they can feel it. Many times after just one circle I've had many different people come up to me and tell me how delighted they were. Their other senses are so acute, many feel more than say just a public gathering drum circle.

Watching someone signing to music or a rhythm is a beautiful thing to watch. It flows so nice to a drum rhythm if someone is signing to it, and it feels really nice. Or even vice versa. It looks like a sort of hand bound Tai Chi. Signing gives a beautiful sense of rhythm to the music. Many concerts or events I've been to have someone signing off to stage right or something.

I've facilitated many deaf drum circles over the years, and seen many different signers. I've learned a little signing myself in the process, and I use it as often as I can during events while I speak. It is not easy to sign, just try it if you haven't, but if I could learn the basics of it, so can you. I love it when the interpreter interprets the rhythm and prompts everyone to participate. Try to make sure that there are interpreters present if you encounter this. When I am working with a signer, I just have to remember that they have to hear what I am saying, keep my head up when I speak, but not exaggerate it, or speak more deliberately, that is a bit off-putting.

If it's possible, when I load in my gear I try to find the signer and make a new friend. I let them know how my speaking will work, and what I'm going to be saying. For many, it's the first drum circle they've ever seen, they have no idea what to expect, and it is much appreciated most of the time for the head's up.

I explain to the signer, (or signers) I'll be saying short bits here and there, but mostly rhythm names, drum names, cultures, and what they will sound like using 3 or 4 different methods. Middle Eastern doume tek-ka, Babatune's Godo pa-ta, a boom chick a boom boom, I may just scat out a few. Lots of them with a strong downbeat. Some modern stuff, and etc. That gives them a heads up, saves time, and helps everything go smoother.

At this one kids camp event, they were swapping in a new signer every 10 minutes, so be ready for that if it happens. We jammed out like they were drummers mid-jam like in the Parliament Funkadelic days back in the 70s Mothership. The fun never stopped, so be ready if that happens.

Often times, it will be a transitional event, where people have time restrictions, but they can feel free to enter, or leave the drum circle at any point during a rhythm. 

Sometimes it is up to you to anchor it, and keep the groove going.

It makes good sense to do your homework beforehand on any group or condition that might be present at a drum circle. So I can be respectful, understanding, patient, considerate, and have a better understanding of it.

Then I can help them feel more comfortable, and if necessary, stay within their boundaries. It's always better to do a little research on deaf culture or anything else you might run into before working with them. Like all cultures, they have their own habits, values, and language. Generally, the deaf community does not see their deafness as a disability. As I said, my experience has been that they embrace it. 

It's a deaf drum circle. Nobody wants to be treated differently, so I never do that. It takes some experience to just trust yourself, and do this. It's a regular drum circle. Heads up, no windows behind you or the signer, and slow the pace a tad, especially when presenting the names of rhythms, and what they look like being played.

Do this simply, and there's no communication barrier. We just speak a different language, and it is a beautiful one at that. Connect your rhythm whenever you get a chance. 

It's not a variety of challenges, it's a drum circle. Come have some fun!

My website started in 1999. It used to be: where I updated and ran the drum circle finder worldwide. I ran it for 20 years, and passed it to a younger person.

Please check out my drum circle book on Kindle, 300 pages for just $8.

My 2 Hour 101 Drum Circle Rhythms is also on Amazon Video for $8. (On DVD it's a bit more.)

If you're making a film - video game, or any other project? A live drum circle track might be just the vibe you need. 

Check out iTunes SoundCloud or and listen to a few. There's a wide variety of cultures, styles, and tempos to choose from.

All of my drum circle music tracks are copyrighted, and licensed. 

Thanks, and keep on drumming! 

Copyright Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Drum Circles With Special Needs Groups Young and Old

 I think the most difficult, yet the most satisfying work I can do as a drum circle facilitator, host, or a drumming teacher, is special needs drum circles. Whether it’s with one child, a lot of children, or a group of adults with developmental disabilities.

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to facilitate a series of drum circles for groups of children at a K – 9 school in St. Louis. It was a wonderful experience bringing the joy of making music to many of these children, and helping our community to heal a little bit.

The school is very diverse, the staff and kids from all different backgrounds and cultures. It was mostly special needs kids, and children with various developmental, and physical limitations. I was co-facilitating with a music therapist in what was being called, “drum circle day” for the faculty and all the kids in the school. 

The way they wanted it structured was like this: First, a drum circle for the teachers, and faculty at 8:20. Then one after another, 5 different groups of kids, 2 classes each, about 30 to 50 in each group, (The perfect amount, actually.) We had about 50 minutes with each group, one coming in pretty much right after the other. We went with the 2 concentric circles of chairs set up, with two yard wide entrances leading in.

The drum circles were held in the gym, not the most ideal place for drum circles, but if you find the spot with the least echo, it’s not too bad. I use the clap my hands loud test as soon as I enter the gym before setting up. I can find the sweet place with the least echo that way. Often, I can’t see it in advance, and usually it’s at the far end of the basketball court, centered, starting about 10 yards from the wall. So I asked that they set the chairs up there.

We set the circle about 20 feet across, so one side can hear the other, and you don’t get that disconnect, but still leaving room for self expression in the center. As we find our group dynamic, the hula hoops, and colorful scarves come out. I do move around the interior of the circle slowly a few times as I’m verbalizing the beginning of a rhythm, not making eye contact, as not to pressure them, but letting each of them see my hands up close so they can then figure out how they want to play. 

I do this for maybe 4 – 12 measures and play along as I verbalize it. Playing it nice and slow until we are getting that rhythm to lock in, and then I go back to my chair and fade out, or hold it steady, until it’s time to rumble end it, and move on to a new rhythm. I would do 2 rhythms, my partner would do 2, and we would take turns holding the downbeat steady for each other. It worked out great, because the kids could either play the support beat, and/or improvise. They could explore their drums during that 50 minutes, and find it’s unique different sounds and nuances.

There just isn’t enough time with each group to use up swapping instruments, or drum circle games, pie slices, or any of that. Just play baby. If there’s another drum circle day, we can get into other things, but for today we just make music. 

I think it’s important to have a variety of drums representing different countries and cultures, as well as play rhythms from the kids. So we have congas, various doumbeks and djembes, some light bongos, and frame drums, plus a few things for those in wheelchairs, and/or with physical limitations so that they can still have fun and be a part of it. With a few exceptions, most of my kit is a wide variety of used drums I’ve bought over the years, most purchased one at a time.

Anyway, at the start, we positioned ourselves against the far side wall seats so we can see everything that’s going on, and who’s coming into the room as things are happening. Often times with multiple drum circles like this some come in late. A few kids, or a group will need to be transitioned in, sometimes during an ongoing rhythm. But more importantly, I position there so the bass note resonates more. It helps the kids (and adults) to easily hear, and feel the downbeat, and if they need it, that anchor is there to take any early pressure off them.

I like to make it a visually appealing sight when the kids enter the playing area, so I decorate it up a bit beforehand. It takes me longer, but it makes a difference if you have the time. The drums are colorful and inviting by themselves, but I have this huge 20 foot across and 8 foot tall pastel tapestry from India that has this amazing hand stitched embroidery all across the top foot of it. It’s some sort of silk mix fabric, and it drapes so beautifully. It sets a real nice mood, and a tone that this is going to be a fun experience. Maybe I’ve watched too much “Project Runway”, and some of it rubbed off on me. It does look like it came from “Mood”. Actually it was a yard sale treasure that I found a few years ago. It makes a beautiful colorful backdrop hanging up on the wall behind the drum circle, and just says, this is going to be fun.

So, we had one drum circle for the faculty, and then 5 drum circles after that. Very often with this type of thing, the groups are scheduled 5 – 10 minutes apart. Just barely enough time to re-set the chairs and drums, get a few sips of water, take a few breaths, and in comes the next group, it’s go time. Our strategy going in was to pre-set the drums in front of, or on top of each chair, have them single file in, get them all seated, play now, and talk later. We only had a limited amount of time (50 minutes) with each group, and we wanted them to have as much playing, fun, and self discovery time as possible.

The plan was a tried and true method. Get them quickly seated with a drum they like, and get a warm up jam going for 5 minutes or so, and end it with a big rumble. Usually it’s a basic rhythm like Boom sha la-ka, Boom sha la-ka, & etc. Or, the “We Will We Will Rock You”, Boom Boom tone or, a default drum circle rhythm: Boom Boom tone tone tone (rest) A lot of it depended on the vibe we got as they were getting seated.

The music therapist and I had never worked together before, so there was a little concern in the back of my mind. As luck would have it, our skill sets meshed together beautifully. Both of us prefer the organic approach to facilitating drum circles. In other words, the better the music sounds, the more fun it is, and the better it feels. No games, no waiting for the other side to play and then get a turn, none of that. Just get them playing a warm up rhythm quickly so the nerves, and the “what if’s” fade away. Then it’s easy to move on to the more interesting world rhythms.With our first group, the faculty, we knew they all had a full day of teaching ahead of them and had to get them having fun quickly, so that’s what we did. 

But at the same time we wanted them to experience a shortened version of our curriculum. Quick 15 second demonstration: Bass note is the elephant. Right and left hand tone are tiger, and the lion. After a Latin-ish warm up rhythm, we got into a Native American Heartbeat rhythm. They got such a good groove going on that, we went to a funky sort of Fanga, and then wrapped it up with belly dance Beledi. By then, they were pretty jazzed. We got a lot of fun packed into that 25 minutes. Rumbled and wrapped it, they left, and in came the first group of children. Here was the breakdown for the day:  

Schedule and Type of Groups 

:20-8:45: Staff Warm-Up Drum Circle 

9:15: 26 Students + approximately 20 staff. The info given was that most of these students had Autism, and were lower functioning. The grade range: K-8. We were informed that a few would be able to follow start and stop directions, but most would have trouble sustaining attention and following directions. Most of the students were non-verbal. There was a lot of sensory issues with this group, including a few students who did not tolerate loud noise well. So, we kept the volume down, and slow and steady. All the kids got into it really nicely. 

That warm up rhythm really sets the tone. Is this going to be a classroom type thing? Or, is this going to be fun? The music gave direction, they sensed and felt where the endings were, it was a breeze. The nice thing about verbalizing a rhythm is it can be processed faster. If I say, “Yum Yum, Tastes Like Chick-en” (2 bass notes, the rest tones.) I say it slowly maybe four times and play while I say it. Then drop the vocals and let it jam, possibly bring up the tempo if it’s sounding good. 

With Heartbeat, some of them fall of count and it goes into a Row Row Row Your Boat kind of jam, it still works, and they usually find their way back on time. 

10:15: 27 students + approximately 17 staff. This was the lowest functioning group with 18 of the students in a wheelchair. Info given was that most of these students are mainly working on making wants and needs known. All are non-verbal, and loud noise may be disturbing to some.  Again, low volume. Kept the rhythms mostly soulful, spiritual, and grooving. They all found their places in it. With groups such as this during the warm up I start it very slow and steady, and keep it there for a few minutes longer until the groove was established. 

A neurologist friend of mine explained to me that despite many of their individual challenges, that most kids like this are highly functioning individuals. They just live a few seconds in the past. So, a drum circle rhythm, even unfamiliar to them, being repeated over and over works perfectly. So, when they are ready, they will begin to play and fall right into the groove. For that reason when the staff asked a few questions in advance, I asked them not to intervene if someone is not participating. They will when they are ready, and when they feel comfortable. “Not all who wander, are really lost”, is the case sometimes also. 

With each of the groups, during those first crucial minutes of the warm up jam I say to the kids, “Play whenever you feel like you want to, okay? Play whatever you want, just follow the beat.” (Everybody usually chuckles.) The point is to get them out of their heads, overthinking, and just experiment and explore their drum, and the sounds it can make. ”11:15 Lunch – Thanks I’m starving at this point. 

12:15: 28 students + approximately 13 staff. This was a mixed diagnosis group of slightly higher functioning, more verbal students with Autism, Intellectual Disability and Emotional Disturbance. There was one student in a wheelchair. Despite some of the challenges, it was apparent that with each group after about 10 minutes they started to "get it" and get out of their heads. Then they could just play and have fun with it. It was the perfect example of self discovery teaching without actually teaching. The Yum Yum, Tastes Like Chicken rhythm, the I Like to Eat Chocolate Cake jam, Heartbeat, Fanga, and Beledi all seemed to go great with all the groups, we got the energy up, and we got them improvising, and sounding pretty good. The main thing was, they were making music, and having fun. With all these groups, 50 minutes went by like it was 15. 

1:15: 21 students + approximately 9 staff. This was a mixed group of students with Autism, Emotional Disturbance, Other Health Impairment or Intellectual Disability. They were verbal and higher functioning than the previous group. Everything was working nicely, so we stuck with the basic curriculum. I keep a 36” long back polymer steamer trunk filled with curious percussion items. I call it the drum circle treasure chest. I keep the lid open and have it off to the side. It has a large inviting “Drum Circle” sign on it, and it has nothing that is played with sticks. Lots of colorful fun things, maracas, shakers, tambourines, guiros, and so on. Somehow a stick always finds its way to a goatskin drumhead. These kids were all well behaved, but I have done events like this before and the treasure chest is there just in case. 

2:15: 30 students + 12 staff. This was the highest functioning group of students with mostly an Emotional Disturbance, a few with Other Health Impairment or Autism. These students were verbal and are right at or slightly below grade level. This group went last so we could have more flexibility to go an hour or more. And so we did. These kids took to jamming and improvising right away, and had a great time, especially playing Beledi near the end. A few of the teachers got on the hula hoops, got in the center and hooped it up. It was a beautiful thing connecting to the music like that. And it happened with each group.

3:15: Pack it up. Wait for the school buses to clear so we could load up all the drums, and haul them home.

We were very busy, but throughout the day with each group I could see their eyes light up, and the smiles come out as we played the various rhythms. With these kinds of all day drum circles you have to pace yourself so you have enough left for the last group. They deserve as much energy as the first group got.

We were both pretty worn out, but at the same time it was so gratifying knowing we are doing some good in our community, healing, inspiring to improvise, and building the self confidence in these kids, all the while having fun.

I hope this drum circle day catches on and more schools around the country, and they will give it a try. I've worked with various groups over the years, and for me, the area I really feel like I am doing the most good is with school kids. This was the kind of thing that inspired me to make music a part of my life, and it has helped me throughout it.

We brought the kids (and the teachers) a great music making experience, and it was a good time learning for them as well. We were honored to have the pleasure to do this. It was visionary thing for the school to try - just watch the short video and see the joy in their faces.

More About Special needs Drum Circles

Hand drumming reaches people on so many deep levels, and of course me as well. This kind of work touches me very deeply. Emotionally, it just tugs at my heart. And reaches me on such a deep personal level that I can’t even describe the feeling and how much I am affected by it. Especially afterwards when I sort of debrief myself, and reflect on things for an hour or two. I think about what they enjoyed the most, what worked well, what fell flat, and what I just learned from the session, and from them. Each time I come away with something new. That first time, I just went there to help everyone drum some, and have fun together at a holiday party. I came home profoundly affected. 

For the most part I found all I needed to do fundamentally, was just start out rhythms like I usually do, and let the music go where it goes. Maybe add in a few games or fun things people can do just be spontaneous and have fun with. It is more of a challenge to facilitate though the music. I knew that with some conditions, you needed to speak slowly and clearly. To be very patient and give people a chance to work into the present time. The repetition of the drum beat rhythm allows that, even if their condition forces them to live ten seconds in the past, they can catch up. I noticed the social changes in the group positively improve as well.

Some administrators love the drum circle environment. They have told me that it’s rare for the parents and patients to have a fun activity they can do together. This is something they rarely get to do. Just to have some fun and improvise without worry and have a good time…together…and without it feeling a little uncomfortable. Because when you drum, even with physical, or mental conditions, all you think about is drumming.

I think the current politically correct term now is “special needs”, it was learning disabilities last year, some may even remember the term mental retardation. I don’t see disabilities in people. I see abilities. I feel it is wrong to try and categorize people like this. One administrator explained to me that most of the people in his group had an IQ of below 70, or problems with adapting, and/or socializing. The average IQ for a person is 100, measured by tests. Most of us have taken one at some time or another. The Wechsler test is one of them.

You just need to very patient, caring, and compassionate, while having fun. More often than not, you will need to modify your approach when working with special needs a little bit. Both with the drumming, and, more importantly, the rapport you build with them. I like to focus more on the individual relationships with each person. Because if they like you, and enjoy hanging out and drumming with you, that’s the goal I have in mind. We are just regular people having a good time. Having fun as a group, is my goal to help empower them.

If you are having fun, they can see it, feel it, and they begin to have fun also. The same goes with confidence in yourself. You need to be able to hold the support beat solid for them sometimes. Especially, at a first drum circle session. Later on, you can lay back here and there. Even let someone else start out a beat, and support it. It may work, it may fall to pieces. If you have a fun personality, and something goes flat, you can just joke about it. “Oops, my fault. Let’s start a new rhythm out.” 

As I mentioned, an important thing to keep in mind as explained to me by a neurologist was that almost all of the patients, regardless of their individual condition, one thing most all of them have in common, is that they are essentially normal, intelligent, highly functional people. They just live five, or ten seconds in the past. I didn’t know that. 

This is why drumming can be so effective. The repetitive nature of a drum beat makes it easy, and comfortable for them to catch up, or find their place in the beat, and feel normal for a change. Verbal communication is the same. This is a little trickier obviously. You need to speak clearly, and slowly. I speak as little as possible with short sentences, and facilitate through the music more, because of this. I usually speak only at the beginning, or end of a musical piece. I always have my radar up for a non-verbal cue from someone. I do use hand and arm gestures to get everyone’s attention in the center of the circle if I need to for this. But I usually still facilitate from the edge of the circle, like I always do. We’re there to have fun and drum, not to talk. If I do need to explain something, I use photos, or speak very clearly, choose my words carefully, and talk just a tad slower than I normally would. Memory capacity can be more limited with some of these participants.

A few things I have learned, is just because someone may appear to be not having fun, or may have their head down, it does not necessarily mean they are not into it. Early on working with special needs groups, I learned that many people in these groups mask their feelings, so I need to be aware of that before I subtly try to address it with a cool percussion gadget from my gig bag. An expression like looking bored, scared, joyful, digging it, a happy or sad, can be easily misinterpreted.

Sometimes a person will have a bored look on their face, but in reality they might be having a ball. I’ve seen this, and I can’t address it in front of the group because it might embarrass them. At the end of the circle the guy comes up to me and says, “I had a wonderful time, thanks for letting me just be me.” That was a profound moment. The next drum circle he did the same thing, but eventually the rhythms got him to play on his own. He played when he was ready to play, and did so at his own pace. I learned not to push people.

Often I like to begin a drum circle with a gong that I keep in my gig bag. It’s about 14 inches wide. I use a soft mallet, and walk around the interior of the circle and let each person bang the gong once, or twice if they don‘t get a good gong on it. (If they want to.) Usually it’s smiles from ear to ear every time. Very few have ever turned it down. It’s a fun way to begin, and develop a rapport with each person, and it gives you a chance to see their individual hand coordination a little bit. Try to think up fun ideas like that.

I find the simplest heartbeat rhythm seems to be a good way to begin the drumming, or the “We Will Rock You“ beat again. I start it out very slowly, hold it steady, and let them play whatever they want. Whatever feels natural to them. We will let the rhythm go wherever it feels it wants to go, just like at a regular drum circle. They may just want me to hold it slow and steady, or ramp it up and play fast and exciting. They may just want to enjoy a good sounding groove for awhile. You don’t know really, until you get there. 

But you can prepare a little bit. You can sense what a group wants to do, after you have worked with these populations for a while. Especially, in a very short time, you can assess the group’s skill level. I just go with it. With the slower rhythms the time seems to just fly by, and I hardly ever get even half way through my set list. The amount of time becomes a non-issue to everyone, and they all keep happily busy. The most simple heartbeat rhythm will do this if played for more than 10 minutes at the same tempo and volume level. We play lots of other fun rhythms, and have many different endings for them. Anticipating the end of what a rhythm will be as you are playing it, is sometimes fun. So during almost every drum circle I’m at, I have 4 or 5 different endings I like to use during the drumming session.

I sometimes just say, “A great rhythm needs a great ending to it.” So then I will show whatever it is to them, (1 or 2 bars or so) then I ask to please do it with me a couple of times, like 6 times over so everyone has it. Then we just play a rhythm for 10 minutes or so and I count them down to do that big ending, that we planned in advance.

There is a traditional drum phrase break that signals an upcoming change or ending at a drum circle. That one works great, but is a bit more complex one. Bum Ba DumDum, Ba Dum Dum BaDa. (pause) Boom!

A Latin drum break works well also. Or make something up, as a nice ending to a good jam. The phrase Mississippi River makes a nice little jam starting point.

One cool ending I like to use with these groups also, is to have everyone play 9 equal up tempo tones, and then two big bass notes. Then repeat it like 10 times, and I count them down as we go. 4-3-2-1- ooooooooo B B, ooooooooo B B etc. Or try this one - five tones, then 3 bass notes. ooooo BBB, repeat. There is what I refer to as a “drum circle set list” like bands use on my site. There are dozens of notated drum rhythms to try out. Please feel free to check it out.

When you feel the group has come to the ending, or attention span of a rhythm is ending, try slowing and quieting the rhythm down over a 30 second period…then play slower and slower, until the rhythm ends in super slow motion. Like the Six Million Dollar Man or something. Like one of those old vinyl records slowing down after you unplugged it. (Remember those?) A rumble after that is always good.

Obviously rumbles are always good. I like to let members of the group get to do the ending rumble. Usually it’s whoever raises their hand when I ask, “Who wants to end the rhythm?” Then they get a turn ending a rhythm. I have a magic wand I made up for that. It has colorful ribbons on it. They can wave it around and direct the volume, direction, etc. A couple of minutes is good on that one. Let each of them that want to direct rumbles so they each get a chance to do it. For some this is the first time they ever get to be a leader. It helps to empower them, and build self esteem. 

I let them try out unique percussion items periodically, by pulling them out, demonstrating how they work, and asking between jams, “Who would like to try this one out?” I just let them have fun. But I do go in with a prepared set list program. Which is usually changed all around depending on the group vibe I’m feeling. You can tell if a particular rhythm is working, or not feeling right. So can they. I laugh it off and we start another one.

You don’t even need to show people what a rumble is, when they have a drum in their lap. They can figure it out instinctively when you do it, and telegraph it a little at the end of a rhythm. That’s part of the fun. Figuring things out on your own. It gives you a better feeling of self accomplishment.

Eventually I realized that almost everything for them is focused on their disability, and that has to get very frustrating for them, so they can use something for an outlet. A drum circle is a fun way that they can express their feelings, that will build their confidence. A drum circle? You should see their eyes light up.

But back to rumbles. Sometimes to teach a rumble easily to everyone, I say ok here are two rules. If I put my hands in the air you can play as fast and as loud as you like. When my hands come down you stop. Then I show them a lot of variations they can try, and mention it is ok if you think up your own ways to direct the rumble endings.

It’s nice if you can speak to administrators before the drum circle and ask them questions about their vision, and how they would like things to go. It isn’t always possible. Do they want to begin a certain way? Do they seat everyone, or start exactly at a given time? What are some of the medical conditions? Are there any in wheelchairs? (Frame drums or tambourines, shakers and bells seem to work well for them.) What is it they hope to see, achieve? Are there potentially any people that might need extra attention, or need the assistance of the staff? Some of these facilities only have one recreation director, and there is no extra staff available.

I research the mission statement; get an idea of who they are from their website always first thing, just like with any other group I work with. Sometimes that is all the information I’ve had to go on. It happens.

I try to brief the staff before the start about them intervening. I ask them to let me do the crowd control. Do please join in as yourself and please don't try to show anyone how to do it, or what to do with it. I get this sometimes, with staff who mean well. But please don’t. The reason is, they sometimes get in there and want to demonstrate to a person how to do this or that. That’s not good. It embarrasses them, or worse. 

At one special needs group gig, I didn’t know anybody there, and had no access to talk to the staff beforehand. It was a quickly booked job, and many of them happen that way, so there just isn’t time to find out individual needs. All of a sudden people are arriving in droves. Parents, family, and patients all mixed in together. To be honest, a few people I could recognize had certain conditions, but I really had no idea who was a patient, and who were family members? What should I do with this one? So I had to toss my list right out, and improvise.

Sometimes that is the most fun - improvising. Just play or do whatever feels right at the time. Rarely do I end up doing what I planned the night before. And I try not being afraid to do something I might feel is risky. I wear a samba whistle just in case, and demonstrate it in the beginning, to imprint the meaning of it in case things go chaotic at a later part. It’s a good back up tool if things get a little out of hand, and it does happen sometimes. But I usually don’t need it. (Unless I forget to bring it of course.)

The drum circle went great and everyone loved it. They got to interact with their family members, and do something fun and positive together. This is pretty rare for some families with special needs family members. Later the staff told me they had three patients that have never even left the housing building before, for any activities. Period. The staff said they watched them looking out the window for awhile and saw everyone else drumming and having a good ol’ time, and came out and joined in. They told me how remarkable that was. That feels pretty good, that the drum circle coaxed them to come out and play.

It’s been my experience these types of groups become more involved and want to participate, when the drum rhythm changes their perceptions enough that they pay more attention to what is going on, and they even want more.

At another special needs gig, the patients and the staff got a kick out of it. They were stunned that I managed to get everyone to participate without even saying anything, other than, “ 1-2-3-Lets Play!” When I booked the job, the staff again said to me, only a few of our people will want to do this. I thought, ok this has happened before. Same deal, they all participated because it was fun. It was something a little bit different than group bowling. The director wrote me afterward, that since the drumming program, there has been a tremendous benefit from it. The drum circle gave them a new outlet that they never had before. It gets them thinking, experimenting, and making music, which is great! Now they have a regular weekly drumming program.

Most of the mission statements seem to be something like to integrate people back into society. A drum circle is the perfect vehicle for that. After we had worked together every couple of weeks for 6 months, one group of special needs adults all became comfortable drumming, and being around me. So I offered to the staff to bring them out to an indoor public venue, with a little more manageable open drum circle, that I was hosting. 

It was better than I could have imagined. They just blended in beautifully, and few even knew they were special needs patients. All they want to do is have fun, and not be treated or feel treated “special”. They just want to be treated like one of the guys. Just one of the group. Not special. The staff told me that their only recreational outings were always things like bowling, and that they would always go with only other special needs patients in a “closed to the public” setting. So the drum circle was perfect. I’ve been bringing this group to open community functions to drum for a long time, and both the staff and I have seen remarkable improvements in all kinds of areas. Here they are, musically, socially, physically, interacting with the public.

The guiding of this particular special needs group in our community led to a two hour performance on a big stage in front of 100's of people at an Earth Day festival, where they were wildly applauded, appreciated, and sounded great. It was a proud moment for them, and for me.

The Earth Day was a beautiful drum circle. It was a public event, a blend of our general community, a special needs group, and we were all together jamming. We had a blast being up on the big stage drumming out some great rhythms, and engaging a huge crowd to join in with us.

A key part of the intent of groups that are oriented toward those with physical and/or mental restrictions is finding ways to bring them into general society as much as possible. It has been my experience that drum circles are an excellent path to this goal. This is the kind of work I believe I was put on this earth to do. Working with special needs individually, or in groups touches my heart very deeply, especially when I get home and have some time to reflect on the experience.

With this particular group, after a few drum circles at their facility, I invited them to a public drum circle at a cafe where I was hosting a weekly drum circle. They were comfortable drumming with me at that point, and it worked out great.

Months later, when I was asked to host this Earth Day drum circle show on the big stage, I asked the staff and them if they would like to drum at this event. They jumped at the chance. Sure it was a little risky, but that's what life is about. Taking chances. We played for over an hour and a half, the crowd didn't want us to stop, two encores and everything. It was like a dream come true. I was booked for 45 minutes, but it was going so well the organizers asked us to keep going, so we did. All of this happened in less than 6 months. It just kind of all fell together like it was meant to be.

The crowd never even knew there was a special needs group playing with the other drummers. The group was thrilled because for one of the first times in their lives they were just seen as regular people, and not as "special". We were all just musicians that day. 

I believe that real personal growth comes from the inner expression of each individual, and their self discovery. And the real beauty with hand drumming is that with almost all special needs conditions, is the repetition of the rhythms. We do them over and over, so if they get lost, or feel lost, that safety net of the foundational beat is there for them to rely on, or fall back on if they need it. Even if they live five, or ten seconds in the past, they do eventually pick it up, or find it, and sound great. The repetition is what does it. It is such a feeling of accomplishment to witness this in so many people.

Many of you already know this, but there is something called entrainment (not entertainment) that can happen to one individual or to an entire group. This occurs when the brain synchronizes to an external stimulus, such as the drum beat. This can be very therapeutic and, while it can happen to anyone or any group, it has a much more significant impact on those with special needs.

A few different medical doctors have explained to me that with most conditions, like Down Syndrome patients for example, they do indeed live a few seconds, to a few minutes in the past. So I just need to allow time for them to catch up. Imagine if you lived a few seconds in the past, and just couldn’t process information that quickly. You need to talk slowly and clearly in short sentences. Start rhythms out nice and slow and hold them there until everyone has it locked in.

Sometimes I run into a person that simply can’t hold still. They seem to need to bang, or fidget constantly. It’s a challenge keeping them focused. Until they experience some sort of entrainment. For purposes of this post, a definition of entrainment is basically when the person’s brainwaves get into a pattern of synchronization with an external beat. This helps the brain synchronize internally as well. It can be very therapeutic. A staff member explained this to me. Getting them to that point of entrainment is most of my goal. Once they are in there, I can almost just sit on the side and jam with them. It almost always takes 5 or 10 minutes to do it. And sometimes it feels like it was an hour. But it was only 5 minutes.

Hula hoops work great with some groups, or a ribbon or scarf so they can get in the center if they want to and wave it around in the breeze as they move or dance around to the beat. You can try giving away little 99 cent store goodies to entice people to hoop in the center for two minutes. It works every time. Just ask them to be mindful of the people around them. I like to keep the center of the drum circle as big as I can without hurting the musical connection from one side to the other.

Laying out the 2 towels in the center so they can feel the beat of the drum rhythms, way into their bodies works great. I don’t need to tell people about the healing power of the drum when they try that. They can feel it in their bones. It’s very powerful. Try it for yourself if you never have. Lie down on your back in the center of a drum circle and then close your eyes for one minute while everyone is playing a rhythm. 

Both are great ideas for almost any drum circle group, and I use them both all the time.

There are so many different developmental disabilities; I can’t get too much into it. That’s why the input from the staff members is so useful. I have no medical degrees, and I’m not a healer, (although sometimes it happens by default.) I’m not there to treat them. I’m just there to help them have a little fun. Sometimes I have no idea who has what condition. That’s just the way it is. There simply isn’t time for the staff to go through all the individual conditions each person has, so I have to use an overall group approach. Due to the repetitive nature of a drum rhythm, they all eventually catch on or catch up. That’s why this is so effective. After a short while everyone is in synch and feels like an equal part of the group. I always come away having learned something new when working with these groups. And just like that, I become some kind of healer by default. They teach me things I never dreamed of. It never ceases to amaze me.

I had to experiment some with ideas, ask the advice of staff, doctors, and others. Here’s some of what I’ve found out and learned. Again, I try to treat them like regular everyday normal people. The worst thing to do is treat them or talk to them like they are handicapped. Would you like that? I wouldn’t. The staff usually tells me if there are any concerns to be aware of. I may need to enunciate a bit more, talk a little clearer and slower but that’s about it.

Many of them are very sensitive to pressure. I encourage them to join in when they feel comfortable. That way they can join in with no pressure, on their own. I do have to do a bit more leading and starting out the rhythms. The support beat thing. The comfort of the bottom beat is there for them.

Their attention span, and loud noise are an issue. I deal with this by keeping the volume lower, and by giving them lots of choices of percussion instruments to play. I lay them on a table outside the circle, or down right next to them, or on the floor in front of them. Just a pile of goodies to play, and experiment with. They usually end up liking one of them. Most of them don't want you pushing an instrument in their face, to get them to play this, or that particular one. I just smile and with an offering facial expression, lay it down near them. If they like it and want it, they will pick it up when the drum beat gets going. I just need to keep in mind of the volume.

I see shy people become less shy. I see people who play it safe, begin to take risks. I see people who have nothing else in common, becoming deeply connected with one another on a non-verbal level. I know there is something very good going on in these drum circles.

Here are a few ideas and thoughts, on a couple of particular conditions. Again, I’m a musician, not a medical expert. Most of this is from my experiences, and/or the staff and doctors advising me over the years. And again, I usually have no idea who has what, so I have to be ready to react at all times. 

Attention Deficit Disorder and Autism

When I know there are people with attention deficit disorder I usually just put a variety of percussion items by them so they can choose and try out all different kinds of things to keep them busy and occupied. I just give them lots of choices and let them pick. It almost always works, it just creates more of a mess to clean up. Who cares? Part of the job. Keep the volume down.

Cerebral Palsy

Usually I can spot this condition, because many have a weak arm (or arms). Some I can spot because they are in wheel chairs, but, other than that, most can function just fine. I have a couple of good friends with this condition so I know a little bit about it from experience drumming with them. They told me the drums they preferred. It was Bongos, because the weak hand doesn’t have to work so hard, they can just tap with it, until they strengthen it up a little more. They can set them on their lap, or a chair or table in front of them. It’s important to remember that most of these people with many of these various conditions, are highly intelligent, still very functional, and can be very musical human beings. The ones I have become closer friends with tell me they just want to be treated as regular people. When that happens, it’s easier for them to open up socially, even in a in a public setting, such as a public drum circle. Sometimes it takes a few weeks, don’t expect to see vast improvement in one drum circle. Overcoming the stigma from the general public is usually the problem, not them. Best of all, over time the drumming does strengthen their weak arm. Drumming does heal, emotionally and physically.

The lighter weight polymer shell Djembes and Bongos with synthetic heads work the best. Anything like those big 15 pound Bongos get a bit heavy just sitting on your legs for long periods of time. Even for one friend I have who has no feeling in his legs. He has somewhat limited movement in one hand. But he loves playing the Bongos, and plays them quite well now. I’m so impressed how he has improved in motor function, finger movements, and musically. He went from just sort of flopping his hands down to keeping good time, and playing entire rhythms perfectly in about six months. Frame drums and tambourines work real well for some people also. Especially if they have only the ability to just tap their fingers a little. They can lay it on their lap, and tap away, and be an important part of the group. Just part of the gang.

Down Syndrome

I’m no expert, and I have no medical degree as a music therapist, but I have worked with a lot of people with it before. Apparently the distinction is, drumming therapy - you need a degree to do that. Therapeutic drumming - no degree needed. I've seen a few music therapists who didn’t seem to establish a good rapport with people and they weren’t very empathetic or intuitive with their patients. On the other hand, I have also seen some beginner drum circle facilitators who are born with the gift of intuition and people skills, who leave a session with each individual feeling a sense of real accomplishment.

Usually with Down Syndrome they are open and enthusiastic. That's all you really need. It doesn't hurt to have a few of the percussion toys around them, so they have some choices. While some of them will be able to follow a simple rhythm, several will not be able to. They want to do their "own thing", and that's okay too. But with children, volume is a serious consideration, before the short attention span. Loud noise can be a real problem, so you have to constantly monitor the volume.

Some drum circles begin with total chaos. Man, it happens almost every time at the beginning. It kind of freaked me out, early on, when I started working with special needs groups. I just let it go for 5 minutes if I feel the need to and usually it levels out when the group feels the musical group dynamic. Then it always comes together. It takes a while to have the confidence that it will happen, because it feels like it never will unless I intervene. But I rarely ever need to. The group feels like they corrected it. And guess what? They did. I don't try to correct or modify what they are doing even if it is a train wreck. I had to learn to trust myself it would come together. I feel it was a success if all of them are actively participating in some kind of drumming. No matter how chaotic, offbeat, or bad it may seem to me. And because they corrected it themselves, it has a much strong empowerment effect.

Sometimes it may seem they may not appear to be enjoying it. You might think you perceive it in someone’s face. Most always all of them are, especially if they're doing it of their own choice. Some like to just sit and take it all in for a little while. Just play on.

I often tell them how great they sound and how well they are doing with lots of smiles. I just don’t over do it so it becomes obvious or soupy. These groups thrive on approval, appreciation, accomplishment, and acceptance. I try to give them lots of positive acknowledgement.

If I get a particular person that is so disruptive to the rest of the group, and I have no staff to assist me. I always bring along a small paint set, and offer to let them paint the music for us.

A craft project of some sort is another good idea. I bring a few of those big vitamin bottles and ask them make shakers for me. “I need a couple of shakers made, can you help me make one and decorate it up?” It worked great. Now, the staff saves the empty bottles for me when I come to drum with them. I bring some shaker materials, like popcorn, beads, and macaroni. Colorful things work the best. One time a guy spent the entire hour and a half sorting just the right colors to put in the shaker. He left the group to make some music, yet he was still involved. I had colored tape for him to decorate it up with. When it was done he was so proud of it, he played along with us near the end. Be sure to ask the staff if they can keep it. 

Here’s another idea, speaking of painting art. Have them do a painting, or create a mural, painting the music. Almost a music appreciation thing, or a "how does music make me feel" painting. I get a big pad of paper, like you might put on an artist’s easel. I always bring a few big sheets of paper, sometimes a big artist’s pad. We try using different mediums, markers, water colors, crayons, or pastels.

They can either paint their own, or do a group painting. Sometimes I will ask who wants to drum, and who wants to paint the music. Mostly I will get half the group painting a mural, and the other half playing the drums. Then switch it up later, so they all get a turn at both the drumming, and the mural. I ask them to express their feelings in art as they listen to the music. Some get displayed in the facilities to this day.

Sometimes when working with special needs kids, many are scared of noise, I learned from a staff member to get them in there early, and let them explore the drums a little on their own. (And the percussion items.) In many cases, when they're in charge of the noise, they're happy to make it loud. I sometimes have a dancing rhythm going when they enter the room, and do the egg shaker on each chair thing.

We play a rhythm together and they can move around or whatever. It gives them a sense of making music before the drumming starts. For the first time with a group, I don't expect much of a groove, but be ready for it, because it happens if you anchor it for them with a nice support rhythm. It is important to have stuff that can be played with one hand. I have this basket of fruit shaped shakers I use a lot with them. Expect to spend a little time finding the right instrument for each person, and let them choose something different later on. Make it fun, and interesting for them.

Some have physical limitations, so I bring buffalo drums, frame drums, drums they can lay on their laps and play. I try to avoid things played with sticks or mallets, because some will just start bashing them wildly, disrupting the rhythm of everyone else, and possibly put one through a drum head or someone else’s head. I keep them stashed away and use them sparingly. I bring a few Djembe stands or taller drums to accommodate those who might need one. Even those who you may think can only bash away, will get the repetition of a drum rhythm, and catch on eventually. It’s a good idea to have some soft beaters for those who can't use their hands very well.

Make sure that your kit is safe. No sharp edge drums like on some Darbukas etc. Think of your players as vulnerable children with the size and power of adults. Avoid taking anything fragile. The first drum circle with a special needs group can be very challenging. Expect some total chaos to happen. It gets a lot easier the second time. In my experience some of these people have problems judging how hard to strike a body drum, and could hurt their hands by playing it too hard. Show them a few pointers on good hand technique after the warm up jam. 

As I said, loud noise is my biggest concern. The healthy noise limit is about 85 decibels (Db.) I think that is the legal safety limit as well. That’s what the cop said when he broke up a public drum circle in a park. (This wasn’t a special needs group.) He had his little decibel meter, and showed me the reading on it. We were up in the 120 Db. range. The neighbors called them on us. Actually, he was pretty cool about it. As a radio operator I’m familiar with decibels of gain, etc. but I researched this a little, and here’s what I found. A normal conversation is about 60 Db, up to the threshold of discomfort, that is the 120 Db range.

A bunch of people drumming together indoors can easily reach into the 115 to 120 Db range. About 150 Db, is the pain threshold. You can get a decibel meter relatively inexpensively. I think Maplin makes one. Keeping the volume level down takes some skill, and experience to pull it off. But it is possible. And this is even more important when dealing with special needs people.

Create a volume down signal, or just start to play your drum quieter, more often than not, they will be there right with you. It works just great. And as an added bonus, the participants get to hear each other. But if you use it too much it can have a negative effect. It’s something to keep in mind, some of the beginners get way into it, and are often getting their issues out.

Here’s some advice from a friend of mine. When he does big gigs with 100 people, the Db level can be huge. So he brings enough cheap earplugs to go around. As far as I know, if you warn them, and offer protection, you've done your job. I keep a few dozen of them in my gig bag.

A few final thoughts. This new atmosphere of spontaneous drumming can be overwhelming to some people. The one thing I don’t want to do is have people feel threatened, scared, overwhelmed, or lost. Trying to do complicated rhythms can do that. Lots of positive comments from you during the drum circle helps a lot. “Hey, we sounded great on that one didn’t we?” Smile a lot, thumbs up! If they are there, they are participating. Starting some spontaneous applause after a jam goes a long way.

Som things I bring besides my earplugs in my gig bag, are some padded tape, first aid, hand creams, anti-bacterial wipes, etc. for anyone who just might ask. It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with epilepsy, in case someone has a seizure. It’s the staff’s responsibility, but you should know what’s going on. It’s nice if you can speak with the staff beforehand about any possible issues, but as I mentioned, that’s not always possible. So I need to be ready for anything. 

Remember to try and speak with the staff afterwards for some feedback. And at the next time you are there. (Hopefully) Or, leave them a feedback form to fill out, with a self addressed envelope and a stamp on it. I gathered a lot of useful information with a simple feedback form. The medical staff knows a lot more than I do about medical conditions.

Also remember there are heavy restrictions on photography in most cases, so be sure to get permission, preferably in writing, if you want to take photos.

If the group takes a break for lemonade or something, make sure they don’t come back to the drumming area before they are all finished. Goatskin drum heads still make terrible coasters.

Ultimately, I just let people play. We drum up some fun. Let your personality out, and with your calm and reassuring manner, watch the volume, and they will quickly enjoy playing together, and connecting with you.

One thing some don't understand about drum circles, is that it's more about the people, than it is the actual drumming. Many facilitators agree with me on this, some don't. The quality of the music produced in a drum circle isn't really based on the musical experience of the players, but on the developing quality of the relationships of the people that emerge. As a facilitator I help people to empower themselves through drumming, music, and fun.

People really need no experience at all to play in a drum circle. I encourage individual creativity, and group dynamics. I hope you will consider having me facilitate a drum circle for you and your group.

- Shannon Ratigan

I hope some of this is helpful to you, and it gives you a few ideas working with special needs individuals and groups – young or adult. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions, and based on my experiences. If you would like to read some more about my approach to drum circles, please consider picking up my book, “A Practical Guide To Hand Drumming And Drum Circles” It’s 300 pages, and $8 on Amazon Kindle or Nook.

There is increasing recognition of the health benefits of music therapy, particularly facilitated hand drumming, which is what I do for a living. Unfortunately, places where the people who benefit the most, such as senior centers and special needs can not afford to pay for this.

If you're a filmmaker or video / TV producer all of my drumming and drum circle music tracks are licensed. Check iTunes Spotify Soundcloud Amazon or & listen to a few. There's a wide variety of cultures, styles, and tempos to choose from. Helps to set that perfect mood for a scene. Or just enjoy some live drum circle jam music. Various cultures, tempos, and styles. 

I also have a 2 hour DVD, (now a video) of rhythms titled, “101 Drum Circle Rhythms”. If you choose to purchase, thanks in advance for helping an independent musician. The funds help me with drum repairs, and doing work in our community. Most of these groups I work with have very limited recreational budgets, and you would be helping a lot of people out.

Shannon Ratigan 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Drum Circles For Kids - Ideas For Drumming With Children

 Ideas For Drum Circles For Kids in Schools, Youth Groups, Parties, and Events

Drum circles in schools work great, because it is a fun, experiential activity that promotes multi-cultural learning. It builds self confidence, and social abilities. It helps with motor skills, (processing information) boosts creativity; it even helps to teach them some basic mathematics.

The drum rhythms are in time signatures, so math is taught without actually teaching it. It’s done in the process of just playing the drums, and having fun. Drumming teaches them more focused listening, concentration, and about reaching goals. Plus, it’s an activity parents can enjoy with their children at a later point. So a drum circle makes good sense. Kids like to write songs, and make up rhythms to play to. The teachers begin to see this occurring, then the light goes on and they want you to come back.

For young children, a great way to teach rhythms is to use stuffed animals to represent sounds the drum can make. Or talk about wild animals representing the different sounds, such as: The Tiger (or kangaroo) – is a tone sound The Bear (or elephant) – is a base sound The Snake (or myna bird) – is a closed tone slap Rub your hand on the drum head to make sounds of wind, finger tap is rain drops and so on.

Drums & percussion on chairs. Set up for a transitional drum circle. Kids come & go during ongoing rhythms.

For public events, a colorful kid's drum circle sign is a good idea. Helping spread the love and healing of drumming is important to me, as it was a big part of my life and a major outlet for me, as I was a hyperactive child myself. Once I got into it, I went on to join the school band, learned to read music, and I've been a musician ever since. I've worked with various age groups of children both in schools, groups, community functions, birthday parties, and so on for about 30 years. Sometimes it’s all one age, sometimes mixed ages, sometimes with parents, or even transitional drum circles with the general public mixed in. From 8 - 13 years seems to be that perfect age, eager to learn the drum rhythms.

Every situation with kids drum circles is different. If you’re looking to facilitate or teach kids drum circles, and you don't have a kit of drums yet, the idea of body percussion ie: hand clapping foot stomping etc. it does work – pretty much the same with boomwhacker musical tubes, Remo soundshapes, and things like that. I have some of both in my kit. For the most part, kids tend to get bored with it after a while. If it's there for them, kids like to play an actual drum, and that’s what I try and do with each child. Give them a real drum to play. They can play rhythms just like an adult, sometimes even better.

They just need a little instruction on proper hand technique and volume so nobody gets a bruise or is too uncomfortable. Then we get right to drumming. If it feels like just having fun, rather than a class they learn faster. I use vocalizations to help them start rhythms out.

For example, Yum Yum Tastes like chicken, (bass...bass...tone tone tone-tone) repeated out loud a few times, and then play it on the drum. We say it, and then we play it. Try cuckoo for cocco puffs... Use rhythms, commercial jingles, and so on. I tend to avoid drumming games and activities because my experience is they want to just jam on a drum and make some music.

The next time I show up, they say things like we want to play Fanga or Beledi or some of the other more popular rhythms. I have Word docs of rhythms and various ways to notate, read, and start them on my website you can download free. Kids like learning these, and they like the challenge of making up their own rhythms. Kids can be playing the actual Native American heartbeat rhythm, African Fanga, Mid-east Beledi and Latin Clave, or hip hop in a matter of minutes like adults. These days an 8 year old can build a website, so playing a drum rhythm is just plain fun, and that's the idea. Make it fun. Make some music and not just noise.

As for drum circle and chair set ups: If I can get in there early, I check for the best acoustic spot to set up. Look for the best place for the drum circle, where I can see everyone, and with the least amount of echo. I use my voice or clap loudly all around the room. Sometimes you are outdoors, or you get a small classroom, other times an auditorium. Every situation is different. And most of the time I have to figure things out like the best place to set up when I get there. Often times, the spot has already been selected for you, and you have to go with it whatever it is, wherever it is. A good idea is to check it out beforehand if you can, and suggest the best location.

If it is inside, ask the staff if they can get those little exercise cushions so some of the kids can sit on the drums if they want to. It’s hard for some of them to hold the big ones up, let alone tilt a big Djembe. So lots of times I have the drums set out flat on the carpet so kids can try playing them both ways. Most kids like to try sitting upright, and down on the ground playing on the drum. I let them know they can try either way. I usually set up my chairs in a circle, or sometimes concentric - one a few feet outside the other. I leave a little leg room for the kids in the outer circle. Leave a few open pathways so kids can exit the area, or enter. I try to make the circle about 20 feet across. Any more than that, the kids can’t hear what’s being played on the other side, and you get a disconnect. You can end up with 2 completely different rhythms going on at the same time. Try not to clog the center too much with dancers either – a few at a time if they want to get in there. That can cause sound block and a rhythm disconnect also.

I give them the tools (a drum or percussion item) and they figure it out for themselves and play. I let them know they can play when, and whatever they want to, and they can play whatever they want...but just follow the beat. Unless it’s a one time circle, later, maybe you can have them make their own drums, try a search on that. What we call junk percussion treasure, can be found in thrift stores and yard sales. Try a search on junk percussion also. If you can get them on actual body drums like djembes, doumbeks, bongos, and congas,

the idea of an ongoing drum circle or drumming program is a lot more exciting to them. They become musicians rather than kids in a class.

The problem has always been drums are so expensive. Not so much anymore, most retailers will give a discount if you buy a dozen or so and build a kit up from there. As low as $30 - $60 each. Stick with synthetic head drums like Toca and Remo. You can round it out with tambourines, frame drums, and maracas. Try to avoid anything played with a stick - things get broken, especially if they have goatskin heads. Try - guitar center - - sam ash etc. The arts or rec center in your area might help with a grant. Some schools are able to get them from drum manufacturers like Remo. Look into it and maybe get some help with the cost. My experience is getting real drums is what works. The drums made for kids cost about the same as ones for adults. I suggest getting 6 to 8 inch head size playable drums.

Every situation is different. Sometimes I’m working with children either at a single grade level, with mixed ages, and with their parents on occasion. Often it is a one time outdoor event with mixed aged kids transitioning in and out of the circle as rhythms are going on. I had to learn to roll with it. If they want to put you in a huge auditorium and drum with the entire school, then you need to hire a few assistants, and you’re back to the hand clapping and foot stomping. Having 300 drums is just an impossibility for me so I try to talk them out of a huge "all at once" drumming event. I need to keep it under 100 at most. I’m one guy over here, and I just don’t do that kind of thing anymore.

The kids seem to get less from it in large groups, as opposed to having each child play a drum in a smaller classroom or outdoors. Most of the kids drum circles I do are one time things, sometimes two, a week long, or a few times a year. Usually they are kids groups or organizations, in private schools or for special occasions, parties, etc. The kids really look forward to it because it’s a special event, and it’s just pain fun to bang a drum. I’ve done a few ongoing semester programs, but they are hard to get going, and usually the school already has a music program. You need to present them with a course curriculum, and the kids don’t seem to benefit as much.

Selling the idea to the school is very difficult as opposed to a one day or half day drumming event. I find that the kids actually become more interested and intrigued by hand drumming if it’s a one day or sometimes a one week program. With private or public schools it’s important to know the schools code of conduct, and I adjust the drum circle accordingly. Sometimes I teach little family home schooling drum circles. Where it’s one on one, or one on two drumming lessons, I like to include the parents in the drumming if I can. They are usually just sitting there watching, so I try to include them in the drumming as well. It’s better for their relationship with their children anyway.

Working with mixed age groups of children is obviously a little more challenging. And, if outdoors, even more so. When working with only one child, you have to be able to keep

their interest for an entire hour. Younger kids have shorter attention spans, and you need a bunch of ideas ready to go with. There are quite a few drumming ideas, and games here. As a general rule, when I work with particularly younger age groups, I will structure my program to suit them, and the goals of the educators, or parents. I usually talk with, or email them beforehand, and we discuss it. I ask what their particular vision of the drumming might be, and what they would like to achieve from it. We figure out the program, and tailor one that’s right for them.

Take it one step at a time. Getting a foot in the door by doing a benefit “Teach In” at smaller schools can do wonders for you. Drum circles usually only get press if it’s something negative, and most of the time I am pitching the idea to someone who has never seen one before. So I have to overcome that and explain the drums are expensive. That they don’t just magically appear, and years of work, and musical training goes into this. I charge by the event, and not the hour. A 1 hour drum circle takes me 4 hours to pull off by the time I figure in the loading, unloading, travel, setup and etc. So if it’s two 45 minute drum circles, 2 hours, however it goes, I charge by the event.

Most of the schools and youth groups that benefit from this the most have very limited recreational budgets. So if I can get $100 or $200 for the day, I’m doing pretty well. This kind of work pays in the heart, more than it does in the wallet. You’re doing something that may inspire these kids to make playing music a part of their lives like it did for me. It is a life changing thing you are offering. So that hundred bucks may not seem like much after a full day’s work, but you put something good out in the world. At the end of the day when I sit and reflect how things went, that’s when it sinks in. You remember the smiles on the kid’s faces, how much fun they had, inspiring them, and how great they sounded.

Back to the pitch. Some of the questions that I ask beforehand include the following. Are there are any issues I should be aware of? What is their policy on any extremely disruptive behavior, etc. Unfortunately you don’t always have that luxury when you work with a group, but I try to get as much information as I can. Even beforehand, I research the particular school, club, youth group, or whatever it might happen to be. I speak to the administrators, look up their website, examine their mission statement, and try to have a good understanding of who they are, and what they are about. It just makes good sense to do your homework before you go in there to facilitate a drum circle for a children’s group.

Kids are very impressionable, and I feel you are a role model for them. Whether you think so, or not. Children see any adult in authority as a potential role model. In a relatively short time, kids can understand how music is being made, and they are making it themselves. Perhaps a few will like it so much they will look harder at the school music programs where they now understand they can express themselves creatively, and possibly even join one. Maybe some will join the school marching band. I did, and it was fun. That was the only place in school where I fit in, and wasn’t the outsider. I wasn’t one of the cool kids, the pretty kids, the jocks, you get the idea.

You can make a big difference in somebody’s life – that’s the real point here. They might go on to have a great musical career. Even if not, they will have a safe place they can go to heal themselves when they are hurting. They can also play their drum as an outlet for frustration, peer pressures, stress, hyperactivity, or even just for fun. If it’s a music program, a small group, or a school class situation, or just a mixed age’s event, each one has a slightly different approach that I use. Whenever it’s possible I try to speak to the parents or teachers in advance and ask for some advice. They are a big help if you can get it from them.

As a general rule, at the start of a drum circle or drumming program, I like to get them tired out a little bit first. I get them up and moving or dancing with those small egg shakers, as I play a dancing rhythm on my Djembe. Then we get to the drumming, after a warm up rhythm, I mix in a quick lesson here and there. The history of where the instruments are from, and some lessons about hand technique. So a children’s drum circle needs to be tailored a little bit to the specific needs of the age group, or mixed ages.

You can try some of the ideas below with different age ranges or with mixed ages. Some of them are mine, some are ideas I learned from other teachers, and facilitators whom I’ve seen work with children a lot. More often than not, if it’s ok with the staff, I begin drumming, as my group comes in and wordlessly gesture to them to join in with the shakers. I don't speak till they all have started to play. This may work, or it can lead to a stand-off. It depends on the group, and the situation. Usually it’s a smooth move and transition, the kids just join right in and play what they feel. It sets the right kind of tone for the session. Hey, this is going to be fun!

Sometimes the teachers want everyone to be seated first before playing, and say some things. If that’s the case, then I let them do that, and get to the drumming as quick as I can. Since every situation is different, I never really know how I am going to start. My preference is me playing as they enter, and gesture to them to join me. As a general rule, as I mention in more detail below, I want to get the kids up on their feet and moving around in the circle to tire them out a little bit first thing. Then they are a lot easier to work with. I use the little egg shakers, one or two for each kid. I pre-set them on the chairs, and when they enter the room I start playing a funky beat on my Djembe, and ask them to play the shakers with me and dance in the center. Obviously, this needs to be discussed with the teacher first, so see if they approve of starting this way. For the second time I work with them, I use small tambourines instead of the egg shakers.

If trying to pitch an ongoing program to a school, they are more than likely going to expect a curriculum of some sort from you. What will you be teaching, and how do you plan to do it? They like to see that there is some structure involved in your lessons. I show them sample programs I have used in the past. Here's a basic sample curriculum:

Lesson One: Warm up drum jam. Then, introduce the idea how to make homemade drum and percussion instruments. Including a brief discussion of music theory. What determines pitch, volume, tone, and resonance. Followed by a brief drum circle finale to experiment with the drums, and percussion sounds.

Lesson Two: Learning rhythms from around the world. A brief sample of rhythms from different countries and regions. What instruments are used in these cultures? Followed by a brief drum circle, where we try a few cultural drum rhythms out. (As part 2 of the prior session.) And how do the homemade instruments compare to the drums and percussion instruments from around the world? The tone, shape, sound, purpose, and appearance, etc.

Lesson Three: Playing various drum rhythms as a group. Including some basic drum circle activities, more lessons on music theory, and some drum circle fun. (As part 3 of the series, applying knowledge from both sessions 1 and 2.) The emphasis is on group listening, group song creation, and the building of a group dynamic.

Lesson Four: The playing of various rhythms from different cultures. Then the performance comes next. (Optional.)

My approach with this kind of thing is slightly different. I like to educate the kids about playing goat skin wooden body drums. I always begin with the drums away from the center of the circle, far enough in so that they can not be played as they take their seats in the circle. I start with the egg shakers, and let them think about how they will soon be playing all those cool looking drums over there, and wondering what they might sound like. Then I begin to introduce the drums as my friends, and encourage a conversation about how we treat our friends, and how we like to be treated. I ask them to treat my drums that way please.

These are my friends, my good buddies, so please be nice to them. And they will be nice to you. Please don’t bully my friends. Then we play. After a few rhythms I break for a few minutes and talk a bit about what they are made of, highlighting the wood first then goat. Sometimes, there is a vegetarian in the class who is repulsed, or refuses to even touch them. I assure them that their views are respected and then give them a synthetic head drum, like a Doumbek. It’s pretty rare, but it has happened to me before. I don’t have any gluten free drums. (well, actually, I do.)

Occasionally, I am called upon to do a one time series of short drum circles for multiple groups of kids at a school or with a group. Often they come in one class right after another without a chance to even take a breath. I use the following, slightly different approach for that. When the kids come into the room, I will be playing my drum and have a shaker or drum placed out on each chair, or in front of it. I gesture/ask them to dance, or play the shakers along with me as a warm up and also to give them something to do immediately. When all of them are there, I move on to the following.

5 minutes – Warm up and build rapport. We start off with a body warm up, doing arm stretches, etc. I act a little silly to get them to laugh, setting the mood for fun. This puts us all in the right frame of mind and starts to build my relationship with them. I introduce the drums, which are over to the side, again, as my friends. I talk about how we treat our friends. This is so very important. If I lose a drum, It’s the equivalent to a day’s pay.

I have no percussion items that are played with a stick, because it usually finds it’s way to a goatskin drum head. Bye bye $60. Back to the fun. Five minutes – Drum, and dance. I play an African rhythm on my djembe. Depending on the number of kids in each age group, and how much room we have, the rhythm also includes some movements and dance. Each child plays a shaker and dances while I drum. This activity tires them out a little bit more, so that they are more in the mood to learn. Plus, it is great fun.

An alternate is doing an activity I call funky musical chairs. Five minutes – Sound shapes and/or boom whackers. I use these simple percussion instruments to teach some basic music theory playing on the downbeat, in a 4/4 time, using these instruments. In the process, I demonstrate how mathematics applies to music theory. Then a short call and response, then maybe a call and echo rhythm game. With vocals or percussion instruments.

5 minutes – The introduction to the drums, with some brief history of djembe, doumbek, and other drums. I demonstrate the physics of playing a drum. How it is shaped like a rocket engine. We apply the “energy” with our hands and the sound is the rocket fuel. Each child selects a drum, and I teach them how to play the bass and tone notes.

20 minutes – Group drumming on the djembes and doumbeks. We play a few basic rhythms from each culture and have some fun drumming. End with a big rumble finish. That’s it. Take a breath, Next group.

Before, or afterwards, try suggesting to the teachers to have the kids read books and journals about musicians, and about different music genres. Even suggest that they talk to musicians whenever they can. For the most part, most musicians are very accessible and willing to help by answering questions about our craft, to help them grow musically. Always try to be on the look out for these opportunities to chat a little and learn something from a professional.

Suggest to the kids that they have their parents take them to live music performances if possible. Attend a clinic, go to a concert, stage play, or a music class. Or bring Djembe Dad to school week. And to listen more closely to the beats of their favorite music in their iPods or mp3 players. One of my favorite mixed aged kids circle was a birthday party in a park, when a friend of mine's very young daughter danced her way to the center and started to facilitate the drum circle. She grabbed a rattle and rattled at just about every drummer there. Any they all responded to her musically. Then she started dancing. She was a natural


Lots of kids have never played a percussion instrument before, so some of them are very timed, scared, and even self conscious. Some others can‘t wait to get to it. (Not as much as with the teens though.) Don’t expect to get miracles on the first session with kids. Sometimes it may take them two or more drum circles to loosen them up enough, and become comfortable with you. The second session is when the most magical things usually begin to happen. All of a sudden you may find yourself and the entire group living totally in the moment, all in unity, and even sounding pretty good. This happens with dancers dancing, also.

That’s one of the reasons why teenagers, and young adults get so hooked on raves, (parties) They dance and dance for hours and all of a sudden it’s morning, and the sun is rising. And to them it feels like it’s just been a few hours. Like the golden ratio exists in music, it also exists in dance and singing. Unfortunately, at most of these rave parties there is underage drinking and/or some drugs involved.

Believe it or not, some kids can be good facilitators. Many are naturals at it, and love to get to be in the center alone for a few minutes. Almost all age levels of kids seem to like giving it a try. I'm always amazed at what they do in some drum circles. I offer to let them do it all the time. Almost every time it works perfectly. (Almost.) With mixed ages of children, it is considerably more challenging. I try not to show so many things at once. I don’t want learning about drums to get in the way of just learning to drum.

I need to try really hard, not to try too hard, or over think it too much. It’s supposed to be fun. Let the kids have a little fun along with you. I usually tell them, “Just have fun and play what you feel like playing to the beat with me. Just follow the beat.” When you think about how to drum too much, it takes the pure joy out of the drumming. And as odd as it may sound, don’t forget to breathe, or remind them to breathe. Many musicians and teachers will tell you that. Take a deep breath now and then as you play, and remind the others to do the same thing, take it all in, and enjoy the experience.

Hula hoops are your friend at kids drum circles. I bring 6. Kids hoop to the beat inside & outside the circle.

I’ve found that certain ages are much easier to work with. Myself, and most facilitators I’ve spoken with, like working with the 8 to 13 year old age range kids, because they are like these little sponges wanting to soak up all these new fun things. They are also somewhat more used to having respect for authority, or what an adult has to say. Anyway, the 10 year olds tend to raise their hands to ask questions, and they are much more orderly, making it easier for you to work with them. They can just pick up fun rhythms very quickly, if you vocalize them first.

Things certainly have changed over the years in the schools. (Me being 50+ years old now) Early on at the beginning of one year, I saw a teacher in 6th grade put an extremely disruptive student up against the wall, get in his face and read him the riot act. Well, as a result we all behaved really well in his class for the rest of the year. I sure didn’t want to get embarrassed like that in front of all my friends. That’s all changed now of course, that particular teacher would probably loose his job, and never teach again. Nowadays we have kids bringing weapons to school. That never used to happen because I think kids had more respect for authority. I wasn’t going to mess with some of those teachers... I was just plain afraid of a few of them.

I started playing music as a child, and went on to join the school band. Whatever a child may decide to do with their lives as they grow up, I think music helps them a lot in many aspects of their life. Lots of the kids I have worked with have done exactly that, joined the band. So I feel like I am introducing something really positive into their lives. Maybe I inspired them to be a musician, as a hobby or even a career. You never know how deeply you may affect some of these kids. They get an outlet, if nothing else. So to try and sum up a bit, if I feel I need to, or the teachers desire it, I mix in some drumming games, and activities with kids.

Whatever the age group is, I adjust my program accordingly. Mostly, If it’s up to me, I just want them to drum, and create music as a group. But I still spend a little extra time, to just give them a few pointers on how to drum without hurting themselves, and then just start out rhythms and let them play. I let it go wherever it goes for 5 minutes or so, bring it to an end, and then start up another one. (Or, offer to let them start one.) I want to educate them a little, but also I need to pace myself. So that’s why I mix in a little about the history of drumming, and the different styles of drums every 10 minutes or so. Then I can keep the ideas flowing in my head.

I keep the drumming sets a little shorter, unlike with the adults. Kids are very perceptive, they can tell if you are unsure of yourself, or don’t have a lot of confidence. They can see right through you. I try to treat kids as I would adults. I talk to them like they are adults, and I immediately gain their respect faster. It makes the job a whole lot easier. You are all a bunch of cool dudes, & we are jammin’ in the band.

Sometimes If I feel they (or I) need a break, or I need to do a big change in the group dynamic, what I suggest is a five minute break and when they come back, they sit in the chair across from them and play whatever drum is there. Or, I will have them pass their drum carefully to the person on their right periodically between rhythms. It works. With the ok from the teachers, you can get a sort of Simon Says thing going later, or funky musical chairs thing going if you want. But, right away, they see that the ones who lost their seat get to play the drums quicker, while the other kids still parade around. They figure this one out really fast. I get into that, and a few more ideas to use with kids in more detail in a moment.

A lot of these drumming games and activities are ones I thought up. At least they were created in my head, but most likely many of them exist in the collective consciousness of most educators, and drum circle facilitators. (What idea really is original?). We all see ideas, and get pointers from others to try out for ourselves. Many of these ideas and games have probably been also thought of and tried by others, and passed along to help us all to be better facilitators, and ultimately do a better job helping people to enjoy drumming. So I believe in the sharing of ideas, I think we should all share them, and not hold onto them secretly, as some people do.

Feel free to try any of them, or pass them on to your friends. I have no problem if somebody comes to watch me and see what I’m doing. It happens all the time. There's a few facilitators, that rather than just asking me, which I would happily do for them, they send their spies to come watch me work. Whatever, I don’t care. Good, I hope you learn something you can use to help kids to enjoy drumming more. Drumming should be about sharing. I still show them everything I do, and don’t hold any ideas back just because I happen to see them out there watching.

The kids are more important than those that may feel like they are the competition. I'd rather work with them, or at least have a cordial working relationship. Be supportive, share leeds et. There's plenty for all. I find that it is best to have a good standard operating procedure, or prepared program. Like my mixed ages adult set list. Even though things will likely change in the moment, at least I have a good road map in my head. Also, the transition points are much faster, and almost continuous. No matter what age the kids are, or what kind of group it is I’m working with, I have to keep my wits about me, and my head in the game. I usually position myself at the drum circle where I can see the entrance, so I know what’s coming my way.

A curve or an unexpected surprise can come at you at any moment, and you need to be able to adjust to it if necessary, and go with it. Whatever it might be, a few extra few people wandering in, some joining in late, or whatever might happen, you can be ready for it at the spur of the moment, if you are prepared mentally to transition them in seamlessly. If the rhythm transitions or changes, I suggest rolling with it, especially at one time drumming events. So what I am doing is thinking about the now, the “in the moment” most of the time. But I’m constantly reassessing the group dynamic in case I need to make any adjustments. Is it getting too loud? Too sloppy? Is it time to slow things down? Does anyone need any assistance? Are they bored, tired? Need the bathroom? If you are experienced, and in the moment, you can feel what adjustments need to happen, and make them accordingly right away.

I think kind of like when you are in a chess game. With children, I try to think just a few moves ahead. Like five minutes or so, ahead. But most of that is from information I am gathering from back when I was in the moment. I have to snap out for a few seconds to

plan the next rhythm to play. What does the group feel like they want to do next? Where are we headed? The thing I had in mind a moment ago, might not feel right at this point. So I need to change it up, and improvise away from the set list, or program. Just like you don’t want to hear the same song over and over, you need to sense what is the next thing is to do.

When is the right time to end the rhythm, how am I going to end it? I don’t want to use a rumble for every single one, so I use a number of different endings. When we stop, should we chat a little, so they can rest? Are there any announcements that need to be made by the staff? This is a good way to give your hands a rest also. Shake your hands and then rest them. Or do we just launch into another rhythm, or is it time for a rhythmic game? This kind of thought process helps me to live in the moment more comfortably, and transition points that happen are much smoother for me. I keep the plan moving in my head, adjusting it all the time to the group feeling, and the vibe. It takes a little experience to be able to do it. After four or five times, you will have it down.

Also I need to keep in mind the overall picture of the program, however it was designed for the group. I need to watch the clock, for example for break time. I don’t like to have to be aware of the clock unless I have to be. Where will the group be in 15 minutes? Where will they be in a half hour? Do I have another group coming in right after this one? I may need to allow some time for any primary activities that may have been planned by the staff. I may have to cut things short, if a few rhythms run too long. (Which often happens if it’s going good.) And I need to allow time for a good ending, and leave a few minutes for the kids to ask a few questions, and answers at the end. Most of them are eager to learn about the drums, and percussion. You can sort of map out, or outline your session, and weave it into the set list.

If I’m working more than one hour, I plan it one hour at a time, so my head isn’t overburdened with so much information in it that I might forget something important. It’s a good idea, because you can’t always remember everything all the time. I sometimes forget key elements, like the basics. Where do some of these drums come from? What are they called? How is the sound made? It’s easy to forget. It’s blunder time. For example, after one drum circle the teacher from the older classes asked me to explain where each type of drum originated because they had just studied the world map, and they were very curious about the world now. I felt like a dope because I forgot to mention it that time.

This is also why having a feedback, or survey form, to give the teacher is so useful after a drum circle. You can get some perspective and critique on what you can improve on, and what went well about the drum circle. What did they like the most? What didn't work? How did they feel after? Etc.

In my experience a lot of the kids are either overly excited, or a little nervous and possibly even scared at first. So welcoming them and telling them that this is all about having fun, and that there are no mistakes you can make. You are not going to mess anyone else up if

you think you made a mistake. I’m not going to be giving you a grade here. Each one of you is unique, different, and special, (just like the drums, their hands, and their fingerprints). All of you have a special contribution to make, whether it is a little or a lot. It puts them at ease right away. (And me to.)

I remind them of their beating hearts, the way they walk, and that in all of nature there is rhythm, even the city sounds have rhythm, and everyone has rhythm in their bodies. And I try to get them all playing as quickly as possible. You can mix in the history, theory, or physics lessons between the rhythms like I do if it’s called for. Most of the time kids are fascinated by both. Especially when I talk about how a djembe is shaped like a rocket engine. This seems to fascinate children of all ages, and using a djembe to explain to them the basic physics behind how sound works, and is created.

It is also a great way to demonstrate a little hand drumming technique. After all, a djembe is shaped like a space rocket engine. I usually bring a big picture of a NASA rocket taking off to better illustrate this at some point during a lesson. I’m using visual communication. Where is the sound of my drum coming from? You can demonstrate how the djembe sounds when the bottom of it is held flat on the ground, and then again with the drum tipped towards the children. That’s a big “ah ha” moment for them.

They can hear, and feel the change in the pitch of the notes this way. I explain how the energy from my arm and hand is being transferred to the drum head, creating that sound fuel. That is the rocket fuel. I show them an 8 x 10” photo of a rocket ship taking off, and the shape of the exhaust cone, with the fuel coming out of the bottom. “See how similar it is to the bottom part of this djembe drum?” It compresses the energy before letting it out, making it more efficient, and louder. You are providing the fuel for it to “take off”. One good idea, is to try walking around with the drum held in your arm sideways, with one hand doing a bass note over and over, near each kid. Get them to hold up their hands, palms out, and feel the percussion waves coming out from the bottom of the djembe as you walk past them, with the drum up, demonstrating it for them.

They love the idea that they can feel the whoosh of sound waves, as well as hear it. The teachers always love this bit. After all, I get to tell the kids they can do something they rarely ever get to do. Make lots of noise. And I get to be a kid again for a little while to.

Here are some more fun ideas to try: I sometimes show the kids, and the teachers the difference between an "Echo", ("You play exactly what I play"), and a "Call & Response", ("Whatever you play in response to my call is fine.")

I’ve noticed that when I have the kids start out a rhythm on their own, it usually falls into kind of a default pattern: 1-2 pause 1-2-3. I call it the default rhythm. Bass--- Bass---tone-tone-tone (Try saying anything that fits to it: “I like Choc-Late-Cake”.) It usually turns into a nice jam, and kids of all ages can pick it up quickly.

Or then fall into a Conga line rhythm. Or, start it out for them. A Conga line is also a fun activity while playing. Get them parading around the room with shakers, as you play a rhythm. Just clear it with the teacher first.

Try this one: 1-2-3-4-----5----6 Tone tone tone tone (pause) boom boom (pause, repeat)

Or this one: 1-2-3-4-5----6. boom boom boom boom boom------Bang! (repeat)

"Pass the popcorn, Please" is a fun idea. Dum - ba dum dum - - Dum!

Don't expect to play a rhythm for more than four, or five minutes. The volume and down cues are always good to teach right away. Rumbles are life savers. Sometimes, I start with one at the beginning of the program. I really find that what I say in the very beginning is the most important thing. First impressions are so important with kids. Got to set the right tone.

Just like with adults, I often begin a rhythm to words, or with some sort of vocal association to it, to make it easier for the kids to quickly grasp onto the beat in the music.

As an example: "Look, a great big frog!" (The Look is a bass note, the others are tones.)

Or a variation with an extra beat is, " Look, a great big barking dog." Which is similar sounding to Samba. Again, “Look” is the bass note, the rest are all tones.

Another great drumming rhythm is the old standard, "I got rhythm, yeah" ---"DA DA DUDUM, YEAH".

You can show a few tips on how to play the drum. Try out things like the drum wave. You get it going around in a circle and each kid taps their drum one time, then speed it up, reverse it, etc. It’s a controlled game without a lot of chaos that gets the kids familiar with their drum and it’s a good ice breaker.

Later you can introduce percussion. Those sound shapes are handy to make up rhythms with. I don’t use this one very much. I like to tire them out drumming, and get them playing rhythms right away, rather than playing drumming games. The kids seem to respond to it better.

A good learning game you can try, is to bring a ball, like a soccer ball, and ask the kids to play one drum beat when I bounce the ball. You can bounce it fast, slow, low, high. Then let one of the kids try it out. This might work better with the older ones.

A better variation is to toss the ball in the air and have them do a rumble, or drum roll, and

it stops when you catch it. So you can bounce for a single beat, and toss in the air for a drum roll. You can add walking so foot steps become drum tones, or maybe another percussion sound. I use this game sparingly with children and adults. It’s lots of fun and almost always works for a few laughs at least.

With younger kids, I really don't expect too much in terms of real drumming grooves, but often it does happen. I let them bang around and have fun making some noise. They hardly ever get permission to do that. Rumbles and stops are a good thing to make into a game with them. Getting them to start and stop playing together is a lot of fun. I keep the beats very basic, and simple.

One facilitator I know sets up a drum “petting zoo” in the corner for the little kids while the big kids drum circle is happening on the other side. A very clever idea. The little kids can come over to the area, pet and play the drums like they are furry little animals. Just make sure someone is there to keep an eye on things.

If you have more kids than drums, make two groups and bring some large paper pads. Have the one group play, and the other one paint the music. Brushes or fingerpaints, then have the kids switch sides after 15 minutes. Better clear this one with the staff first!

Here’s a cool idea. I try the Simon Says game with drums, “Do you know the game Simon says?” Kids can only play when they hear the command "Simon says". If you give a command without saying "Simon says" and somebody does what you say, then they are out. "Simon says rumble - RUMBLE, Simon says "stop" - STOP." If you give a command without saying "Simon says", then you can make a big deal out of it and make all the kids laugh. With younger age groups, I wouldn't recommend taking kids out of the game. We want everyone to win.

With little kids, I don't worry about the music as much. I have them work with sound dynamics like loud and soft, and start and stop. Try including a song with the kids. Let them make a song, or tell them a story first, and have them add in the sounds of the instruments to it. Like walking through the forest to the castle, and have them add the animal sounds with their voice, or their drums, and then do it. This one works great.

Another idea with the older kids is you can try playing, "funky drumming musical chairs". That’s a little more cool. Set up two rows of chairs back to back. Start with enough chairs for everybody the first time. Have the kids sit in the chairs while you explain the rules. They all walk around the chairs in the same direction shaking egg shakers, and there's no running (safety). You play a funky rhythm on a drum, and when you stop playing, the kids have to find their seats. Each time you take away a chair, so there will always be one kid who gets caught out. Whoever gets caught out, gets to loose the shaker if they want, and pick a drum or other instrument, and comes over to join the band, that's you.

A teacher with you on this is a good idea! When you take away the chair each time, have another adult bring the chair over and place it next to you. As more chairs come, one by one, have them arranged to form a new circle, drums in front of the chairs. This way you are building your drum circle one child at a time. Eventually you will come down to just two kids circling one chair, with the rest of the kids playing instruments around them. One child gets declared the winner, and everyone joins up to play together in the circle.

In my experience, I often get a lot of kids who try to lose on purpose so that they can come and play on the drums. I have witnessed some examples of hilarious politeness, where kids offer to give the last remaining chair to another kid so that they can come and play in the band. You can expect a little bit more musicality from the older kids. They will like call and response a lot. Once they get the idea, I often will turn it over to them to make the call, and then I encourage the group to make the response. Pass it around.

Another activity I learned from another music teacher that works with the slightly older kids is the sound snake. Once you have them in the circle with an instrument each, you get in the middle and tell them that when you point to them they should play one note (hit) on their instruments. You spin around the circle with your arm extended like the hand of a clock, and when you point to them they should play. Start slowly at first and once you have gone around a couple times, and they get it, then add the next element.

The change. This time as you go around at some point you say, "change" and start to go around the opposite way. This will keep them alert and focused on watching you. This often turns into a nice little jam, or it falls flat completely. I recommend having lots of adult supervision. If you can get them involved, then you can really do something. If you have someone to play the bass drum it will really help if you want to get more musical.

The kids love it when I combine jumping, with stomping. We play games where they try to anticipate when I am going to stomp on the floor and try to hit their drums, at that instant. This gets them to understand the importance of paying attention, near the beginning of the session. Start a rhythm with hopping, then turn it into stomping, and maintain a relatively steady stomp for a bit then break sequence. The game has begun! Kids love to be fooled, challenged, and surprised. You can even try letting individual kids into the circle to facilitate their own hops, jumps, and stomps. I keep this idea brief.

Sometimes I get a hip hop rhythm going on my djembe, and see if any of the kids want to do a little “Rap" song to get them going in a fun different direction. Or ask them if they would like to tell a story to the beat. Just lay a nice soft support beat in there, (starting it slowly) and away it goes. But I always make it a point to explain to the kids that when we have a singer, that we have to support them, by listening to them, and backing them up. We are the back up band, the rhythm section! So we can’t play too loudly, or we can’t hear the lead singer, the rapper rapping. This also teaches them to listen closer.

It’s nice if you can have some help, or an assistant. They can help you to settle the kids in, getting in on the bottom drum if necessary, or supporting the beat or rhythms with you. Keep an eye out for someone who can keep time, even a teacher. With the younger groups I find this very helpful. Having an extra person to hold the beat with a bottom drum. Unfortunately for me, I work alone, and don’t have that luxury. The older students, (like 4th grade and up) I can easily volunteer one of the students with solid rhythm, which I try to evaluate during the warm up jam.

I sometimes set up in small sections of instruments around the circle. This makes a more organized way of students switching to different instruments. "Everyone stand and move three chairs to your right". Or “Cross to the other side”, etc. This way there is not a lot of rush moving throughout the circle, and everyone has an opportunity to play a different instrument. Pass it to the right one person works also, to save a little time.

Sometimes you only have 45 minutes to work with them in a class situation and just can’t do some of these activities unless it’s an ongoing thing. Just remember to leave a few pathways so kids can move in and out or around the circle. This idea ends up being a little awkward for me sometimes. I start a groove out, then after a couple minutes I tell the group we’re all going to pass our instruments around the circle to the right, but we are going to do it while trying to keeping the rhythm going.

I count 1... 2... 1, 2, 3 (repeat) and then pass, then we all play. Then repeat it again after a while. Possibly take it around the whole circle. Allow enough time so that each person should have their new instrument, and they are ready to play it. I sometimes pre-set different instruments like shakers and boomwhacker musical tubes under the chairs before we start (a good tip I learned). By doing this, the group is able to progress from one rhythm activity to another to another more fluidly. I start with the shakers and do the shaker thing activity, then right to the drumming, or, progress to boom whackers, then on to the bigger drums.

I find this helps the understanding of drumming rhythms on drums faster, and gives you an opportunity to begin teaching without teaching. Sometimes I am in a more chaotic environment and don’t want to start out with the drums. It takes place step by step, and adds the structure needed for working with larger groups. It also lets a kid know they can stop drumming and play the percussion instrument it they want, or switch back and forth.

Here is a simple game I learned from another facilitator. Ok, two rules to this one. If I put my hands in the air you can play as fast and as loud as you like, when my hands come down, you need to stop. Then shout one two three Play! (but don't put your hands up) and see how long it takes them to get it. Then just have fun with it, the kids in every group start laughing, or go wild and love it. 15 - 20 minutes disappears like nothing.

Then I try non verbal communication. I point to my hand and put it up as if I am about to

strike the drum head, then I point to my foot and lift it in the air, then gradually by dropping my hand and foot at the same time, I get them to figure that they hit the drum when I put my foot down...then I can start to walk....a little faster....a little I am running and the rumble is rising! Now I am twirling and spinning and the drums are crazy and I jump in the air, do an exaggerated big stop and funny face. They seem to just love it they are together, starting and stopping. I bang out a few beats of a rhythm; they play it back to me. I call, they respond, & off we go into a nice jam. We have hardly even verbally spoken. But musically, we have already become friends.

Everyone is smiling, the staff thinks I am pretty nutty. I sometimes will use puppetry and drumming with the younger kids, along with every other hair brained, nutty idea I can come up with that would be fun and that will make the kids laugh. One idea is to create stories using sock puppets, or their favorite stuffed toy. I create drum rhythms that would be played when the name of their toy is called out. The kids were completely involved in the process and it was a great way for kids to work with them as a team.

With the 8 to 13 year age group I often use cheerleading rhymes and skipping rhymes to spice up the drum class. Cheerleading rhythms are great because they’re fun and funky, and you can usually create great beats with them. They can also be tailored to the school the kids are from. Nothing like supporting that school spirit. Use the school’s song, the staff loves it.

Sometimes I go with the pie slice configuration thing for placement of the drums, and various other percussion items. It depends on the situation if I do this or not. I set up the instruments, and as the children arrive they take their places by the instruments. This can work really smooth. I request the oldest class arrive about 5 minutes before the others, and like clockwork, we were cooking along already by the time the other classes started arriving. I just need to make sure the bottom beat is very stable.

If I am working with different grade classes at once, I sometimes assign instruments basically by their grade class: 4th & 5th graders get drums, 3rd graders get boom whackers, 2nd graders get frog wood blocks and guiros, 1st graders get shakers, and the kindergarteners got jingle bells and maracas. I was a little concerned that the younger ones might get bored with no drums in their section but that was not the case when I tried it.

If you want to try sculpting, carve the group up into the pie slices thing while they are playing, or whatever. I’ve done a fair amount of it, I’m not a big fan of that approach, but the kindergarteners got a huge kick out of being showcased when I’ve used it with them.

The wave activity thing is always is a little lame, but it’s something to try, and it works. I learned that whenever I get lost, confused, or when I’m in doubt, I rumble. Little stumbles and train wrecks disappear. I introduce the drums, some basic technique, and use the windows of communication sparingly.

I want to get them to play the drums, not play drumming games. But some of these help you to keep them interesting, or to get them on track. It’s mostly just to draw their attention to the wonderful and diverse musical community we live in. Try some of these drumming games, try to making some up. See if the kids have any cool ideas. Teach and sing a song together, then drum to it; do the simplest of set rhythms “Hot chocolate hot chocolate nutella on toast” and, as soon as they've got it, ask them if they want to make up their own sayings.

When you sense the kids want to learn, try not to rush them at it. Because every minute spent in a drum circle helps every drummer from beginner to expert become a better drummer, and to be able to learn faster. One of the most important things I learned from my very first experience with elementary and middle school kids, was to let them get their excess energy expended at the beginning of a session. Let them get it all out, the stress, the nerves, that peer pressure, or whatever.

I remember how it felt to feel different than the rest of the kids. Right off the bat, I either get that egg shaker dance thing going, or I get them on the drums and play a danceable rhythm on my drum and let them rock and roll about five minutes to warm up. I love to hear them start exclaiming that they're tired, all huffing and puffing. Now our drum circle can really begin!

For the littler kids, I usually use frame, buffalo drums, or sound shapes with mallets since their coordination isn't as fully developed at that age, and their attention span is rather short, so it’s a bit of a challenge for them to learn hand patterns and complex rhythms. I usually play my djembe as the bottom beat to it. If you do go with hand drums, be sure to make the rhythms and movements very simple, and clear. Start them out very slowly until everyone has it solid.

I like to use familiar simple songs vocalized first, then transferred onto the drums and percussion instruments, played very slowly, then up the tempo a little after they have it. I do that a lot, from a list I keep handy. I also like to make simple rhythmic chants from familiar words and phrases, like their full names, animals, numbers, colors, what they had for breakfast, or anything I can think of, or even that they can think of. Usually it’s played in a straight forward 4/4 beat (or 2/4, or a slow 3/4 - 6/8 time if they need quieting down a little.)

I prefer to use these two sayings the most for vocalizing 6/8 time signature rhythms: “Follow the yellow brick road.” Or, “Cab Bage And Broc O Li”. I find that most kids generally do love to sing and naturally sort of play on beat with whatever instrument they have, except when they get carried away into a frenzy. Which becomes a convenient transitioning point to something else.

Let the kids know that every spoken language, and every culture has its own unique beat, and within every sentence, music can be found. If they can say it, they can probably play it. Show them how you drum the rhythm to the following phrases, or make up your own on the spot with requests from the kids:

All a-board! Boom boom boom Yum Yum,

I like Piz-za!

Calling all cars! Calling all cars!

Mary had a lit-tle lamb

Listen to the clock: tick-tock, tick-tock.

Twinkle twinkle little star

Hey, diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle, The cow jumped over the moon.

Row row row your boat...gently down the stream.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck wood?

Jack Sprat...could eat no fat!

Make up a few, try reading sentences aloud from their favorite books, or phrases from their favorite songs, and rhymes. Try playing Names, Food, Objects, Commercial Jingles, and Phrases Playing kid’s full names and kid friendly phrases can be interpreted into a series of long and short notes.

Put the emphasis on the hard syllables:

Oh, Susannah! (LONG-LONG-short-LONG) or (Bass Bass tone Bass)

I like pea-nut but- ter - I like to jam

Miss iss ippi River - Miss iss ippi River

I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow the house down! (short-LONG-short-short-LONG-short-short-LONG-short-short-short)

In 6/8 The people on the bus, go round and round. (short-short-short-short-short-short-LONG-LONG-LONG-LONG)

Try adding simple drumming to rhymes. If you're happy and you know it, bang a drum, or shake an egg, etc. Once the kids have mastered playing along to a nursery rhyme or any common saying you’ve got them. And then you can get to some real drumming.

Here is a fun drumming ending rhythm idea for a session, The I got to go rhythm. It has a natural rhythm to drum to. Accents are on the “G“ obviously: to Go - got to Go __ gotta gotta - gotta Go and repeat.

I try to use anything I can think of that gets them to laugh and have fun. Balloons, blowing soap bubbles in the circle is fun, (if the teacher approves) I often bring along a couple of soap bubble bottles with the bubble blowers inside them.

Try combining a variety of percussive sounds to create lively rhythms. Maybe start a call and response dialog between the different sounds, a back-and-forth, and back-and-forth approach. Ask them to think of it as drumming conversations that repeat over and over. It’s okay if they change it.

Try this idea, have them drum syllables to these, or some similar phrase: How are you? (1,2,3) They answer, I am fine. (1,2,3) Or, try it with three notes from you, then four from them. And repeat, etc. Once they are comfortable you can up tempo it to a groove.

It’s important to help kids to learn to differentiate between high and low pitches, so you can demonstrate the sounds on their instrument. You will obtain a low pitch by striking the center of the drum head, and a higher pitch when striking the edge. The large sized drum has the lowest pitch, the middle sized drum has the medium pitch, and the small sized drum has the highest pitch.

Use your hand to demonstrate the different places on the drum you get the different sounds from. After a few minute demonstrations, ask them to give you a thumbs up or thumbs down to identify the note as high, medium, or a lower note. Once they're comfortable with identifying high or low notes, you can ask them to play a high or low note on request.

Try the Morse Code Jam. I ask the kids to each shout out a letter, so we can have two of them to put together, and then play it to Morse Code, and make up our own new rhythms. They almost always all start shouting out different letters at once. I can make a funny big deal out of it, and say, “Wait a minute, not so fast!” Then we pick two letters and play them to the corresponding letters. A dash is a bass note, a dot is a tone. It’s simple, unpredictable, educational, and fun. And they know that you don’t know what it might come out sounding like. So you are building a rapport with them with this activity.

What I do is print out a Morse code alphabet, and then go to a copy store, and have them enlarge it to a poster size, and have it laminated. Then I can post it up on the wall so they

can all see the letters, and dots and dashes next to them. You can get it done, and have it laminated so it will last you for awhile for under ten bucks. I keep it stored in a round mailing tube for easy transport.

I always try to teach a little fundamental knowledge of music when I work with kids, to teach them how to differentiate between long and short notes, and how long they can resonate. I use a triangle with an easy to hold handle. Striking the triangle and then gripping one of its sides will reduce the instrument’s resonance and produce a short note. Striking a triangle while on a string or resting on a finger, allows it to resonate fully, and it will produce a much longer note. It’s good to include that in a first lesson.

As I mentioned earlier, a large drum is another excellent instrument for this demonstration. Striking the drumhead using a slap-release technique will yield a long, sustained note due to the head’s resonance. Striking the head with a Slap muffle technique will muffle the sound by reducing the head’s resonance, resulting in a shorter note.

I don’t like to show the younger kids the actual slap tone too soon. It’s too easy for them to hurt their hands trying it. I just do it with tones, or bass notes only. After a few moments of this demonstration, ask the kids to stand up and open their arms wide to identify each note you play as long, or to close their hands together to identify the note as short. Once they’ve become comfortable with identifying long and short notes, you can ask the kids to play them on request. It really depends on the age group, as to what ideas I use. When in doubt, drum, then rumble, then drum some more, then rumble. Simple.

Volume! This is always a part of my lesson. A great way to teach crescendo (loud) and decrescendo (quiet) sounds is to play this simple game: Demonstrate loud and quiet rhythms, and alternate between them. Ask the kids to listen and lift their arms over their head to show loud rhythms, and to fold their arms over their chests when they hear quiet rhythms.

An amusing (and sometimes useful!) variation is to ask them to play loudly or quietly on request. This is a cool drumming interpretation of a game called the phone game, which is great for a group of kids. Have the kids sit in a circle with you, and demonstrate a short drum beat. Ask your neighbor to repeat what you played for them to their neighbor. After the beat goes all around the circle, see how the beat has changed from the original that you played. Try changing the beat only after everyone has mastered the original, and keep the game going by challenging the group to repeat more complex rhythms. It either works, it’s really funny, or it’s a mess.

I often use various ideas to demonstrate rhythmic counting. Don’t underestimate the benefits of it. I often incorporate it into my program. It’s the foundation of music. And the kids are learning more basic math in the process, by learning to count off a measure of music. I always start with something in two, or four.

Sometimes I divide the group into three sections and demonstrate a simple “Row Row Row Your Boat” style rhythm to one section after another, always turning clockwise. Beginning with me first, I demonstrate it, and invite them to play along. If I sense that there is a sag in the rhythm or reduced energy in the group, this is a good spot for a transition point. It’s also an opportunity to breathe new life into the drum circle by altering the group’s current rhythm. Changing the rhythm of the drum circle will have an immediate impact. Or have them move to different drums. That works to.

Closing a kid’s drum circle is pretty easy. When you sense the end, or a transition point and feel that the group doesn’t have the energy or desire to continue, simply get their attention with a big gesture, then increase the volume and tempo to a thundering rumble climax. 4 - 3 - 2 - 1 and stop.

Use big hand gestures so everyone sees you. Use a gong. Leave them wanting more, I always say. I don’t go for the mellow endings stuff with kids or adults very often, but I do use them. (Like the fade out, gradually play slower and softer until it ends, maybe over 8 measures.)

An advanced idea is to invite one player at a time to contribute a new solo rhythm of their own creation. I get a rhythm going on my djembe. Get them to actively listen before adding their own rhythm to the mix. Although it may take some time, you will be amazed by the magic that might result.

Don’t force them to solo though. Only if they want to try it. Let them use the “safety button” if they are uncomfortable in the spotlight. Believe me, not everyone wants to solo. They may just need more time. Don’t force it on them. I usually use this one on a second or third session with the same group. I go into more information on that that below. You can learn a lot from speaking to music teachers that work with kids all the time.

I spoke with this one elementary music teacher who explained to me that she had to learn to get out of the way of the kids so they could have more fun. Too many times, we try to impose our sense of what sounds good, or what we may think is right and what sounds bad, or wrong on the kids. Sometimes they need to be given the opportunity, and/or time to experiment and create without a bunch of rules.

The drum circle in class is ideal environment for this reason, and many others. At times, they don’t need us. That needs to be in your head the entire time. Sometimes a teacher will want to run in there and try to get a kid playing who appears to be uninterested. I usually speak with them beforehand about please not doing this. I explain that it’s easier for kids to learn if it’s at their own pace, and when they feel comfortable. They will play eventually on their own when they see how much fun everyone else is having, they’re not going to mess things up, and that self discovery is the way to go.

I show them rumbles, volume, tempos, and stops as soon as I can. (Let the kids try doing this if it feels right.) Have them try the weather jam where we simulate Wind, Rain, Hail, Lightning, Thunder. Play storm rhythms on the drums, and percussion. It usually turns into a good rhythm. Sometimes it train wrecks. It lets the kids know we will all go wherever this is going together, and not be afraid of making mistakes.

Try the freeze. I Am The Drum. We all play it, and I do some freezes. Let some of them have a try at it, moving around like animals (snake, bunny, elephant, kangaroo, turtle, bird, etc.) and freeze as they are moving or dancing to the beat - Samba, Hip-hop, Funk, whatever. Each kid gets to do an animal sound at the 4th or 8th bar break and etc.

I’ve learned that I need to keep it fun, and joke around with the kids a little bit. I need to win them over. Do, or say something silly here and there, between rhythms, or before drum activities.

Here’s one idea you can try, make a TV show up like, “American Drumming Idol“. Odds are, they are big fans of the show. You get the kids to find a partner, or groups of 3 & have each team make up a rhythm with words said out loud as they play it. They can perform for the rest of the group. Make a beginning and an end, and they have to make a name for their band.

Each group could have dancers also. (The show, “So You Think You Can Dance”) I give them five minutes or so to figure it out. It’s amazing to see what kind of things they come up with. Each team then performs for the rest of the group, (I'm having lots of fun pretending to be a nutty Simon Cowel and giving each group a critique.) I'm also making it into a bit of a competition with the kids voting on whether or not they should go through to the next round etc. It’s a time user, and I rarely use it.

Try the “add your voice” drum rhythm idea. It's a simpler drum circle rhythm where you have one person start a groove and each person in a clockwise rotation adds their own unique voice, after a measure or two. I explain to them before we begin that it's preferable to put your voice where no other voices are. Like in between the other drum beats. This gets harder for them as the circle completes of course. When the circle does complete and is grooving all together with different voices it is really cool, if it works.

Usually it is such an original sounding composition that kind of slowly rolls around and has many different interesting counter points. (as a result of showing participants how to play in between the normal 1 & 2 & beats by occasionally adding in or using 1 e & a 16th notes - even randomly). They catch on to this pretty quickly. If the groove falters or wanders you can pull the group into a slow quiet rumble, and get on to something else.

Another game idea that I use after the group has built a dynamic that seems to be enjoyed

by most, if not all the people I work with, (kids, adults, special needs, elderly, etc. could be called fill the gap, or drum break, although I don’t really have a name for it. It goes like this: I explain to the group that we are going to create a drum break for a fill. (That can be part of the rhythm or brought in on a stop.) Often 4 or 8 beats, and that we can take turns to suggest ways to fill the gap, prior to the gap occurring. The suggestions come in the form of body language or a loud voice if the groove is quiet enough. I usually say it out loud.

At the given or marked point we all stop playing, (say after eight bars of music) and fill the gap with a fill. For one bar, (a pause) and then you go back to the same beat again for eight bars, and then on to the next person. Fills can be anything, if they want to be brave, and bang their drum a little, great. It can be anything from animal noises, to clapping, to silence, to rumbling, to whistling, singing, screaming, silly gestures, you can suggest a whatever you think will work at the time. Most times, the kids want to do drum riffs, or animal sounds. It’s a fun idea.

I feel it’s important NOT to make kids do solos. The best time to experiment with solos is after you have worked with a class a few times. Offer them the “safety button” to use if they are timid. They can push the imaginary safety button when it’s their turn. Be sure to monitor things, or have staff help you, keeping in mind some understood or pre-arranged boundaries may be there.

It would look something like this: The group is going along with that simple default rhythm, (1-2----1-2-3) or a Rumba beat groove is what I use the most for this. After the eight bars, we all stop drumming and the kid to my right does an impression of a chicken, or whatever animal sound they want to do real quickly in one bar. Then we swing right back in to the Rumba beat. The kid to their right now gets a turn to make an animal noise, after eight bars, and away it goes, from kid to kid, around the circle. This is always funny, and we are all laughing, waiting to see what funny thing the next kid comes up with. Once you have worked with them a few times, maybe have them try it with a drum instead. It builds self confidence.

Although this idea is mostly a good laugh, this is a great way to keep the group grooving while not thinking too hard about what they are playing and it can also create some surprisingly beautiful moments especially if you open it up to the whole group. It never fails to lighten the mood if done with energy. I like Middle Eastern rhythms for this one. Or the Heartbeat rhythm. The Drum Break Solo.

I have mixed feelings on it, but when I think it feels right, I like to do this: The whole group is playing a simple rhythm reasonably tight and then we all stop drumming for a drum break, and have one person do a solo. You can demonstrate that the solo doesn’t have to be rhythmic, or complicated, or accurate. We just want them to have fun the way adults do. Hit the drum, rumble, be silly, be intense, be whatever, and you can get everyone cheering for each soloist.

But it also puts kids a little bit on the spot, and puts some pressure on them. Sometimes, that’s just what they need. I always put that safety button in there as an option. (I don’t want to force the kids, or even adults, to do it.) I don’t like for people to feel pressured into doing a solo. Some people don’t want to be put on the spot. But it is an idea, I’ve used it, and sometimes, the kids tend to like it more than the adults do!

If you try it, I think the best thing to do is give them a verbal 4-3-2-1 countdown before it’s their turn to try the solo. I also keep the beat going, and do a verbal count of going aloud, or by tapping my foot on a tambourine in an obvious way, as each soloist takes their turn, so nobody gets lost, and everyone else is exactly sure when to come back in. And the soloist knows much easier how long to do their solo.

So, to sum up, we play for four to eight measures of music, then the soloist does a two measure solo, and then back to the support rhythm. Eight more measures of rhythm, and the next person to their right does a solo for two bars, back to the groove, etc. Send it all the way around the circle. Everybody gets to do a drum break, then go back to the support rhythm.

The “Stormy Weather Jam”. Think of it like a slow approaching rain storm. It starts with hands rubbing together, finger snapping, and then body slapping, (not each other). Each is one done incrementally double times but not to any specific rhythm. Then it layers out. (hopefully) It sounds just like a rain storm coming in, letting loose and coming.

Make it into a story, then turn it into a beat on the drums. This is a variation of it, and it’s always fun. Here’s a way to do it: I like to simulate the wind by rubbing the hands across the drum head in a circular motion. I use those African seed shakers to simulate the leaves on the trees fluttering in the wind. The pitter patter of a few raindrops by tapping fingertips on the drum, or side of the drum. Then it rains harder and steadier.

A storm is coming. Louder tapping. Then maybe some light hail. Knuckles knocking the drum head. Then some lightning, (a little bit louder tones). Finally the thunder beat of a storm! (insert rhythm here) You can make it into a rain dance beat or something. Those thunder tubes work really great on this one. It sounds like real distant thunder rolling in. All the kids want to play the thunder tube once, so what I usually do is let them each take a turn for a minute or two as it’s passed around the circle. Everybody gets to be the thunder drum kid.

Try the name game. I say my name, and then I play the beat to the syllables. Take it all the way around the circle with each kid. If it turns in to a sustainable beat, go with it. Don’t force the timid ones. I like to have lots of games and activities and keep things moving. If a groove develops, go with it, and forget the rhythm games.

My experience with all ages is kids really want to just play drum beats, not drumming or rhythm games. Especially the older teens, or if I work with the same group more than once. If you want to start a kid’s drum circle, or getting a drumming program going. Well, beginning is easy. In the case of kids drum circle I think a trained facilitator is probably a good idea for getting one started, or seeing if they even like it.

Bear in mind, there are as many different ways to facilitate a drum circle as there are to paint art. Have your staff or music director watch them closely and learn. No telling how long it might take. It could be just a few times maybe it‘s four, it might not work at all. Drumming is not for everybody. The odds are that it will be effective. It might be just what they needed to let out aggression or frustration with out focusing it directly at anyone so they can learn faster, and become better students.

Sometimes I use different drumming ideas, activities, drum games, and programs. Other times I just get them playing on a drum as quickly as I possibly can. My goal is usually always the same, to get them playing the drums as fast as possible. I have three or four beginnings in mind for a new group. I don’t know what I’m going to do until I can size them up, and feel the group dynamic. I don’t want to force them into something they don’t find fun! If something falls flat, just move quickly to something else. Mostly, I start with the egg shakers dance or just playing the drums. The warm up jam sets the mood.

Good luck with it, and keep it fun!

Remember to try and speak with the staff afterwards for feedback. And at the next time you are there. (Hopefully) Or, leave them a feedback form to fill out, with a self addressed envelope and a stamp on it. I've gathered a lot of useful information with a simple feedback form.

Remember that there are restrictions on photography in most cases, so be sure to ask if you want to take photos. If it's an event out in public, with the general public invited - then it's different.

If the group needs to take a break for drinks or snacks, make sure they don’t come back to the drumming area before they are all finished. Goatskin drum heads still make terrible tables and coasters.

One thing some don't understand about drum circles, is that it's more about the people, than it is the drumming. Many facilitators agree with me on this, some don't. The quality of the music produced in a drum circle isn't really based on the musical experience of the players, but on the developing quality of the relationships of the people that emerge. As a facilitator I help people to empower themselves through drumming, music, and fun. They need no experience at all to play in a drum circle. I encourage individual creativity, and group dynamics.

Ultimately, I just want to let people play. We drum up some fun. Let your personality out, and with your calm and reassuring manner, watch the volume, and they will quickly enjoy playing together, and connecting with you. I hope some of this is helpful to you, and it gives you a few ideas working with kids individually and in groups, young or teens. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions, and based on my experiences.

I hope you enjoyed reading Drum Circles For Kids - by Shannon Ratigan

If you would like to read some more about my approach to drum circles, please consider picking up my book, “A Practical Guide To Hand Drumming And Drum Circles” It’s 300 pages, and $8 on Amazon Kindle. Physical copies are sold out.

If you choose to purchase it, my 101 drum circle rhythms video, or drum circle jam CDs - mp3s - thanks in advance for helping an independent musician. The proceeds help me with drum repairs, and doing work in our community.

There is increasing recognition of the health benefits of music therapy, particularly facilitated hand drumming, which is what I did for a living. Unfortunately, places where the people who benefit the most, such as senior centers and special needs can not afford to pay for this.

If you're a filmmaker or video / TV producer all of my drumming & drum circle music tracks are licensed. Check or & listen to a few. There's a wide variety of cultures, styles, and tempos to choose from. It helps to set that perfect mood for a scene. Here's the website url:

Or, iTunes Spotify and Amazon

You can contact me at

This website, text, Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.