Saturday, December 4, 2010

Various Drum Circle Rhythm Notations

This is a list of various drum circle rhythms I enjoy playing. It's my interpretation of them. There are a few different ways I like to notate, and/or and vocalize the start of a drum circle rhythm. Print it out if you want to. I like to help people enjoy drumming more. The list might make a good guideline, set list, or just some fun stuff for you and your friends to try out. Here they are:

KC & The Sunshine Band inspired drum circle rhythm:
"That's The way, Uh Huh, Uh Huh, I like It, Uh Huh Uh Huh"
♫♫ Doum ka-tek, ka-DoumDoum Tek, KaDoum ka-tek, ka-DoumDoum Tek ♫♫♫
(I guess that disco era helped me out after all!)

Good start up drum circle rhythm: ♫♫ "Yum Yum Tastes Like Ckic-Ken" ♫♫ (Just like it sounds) - doum doum tek-ka tekka, doum doum tek-ka tekka ♫♫

♫♫ An easy way to get a Clave drum rhythm jamming is to remind people of the beat to songs like "Mockingbird" or "Hand Jive" ♫♫♫

Sly & The Family Stone inspired beat. Boom sha-ka la ka, Boom sha-ka-la-ka

Word association is a great way to get a 6/8 drum circle rhythm going.
♫♫♫ Fol-low-the-yel-low-brick-road-go-do-pa-ta-pa ♫♫♫

The "conga line" rhythm usually turns into a good drum jam. On the Doumbek:
♫♫ doum-ka, doum-ka, tek--tek. ♫♫ Or on the Djembe: gun-pa, gun-pa, go--do ♫♫
or just feel the rhythm vamp to MJ's “Thriller".

Variation of an African drum rhythm Gunazi. ♫♫ Boom sha-ka Boom Boom, shakala, Slap!, Boom sha-ka Boom Boom, shakala, Slap! (or some accented tone at the end) ♫♫

♫♫ Cuckoo! ♫♫ Common commercial jingles make fun drum circle rhythms:
Cuckoo for cocoa Puffs - Shaka-sha-lakaBoom, Shaka-sha-lakaBoom

Drum circle rhythm with a Brazilian flair to it:
♫♫♫ Doum--ka-tekka--Doum--ka-tek-ka,- Doum--ka-tekka--Doum--ka-tek-ka ♫♫

♫ Boom-Boom chakachaka ping ping ping! ♫♫ (gun dun patapata slap slap Slap)

Masmuudii 316 - A fun drum circle rhythm that rolls like a freight train
♫♫ D---D---t-k-T-k-D-tktkt-TktkT-t (repeat 4/4 time) ♫♫

Idol inspired Balloon Boy Drum Circle Rhythm ♫ oom-pah---oom-pah---oom-pahpah__oom-pah---oom-pah---oom-pah-barf ♫ (start with dominant hand, RL,RL,RLR__LR,LR,LRL) Bass, tones, and etc. (Alternate to balance both sides of the body.)

"Bambii" A cool drum circle rhythm -
Doum-tekka-katek-tekka-kaDoum-Doum__Doum-tekka-katek-tekka-kaDoum-Doum Doum ♫♫♫ (It's in 4/4 time, the 3 Doums at the end is what makes this one really groove.)

(Or, try it filled: Dk kT kk Tk kT kk D D)

Nice support rhythm to start at the drum circle:
♫♫ Boom sha La-ka Boom Boom-Cha__Boom sha La-ka Boom Boom-Cha ♫♫

♫♫ Cool drum circle rhythm Karsilama 3, it has a triplet at the end:
D-kkT-kkD-kkT-T-T (2+2+2+3) (Shorthand notation on this one.) ♫♫♫

Addictive drum rhythm that's similar to the rhythm Ayyub ( D k-D t )
On the Doumbek: ♫♫ Doum tek-keh Doum tek (repeats and builds) Or on the Djembe: Gun go-do Gun go ♫

Tootie Fruitie Drum Circle Jam - ♫ Wop-baba-lou-bop__a-wop-Bam-Boom, Wop-baba-lou-bop__a-wop-Bam-Boom ♫♫ (I think Little Richard might dig us drumming to this.)

Sweet drum circle rhythm: ♫♫ Boom - che-boom_che-boom-a-choc_o_late__choc_o_late, (dramatic pause) Boom - che-boom_che-boom-a-choc_o_late__choc_o_late ♫♫♫

Drum to rhymes or phrases to start a 6/8 drum circle rhythm rolling:
♫ You-huff-and-you-puff-and-you-blow-the-Gun-Dun-go-do ♫

♫♫ Saiidi Drum Circle Rhythm - Doum tekka tekka doum doum tekka-Tek ♫♫

Beledi - Zaffah variation, Boom chick-a chick, Boom Boom _ chick-a-chick-a boom.

Gawazi - a great drum circle rhythm for dancers
♫♫ D tkD D tkt tktk, D tkD D tkt tktk ♫

Slower grooving drum rhythm. Usually a hit with beginners & pros -
♫ Boom, sha-La-Ka-Boom-Boom (pause) Boom, sha-La-Ka-Boom-Boom ♫

♫♫ A fun variation of the Chifitelli rhythm (played nice and slow)
Doum, tek-ka tek-ka doum doum Tek (pause) Doum, tek-ka tek-ka doum doum Doum. ♫

Zaffah drum rhythm (As far as I know it's an Egyptian wedding processional in 4/4 time.) D-tkt-t-D-t-t-tt (repeat)

One of my favorite drum rhythms:
Doum tek a tek tek-ka, Doum tek a tek tek-ka, Doum tek a tek tek-ka, Doum Doum Tek. (pause, and repeat)

This drum circle rhythm has kind of a hip hop feel to it. (4/4 time) ♫♪ Doum Doum, kaTek-doum, kaDoum Tek, ♫♪ Doum Doum, kaTek-doum, kaDoum Tek (fun!)

♫♫ Boom ShaLa-Ka BoomBoom (pause) Boom ShaLa-Ka BoomBoom (pause) ♫♫ This drum circle rhythm played nice and slow has a spiritual vibe, it’s good one to get the group in sync. Great for 3 djun djuns.

♪♫♪ A good warm up rhythm, or drum circle starter is the basic drum circle standard Doum Ka-Tek Ka, Doum Ka-Tek Ka, (or) Boom Sha-La Ka, Boom Sha-La Ka in 4/4 time. If played softly at a slow tempo, you can speak to the rhythm and welcome people, etc. It's also great for someone who does spoken word, or even a budding rapper. Makes for some great improvised fun. We had this guy who used to bust out some great rhythms and stories to this one.

An intriging drum circle rhythm in a count of "7" (1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3) Triplet at the end. Sounds like this: Doum(rest) Doum(rest) tek-ka-tek or Doum_Doum_tek-ka-tek, Doum_Doum_tek-ka-tek ♪♪♪ Interesting stuff happens, or you get a train wreck. But that's half the fun, taking a risk.

♫ One of many Native American heartbeat drum rhythms in 4/4 time, mellow bass notes: Boom__boom__boom,boom,boom, - (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) Boom__boom__boom,boom,boom - ♫♫

♫♫ Doum-Tek-Ka Doum-Tek-Ka Doum__Tek, Doum-Tek-Ka Doum-Tek-Ka Doum__Tek, ♫♫ Start with a real slow tempo and it's a trance rhythm. Speed it up and it rocks! ♫♫

A Tabla rhythm, but fun to try on a djembe or doumbek: ♫ da-di ki na doum, da-di ki na doum. ♫

This drum circle rhythm the bellydancers request a lot. It's a Greek line dance in 2/4
♫ Doum-tekkatek-tek, Doum-tekkaDoum-tek. ♫♫ It has a nice groove once it gets going.

Here's a basic Irish beat that sounds like this: Boom-ba-da-ba, Boom-ba-da-ba Boom, Notated in Bodhran speak, it looks like this: 0 \/ /\ \/, 0 \/ /\ \/ 0, - Have fun and add some more beats to it: - Boom-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da, Boom-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da Boom.

Just a little to the North of us is Tarpon Springs, which has a large Greek population. This drum circle rhythm is the same one the Greek national hymn goes to: ♫ Doum-tekkaTek-tek-Doum-tek-, Doum-tekkaTek-tek-Doum-tek ♫

♪♫ This 4/4 drum circle rhythm has a "hand clap" in it, which adds to the fun & creates a new dimension. Doum Tek-Ka, Doum Tek-Ka, Doum Tek Clap, (pause, repeat phrase) I suggest playing it at a slow tempo, and it gets people laughing if you make the hand clap a high five to the person on their right. ♪♫

Speaking of clapping, the clapping beat at the beginning of the song "Car Wash" makes a jovial drum circle rhythm. ♫ doum, doum, doum ka-tek ka tek! (pause) ♫ doum, doum, doum ka-tek ka tek!

♫♫♫♫ Bolero Drum Circle Rhythm in 4/4 time, the accents are in caps:
Doum tekkaTek ka tek ka tek ka, Doum tekkaTek ka tek ka tek ka ♫♫♫♫

♫ Word association is a great way to get a drum circle rhythm going especially with kids: "The people on the train go round and round" ("The" is a whole note, "people on the train" all quarter notes, "go round and round" half notes, and there is a pause at the end. ♫

♪♫♪ ♪♪♪ Another "sweet" drum circle rhythm Agilablanca in 4/4: I-like-to-eat__choc-late-cake, (pause, repeat) ♪♪♪ (the 1st half is all tones, the last half is all bass notes)

A variation of an Egyptian drum rhythm called ♫ Karaatshi ♫ in 2/4 time:

Less sometimes really is more. A simple beat can make a great drum circle rhythm starter, (and really please the “players”) : ♫ Doum-Doum (pause) Doum-Doum (pause, repeat) ♫ Or, Gun-Dun (pause) Dun-Gun (pause) ♫
Kind of like the rhythm Ayyub (D k-D t, D k-D t) it leaves plenty of space to add fills, solos, and to improvise.

A good party drum circle rhythm we played at the last Mardi Gras: ♫♫ The roof, the roof...the roof is on Fire! ♫♫ Say it then play it. doum Doum, doum Doum...ka tek-ka Ka Tek! ♫♫

♫♫♫ Interesting yet challenging drum circle rhythm in 6/8 sometimes known as Darj:

An Egyptian drumming rhythm called ♫♫♫ Jaark ♫♫♫ in 4/4 time:
D-kkT-tkDDtkT-tk, D-kkT-tkDDtkT-tk

Occasionally after a couple of hours of drumming, people run out of good group drum circle rhythms to start out with. People will look around and say, “Anyone got a rhythm to start out with?” This djembe support rhythm always turns into a good drum jam. It’s in 4/4 time:
Go Do pata padaTa, Go Do pata padaTa (Go and Do are 1 & 2, the Ta is a slap tone)
(I use "da" as a closed tone note, or as a different softer lower pitched sound between "pa" and "ta".)
1, 2, 3, 4, Try tapping your foot on the 4 counts as you play it. Or here is 2 measures, count to 4 twice, D D tk ktT, D D tk ktT

Here’s another djembe support rhythm to try, the gun and dun are all bass and the rest tone notes, in 4.4 time:
Gun pa gun-dun, Gun pa da-pa, (half beat pause and repeat the phrase) Gun pa gun-dun, Gun pa da-pa. If there’s any good soloists, or even djembe cowboys in the house, they will love you for it. lol

Drum circle rhythm WaaHida in 4/4: 1+2+3+4+
♫♫ Doum-tekkatekkaTek-tekkatekkaTek-ka-, Doum-tekkatekkaTek-tekkatekkaTek-ka-,

Drumming out a waltz? It may sound like a bit of a yawner, but honestly, I think the drum circle waltz is a great way to balance the mind, body, and help get people firmly grounded. Once it gets rolling, it can always easily transition to a snappy 6/8 rhythm. It's an especially good rhythm for groups of beginners. Try to get them to alternate hands, R-L-R, L-R-L (Gun-do-go, Dun-go-do) Accent on the 1st bass note. The key to this one is to keep it at a slow tempo for awhile.

Try drumming out "Morse Code" rhythms. Ask someone to suggest 2 letters, or numbers, and put them together to make a new drum circle rhythm. ♫♫ _ _...._ _ ♫♫ A dot is a tone, and a dash, is a bass note. Sometimes they work, & sometimes they don't, that's part of the fun. There’s a Morse Code alphabet chart on my site

An interesting drum rhythm known in some cultures as Sabamaa. Played in 4/4 time.
♫♫ D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk, D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk ♫
Again, try tapping your foot as you play. 1-2-3-4

I dig this drum circle rhythm because of the long pauses. It gives the bass a chance to resonate a little bit. It’s in 4/4 time - ♪♫ Doum---tekkatek-tek-Doum---tek-, Doum---tekkatek-tek-Doum---tek-, ♫♪♫♪

♪♪♪♪♪ A basic yet fun drum circle rhythm sometimes called the Turkish 5. Plenty of room for fills. It's in 5/4 time, all the beats are on the numbers:
D k t k t

Fun djembe support rhythm for the drum circle: ♫ Gun Dun godo pa-ta-pa, Gun Dun godo pa-ta-pa ♫♫ (or) Doum Doum tekka ka-tek-ka, Doum Doum tekka ka-tek-ka ♫

"A Drum Circle Rhythm You Can't Refuse" ♫♫ Ba-da Bing, Ba-da Boom, Ba-da Bing_Bang_Boom, ♫♫ (or) Go-do Pa, Pa-ta Go, Go-do Pa_Ta_Pa ♫♫

"Little Drummer Boy" Christmas drum rhythm, if you can hum it, you can drum it!
♫♫♫ Let's All Play Our Drum...Pa - Rum Pa PumPum...Rum Pa PumPum ♫♫♫

Sort of a trance drum circle rhythm. ♫♫ Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek, Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek ♫♫♫♫


Sometimes to have a great drum circle rhythm jam, it needs a great ending. Rather than the usual fade out, or rumble ending, try this out. I usually mention the idea to the group, and we quickly practice it in advance before we start, so everyone is ready. Like about a 30 second rehearsal. Then get right to the rhythm you had planned to play. For me, 4/4 time works the best. The end is 9 tones then 2 bass notes. Repeat 6 times with a pause between each rep. As we are still playing, I will holler out, “Okay, here comes the ending! And count them down out loud. “ 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 boom boom, (pause) “5 more” 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 boom boom, (pause) “4 more times” etc. ♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪♪_♪_♪_

Another fun ending is 5 tones followed by 3 bass notes. A 1 beat pause and repeat them whole thing 6 times. After the rhythm has run it's course, get everyone's attention & say, "ok here comes the ending", and go right into it. 12345_1_2_3 (Again, I count the reps down out loud), "5 more times" and we play, tek ka tek ka tek, doum_doum_doum. “4 more times” etc. ♪♪♪♪♪_♪_♪_♪_

The fun thing about these drum rhythm endings is that they all catch on after the 2nd or 3rd rep. and all end together. On the last one, everyone usually stops in unison, then a big whoosh of silence, followed by smiles claps and pride. It's very cool, and a good confidence builder. To help this work smoother, I usually I quickly practice the ending in advance with the group before we start, and then go right into it, so they are prepared when the time comes.

Bring along a hula hoop to ramp up the fun at your drum circle. It gives people a rhythmic motion to groove to. I was surpised when I saw people of all different ages wanting to get in there and try it. The drum rhythm Beledi is a good one to use. D D tkT D tkT(pause)D D tkT D tkT ♫♫. 4/4 time, it sounds like: Doum Doum tek-ka-Tek, Doum tek-ka-Tek. {One of my dancer friends said the Beledi rhythm is the "Catnip Rhythm" for belly dancers. lol. I like that.)

I hope this list helps you and your friends to enjoy drumming more. I also have this rhythm list in Word.doc format at my website. You can download and print it free. If you are new to drumming, and would like some more in depth info on reading, understanding, and playing transcribed drum circle rhythm notations, please read a few of my older my blog posts for 2010. I put my older blog post list of rhythms together, and added a few more so they are all in one place, and this is it.

If you would consider picking up my drum circle rhythms DVD, I would appreciate that, and it would help out a little bit. Thanks in advance if you do. The 2 hour DVD will show you how to play over 100 diffferent rhythms for $15. Please visit for the DVD and more.

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Including Everyone At The Drum Circle

It’s often the case that a drum circle will draw people who have never drummed before. But, there may also be some very advanced drummers, as well as everything in between. Keeping the circle interesting for the advanced without intimidating the beginners requires a bit of a different approach than one often finds. Many drum circle facilitators tailor their programs purely for the beginners. Most people have music in their backgrounds, so it makes sense to not only include and welcome them, but to create an environment where they are free to share their gift with everyone.

I try to keep the drum circle accessible to all skill levels, because many times people will be transitioning in and out of the circle as it’s going on. So my approach to it needs to be a bit different. Most of the time when I’m introducing a new rhythm, I will make up words to go with the beat. For example, “I like chocolate cake.” for doum-doum-teka-tek. People seem to find the combination of words and hearing the beat makes it easier to follow, and the brain can process it faster. I also start the beat very slowly, vocalizing the words as I do. This also makes it easier for me to hear whether everyone is able to follow along.

Once the group is in sync, I can start to slowly speed it up to tempo if people are feeling it. Then we can then add in more complex variations. And I always encourage people to improvise from the beginning. It is, after all, just the support rhythm – it’s just a starting place. Volume is something I address early on. If it’s too loud it’s unpleasant for most people. So during the first few rhythms after it is locked in, I will decrescendo gradually but keep the tempo up. People will have to play softer to hear what’s going on, and this sends the message without having to actually say it. Now they are listening to you play, and everyone else as well.

Somebody has to hold that bottom beat, or support rhythm or you can end up with banging noise chaos, or the rhythm speeding up out of control. People trying to out drum the others. End result – not much fun. It’s true that holding the support rhythm does create a dependency, but until the rhythm is locked in, you kind of need to be there for that. Or somebody does. Train wrecks do happen. Laugh it off, and move on to a slower tempo rhythm to reenergize the fun.

I prefer to facilitate from the side of the drum circle rather than in the center. To me the center is a place for people to explore, and for self expression. Dancing, hooping, etc. By facilitating from the side, I am just a part of the circle, part of the group, rather than an obvious leader in the center conducting something. Plus, I want to enjoy the experience as well, so by going back to my place in the side of the circle I can be a participant, as well as a facilitator. (If that is my role.)

If I have some good drummers whom I know show up, I can count on at least one of them to just hold the bottom beat. This helps newbies to return to the beat if they get a tad lost. Once I sense that the rhythm is solid, once or twice during the evening’s circle I will slowly walk around the interior of the drum circle playing the rhythm near each of the drummers. Not too close, or for too long to make them uncomfortable or get in their space, but just enough so they can hear my saying “hello, welcome, glad you are here”, with my drum. As I do, I listen to skill levels, and watch to see who might be experiencing drum confusion. I’m also enjoying the solid drummers, and/or soloists.

My experience has taught me there is always somebody out there who is a better drummer than me. Often more than one at any given drum circle I might me hosting or facilitating. Rather than being competitive, I would rather have them as an ally, so they can share their gift with the group. I want them on my side. At some point, I welcome them to come stand next to me and let them know I welcome their ability and their talent. I vibe them that it’s cool if they are a better player – hey lets just have some fun making music together. A simple smile as we are playing can send that message clearly.

I’m cool that they can solo, or play better than me. That sets things at ease right away, and that possible alpha male – djembe cowboy thing is never an issue. I will usually just hold a solid support rhythm so they can feel free to solo, or get down on a beat. More often than not, the entire group enjoys it, and the excitement level is ramped up a notch. Offer to let them start out the next rhythm if they wish. Some will want to, some won’t. Let them know it’s cool either way. Offer to let anyone start out a rhythm. It’s taking a risk, but that’s part of the fun, taking chances. It is after all, a drum circle, not brain surgery. After that, the serious players drift back into being an ensemble player, and a solid part of the group.

Another key thing I try to do after a rhythms ends, is acknowledge anyone who stepped up and took a risk. Did some outstanding drumming, some hula hoping, bellydancing, or whatever. It takes some stones to get out there and do that. So at the rhythm’s end after the applause, I make it a point to say, “How about a nice hand for that amazing soloing, or fantastic dancing! By…” etc. I mention their name if I can remember it, or simply ask them what their first name is so I can do it proper. They deserve it, and again the message to the group is hey it’s not all about me, it’s about the group.

When I am making my interior stroll around the interior of the circle, there is a few things for me to consider, and honestly, it comes with experience. The more you do it, the easier it is. It takes time to assess if a person is confused, or if they are just kicking back enjoying things for a bit. It’s important to remember that all those who may be wandering, are not always lost. If I do find someone obviously trying to figure things out, I don’t say anything, but just stand next to them for a few measures, so that they can feel and hear the beat and also see my hands if they want to. I will usually smile or offer a wink hello, but contact is made more with the sound of my drum. I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, I’m just playing next to you for a few moments to say hello, and help them get a handle on the beat. But I’m also accessing skill levels and offering that basic rhythm if someone needs it.

I rarely make much eye contact, because that tends to make it more obvious that I might be helping someone along. If the person is really struggling, I will do this with just the basic beat, sometimes even just the bottom beat. Once they get comfortable with that, I move on to the next one in the group. I try to stop and play a bit even next to the really good drummers also, so that those who are struggling do not feel singled out, and it seems I am just welcoming everyone the same way. The entire process of my circle wander may take 5 minutes at the most. But this is one of the mechanical things I do at every drum circle I facilitate. Once or twice during the evening at most. The most I will ever say, (Quietly with a smile of course) is “Hey, how’s it going, nice to see you. That sort of thing. But I continue playing, all the time. I want to be a part of the group, and not put anyone on the spot. But if someone wants the spotlight, I offer it to them.

I also want to encourage those people who are in the back perimeter standing around and listening to the music. I like to put a few wicker baskets of percussion “toys” around the space. Some pieces are actual, real percussion instruments. But, a lot are throw away, homemade items. For example, large painted vitamin bottles with macaroni inside (uncooked, LOL) and taped shut makes a decent shaker. I also include inexpensive tambourines, guiros, and maracas. None of these are very loud, so that people can just pick one up and play along without being afraid of messing up the rhythm or drawing attention to themselves. It really increases the fun factor for people when they participate, on whatever level they are comfortable with. It encourages the onlookers, and possibly timid to join in when they feel ready.

I make it a point during the circle to let them know the toys are out there, and to join in whenever you wish. If you are trying to start an ongoing drum circle, you want them to leave wanting to come back for more. They will tell their friends how much fun they had at that drum circle last night, it creates a buzz of talk about it in your area. That’s a key to creating a solid community happening. Word of mouth. Of course Face Book helps to. LOL.

My opinion is that getting people to relax and have fun is what brings the true magic into a drum circle. Most people get something special from it and I feel that this is the true value on the community. Music making that is the essence of drum circles. To me, it is more about the people, rather than the quality of the music. But generally the more fun people are having, the better the musicality is. Check out my book on hand drumming and drum circles. It’s 300 pages jammed with ideas, tips, and suggestions. Pick it up on Kindle for $10. Or a physical copy at my website for $18. I include a free drum circle jam CD if you pick it up from me direct. Thanks in advance for helping an independent musician.


Thursday, September 30, 2010

Drum Circle Benefits – Social, Physical, & Mental?

There have been some recent studies indicating that drumming may be equivalent to some medications. When we are inactive, the hippocampus, the part of the brain that regulates mood, gets smaller. Dancing and drumming actually spurs new nerve growing in this area and relieves and prevents depression. I’ve seen it happen with my own eyes in people that had supposedly incurable nerve damage. So what makes dance different from other exercise? Playing or dancing to drum rhythms increases neural transmissions. Drumming also helps to rebuild neuro-receptors. The repetitive physical activity of drumming and dance is soothing to the soul and human body, and the simple repetitiveness of the drum beat pattern has a lot to do with it.

A newer friend of mine spoke with me after a few months of attending a weekly drum circle I facilitated. She had a number of physical and health limitations that were obvious, like nerve damage, and It looked like she was just slowly getting better. I noticed her improving dramatically in both her health and state of mind. Please keep in mind I’m not a doctor, or am I recommending a treatment. This is just what I observed, and what was shared with me.

It seems she became paralyzed from the neck down six years ago following a botched surgery. A blood clot formed in her spinal cord and as it traveled toward the brain, it did extensive nerve damage. She had spent six months in a wheelchair, and another year in a walker. She was also a migraine sufferer, having them as frequently as three times a week. When she was 13, her doctor suggested relaxation therapy, in an effort to try and avert the migraines. So it was then that she first employed music for its healthful benefits, and not just something pretty to listen to. She learned to listen to it differently. To breathe the music.

Then she found our little drum circle. She was seated in the back, and I just held out and offered a drum I brought over to her. She was so surprised, and flustered, that she accepted it and said “I don’t know what to do!” I said, just play whatever you want, whatever you feel like playing, and don‘t worry about it. Just have some fun, and play when you feel like playing. Nobody cares how good you are here, and you are not going to mess anyone else up. Everyone is here just to have fun.

It was one of those light aluminum doumbeks by the way. Those are ideal for beginners I think, because they are light, very comfortable to hold and play, plus most of them are just intriguing looking drums to people. It’s like an immediate, “yeah that looks like fun, I wanna try that”. She kept coming back to the drum circle for weeks after that.

She said it opened up a whole new channel into her inner core. And that the drum casts a spell on anyone who hears it, and more so, on those who play one. Although other music can be equally entrancing, it only has that power if you listen to it, but the drum finds its way into your soul without you even knowing it. Before long, you find the rhythm so familiar, and so comforting, much like the rhythm of the human heart. This, to me, is just the spiritual power of drumming.

Now the more scientific stuff. She been coming to the drum circle for about six months, and when she first started coming, most of her fingers had little to no feeling in them. She felt that when she struck the drum with her hands, the vibrations carried up into her arms. The thinking was that nerves need to be stimulated in order to heal. Over the course of the last two months, she’s actually noticed more increased sensation in her fingers. I can't say for certain if drumming is responsible for the new found sensation, but it's the only thing in her lifestyle she said she had changed over the past several months that could possibly have made a difference. I might add that, according to what her doctor had told her, is that her nerves were "permanently" damaged. They started to improve.

Finally, she added that over the course of many years she had been treated for severe depression. Although she became healthy enough to stop taking medication two years ago, she had continued to suffer periodic short bouts of the depression. Before finding the drum, she would simply "wait it out" and let the spell pass. Sadly, it was usually at the expense of family and friends dragging around for days until something changed and lifted her spirits up. She eventually bought her own djembe drum.

Now, when she feels low, she picks up her drum and begins to play with the mother rhythm or some other rhythms she now knows, just letting the drum and her heart become one. She said once she achieves that, she simply lets her heart take over, and allows her hands to play whatever her heart tells her to play. At the end of the drumming session, she found herself not only deeply relaxed, but, by the same token, reenergized and happy to be alive. It takes her back to a place where she has the deepest appreciation for the smallest of things. It's much more than "just" a drum. It's magical, and that makes you look at everything else with a different perspective.

Aside from that, drumming studies have been done and the results indicate it can help out people that have/had breast cancer. Apparently, that the exercise involved with drumming or dancing, can lower the risk of estrogen related tumors. Just thirty minutes of it a day can dramatically decrease the odds of another tumor occurring. I can believe it after seeing the nerve damage healing in her, and in others.

For those who undergo chemotherapy, aromatase inhibitors decrease estrogen. Estrogen loss speeds up bone loss. Dancing and movement helps slow that loss. Newer studies also indicated that exercise can reduce the symptoms of lymph-edema if it is approached gradually. Belly dancing is particularly beneficial style. All those arm extensions and playing the Zills (little finger cymbals) is a natural way to aid in lymph drainage. And it may even help reduce the effects of carpal tunnel syndrome. And it entices us guys to play better.

Drumming even helps to make you smarter. Doh! Improved IQ scores can now officially be added to the growing list of benefits from playing at the drum circle. A recent study showed that playing the drums improved the IQ scores of some children. I mean, if you think about it, drum rhythms are mathematic in their natural form. (4/4 time, 6/8, etc.) They are drumming, and learning some basic math in the process of having fun.

While many various studies have indicated that musical training can improve a person's literacy and math skills, this is particularly interesting, because it is the first time that a study has shown that just drumming alone, can improve your intelligence level. Playing the drums is unique in that it makes the brain think in such a way that very few other activities can do. Being able to learn and understand drum beats, and figure out how the various drum rhythms go together is actually a very complicated thought process. This kind of thinking exercises your brain, and actually helps make you smarter.

For every hour you are dancing or drumming you can possibly add an extra hour to your life. What a nice added bonus. It was explained to me by a belly dancer one time that the different parts of the body represent different natural elements of the earth in their expression. That the movements in the base and pelvic areas represent earth and grounding. Movements in the belly represent the flow of water. Movements in the upper parts of the body represent the fire. The hand movement represents the air.

Over the course of the years I have seen some fascinating things happen with people. In a regular weekly drum circle, people with all sorts of personal problems and issues. Social difficulties, self consciousness, physical limitations, and numerous other things would slowly start to heal themselves. Relationships slowly developed, people fell in love and found life partners. The introverted slowly started to come out of their shells.

The drum circle is a non threatening environment, so people begin to relax about their social feelings and limitations. We are just there to play music together, the most honest way of getting to know someone there is. People have a real life, and a musical life. I got to know so many of these people so very intimately musically, yet I knew nothing about their real lives. What they did, where they are from, what hobbies they have, and on and on. Many of them were professional people from all walks of life, and all different ethnic backgrounds. I knew nothing about them, but I had been playing music with them for so very long, I had this feeling I had known them my entire life. I felt like I knew them better than any of my best friends. It sounds strange even to write it, but it is true. Of course there were many that I became close personal friends with, but for the most part, I didn’t know a lot of them, except musically. After all, I was busy playing all night, and never got to actually talk to them, except with our drumming. The most honest form of communication is music.

People that had just experienced some recent sadness, or even a tragedy in there life would go there, because they could be around a supportive group of friends who cared about them as a friend, and they would not to have to grieve alone at home. They had a community of friends they could go to. We would all help them deal with it through the drumming. And they knew that people genuinely cared about them. Even the ones who only knew them musically. This kind of thing happens at a regularly meeting drum circle. Happy things got celebrated as well. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays.

After about a year, this drum circle had become so popular that the media eventually started to wander in and asked me to do interviews about this particular drum circle, and drum circles in general. It was quite a nice article, and lots of credit goes to a wonderful writer. There is a link to it on the main page of my website:
Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Drumming Up The Golden Ratio & The Center Of The Drum Circle

It’s not about gold plating your djembe to increase the value of your portfolio. The Golden Ratio can apply to drumming. It dates back at least to the ancient Greeks, who noticed that certain proportions in architecture resulted in a more visually appealing construction. Since then, it has become a standard of design for art as well. The mathematics are complex, but not necessarily required. The interesting thing is that it applies to music, also. There it refers to relationships of chord progressions and harmonics. Many of the great classical composers, as well as current ones, utilize this.

For percussion, in drum circles, and even in bands, the application is more subtle. Combinations of rhythms produce a more powerful impact than others. Since a drum circle is, by its very nature, highly improvisational, this is not something that can be planned. But, it can be perceived, as the combination of individual drummers' beats will suddenly produce a solid, powerful unity of music. This is just the random occurrence of everything coming together and locking in…to an extent that everyone can feel it happening. Sometime for only a few moments, sometimes for much longer. It’s hard to describe the feeling and sensation in mere words. I think that in some ways, analyzing it is just an attempt to make scientific sense out of what is truly and inherently pure magic.

I’ve experienced the golden ratio playing songs in bands, and in drum circles. Here we are, doing the same old routine song, and all of a sudden we start to improvise, and suddenly it morphs and changes into this amazing moment. You can feel this sort of glow.

But more often I have seen, and experienced it during open freestyle drum circles. It just magically comes along and happens. Some facilitators are critical of what they might term as a thunder drum circle, but I think they are missing out on the free and open willingness to be creative and let this kind of thing to happen naturally. As hard as you might try, it’s almost impossible to create the musical Golden Ratio. But you can create an environment where it might occur.

One way I try to encourage this is by leaving the center of the drum circle open. To me, this is a place for the participants to express themselves and be creative. I saw this at my first drum circle in the mid 70’s. To me, the center is a place for expression, not a place to play teacher. If you are a drum circle facilitator, I’ve seen a few that spend most of the time in the center giving out instructions. With beginner groups I may get in the center to introduce a rhythm, or bring one to an end so we can move on to something else, but I do 95% of my facilitating from the side of the circle as a participant, and mostly use the music to do it. That way, it doesn’t seem like such obvious facilitation, and the group is more empowered to be creative. It all just comes together. Even what may be perceived as a train wreck, can be laughed off, and a kickin’ new rhythm can then emerge.

Spontaneous things are less likely to happen unless there is an open space for people to get up in there and dance. I never ask people to dance, they will do it if they are feeling it. The onlookers who might not be ready to drum yet, can wander in there and dance, wave scarves, wander around to the beat, or whatever they are feeling. People that are drumming might want to take a break from drumming and dance.

Depending on the group, if nobody is in there, perhaps suggest that they are welcome to lay down in the center and feel the rhythm soak into their bodies for a few minutes. I suggest that they try it two at a time and close their eyes. I bring along two beach towels for this purpose. It is a remarkable, and very moving experience.

Another idea is to get a couple of inexpensive hula hoops, and suggest that people can give that a try in the center. It ramps up the fun, and jump starts the dancing. I keep them off to the side and mention they are there if anyone “wants to have a go at it”.

I personally love open drum circles, things don’t always go smoothly, but that’s half of the fun. I don’t know what’s going to happen. Neither does anyone else. I love it when people are "finding" their inner rhythms. I see them taking risks in a place where they feel safe. It’s the safety net, the bottom beat, that they can rely on and fall back to if they need to. I try to guide them on how to listen to what the entire group is doing, using their peripheral hearing. And that it’s ok, to look with your ears. You can see a lot more than can with your eyes. So even if my role there is as a facilitator, I try to create the open drum circle vibe. Let the music flow and evolve, magical things can happen like The Golden Ratio.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Drumming Via Webcam And With Special Needs Kids

I’ve been asked a few times about long distance drumming over the web with video camera programs like Skype. My experience, despite some of the technical issues, that it’s a very effective way to teach drumming across the country from the comfort of your home.

A family contacted me some time ago that had an 8 year old child with Cerebral Palsy. They had spoken with numerous doctors and specialists about finding ways to help strengthen his weak arm and hand. Because if he could begin using it more at this young age it might help him to work through it a little, or even help it to heal a little bit.

Please keep in mind that this should be okayed by the person’s doctor. This case was actually a referral from the child’s neurologist. While I have seen multiple people improve through drumming, it is certainly not a cure and every one is unique, so the outcomes do vary. I am just sharing an experience here.

I started by speaking via webcam with the parents about it, and they explained that they wanted to try drumming as a possible solution. I explained that I only teach drumming. I’m not a therapist, and I have no medical degrees. I’m a musician, and I will help to teach him music. Obviously each child, and medical condition has to be approached differently, and that we have to find the right style of drum to suit each individual’s needs.

I suggested that we try a couple of drumming lessons and see how things go. If it works out for him, that we could do a webcam drumming lesson once a week, or twice a month. They could continue as long as they felt he was benefiting from it. I’ve worked a lot drumming with special needs children and adults, both individually and in groups, so finding the right approach and style of drum unique to each person is very important. Most of the time I would just let them choose a drum or percussion item and, later on, suggest they try a different one out.

With this particular child the wish of the parents was to teach him drumming to strengthen the weaker arm. At the time he couldn’t really do anything with it, and didn’t really want to.

I suggested one of those smaller very lightweight aluminum doumbeks. The reason was he would need to grasp the body of the drum with his weak arm to play it, and he could play with his stronger arm. I figured when it got stronger that maybe a set of bongos on a stand might be the ideal drum. I’ve seen people at some of the drum circles I hosted with Cerebral Palsy strengthen their weak hand over the course of just a couple of months by playing the bongos. One person in particular was in a wheelchair and he would just set it on his lap and play. I was rather surprised how quickly the weak arm improved and he could begin to tap out rhythms on the bongos with both hands. It happened so quickly that he could play a rhythm as good as anyone else in the group. One of the keys to it was suggesting a basic foundation drum rhythm, and encouraging them to improvise whenever they felt comfortable. This gets them out of their head, and frees them up to not think, and just have fun playing and improvising.

So that was my thinking looking forward going into this. My approach needed to be different than drumming in the room with someone, because they are in New Jersey looking at me on a computer screen, and I’m down here in Florida. With any 8 year old child there is an attention span issue, so my approach was just to encourage him to have fun drumming. I used very basic drum rhythms with word association. I just wanted to make it fun for him so he would enjoy playing and not think about his condition. I gave him a few hand technique suggestions so he wouldn’t hurt his hand. I chatted with him a little and found out what his hobbies and interests were so I had something to work with. He liked rock music, and the NY Jets. So examples I used were: “We Will Rock You’, “J-E-T-S Jets, Jets, Jets” And we played to those. Just bass and tones. He loved this one: “I like choc-late cake”, - (bass-bass, tone tone tone)

With the long distance thing, and attention span, I felt that a 5 minute drum rhythm jam was plenty, unless he wanted to play it a bit longer, but I tried to keep them short so he wouldn’t get bored. After each rhythm we would talk for a few minutes, so he could rest, and then try another one out. An hour is a long time to drum with one child, but this ended up working very well. After a half hour he was suggesting jingles, sayings, songs, names, phrases, and raps to play, so that’s what we did. We ended up taking turns suggesting them. Again I encouraged him to improvise and play whatever he felt like playing as I held the support rhythm. That first lesson went very well. At the end I asked to speak with the mother for a quick review, and we continued with a 1 hour drum lesson for 4 weeks.

One thing that came up was at times he would get frustrated, and that’s when hobby talk, or things he was interested in would be worked in. Then we could get right back to drumming. It takes a little more extra patience than normal, because kids get aggravated, especially when they have physical limitations. Life is harder, school is harder, and keeping that in mind is important.

At the end of the forth drumming session the mom got on the cam and was delighted to tell me that he was now doing tasks around the house with his weak arm. Simple things like opening the refrigerator door, etc. but is was a progress they hadn’t seen from all the therapies they had tried previously. Keep in mind, he never actually played the drum with his weak arm, he just held onto it while he played with the other one. But this helped to strengthen his arm without him having to do a deliberate task to do it. And that seemed to be the block holding him back.

From there I suggested we upgrade to a set of bongos with a stand. That worked out great. He was excited to play full rhythms with both hands. At first it was barely a curled hand tap, but after a couple of more lessons he was playing some decent beats and now actually playing with the weak hand. I have to say, I was thrilled to see such quick progress with his condition in less than 2 months.

I hoped that he would take such a liking to playing music that eventually he might join the school band like I did. I was a hyperactive child and my parents got me a drum instead of Ritalin. I loved drumming and went on to join the school band as soon as I was old enough.

We continued on for a year or so, with 1 to 3 lessons a month, as the parent’s time allowed. They had 3 other children so being flexible and trying to accommodate their busy schedule was a factor. Slowly during the lessons I would work in a bit of music theory, how to read music, meter, some different time signatures, musical terms and what they meant, tempo, crescendo, decrescendo, etc. It continued on as long as it did because he loved drumming.

After that first year, they were planning a Florida vacation to our area, and wanted to meet me to say hello in person. I suggested that we all go to an open drum circle at the beach. They loved the idea, and it worked out great. I piled up the van with drums and my percussion gig bag, we all went down there and had a blast. It was a very pleasing experience for me. Plus, they bought me dinner at a snazzy restaurant I can’t afford to even go to. We all said goodbye, and the online drumming lessons continued once or twice a month. He was playing on his own now in-between, but still wanted to hang out and jam now and then.

My goal evolved to the point where he wouldn’t need me anymore, as much as it saddened me to think of it. I explained to the mom that’s where I wanted him to get to. Coincidentally, soon after that he joined the school band. I was absolutely thrilled. We had reached that point, where they really didn’t need me for lessons anymore. He was the percussionist in the band, and was musically way ahead of the other kids.

So it was goodbye. I was happy but also sad. A month later they contacted me because he was going to do a school performance in the school band. They gave them a pretty heavy duty scored piece of instrumental music they had to perform live. The mom faxed it to me and I was surprised how advanced it was for a 10 year old group of kids to play. I didn’t see anything like that until I was in high school. I was pleased they were teaching advanced music at such a young age.

But he was stressing over performing it because it was really complicated looking at it from a kids point of view. So we sat down on the computer and went back to the basics. I used word association for musical phrases, we broke it all down measure by measure and slowly put it all back together. It took about 3 lessons to where it all made sense for him, but he got it.

Then I added a little of my experiences with live performances. Things do go wrong, about playing with confidence, and working past mistakes if he made one. To just act like he meant to play that measure that way. His block was that he would want to stop altogether if he got lost, or thought he might have played something wrong. There was a lot of pressure on these kids. But I think it was good for the musical director to challenge them like this. And he was reasonably confident to go perform that in front of a crowd.

I have to admit, I was stressing a little at this point, waiting to hear how it went for him. I so wanted him to do well. Look how far he had come in less than 18 months. From not even being able to move his arm, to playing written music with both hands…Live in front of people. Two longs days went by, and the mom emailed me a short video of the school band performance. That was one of the happiest moments of my life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

How I Like To Read & Play A Notated Drum Circle Rhythm

Most of the rhythms at the drum circle are in 4/4 time, or in 6/8 time. Using the rhythm below in 4/4 time, that means there is 4 counts in each measure. A quarter note gets one beat.

One way to get the rhythm is to tap your foot 4 times, starting on the "1". Tap on the 1, 2, 3, 4, and play it. Start out with a very slow tempo, you can always speed it up later.

Another way is tapping your foot steadily 8 times during the measure, (twice for each count) So it's like this: 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, tap once for each one, 8 times as you play the rhythm. I can't get it to format quite correctly on here, but at least it gives you an idea.

1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &

1 + 2 + 3 + 4 +
D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk, D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk, D-TkTkT-D-TkT-Tk, And away it flows.

Or try it this way, there is 16 counts in one 4/4 measure. I like to tap on just the number, and the & (+). Some people like to count them all out loud, some tap to all of them etc. It looks like this for 2 measures:


Written out it looks, and sounds like this:

Try saying this out loud, and then play along.
1 E & A, 2 E & A, 3 E & A, 4 E & A

The "D" in the rhythm notation is a bass note or Doum. The "T" and "K" are tone notes, right and left hand. The letters in Caps are accented, or louder. I like to play the "T" or "Tek" with my dominant hand. The t and k are softer notes. I hope some of this helps you to play some of the notated drum rhythms in my older blog posts below.


Here's another rhythm example written slightly differently with the rhythm Beledi: Timing is in 4/4, 1e&a2e&a3e&a4e&a
Try it out, the rhythm phrase below is 2 measures.
I like to count on just the 1-2-3-4, 1-2-3-4

Rhythm Notation: D D tkT, D tkT - 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4
(The last 4 is a pause, or rest, then the phrase begins again) Sounds like: Doum Doum tekka-tek, Doum tekka-Tek(pause)Doum Doum tekka-tek, Doum tekka-Tek


An example of a 6/8 rhythm is if you play to the saying: "Fol-low-the-yel-low-brick-road-go-do-pa-ta-pa" or say, "cab-bage-and-broc-o-li, cab-bage-and-broc-o-li". It flows like the rhythm of a shuffle in 6.

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 24, 2010

So What’s A Good Choice For A First Djembe Drum?

The short answer in my opinion is something like a Remo djembe with a 12” head size. I don't endorse any drum manufacturers or companies, so I can be straight up with you and share with you what I think. Plus they have all rejected me already anyway. LoL. I can also mention the places I have bought mine from with an unbiased position.

Picking a drum is an important choice, and the following is just my point of view. Finding the one that’s best for your hands, your body, and your soul. One that really “speaks” to you, and has the sound and range you can really enjoy playing. I started out getting the wrong ones for me and ended up constantly upgrading over the years. So I think its best to buy up in quality as much as possible, so you can grow into it. But, hey money’s tight right now, and if you only have a 100 bucks or two, here’s what I suggest.

If you’re on a budget, I think a Toca or a Remo 12" or 14" head djembe is a good head size for a first drum. It’s best to see what size you like first. I think the best thing to do is go to your local music store like Sam Ash or Guitar Center, then and try a few drums and different brands out. Most all the big chain stores have impressive world percussion selections now to choose from now. Talk with the drum guy, ask him to show you around, and try a few out. Then you have a better idea what feels right and talks to you. I think it’s important to support local business in your community, especially the smaller ones, so check them out if you can.

I usually suggest a 12” Remo for a first djembe drum. A 12" head gives you plenty of range and isn't too big or too small. The last time I checked they ran about $200 new. Go to the music store and try playing one, or ask to try one at your local drum circle. If you get a chance, talk with a few other drummers while you are there. They are pretty easy to spot with the big logo on them. They have synthetic drum shells, and synthetic heads, are lug tunable, so they need little maintenance unlike traditional rope tied goatskin drums. Plus they can take a serious beating, and they hold up real well in the humidity like we have here, as well as in the cold. And they have pretty good resale value if you end up needing to sell it. I think they are made from all recycled materials, so that's cool. I use one as a beater drum for the beach, it works great, and sounds halfway decent to me even on the sand.

For a little less cash you can go with a lug tuned Toca “Freestyle” djembe. A little bit lighter drum shell, (It’s a PVC material) and it has a goatskin drum head on it, which I prefer over the synthetic heads. So while it is less durable, it doesn’t have that Remo ping sound, and is more responsive to me. Plus my hands tend to hurt less on goatskin as opposed to synthetic if I get to jamming at a drum circle for a few hours on it. And believe me, that is easy to do.

If you’re short on dough, once you figure out what brand you want, (Toca, Meinl, Remo, etc), you pretty much know what you’re going to get with one of those, so buying one used isn’t really that big of a deal. I’ve bought a lot of them at places like Ebay and Craig’s. If you are patient, you can get one for a lot less than retail. Not bad.

For a wood shell djembe with a goatskin head, a decent one can easily run over $400. Some of them are matched by nothing else in sound and quality, and have gorgeous hand carved art on them. The hand carved wood shell goatskin head djembes sound the best, but are more fragile, more expensive, and you need to learn how to tie the Mali weave knots in order to keep it in tune. Or have a good friend, or pay somebody. There is a lot of cost if your drum head splits. Most of the expense is the time and labor involved. The problem with goatskin is that the pitch changes when you go outdoors. The wood can split over time also. Most all the high quality djembes are rope tuned. I prefer lug tuned goatskin in our Florida humidity. The Latin Percussion Classic or Giovanni djembe is my drum of choice for gigs or performances. To me it brings together the best of both worlds.

As far as buying new drums, I buy a lot from They also have an outlet store with some pretty good deals, but they come and go fast. I’ve bought quite a few from them in the past because they would usually match the lowest online price I could find, and they also shipped free if I spent over $100. did that for me also. I don’t know if their policy has changed or not. My experiences with both companies has been very positive, customer service and everything. The online retail drum world is very competitive now, so many of them will negotiate with you. I always call them and talk to a sales person, sometimes get a percentage off. Especially if I am buying a few drums.

Please feel free to ask me any questions, I’m always happy to share my experience, and help a fellow musician or artist. As to the what size djembe head size thing, I've come to prefer the 12" (playable size) because it has good range, decent bass, but yet still has the crisp tones I want. It isn't quite so bulky and heavy either. If I get into playing for hours, even with a Slider djembe strap, my back starts to ache. LoL. To me, the 14" is too much bass and reduced tone, and the 10" is the opposite. I like to stand and play, so that my body is straight and energy can flow smoothly through me. If I’m sitting I feel scrunched up. I think Remo makes the Slider djembe strap. It’s a criss cross clip on strap that distributes the weight evenly across my back, and it just clips right on the drum. I swear by those. So does my back.

I've bought and then sold a number of djembe styles and brands over the years, and ended up very happy with the Latin Percussion Giovanni. There is also the LP Classic, but for the price difference, the Gio is only a little bit more money. Plus it looks and sounds just plain beautiful. I love the fact that I can still get the responsiveness of goatskin, and tune it up quickly with a few twists of the wrench. Some have sneered at me for playing a lug tuned djembe, but I'm up and playing while they are on the ground struggling to tie knots and tune up their drum. Plus here in FL the humidity is a problem and drums need tuning indoors or out. I went to lug tunable for most of my djembes for that reason. I like doumbeks because of that also. But if you do end up going with a rope tuned djembe, I do have djembe tuning instructions with photos (pdf.file) on my website.

So about that synthetic Remo ping sound. Some like it, some don’t. It drives me nuts. Recording sessions, even worse. But for the price, I think it’s a very durable, and a decent sounding drum. One quick fix for the ringing sound is to get some of that blue painter’s tape and stick it under the drum head, Get like a 12” piece, and stick the middle part of it together, kind of like this, “\/” so a 4 inch tail is hanging underneath the drum head in the center. That absorbs it a little, and takes that sound you might hear down a notch.

So is the Latin Percussion or Meinl Floatune lug tuned high priced djembe worth the cost? To me absolutely. A good quality djembe will last you forever if you take care of it, and you can pass it on to your kids. I’ve seen the high end LP’s and Meinl’s used now and then for around $300 on Ebay. I own the Meinl model also by the way, it pretty much sounds the same to me, and weighs a bit less. I just love the Giovanni a little bit more. I suggest to stay away from the low end entry level LP djembe. I forgot what they call it now, the aspire or something newer now. As I'm sure you know, with the big name brands, you get what you pay for. I got my Gio new at They did match the lowest online price I could find, and took $10 off that. They shipped it free also, so I was pretty happy. I got mine for around $400. Once you play one of those djembes, it’s over, you have to have it imho. I love the Meinl Floatune also because to me it is very similar in sound and quality, yet it has a fiberglass body, so obviously it weighs a bit less than the LP wood shell.

There is tons of online retailers that claim to sell “authentic” roped djembes. Honestly, with a drum like that, I need to see it, play it, and hear how it sounds before I buy it.

I‘ve heard many things about using lotions on djembe and conga heads. Shea butter, and lots of other stuff. Most all my friends over the years whose experience I really respect say to use nothing at all. Just the natural oils that come from playing when with your hands that builds up. So that's what I do.

A thought about what pitch to tune your congas to, and an easy way to do it. This wise old beatnik dude years ago said to me when I asked him, tune them both to the notes in "Here comes the bride". Simple eh?

For more info on this and other hand drumming and drum circle topics, please consider buying my book, “A Practical Guide To Hand Drumming And Drum Circles” It’s $8 on Amazon Kindle, and helps me to continue to do work in our community. Thanks.

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Improving Drum Circle Hosting & Facilitating Skills On Little Or No Money

I’m often asked how to improve drum circle hosting and facilitating skills with little or no money.

I started with pretty much whatever I could get to come my way. I made up a press pack with some photos, resume, and a generic “what a drum circle is like, the benefits of one, etc.” flier, and I approached the senior centers, special needs facilities, city groups, schools, small businesses, arts centers, caf├ęs pubs, comedy clubs, even at small events. Pretty much anything I could think of. I carried copies of them around in my car, so when I saw something with potential, I would stop and talk with them, leave my press pack, and follow up in a week.

Many of them didn't pay very much, if at all, but they led to other gigs when people could see how worthwhile the activity it was, and what a profound impact it had on the participants. Once people see a drum circle in action, they want to hire you.

Working with children can be brutally honest. They don't pull any punches and can see right through your confidence if it isn’t there. I would say working with kids is probably the best experience, because they have shorter attention spans. They will tell you right away what they think, so you know if something works or not very quickly. Looking ahead, my goal was to be the most well rounded working with all ages and skill levels so I could be prepared for anything at the drop of a hat. That's the goal of most musicians, is to be able to play any song in any genre after hearing a few measures. The ability to work and make adjustments on the fly was what kept people wanting more.

Many are adamantly against the idea of mixing alcohol and drum circles, but the opportunity presented itself at wedding receptions, and steady weekly gigs at night clubs, so I tried it. Obviously it was challenging because you have people drinking, and things can get out of control very easily. But the experience was invaluable. If you can host a drum circle and keep things running smoothly under those circumstances, I think you can work with just about any group, and in any situation. That’s a real training ground.

Looking back, I think working with church groups helped a lot also, because it is more casual and I could try more rhythm ideas out. After years of experimentation, I still say that allowing any group you work with to just make music is the most satisfying for them and for me. I just start them out with different rhythms, step back, participate, and let the group go. A drum circle is more about the people than the actual music. But the better it sounds, the more fun they have. After 5 or10 minutes depending on the groove, if it doesn’t end on it’s own, I will end it usually through the music, and move onto another rhythm. An hour goes by like it’s 10 minutes.

Observing and participating in local open drum circles was also a very good training ground. I could really see what worked and what didn't. Taking lessons or training is useful, especially if you are a new to this, but in my opinion you learn more just by doing. Just get out there and work for whoever you can regardless of the pay. You will have to make lots of on the spot choices and decisions. Some will be right, some will be wrong and flop. Learn to laugh at your mistakes, and everyone else will laugh with you. But your confidence will grow, you will learn from it, and add more things to your mixed bag of rhythms and ideas for future gigs. This is a constant learning process.

I think bringing your own life experiences into your style of hosting or facilitating drum circles is a key also. You are unique just like your fingerprints. I worked for years as a musician, and also as an actor. I couldn’t afford acting classes early on because it was too expensive. It was either that, or pay the rent. To build up my confidence I started trying out at open mic’s at comedy clubs. I would write up a different routine each week, and perform live usually in front of other comedians who were not in the mood to laugh. Sure I bombed at first…A Lot. Then I started getting better. For me, it was like free acting classes. My timing improved very quickly. I didn’t want to go on tour as a comic anyway, I had a family. But after performing in front of hostile audiences, going to an audition for a national commercial in front of a bunch of ad execs, directors, and clients, seemed like nothing compared to that. As a result, my confidence was there, I could improvise, and I worked a lot. It also helped my drum circle skills as well. I hope some of this helps you.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

More Notated Drum Circle Rhythms

An Egyptian drumming rhythm called ♫♫ Jaark ♫♫♫ in 4/4 time (shorthand):
D-kkT-tkDDtkT-tk, D-kkT-tkDDtkT-tk
*note* (Various notation methods shown in older posts.)

Drum circle rhythm WaaHida in 4/4: 1+2+3+4+ ♫♫ Doum-tekkatekkaTek-tekkatekkaTek-ka-, Doum-tekkatekkaTek-tekkatekkaTek-ka-, ♫♫

♫♫♫ Bolero Drum Circle Rhythm in 4/4 time, accents in caps:
Doum tekkaTek ka tek ka tek ka, Doum tekkaTek ka tek ka tek ka ♫♫♫♫

A variation of an Egyptian drum rhythm called
♫♫ Karaatshi ♫♫ in 2/4 time: Doum-tekkatek-tekkaDoum-tekkatek-tekkaDoum

♫♫ One of many Native American heartbeat drum rhythms in 4/4 time: Boom__boom__boom,boom,boom, - (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &) Boom__boom__boom,boom,boom - ♫♫

A fun drum circle rhythm the bellydancers request a lot. It's a Greek line dance in 2/4 ♫♫ Doum-tekkatek-tek, Doum-tekkaDoum-tek. ♫♫

Here's a basic Irish beat that sounds like this: Boom-ba-da-ba, Boom-ba-da-ba Boom, Notated in Bodhran speak, it looks like this: 0 \/ /\ \/, 0 \/ /\ \/ 0, - Have fun and add some more beats to it: - Boom-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da, Boom-ba-da-ba-da-ba-da Boom, - In Doumbek speak: Doum-tek-ka-tek-ka-tek-...ka, Doum-tek-ka-tek-ka-tek-ka Doum - Djembe speak: Gun-pa-ta-pa-ta-pa-ta, Dun-pa-ta-pa-ta-pa-ta Gun ♫

♫ Djembe speak...B/S...SSTTS.....SS..TTTT....B....STTS...This is a fun rhythm with the base/slap flam thrown in...a bit of a jig

This drum circle rhythm is the same one the Greek national hymn goes to: ♫ Doum-tekkaTek-tek-Doum-tek-, Doum-tekkaTek-tek-Doum-tek ♫

tekka Doum, tekka Doum, tekka tekka tekka Doum, tekka Doum, tekka tekka Tek, tekka tekka Tek, tekka Doum, tekka Doum, tekka tekka tekka Doum, tekka Doum, tekka tekka Tek, tekka tekka Tek

Cool djembe support rhythm for the drum circle: ♫ Gun Dun godo pa-ta-pa, Gun Dun godo pa-ta-pa ♫♫ (or) Doum Doum tekka ka-tek-ka, Doum Doum tekka ka-tek-ka ♫

"A Drum Circle Rhythm You Can't Refuse" ♫♫ Ba-da Bing, Ba-da Boom, Ba-da Bing_Bang_Boom, ♫♫ (or) Go-do Pa, Pa-ta Go, Go-do Pa_Ta_Pa ♫♫

Sort of a trance drum circle rhythm.
♫♫ Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek, Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek-ka-Doum-tek ♫♫♫

♫♫ Tek tek-ka-Tek doum, Tek-ka-tek-ka-Tek doum, ♫♫ Tek tek-ka-Tek doum, Tek-ka-tek-ka-Tek doum, ♫♫ (I heard it in a movie, and thought it was a cool drum rhythm.)

4/4 time: Pum Ba-da Bum Ba-da Pum Ba-da-Ba-da Bum ♫♫ Pum Ba-da Bum Ba-da Pum Ba-da-Ba-da Bum ♫♫

The default universal drum circle beat! Boom boom bhap pa boomba boom bhap. LoL

Da-di ki na doum. Da-di ki na doum.

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Publicizing & Promoting Your Drum Circle – Getting The Word Out

Back in the day before the day without the internet, it was harder to do. I still have my vinyl LP records too. But now, there’s numerous free ways to get the word out about your drum circle. Years ago, it was pretty much just spreading it by word of mouth, posting flyers around, and that was about all I could do. But in reality, word of mouth is still how most drum circles take off and become a really happening scene.

If people had a great time at your drum circle last night, they go to work the next day, and tell their friends and co-workers how much fun they had last night, and word gets spread around very fast. So, just try to make sure it is a positive, fun scene, and it will create lots of talk in your community. In a matter of months the circle will be kickin’ and people will seek it out.

There are some other things you can try, you just have to find the time to do be able to do the work to get the word out there about your circle. Here are a few ideas I’ve tried that have worked pretty well, since the electronic age has taken off. Now, it’s a cinch, if you have the time. And you need to stay on top of the emerging technical breakthroughs that could help you promote things even more effectively. New ways to promote events for free are popping up all the time.

One thing I did that helped, was send a very short press release to all the local papers. Especially the smaller ones, like the weekly free ones you tend see all over the place. They are mostly music, local event, and entertainment oriented, so most are actually eager to post your drum circle event listing for you for free. The big papers also, at least some of them, will print notices for free. Don’t forget the tiny free ones that show up in your yard either.

Most newspapers have a place on the front inside page to send an email, fax, or letter to. Try to contact an editorial person. Try Public TV – Public Access TV – And the college and Public FM Radio stations also. See if they will possibly come by, and run a story on the circle, or at least see if they let you promote a local event, on their site. Most of them will. Drum circles are not just some hippie fad anymore, and they know it.

A very good idea is to make some flyers up to hand out to your friends to give out for you. Try to post them in local music stores, (Say you will send them new customers, because you will.) Look for good old fashioned bulletin boards and put up a flyer there. It’s easy to create a nice looking flyer these days yourself, or at a copy store. Put them in stores, drycleaners, condos, apartments, churches, at work, etc. are all great places to spread the word out about your drum circle. Try other institutions, anything you can think of. Visit any local drum circles, music stores, music teachers, concerts, or any music related events, and give out flyers at a break, or at the end. Approach Tai-Chi and Yoga studios and see if they might like to attend, perform, or at least let you leave some flyers there.

Try to get a few five minute video clips from your drum circle, to post out on the video sharing sites, like YouTube, and there are a bunch more video sharing sites out there now. If you have a video clip, or two, that’s a great way to promote your circle. Keep the excitement going in your community with some good sounding video. Now you can put them on places like GoogleBuzz, FaceBook, MySpace, etc Make sure they sound good, and that people are smiling.

Some try to get email lists of drummers to contact them later to promote circles. My experience is that most people come there to have fun, and drum, not to be asked to sign up on some email list. It’s a bit less intrusive if you can give them a card, or flyer that has your email on it, so they can contact you instead. That way, you aren’t putting people on the spot to give out an email address. This is the method I used, and it worked just fine.

You can post notices for events on drumming newsgroups like Yahoo, Usenet, and Google. And all the other social networking websites like MySpace, FaceBook, MeetUp, Ning, Twitter, and any other social meeting boards you’re on. Or take the initiative and start one up. New sites are constantly popping up all the time. Try to stay up on the ones that seem promising. Join them, and set up a profile. Easy free networking if you have the time. They come and go. Look for local event websites in your area. Most news channels have one. They are always happy to have new content.

You just need to find the time to create a profile for each social site, and that can be pretty time consuming. But once it’s set up and running with one, you can just plug the new information in to the other ones. You can post photos from your drum circle on places like Picasso and Flickr. Do things like putting up the videos I talked about, create a drum circle blog, and do event postings. Try to put some new information out there each few weeks if you can to keep them fresh and interesting. Once you get this publicity “machine” going, it gets a lot easier to maintain, and rolls bigger and bigger like a snowball rolling down a hill. There are dozens of these sites out there now. It just takes some time to set up profiles on all these things.

Once you do, you need to add friends as fast as possible. Just do a search on the key words, drum circle, drummer, belly dancer, fire spinner, or Djembe, etc. and you will find lots of like minded people to send friend invites to. You can build it up quickly if you sit down once a week and do it. Mention your social websites on your flyers that you give out also, so they can find you.

Also try lists like CraigsList, other local event, and online musician’s lists, where you can bulletin your events. There are loads of musician boards and groups out there. You should want to attract local musicians and artists, so you have a strong core group.Many of these social sites have specific drumming, or drum circle groups you can join, and then can post an event on. With some, you can post the event, and then bulletin it out to your friends. You just have to have time, and the willingness to do all the work behind the scenes. It can be a bit tedious, but it’s the way to create a buzz about your drum circle in the area. Create your own group for it if you need to.

About 6 years ago with this one circle, after a couple of weeks, I started this drum circle blog up, describing the happenings of the evening each week. It worked better than I thought it would. It helps to promote it just a little bit more, and you can add it to the social networking sites. The search engines do pick blog entries up sometimes.

I made up these colorful flyers, a money saver is to print them yourself. I put two 5 x 7” ones on each page and cut them in half. Then I went out and asked the local music stores if I could leave stacks of them there for people that might be buying a new drum. I spoke to the managers about it first, and explained to them if they would let me leave them there, I would recommend them to drum circle participants who might want to buy a new drum. After all, it’s better to try one out in person rather than buy a drum blindly online. Plus you are helping to support the businesses in your local community. So they sent me drummers, I sent them customers. That was a huge help. You want the younger crowd there, to create a real happening scene for everyone, and to help spread the word. We had like 5 generations of people all together having fun drumming and dancing. Be sure to have a few stacks of your flyers at your drum circle, and ask people to hand a few of them out to their friends.

I then took the flyers around to all the other drum circles, and at a break, passed a few out to people during breaks in the action, that I was friendly with. Word of mouth about it spread around very quickly, that this was a cool place to come and have a good time drumming in A/C comfort! And this new drum circle took off immediately. We were packing the place every week. The owners were in a state of shock at the success of it. They loved the fact that it was so interactive, and that people that just walked in, could be a part of the band, instead of just sitting somewhere and watching one. I think secretly everyone wants to be in the band at one time or another in their lives. You just have to be a bit tactful passing out flyers at another drum circle. If you participate there it’s a bit easier.

I had no idea that this would actually work, but I think the single biggest help in getting people in there was making some “Drum Circle Now” signs up and hanging them outside in conspicuous places, like nearby telephone poles. Make them about the size of the politician signs you see around elections. I made one that said “Drum Circle” “Belly Dancers Welcome” and put them all up on telephone poles where people just driving by would see them, and be curious enough to want to come in and check it out. I can’t tell you how many people told me “I saw the sign and decided to come in, and I love it!” So these drive by drummers started coming in, and bellydancers too. I couldn’t believe how effective that was. Something so simple, like a stupid hand painted 18” sign. Lots of curious first times came in also from those. Just remember to retrieve them at the end of the night. I'd be tired and forget that a lot.

So you’ve got the social meeting, and networking websites, news groups, and drum circle flyers. All of those all very useful tools to get the word out at no cost, when you are trying to promote your drum circle. The only part that costs anything, is getting some flyers made up. Get some printer ink and make something up. All the rest is free. (For now, anyway.) But as I mentioned, the word of mouth is what works the best.

At some point consider getting some of those band size 4 x 5 vinyl bumper stickers made you see everywhere. It’s is a good idea, and you can stick them on all your drums so you can easily identify them because people are bringing their own drums in. This happens a lot if you get into it, and it‘s an easy way to spot what is yours, and deters any from walking off a little bit. It’s not too expensive to have a 100 made. It’s a fun way for people help to spread the word about your drum circle, website, etc. Hand out those stickers.

One really good idea for promotion, or for building up your press pack, is to try and document your events, whenever you can. Photos are powerful tools, snap pictures whenever it‘s possible, or ask a friend to do so for you. Without annoying people too much of course. Be sure to ask permission, it‘s the right thing to do. And photos of kids are a no - no. The other photo’s are great for your social website profiles, and your press pack. The same thing with videos. Mostly it’s the other people who take the photos, and email them to me. I’m busy playing.

Drum circles at events, clubs, and most paying gigs love to have good press and free publicity. Later you can make up a nice flyer, poster, a letter, card, pictures, and maybe a brochure. A letter of recommendation from the owners is a very useful tool also, later down the road.

But at any gathering or event, make sure it is appropriate to video or take pictures before the event, some groups are very sensitive to their images being released into the public. (Especially special needs groups.) But if the event is in public, it is a lot easier to get permission. Be sure to get it in written form, just an email will do. The rules with video are somewhat more relaxed.

Making that blog about your drum circle helps a lot to promote it. It can be tedious to do it week after week, but it gets the word out there, and people really seemed to respond to it. They couldn’t wait to read what happened last week, or what was coming up this next week.

Odds are that if you live near a metropolitan area, there are some dance teachers, even belly dancing teachers, near you. Take the time to invite them out to dance at the circle. A few of our local dance teachers started to bring their students out for a “field trip” once or twice a month to the circle. They will enjoy it, and it will make your scene all the more “talked about” around town, and at the water cooler. Some entire dance troupes would come in, hula hoopers, various object spinners, tapestry wavers, all kinds of creative types will start coming out once they hear about it.

Also, keep an eye out for openings and events, like the movie, “The Visitor”, which had a little about drum circles in it. We arranged with the theater to have a drum circle inside the lobby before the opening of the movie, then got free passes to go watch it. Approach big cultural events, art fairs, or store openings. Anything where the owners want to create some buzz and draw attention to their business can be an ideal opportunity for you, or your drum circle group.

For thirty something years, I have seen lots of drum circles start up and flourish, and other ones wither and die off in a few weeks. Most people think the drum circle is all about the drumming. It really doesn’t have that much to do with it. The drum circle is not primarily about the drumming and music that is being created. It is more about building a community, the people genuinely finding out who they are, and their self discovery, as they go through this process without even realizing it is happening to them. I know this may sound like some sort of psychobabble, but you will see it happen over a period of months at an ongoing drum circle.

Many successful open public drum circles have started by just having two or three people gathering at a public spot on a beach or at a park, and start drumming together. The word spreads, or you help spread the word about them, and they take right off. Just like that. It’s that simple.

One thing I’ve noticed is people like variety in the rhythms, and like to see a different program from week to week. Otherwise it can get boring. You don’t want the pros to be bored playing the same old beat all night long, or have it too complicated for the beginners either. I offer a 2 hour DVD called 101 Drum Circle Rhythms, that includes a free drum circle CD for $15. It makes a great source of reference material to keep your drum circle fresh and interesting. I think that is the real key to keep people wanting to come back for more week after week. You can pick it up at my site or Amazon. (No free CD at I try to offer a good value at a fair price to fellow musicians. Please also consider picking up my book, the proceeds from sales of the DVD and book help me to fund work in our community. Helping others along their drumming path is what it's all about for me.

Ideally you want everyone to be engaged and having a good time. It’s an art form to lead without leading, mix up the rhythms, some up tempo, some slow and grooving, especially for the dancers, without making it too obvious. Whether it’s you starting out the rhythms, or anyone who wants to start one out, or a combination of both. It’s a good idea to really mix up that set list, or at least have a couple of things ready to go, so you can just “go with the flow”. I hope some of this helps your circle to grow!

shannon ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Eeeking Out A Living Facilitating Drum Circles In Today's Economy

Times are especially difficult in the arts these days. Everybody is cutting back on expenses. Like in any other field, gaining actual experience is the best way to learn the ins and outs of drum circle facilitation.

Obviously taking facilitation classes is a good idea. But more importantly I think the best thing to do is just attend lots of public drum circles by all the facilitators you can find that are near you. Participate, but watch what they do, and how they deal with various situations. Study what they are doing right, and what they are doing that can be improved upon. If you're considering taking classes, or training I think it's a good idea, but I suggest auditing one of their classes first. If they aren’t willing to let you do that, then perhaps it's wise to move on to another teacher. It is possible to facilitate drum circles for a living, but it takes a lot of work.

One way to get established is to be visible in your community. Get a weekly circle started at a cafe, night club, museum, yoga, art center, public park, community center, even at the beach. Try to get any venue you can think of. Weekly is better than monthly, because people tend to forget what week it is being held. You may start out only making $100 a circle, a commission, tips, or even for free, but it will give you a home base, plus you will be doing something positive for your community. It may take 4 or 5 circles to get things rolling, but once you do, medical professionals, event planners, and even the media will eventually find you. That leads to higher paying gigs. You might even get jobs working for your city, or county. If it's something you love to do and are passionate about it, you can do it. There are some out there that just want to sell classes, and cash in on the drum circle boom, but most are legit.

Another way many facilitators earn a decent living is to approach your city or county arts council. Depending on the city you live in, they can possibly hook you up with city events, festivals, art shows, and even get work in the school system. If another drum circle facilitator gets to your arts council before you, that can be a problem. Some facilitators get non profit corporations going. They get donations from local businesses, and make a nice living that way. Applying for individual state grants to do this kind of work is very difficult. Some medical and special needs facilities can apply for state grants to help fund your work, but you may have to work for free for awhile to prove yourself to them first. I know of many who are making a living this way, but it took a lot of work.

Drum circles are becoming more popular in the corporate world, and that's the area where many facilitators make a very good living. That's where the big bucks are, but it takes a lot of experience, letters of reference, and credentials to break into it. Corporate drum circles can be extremely effective for companies that want to enhance the generation of new ideas and better team work. When people discover that they can collectively produce a good sound without any musical training or background, they start to realize that they can be more effective at work by putting their heads together, brainstorming, and working as a team.

Also, drumming uses the brain in a different pattern than the linear thought process that is usually needed in the work environment. For example, when suggesting a drum circle rhythm, I like to vocalize the first few measures before we play it. The logical analytical side of the brain can process it quicker, which then frees up the creative intuitive side. People can then play what they feel, rather than over thinking it too much. Simply following someone's instructions on what to play is like what you do at work, doing your job, by following instructions.

A drum circle brings the group to a more open mental and psychological process, which can be carried over to the production of new and better ways of working. An excellent tool to kick off any kind of brainstorming session and optimize the quantity and quality of new ideas. In other words, the team improvises and is more creative.

The thing some don't understand about drum circles, is that it's more about the people, than it is about 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 try to help people to empower themselves through drumming, music, and fun. They need no experience at all to play a drum in a drum circle. I try to encourage individual creativity, and group dynamics.

As a general thought, very little is planned in advance except maybe a list of rhythms to suggest. All the rest is improvised on the spot. Most of the facilitating can be done from the edge of the circle through the music. Some insist on facilitating by over conducting and running around giving instructions in the center of the circle. I believe the center of the circle is for self expression, some may just want to get up and dance. If someone is in there orchestrating, it's not going to spontaneously happen. The musical communication, supporting of the beat, and ending points to a jam, are easily done with the drumming. It's leading without leading. All of this can be done from the edge of the circle.

Sometimes even transition points in the drumming just naturally occur. Recognizing, and supporting the group's expression is a key element, because, since drum circles are so organic in nature, that to an onlooker, there are times that look like absolute chaos is going on...but it's an organized chaos. It levels out into a group song, and it uniquely theirs. They created it. Usually there are transition points, or a time to just move on to a new rhythm. It takes time and experience to trust in the natural process of creating a group vibe, and knowing when to move on to another rhythm. A lot of people WANT there to be lots of rules, true in business world, true in art world, so it's not surprising to find it here in the drumming world.

I prefer working with special needs groups. 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's 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 one 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 an Earth Day drum circle show up on a big stage, I asked the staff and the group 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. I was so proud of them, and it was a joyous moment of achievement seeing them being applauded, beaming with self confidence and pride. It was like a dream come true. Nobody in the audience even knew they had disabilities. It was a blend of them and the general drumming community. I was booked for a 45 minute performance, 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. I found out later on that usually their outings were highly controlled activities, and all closed to the public, like bowling. How would you feel under those circumstances? The public drum circles gave them a chance to be "just one of the guys", and not treated as "special". The effect was profound.

I'm not a licensed medical practitioner, and I have no medical degree in music therapy. However I do have extensive experience working one on one, or with groups teaching drumming to children and adults with ADHD, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Asperger's Syndrome, Neurologically Injured Individuals, and many others. I noticed right away that seeing abilities, and not disabilities in people was the key to a fulfilling experience. You may not make a whole lot of money, but your heart will feel like it earned a fortune.

Around the country many night clubs, pubs, and coffee shops are struggling to find working formulas for weeknights. Having a drum circle night quickly builds up a community around it with a loyal following that grows very quickly. The cost to do this is minimal, I've been doing this successfully for years at various venues. What the venue needs is an organizer to help keep things running smoothly, and promote the drum circle. A percussionist, circle facilitator, or drumming group. Plan on a small base pay or a percentage of sales like 10%. Because believe me, there is a lot of work involved. Also it isn't the drummers, musicians, or dancers that do the majority of buying your products. They will help support the venue and buy one or two, but it's the onlookers that are attracted, who will be doing most of that. And it takes a few months to really get a drum circle community established. I go into this in much more detail in my book "A Practical Guide To Hand Drumming And Drum Circles". Please consider picking it up. It's 300 pages to help get your circle, or drumming career rolling. The price is $18 and it includes a free facilitated drum circle jam Cd if purchased from my website (Also at Amazon, but no free Cd.)

This book is jam packed with practical information, suggestions, and ideas for people who love hand drumming. If you're interested in starting up a drum circle, an interactive drumming program for your group, or facilitating drum circles for a living, this read will help you along your drumming path. The focus is on sharing as much information about hand drumming and drum circles as I possibly could. Introducing people to drumming is what I love to do. I cover a wide variety of topics and questions I frequently get asked. For example:

How do I start up a drum circle? What kind of drum(s) should I get? How should I approach working with this group, or that group? And many other hand drumming, or drum circle related topics. Drumming with special needs groups, health and wellness, with kids, teens, adults, elders, and mixed age groups. Drum circles in night clubs, cafe’s, and pubs. Team building, conventions, businesses, corporations, and events. Drum circles with at risk populations, at spiritual gatherings, and community events. Working with music directors, educational teachers, in schools, music therapists, and medical professionals. For more information, and the full table of contents, please visit my website. Thanks, I hope some of this helps, and Happy Drumming!

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

What That First Drum Circle Was Like...

I encountered my very first drum circle at a city park in Fort Lauderdale, FL. back in the summer of 1977 at a state park. I didn’t know it yet, but I was hooked on it right then for life. I had no idea that first drum circle I ran into would change my life so greatly and in so many different ways, and that I could bring so much joy to so many people and even enrich their lives through hand drumming. So there I was one day, slowly driving down this long one way trail of the park, just wanting to get a little time and space away from the routine of city life. To just see some trees, the water, and nature. To give myself a little break from the concrete and chaos of the city life for a little while.

Anyway, in this park, there were these little picnic clearings about every ¼ mile or so along the trail surrounded by all this lush green tropical foliage. It was relaxing to take a break there, a place for me to get away from it all for a little while. At one of these clearings, I saw this circle of about 20 people all sitting around playing these hand drums together. Mostly hand drums, Congas, Bongos, and all kinds of other percussion instruments. I turned down my car radio when I heard it, and listened a little. Man, it was cool. The sound of all the drumming was so captivating, that I pulled over and kind of tentatively wandered over there. I couldn‘t help it. I just smiled and listened, enjoying the Samba rhythm they were playing. It had all these different layers, textures, and dimensions. And it was only hand drums, and it sounded so good. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. It wasn’t like playing in a band is like, they were all improvising, having a good time, playing what they were feeling, and letting it go wherever it took them.

While I had played in the high school marching band drum line, and various night club bands, it was nothing like this. It was drawing me in closer and closer, the drum beat almost calling to me. They were having what looked like a private picnic, so I didn’t want to interrupt them. I didn’t know who they were, they all looked to be of Latin decent to me. As it turned out they were all Puerto Ricans, and only spoke a few bits and pieces of English. And I spoke no Spanish at all.

There were kids, adults, elders, males, and females. All of them were playing together and having a great time. I was standing there trying to figure out some kind of a polite way to ask if I could join in. But before I could, the rhythm ended, and they all applauded each other. It was obvious they weren’t performing for anyone, just for themselves. How cool is this, I thought. They motioned for me to come on over with gestures, and indicated that I could join in if I wanted to.

Boy, did I!!! I hopped on some Congas and proceeded to hang out and jam with them for hours, playing mostly Latin rhythms. They welcomed me, and treated me like family, and I really appreciated it. That meant a lot to me. Even though we spoke different languages, and couldn’t really verbally understand each other, we were able to communicate through the music. The language barrier didn’t seem to matter. That day gave me a whole new perspective on life, and a new found respect for different cultures I knew nothing about. It showed me for the first time, how to bridge the cultural gap. It was only after I had some time home later that night to reflect on all this.

I never did see that particular group again, they affected me profoundly in so many ways. I think they were just there on vacation, but they were the ones who started me on my drum circle path. Ever since then I would seek out and attend drum circles whenever I could, wherever I ended up living. In an instant I had become a drum circle lover. Most of the drum circles back in those days were held on the weekends, outdoors in parks and on the beaches. They were all mostly freestyle drum circles with no leader. It was just a bunch of people hanging out and playing. Whoever wanted to start out the next rhythm would do so, and if it took off, away it went.

Fast forward to the present in 2010, a lot of people think a drum circle is just a bunch of banging noise with no real discernable beat to it. Well, guess what? Sometimes that’s exactly what it is. A lot of banging noise. Especially at outdoor open community drum circles. Sometimes there is no musicality present at all. It feels better if it sounds good. But at that very same place, the next week, it can be a group made up of mostly the same faces, but this time it is some quality music with real performance level musicianship.

The kind of musical pieces like I described earlier, that simply captivate you and draw you into it. A drum circle where the people are all listening to each other, taking turns leading, even passing it around so everyone gets a chance to start out a rhythm if they want to. All these people have come together as a group with a real synergy to it. Some of the absolute very best drum circles I have ever been to were just freestyle drum circles out on the beach. And, some of the crappiest ones also. That’s part of the fun. The unpredictability of it. You don’t know what it will be like until you get there. Will it be magical this week?