Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Holiday Drum Circles & Drumming Up Some Fun

The holiday season is here, and I just wanted to pass along some possible drumming and/or drum circle ideas. My wife and I like to celebrate Christmas. However, we respect the beliefs of others. One of the beauties of group drumming, and drum circle gatherings is that it brings people from all paths together.

Having said that, often the drumming events this time of year are for a Christmas party, Chanukah, another holiday spiritual gathering, or even for New Year’s Eve.

For most gatherings or parties, other than the obvious suggestion to play “Little Drummer Boy”, and other various carols and poems, another option is drumming to some spoken word, like a story or a Bible reading for a Christmas gathering. Drumming to it can be inspiring, and a very moving experience. The only thing is to watch the volume as not to drown the speaker out.

But for the most part, what seems to have worked the best for me over the years is to just focus mostly on the basics...making music. Just help people to get rhythms started, step back & support the back beat of the rhythm. I find that if we just keep it simple - let people play the drums, and make some “in the moment” spontaneous music. Have fun & maybe add a little Santa flair into it. But add in a hint of Christmas spirit here and there. Generally speaking, I keep the rhythms pretty basic, and soft, like the heartbeat, mother rhythm, etc. Many people who do not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday still enjoy the holiday atmosphere.

If there are some stories, spoken word, or even a Pastor speaking (with permission of course), add some crescendos when it gets exciting and vice versa. Just let the drumming follow the pace and volume of the speaking like in a Gospel church.

As for the atmosphere, perhaps add some holiday decorations around the perimeter. Jingle bells are pretty easy to find this time of year, and are always a good percussion item to have in your gig bag. After Christmas, they are very inexpensive. I got a huge jingle bell wreath last year for a couple bucks. I disassembled it, and made a bunch of cool instruments from it for later on.

One thing I always like to do is wear a Santa hat. They are inexpensive if you shop around, and maybe get enough to give out to everyone. Maybe have a few prizes to give out for people who get in the center and express themselves with dance or movement.

Or, gifts - prizes for the best costumes. Christmas decorations on a few drums is pretty easy, and looks festive. Prizes for the best decorated drums has always worked in the past. People always come up with fun ways of expressing themselves decorating their drums.

For some other great Christmas drumming ideas, last year, Kat Fulton ( put together a fantastic resource of ideas, and suggestions in a recent blog post:

Hope some of this helps to put the groove in your celebration.


Monday, September 19, 2011

Finding a “Good” Doumbek Drum…(On a Budget!)

Most of us have a djembe, but another fun, and very versatile drum to consider getting is a doumbek. The goblet shaped doumbek is a beautiful sounding drum, with lots of range, and delicate sound nuances to it. Even after playing one for over 20 years, I am still discovering new sounds in mine.

For those of you that might be new to this kind of drum, the body is usually made of ceramic pottery, machined aluminum, or copper. Some are even made of wood Aside from the sound, I like the portability of them. They are smaller than most djembes, pack a good punch for their size, and can easily fit in a gym bag.

Most of the drum heads are synthetic, so it can withstand all kinds of extreme weather conditions, and they are very durable. Even here in Florida’s heat and humidity, I can just leave my doumbek in the trunk of my car with no worries. You never know when you might run into a drum circle emergency! I hate it when I stumble onto a circle, and don’t have a drum with me to play. It’s even handy if a text goes out for flash drummers. It’s possible, right?

In my opinion, one of the best models that gives the most bang for the buck is the Alexandria doumbek. They are pretty easy to spot, they usually have it clearly marked in blue under the clear drum head. And they are usually rather plain looking – just a rough looking textured heavy cast aluminum. Most of them are a solid anodized color, or just unfinished aluminum. (Notice the bronze colored one in the photo.)

There are many fancier models out there that have beautiful etchings, designs, and so on. It costs a lot more for those, and practically speaking, you can’t see it when you are actually playing the drum. But they are so tempting because of their sheer beauty, and the artwork on them. They do look mighty good just sitting around on display in your home. Sound, quality, and performance are what really matters to me, so I tend to lean in that direction. If you look around, you can probably find a very good Alexandria doumbek for just over $80 brand new. Most new ones come with a carrying case, tuning wrench, and a spare drum head.

As far as tuning a doumbek is concerned, it’s really no big. Most of them have 8 lugs like a regular kit drum has. So they are very easy to tune, a couple turns with an allen wrench, and that’s it. When you are done, you just lightly tap your finger about an inch from each lug, and make sure they all have the same sound, (or are tuned to the same pitch). Once you tune the drum head to where you like it, you can pretty much just forget it, play on it, indoors or outside, and never need to tune it again.

Generally speaking, even with doumbeks, I like to play a drum first before I buy it. I want to hear it, feel it, and see if it talks to me before I buy it. The exception is buying one online, because you pretty much know what it’s going to sound like, but for a few important differences. The quality of the drum shell thickness, and construction. The older ones were made much more solidly. So, the older, the better. As the saying goes…”They don’t make them like they used to.” That applies to a lot of things these days doesn’t it?

For my “kit” of facilitating drum circle drums, I like to use the polymer/PVC/synthetic body drums, such as the Remo or Toca djembes, or the like, and lots of aluminum doumbeks with the groups I teach and work with for many reasons. If you plan to acquire a kit of drums and facilitate a group drum circle on a regular basis, you need good sounding, durable, and lightweight drums that are easy for non drummers to be able to play right away. They also need to stay in tune in our constantly changing climates. Aluminum drums, with synthetic drum heads are also easier to clean, and disinfect after use, with anti-bacterial wipes. An important consideration for at risk groups, children, elders, and special needs groups.

The weight issue is another big factor when hauling them around, so I don’t knock myself out before I start the drum circle. Most wooden body drums are heavy, especially if you have 45 of them to move. Add to that, the extra fuel usage during transporting them.

A pretty good way to get a first drum if you are a little short on cash, is buying a used drum that someone got tired of and/or traded in for something else. I’m a firm believer in buying used drums and giving them another musical life. Especially if you ever run across something that’s vintage. I like to support local business whenever possible, or at least in the state I live in.

If you ask them, most music stores will keep your name on file and give you a call when something that might be of interest to you comes in to be sold on consignment. Another alternative to check out is the pawn shops periodically, but you don't get the same kind of knowledge, service, and usually the person is anxious to talk you into buying a drum and a power chair. If you have any Arabic stores in your area, many of them have a few excellent quality Alexandria doumbeks. I’ve even bought a few nice ones in some Arabic convenience stores. Keep an eye out for those in your travels hidden high up on the shelves. I was shocked to find some imported beautifully constructed, great sounding doumbeks worth well over $150 for only 60 bucks each! And they were happy to sell them, and share some of their culture.

If you visit drum circles in your area regularly, you will probably run into a few people who might want to sell their drum for about half price of retail. I see that happen a lot. I’ve also gotten a few nice drums at local newsgroup online sites, like Craig’s List, for example.

If you look at the online auction sites like Ebay, and put in the keywords doumbek drum, you get 1000’s of results. Try going to the advanced search area, where there is a box to put in key words to be “excluded” from your search results. Put in words such as “new” or “free”, and your price range, etc, to exclude most of the dealers, and that narrows the results to mostly just individual people selling one nice doumbek. Sometimes you can find a real bargain, and get a really nice drum that way. Many drums just get lost in all the myriad of search results

Many consider the doumbek to be a bellydancing drum, and call it a doumbek. So if you search, try the different spellings of the drum when looking for one. Depending on the region or culture it can be called a Doumbek, Dumbek, or Dumbec, depending on who you talk to and where they are from. They might use a Dohbeck on The Simpsons. I just use the term Doumbek. I think it is the most common spelling of it over here. They come in a few different sizes. Try to get one with the drum head that is 8 – 10 inches across. Playable size, in other words, the actual size of the head, not the drum size from edge to edge. For me, the best head size is 8 inches or 8.5 inches.

Unfortunately with the ceramic ones, they tend to break pretty easily. Once it falls, and tips over, it’s over. I was at one drum circle where somebody was walking by, they accidentally bumped it, it fell, and shattered into dozens of pieces. Luckily, the portion near the drum head didn’t break, and later a buddy of mine gorilla glued it back together. It still played okay, but I was pretty heartbroken. But oh, those ceramic drums sound so clean and crisp, and some do have beautiful artwork on them.

I go with the aluminum, stainless steel, or copper tunable lug doumbeks mostly. Since they are metal, they also have a beautiful sort of metallic sound to them when you play them. I’ve gotten to where I love that sound, they are loads of fun, comfortable to jam on, and as I mentioned, much easier to just toss in a gym bag and carry it along with you. It’s the perfect “commuter” drum. And it’s easily cleanable, since it is all constructed of synthetic, and aluminum materials.

I used to play a doumbek during the early 1980’s with the break dancers on the streets of New York City. It was easy to transport, and got out pretty good for a smaller drum. Everyone seemed to be fascinated with this strange looking, and unique sounding silver metal drum. Since they are aluminum they usually weigh under 8 pounds. So, it’s very handy to take with you on vacation, or for letting other people to play it at drum circles.

The real good ones to look for are made of thicker cast aluminum - like 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. They are the professional sounding ones, that have the nice full resonant Doums (bass notes) and Teks (tones) I like the range of the 8 or 10 inch playable size drum head. A lot of them out there are 6 inch, and that’s a bit small. There is much more beautiful range of sound, and longer resonation in these drums if they are made of the thicker cast spun aluminum, or copper, and have a larger drum head.

One of the most beautiful and sought after goblet style drums is the GAWHARET EL FAN mosaic cast aluminum doumbek. (It deserves to be in caps.) These have superior sound, and intricate tile work that is unbelievably beautiful. Try a search and look at one, if you have never seen one before. The only problem with them is, they are around $300 or more, and heavy as heck because of all the inlaid tile work and mortar around them. I do see them at online auctions for around $200, but it’s hard to know if they are authentic. There are lots of knock-off copies and fakes of these drums out there, so finding a reputable dealer that has the genuine item is hard to do.

Some cheaper doumbeks are almost as thin as tin cans, and will dent very easily. I stay away from those. I have one that I was holding and I lightly bumped it against a kitchen counter, and it left a big dent in it. (See the photo of the drum with the dent.) I barely even bumped the thing! And, I also don’t want anything without lugs that isn’t tunable. Some of them have the drum heads that are just glued on. You can’t even tune those babies. Some have fish, or goat skin heads. Most doumbeks are usually 18 inches tall with 8 inch playable size clear synthetic drum heads. A related style of drum is an aluminum tunable Darbuka. Some even have tambourines mounted inside them underneath the drum head. Those with “jingles” in them are lots of fun, it adds another dimension of sound to your playing. Get a Darbuka with jingles. Two cool sounds for the price of one.

The best way to start looking for the best drum for you, is to first find out what kinds and sizes you like, either at a music store, or simply by trying somebody else’s drum out at a drum circle, and then buying it brand new at major music store, or an online retailer. Buying a drum is an important decision, and you want to get the one that’s best for you and your body. Most musicians are very supportive, and will let you play their drum if you treat it with respect. Remember that they are expensive, and to ask permission first before you touch anyone else’s drum at public drum circles.

With most drum retailers now, the drum market is so very competitive that all you have to do is locate the best online price, and most of them will match or beat it, to get your business and probably will ship it free, to boot. As a general rule of thumb, most of the bigger music stores and online music stores will negotiate on the list prices with you. They just don’t advertise that. I can often negotiate at least 10 - 15% off the list price. Even more if I offer to by a couple of drums.

Goblet drums go back 100’s of years and have a rich history in various cultures. Goblet drums are one of the broadest classes of drums. They’re played heavily across Asia, North Africa, The Middle East and Eastern Europe. They have many similar names, and similarities in use. Most of these names are derived from two names, the Pahlavi (The Middle Persian language used by Persians during the Sasanid period). Also the dombalak, and the Arabic name darbouka.

As near as I can tell, the doumbek originated in the Middle East. It's traditionally played by holding the drum in your lap under your left arm and striking it with the fingers of both hands. The heavy down beats in Middle Eastern, and bellydancing rhythms are usually played on the right (dominant) hand and the other hand is used for fill beats and other accents. If you've heard bellydancing music, you've heard a doumbek. Being smaller and lighter than the Djembe, this is the style of drum I travel around with the most.

I suspect that the modern classical Arabic style of playing the doumbek, (the under the arm, one hand dominant), is a direct descendant of frame drum technique. Classical frame drum technique relies heavily on the dominant hand. The second hand usually holds it, and adds a couple of fingers to add fill, snaps, pops, or muffle the back by pressing against it.

But at drum circles, I see a lot people playing a doumbek like a djembe, between their legs. If that’s more comfortable for you, try it. It is a comfortable drum to play, sort of ergonomically designed for the comfort of the hands with it‘s curved bearing edge. It’s your drum, and the beauty of drumming, is that you can play it however you want to. You might invent a new way to play it that’s better for you. You might create new sounds nobody else has before.

They even sell these “Commuter Doumbeks” now. It has a heavier padded carrying case, a long carrying strap for over the shoulder, and a zippered sleeve on top, of the other top to hold a spare head and tuning wrench. So now I’ve got a laptop on one shoulder, and a doumbek on the other. Many have simply beautiful carvings, inlaid mother of pearl tile work, or magnificent etchings on them. Some of the most beautiful drums I have are playable art doumbeks.

Many drummers at drum circles play a goat-skinned djembe drum which gives out great bass tones, and high slap tones. A doumbek may seem dwarfed by the size of a djembe, but played properly, it can cut right through and be heard in a sea of djembes. So it is a very versatile drum, and the good ones still yield a rich bass tone. The thinner models…not so much

Drum heads can get damaged, (which is not easy to do, but it happens.) One time, I had this outdoor firespinning gig, with 5 poi firespinners, and 2 other drummers. It was quite a dynamic and fun 4th of July show. But half way through it, a little bit of flaming fluid came flying over and landed right on the drum head. I was 15 feet away from it, but a small blob came flying my way. I wiped it off real quick as I was playing. It of course melted a big hole in it. Amazingly, the drum still did play even with a ½ hole in it. I continued playing it, and got through the job okay. Fortunately the heads are pretty easy to replace, and only cost about $12 if you need to buy one.

The critical thing when replacing a doumbek head, is that you put the drum rim back on EXACTLY the same way it came off. In other words, the drum should be reassembled the same way it came apart. Each lug hole back where it was, and each lug back in the hole it came from. This is really important, because aluminum screw holes can strip out very easily. Most of these drums have lots of machining defects or nuances, and are made such that they have to be reassembled the same way they come apart. You might say that I learned this one the hard way. And I’ve seen it happen to many other drums. You get a stripped lug hole, and it can’t ever be properly tuned again. Unless the hole is machined out, which costs more than a new drum.

When replacing the drum rim, take extra care to tighten the lugs equally. First, slide the rim back and forth to seat it properly, and locate the exact same place it came apart. Then equally hand tighten all the lugs. Then with the allen wrench, equally tighten all the lugs in a back and forth criss cross pattern, like you would a car rim. This will help you to avoid stripping a lug out. Take your time, and tighten them just a little bit at a time.

The best way to remember about how to put a rim back on exactly the same way it came off, is to put a piece of blue painters tape, above, and below one lug on the drum. Then you can see exactly how and where it goes back together. If you have to buy a drum head somewhere else, the chances are good that it won’t fit as snugly as it did before, and you will have a gap between the rim and body. It doesn’t really affect the performance of the drum, it just looks kind of crappy.

Check out the photos of the drums I posted to get an idea. The dark green one is an Alexandria model. It’s about 40 years old. Very solid, thick cast, beautiful sound. It was $35 on Ebay. It’s kind of beat up, but sounds brilliant. The plain aluminum one is an older model also. It’s very heavy thick machined aluminum like an aircraft part, but notice the gap under the rim. It still sounds fantastic. $50 from Craig’s list. Somebody put a lot of love into this drum. Notice the artwork on the inside, there's an ocean island, with the sun shining above it to the left.

The bronze one is an Alexandria model. It is about 2 years old, and cost about $80 new with a case and spare head. This is a good choice to buy new. It has Superior sound, very solid and thick casting. The other red dented one...well, that sort of speaks for itself. It is one of the cheap thinner ones, and it's covered with dents. The other models shown, have taken years of wear and tear, a few chips, but no dents. You would almost have to use a car, to dent them. In the photo showing the top of the drums, notice the blue Alexandria logo on the drum heads.

You can’t really tell how thick the drum is by just looking at the bottom of it. Most of them have a thicker base on them, and they thin out as you go up the sides. The cheap ones are easy to spot if you just knock on the upper side of it with your knuckle, like you would on a front door. If it goes clink, or clank, it’s a cheap one. If it goes thud, and it hurts a little, that’s a sign of a good one. Another way to test, is reach your hand up ¾ of the way up the inside, to where the drum body widens out. And with your other hand tap it in the same spot on the outside. Try to feel how thick the cast aluminum is where it matters, by holding one hand in, and the other hand out, in the same spot. You can get an idea how thick the metal is. Test it about 6 inches down from the top.

I have bought a few nice doumbeks at here in Florida. Their regular prices are pretty good, and their seconds, and blemished area on the site often has some very good deals, but they go fast, and quality does vary. They do sell the Alexandria models.

The cheaper doumbeks are generally in the $50 – 80 range, and the good ones with the thicker casting are $80 - $120. (Unless you get into the high end decorated tile ones, like the El Fal, etc. I mentioned). The one’s with all the decorative tile are magnificent works of art, the problem beyond the cost, is the practicality of them. With all the grout that holds the tile in place, comparatively speaking, they are very heavy drums. I’ve had a few, and liked to use them for high end stage gigs, because they look so beautiful under the stage lighting. But, if they happen to fall over, or get bumped against something, you can break some of the tiles out.

For the price difference, I would go for a better quality, plain, yet thick cast aluminum one. If it’s cared for, a good doumbek will last practically forever, and your grand kids can inherit it. The thicker the casting, the deeper and more rich the bass sound is with these. They tend to have a thicker gauge drum head on them also, which gives you fuller sound, and even more range. Look for the ones that have the “Alexandria” name on the drum head. (Like in the photo) Those tend to be real nice drums that are imported from Egypt. And with everything that’s been going on over there in the last year, Alexandria doumbeks are getting a lot harder to get, and much more expensive. That tell tale blue logo is something to look for.

Another quality of construction indicator to look for is how snugly the drum rim, (or bearing edge) fits against the drum body. If it is tight, with little or no gap, that’s a good sign. Some have as much as a ¼ inch gap between them. If you see a gap, it’s a sign that it’s not as well made, or somebody put a new drum head on it. With most doumbeks they are not made to particular specs. A lot of the older ones were made one at a time, so the tolerances are different from drum to drum. They might be the correct diameter, but where it seats often varies in height. So a new drum head might be too shallow, or worse, not deep enough to fit and tune properly. Fortunately, most new doumbeks come with a spare head that was made for that particular drum, and it fits properly.

I have also bought a few new doumbeks, and even djembe drums from and and been pleased. Although both are out of state companies, they will usually meet any advertised price, and I believe still ship free if you spend over $100. They both also have a clearance area like mid-east does with some good deals.

I hope some of this helps to get a good drum, at a good price, and that you find the drum you love!

If you are new to doumbek drums, check some of my other blog posts. There are a few with lists of drum rhythm notations, as well as various ways to read, understand, and play them.


Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Drumming Can Hurt

Something to keep in mind if you are hosting / facilitating a regular drum circle group, or working as a drummer in a band, is getting injuries. You do get hurt sometimes, and you are still expected to play. You may have two prior commitments already booked this week and then you injure your wrist or something. Or you accidentally get a nice cut on a finger tip carving up an apple. You come down with a sporty bad cold, or the flu. You still are expected to show up and play. Like the old saying goes, “The show must go on!” Well, it’s true and that’s what happens, it does. You have to be there, anything short of a broken arm. You can try to get a replacement, if you know of somebody you can have confidence in. But you will probably never work for them again. And worse, the word might get around about it.

The fact is that sometimes you get injuries to parts of your body, and you have to suck it up and play through them. It gets harder and harder as your body gets older. You have to decide what your physical boundaries are as far as playing injured is concerned. I’ve had to do it with a couple of broken ribs. If you have the flu, do you play? Usually, it’s a yes. If it is, just tell the truth to everyone that you have a cold, and don’t shake hands with anybody.

Since you are interacting with a bunch of people, sometimes complete strangers, it’s a lot easier to catch a bad cold. You’ve got to remember to wash up right away afterwards. When I do errands, or projects around the house, I have to think for an extra few seconds before I start to hammer a nail, or when I’m cutting up some carrots for dinner. I have to be extra diligent, and careful not to injure myself in the process, all the time. Because let me tell you, playing injured is a bitch.

I’ve had to coast it a little bit a number of times, because of getting hurt doing something around the house. Sometimes even by not playing properly for my body, or too hard. You can bruise a hand very easily. I made the mistake of playing somebody else’s drum once, and forgetting to keep in mind, my hands and my body had been in tune to my same drum for years. Its curves, shapes, and nuances. So I got into it, and jammed out on this guy’s drum all night, and really bruised my dominant wrist and upper arm. It didn’t hurt that much until the next day. But it took months to heal up. More often than not, I get hurt around the house doing something stupid.

Another thing I do is try to never schedule drum circles two days in a row. I try to schedule gigs every other day, at the most. I need to give my hands and body at least a day to recover and heal up a little bit. Two jobs in a row like that can be very demanding on you physically. If you are in a band it can be four nights in a row, or more. Working Friday, Saturday, and Sunday in a row is very common.

Here is some priceless advice for you, and your participants. I learned it from a Djembe master. Before and after you play, wash your hands in cold water. It cools them down a little bit, and the odds are you shook a lot of hands today, and could catch somebody’s cold. So there’s the hygiene thing there also. For you, and more importantly for them. But mostly, you have just finished what amounts to beating on something like drywall with your hands all night. So a nice cool down of your palms will help you out between sets. Washing them just before you play, gives them lots of grab on the drum head, so you can get cleaner, and crisper sounding notes anyway.

If I can remember, when I get home, I use a hand lotion that has lanolin in it. That helps heal them up quickly. Some friends of mine use shea butter, use whatever works for you. But anything with lanolin helps to heal them. Or at least soothes them a little.

If you’re feeling a little bruised and banged up, a bath with Epsom salts takes it down a little. Especially if you are a hard core drum circle lover that plays outdoors 3 or 4 times a week.

As a musician, performer, or drum circle facilitator, I am being judged and critiqued all the time. Something many musicians are very sensitive about. People don’t like to be criticized, especially when it comes to the way they are playing music. Your soul is wide open for everyone to see. And you are at your most vulnerable. Having some more skilled musician ask you to play quieter or something can really hurt a person’s feelings.

Our American drum circle culture is much different than the drumming cultures in some other countries. For some of them, it is considered completely appropriate to come up and tell a person what to play. Or that they are not playing correctly. Or to play this, or that part. You sure don’t want to try that at a modern drum circle here in the USA. A lot of people who visit us from other cultures don’t know that. So there can be some vast cultural differences to consider if you run into drummers from other countries. Sitting down with them at some point, and discussing the differences is what works for me when I encounter this. (At a break in the action, or after the drum circle of course.) Most of the time, nobody has explained to them that our drum circle culture is a little different than theirs might be.

Some drum circle facilitators are very critical of musicians or people with good musical backgrounds, or street performers who work as drum circle facilitators. They criticize some of us and deem us as more of a performer, or entertainer. I guess they think of us as performers acting out, and showing our talents to gain some sort of acceptance and attention from an audience, because we are coming from some sort of place of need. Yeah right.

I don’t think that‘s it at all. I like bringing joy to people. I am grateful this day. I am discovering my own way. My own sense of style. It's a beautiful thing. Criticism is often presented in the light of not wanting to be supportive of another’s dysfunctional attitudes in life or something. The assumption is that many of us musician based facilitators fit in to that category.

If you are able to get groups of strangers together and help them to entertain themselves, then they are having fun, and not thinking about all the problems and issues of their mortal lives. They are not even thinking about drumming. They are just living in the now. What’s important is guiding them to be able to live in the moment, so they can heal, and begin the self discovery of who they really are. Without them even knowing it is happening to them.

Having a musical background, or any experience in performing, or bringing any of your life’s experiences into it helps you a great deal, and gives you the edge. It makes the whole process more enjoyable for people. If you have public speaking experience, or anything like that, it makes your facilitation identity all that more unique, different, and effective.

That’s a good way to be criticized, by coming up with an innovative approach to doing things that works. Oh my! You know what that means. I think in reality, the critical ones just want to better market their way of teaching in their own facilitating method template, and be able to market it better to anyone who can afford to pay for their intensive workshop, or classes. They might be the ones that need the acceptance of others.

I think if you want to facilitate drum circles you basically need to become a musician, an actor, a performer, a decent public speaker, and a little bit of a comedian. Because being a good facilitator requires all that. And it can be very rewarding (personally, not financially) But, it is an easier way to make a living then just trying to make it as a musician in a band. In a band, you can really have group dynamic problems. The personalities rarely mesh together like they should. You end up on the road a lot, and even working locally, you end up getting home at 3 AM in the morning. It’s a struggle just to pay the rent sometimes, unless your band has some good original music.

As a musician, or a facilitator, I think you need to be as well rounded as you possibly can. You should be able to play any genre of music at all, any style of music, at any tempo, and, ideally, be able to figure out and play anything within a measure or two of music. That’s the goal I think you should try and grow towards. This makes you a better all around musician, and facilitator.

One way to get better at this is to sit in with bands every chance you can get. If it’s a casual setting, and you ask politely, they will likely allow you to sit in for a number or three. Or go to a few “open mic’s” and sit in with whomever you can. Even if it’s just one guy on an acoustic guitar. Are you going to get it every time right away? No. But that’s how you grow faster. A true musician can play anything at all in the drop of a hat. Many times, when I sit in with a band, I have absolutely no idea what they are about to play. Because most of time, they don’t tell you. So you start out softly with a simple all around basic pattern, that you can adjust it to within 10 or 15 seconds, and build it from there. With most songs, or jams, I use a sort of Latin default beat that sounds sort of like, ba dum ba Slap, (pause) ba dum ba Slap, (repeat).

That works in just about any song they throw at me, unless it is a swing, or blues tune, that’s in 6/8. Come up with a default start for 6/8 and 4/4, and you can launch into it, and adjust to anything right away.

You can be a drum circle facilitator if you have no musical background, it is just going to take some more work to be decent at it. You should study music a little bit, and be able to keep solid time. As I mentioned before, you can get a metronome to help you to learn how to keep time if you need one. They’re inexpensive now. And you need to be comfortable, or at least appear confident, with public speaking. Being able to speak clearly, project, and annunciate in pubic, and being able to engage people is an important part of facilitating.

I think one of the most important things of all is having a good sense of humor. It lightens the mood, and puts the uneasy at ease. Watch a few comedians on TV if you have to. Comedy helps people relax with you, if you joke a little bit or can get a few laughs with a clever line or gag. They know right away you don’t take yourself too seriously. I always try to get a laugh or two in the first ten minutes. I think about it beforehand, and have a few lines in mind ready to go. Most of the time, you can think of something spontaneous that’s funnier. Wear something funny, like silly hats, or pull out funny percussion instruments for them to try out. It’s just important to get people laughing, any way you can do it.

Keep a keen eye out for anything that might be funny in the room, ala Robin Williams. Try your hand at writing a joke or two for each week. I recommend that you keep a note pad with you, and when you think of something funny, jot it down. I learned that one the hard way, because I would always think of funny lines, jokes in the middle of the night and then forget them in the morning. I would think to myself, I can remember that in the morning…nope, I forgot it completely. You can reuse a joke like Milton Berle used to do, or just pull a few dumb drummer jokes off my website. Humor is a key element in setting people at ease, and having a fun drum circle.

Public Speaking. It’s a good idea to get comfortable doing it. It will help you as a performer, and a drum circle facilitator. I think there is a group called “Toastmasters” that teaches it, as well as other methods.

Rejection is a big part of trying to make a living as a drum circle facilitator, actor, performer, or as a musician. I have a hard time with it myself. It just gets a little easier if it happens a lot. Rejection is rough, and it happens all the time in this line of work. I think all the entertainment fields are related in this way.

On a typical day of concocting hair-brained schemes to try and get work, I heard on my favorite FM radio morning show they were having a Valentines Day mass wedding ceremony for 45 couples. They explained they needed a wedding day band for the event made up of crazy musical instruments from the listeners. In school I played percussion in the school marching band, orchestra, and later worked with the Philharmonic Symphony for a while. I felt uniquely qualified for the job. But at that time I had no musical equipment, heck, I sold all my drums to get out to LA. But when I heard the musicians to be used would be paid $300 each to play for an hour at this mass wedding, I started scrambling around the house looking for some kind of junk percussion instrument I could audition with.

People were auditioning over the phone with the strangest instruments and being hired! Some guy with a bunch of power drills, another guy with arm farts in different pitches, and other oddities that didn't belong in a band. So, I thought about it a little and lined up a row of 12 water glasses to the diatonic scale, each corresponding to musical notes. Then I called into the show and auditioned by playing "Here Comes the Bride" on my glass xylophone. That was easy enough, having played timpani and the chimes in the past. They laughed a little, then the DJ says, "Come on man, really Impress us". Somehow I managed to clang out "Stairway To Heaven" on my water glasses. It was pretty funny, and they hired me on the spot. Cool. I knew all those music lessons would pay off for me some day.

Try to incorporate whatever your life skills are into your style of drum circle facilitation, or hosting drum circles. I hope that some of this was helpful to you. I go into a lot more detail on this subject, and much more in my 300 page book, “A Practical Guide To Hand drumming And Drum Circles”. Physical copies are $18. During the month of August, I’m including 2 drum circle jam CD’s free with it, if it’s purchased from my website. It’s also available on Kindle for $8.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Are Musicians Also Actors?

Musicians and artists already possess many of the skill sets to cross over into acting, especially when it comes to acting in TV commercials. All that’s needed is a little realistic information about how the industry works, for example what tools are needed. And that's the intent of my 240 page working actor book. I priced it at 5 dollars. July is my virtual book launch. If you buy my Kindle book for $5, read it, and leave a short review on the Amazon Kindle site, I will send you 2 of my drum circle jam CD’s free, and cover the shipping to anywhere in the world.

With the economy the way it is, and the lack of jobs, a lot of people are hurting out there. I hope I can help a few people out, and possibly even help a few realize their dream. You can explore whether the acting field is something that might be right for you. If nothing else, you get 2 jamming CD’s shipped for five bucks.

In my book, I share my 20 years of experience as an actor, the realities of the business, the ups and downs, and things I learned. (Most of them the hard way!) Intertwined are a lot of auditioning, and acting anecdotes. Most of them I have never shared with anyone, including my friends. A lot of it is deeply personal, but putting ourselves out there to be judged, is part of what we do as artists. Johnny Depp went out to LA to work as a musician, and look how that worked out.

On Kindle, the book is translated in almost every language. This promo is good anytime during the month of July. After you leave a review, I will contact you.

Just go to my actor page website: No registering or signing up for anything is required, other than what Amazon requires in order to buy Kindle books. The title is: "An Actor's Face, Audition, Casting Advice, And Anecdotes From A Working Actor".


Thursday, April 14, 2011

Can You Get Free Drum Circle Facilitating Training?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out my website: & my blog: lots more resources and ideas.

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Junk Percussion Treasure - The Grandpa Guiro

About 10 years ago I was going through our local thrift shop hunting for junk percussion, (unusual sounding household items). I always check the knick knack and kitchen area out for anything that might have musical potential. So here I am clanking and clunking on things, scraping them, shaking them, etc. People see me doing this, and think I have a bolt loose. But hey, it’s okay, I’ll suffer for percussion.

I spotted this old grandpa’s thermos. One of those old aluminum ones with the ribbed sides. I ran a spoon along it, and I smiled with delight at the Santana groove that was waiting there to jump out. The price was three bucks, what a bargain. To them it was barely saleable junk, to me, it was a treasure. These are REALLY hard to find in thrift shops, because they are vintage. You can’t imagine how fun one of these are to play, but more importantly, it sounds fantastic. It gets a lot of laughs when you start jamming on one at a drum circle. I mean, think about it, you’re sitting there playing a djembe, and then you pull out a thermos. People think you are getting a drink or something, and then you start jamming out on it. It is hilarious.

To prepare it for public mayhem, I suggest that you first break the glass out of the inside. I do that by putting a few rocks inside it, put the cap back on. Shake it a few times, or whack it on the ground, and you will hear it break. Then you carefully dump it in the dumpster, whack it a few times to get all the glass out. Then I rinse it out with some water and let it dry out. Put the lid back on, even the cup! All you need then, is to make a scraper for it, or go buy one at a music store, (but it costs more than the thermos!), and you are good to go.

Not only does it make a great sounding guiro, but it also makes a nifty shaker. You can add some plastic beads, rice, popcorn, whatever you can find inside there, and screw the lid back on tight. (I put a piece of tape over it so that people don’t try to open it. Plus, you don’t want that crap all over the floor or something.

My preference for the shaker material is a mixture of stuff, and then you get a nice warm shaker sound. Metal BB’s or something like that is a little bit loud against the aluminum. But if you want a vicious shaker, that will do it.

If you choose not to add shaker materials, you can change the pitch by adding various levels of sand, or some other powered material inside of it. Experiment a little until you get the sound you like.

I had two sizes of these as part of my percussion kit in my gig bag when I played in a few bands back in the day, before back in the day. Now I play them all the time at drum circles, and people are always asking to try it. It looks like fun, and it is. I get a kick out of seeing people playing one. I usually set out baskets of percussion items, and this old thermos guiro is probably the most popular item. Be sure to keep an eye out for other junk percussion treasures. Objects like old brass candlestick holders sometimes have beautiful chime tones, or a thick brass bell can make a great singing bowl. Keep an eye out for washboards. Those are a blast to play with thimbles.

So where to find one of those old thermoses? Thrift stores, yard sales? Sometimes if you are lucky. In places like Ebay, I’ve seen a few for under five bucks. Both the large and small thermoses. What’s plural for that anyway? Thermi? Anyway, try a search with the keywords vintage thermos, or aluminum thermos, and you should be able to find your own Grandpa Guiro.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

15 Free Drum Circle Ring Tones & Mp3's + Drum Circle Finder

Prices are going up, and not everyone can afford even minor music purchases these days. So I wanted to put some drum circle mp3's and ringtones out there free of charge so people can have a little FREE fun. No registering, or signing up for anything is required. You can listen to them, or download them if you want. There are also some full length drum circle mp3's. Check them all out at my website.

My wife kept asking me to make her a drum circle ringtone, so I finally got around to it. I made 8 different ones from my drum circle CD's. She liked 2 of them, the bellydance jam ringtone, and the hip hop drum circle ringtone, (me to). But, there are 8 uploaded there for you to choose from. Some are a little whacky, but there might be one you like.

I also made 7 single djembe drum rhythm ringtones. Those ain't bad either. Please feel free to give them a listen, pick one out, or snag all of them, then your phone can be Jammin' when you get a call. Or people will think you are a little nuts. But hey, you saved a buck.

Find a drum circle near you:

Promote yours:

Drum circle mp3's and ringtones: (They are located near the bottom of the home page.)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Choosing An Inexpensive But Good Sounding Drum For Your Child

When I was 10 years old, my dad got me an old marching snare drum. I was happy. Many others…were not. I was a hyperactive kid, and it calmed me down a bit. Little did I know that drumming would be the thread that held my brain together for 40 some years.

When I was old enough, I was able to be a high school band geek. (Fortunately it’s more fashionable with the popularity of TV shows like “Glee”). Anyway, music always gave me a place to have a good time and be entertained. A chance to play in fun places, and even earn a few bucks here and there. Sitting in with bands, jamming at drum circles, or just by myself. Sometimes I just want to be comfortably “away”. A drum is good for that, as well as building social skills.

Lots of parents bring kids to family friendly facilitated and public drum circles. For the most part, those kind of drum circles are a safe comfortable place for your child to be able to interact socially with others in a non threatening environment. Keeping in mind that with any public group you are likely to have a few oddballs in there, so it makes sense to supervise them. If it were my children, I would want to visit the drum circle alone just to see the general vibe of it first.

Kids are welcome at most drum circles if they are supervised. Here’s something cool where you can connect, and do something positive with your kids. When you’re at a drum circle just remind them to respect other people’s space while they are playing, and not to run wild, or touch anyone else’s drums without asking first.

You might consider getting a drum for yourself also, that way you can learn how to play together. For about $300 you can get a pretty decent drum for both of you. Learning how to play is easier than you may think. With all the great YouTube videos out there, it’s at your fingertips.

Check out my drum circle finder page and see what’s going on nearby, and perhaps consider visiting one for the first time, or practice and learn a little first. No big deal either way. Drum circles are pretty organic and, for the most part, welcome everybody, regardless of skill level. Most musicians are very supportive, and are happy to offer a few pointers once you have played in the group with them a few times.

So you want to buy your kid a drum. These days, there is an amazing selection of low cost hand drums available. Most music stores have a world percussion section where a kid can just go bang a bongo or two and see what “talks to them”. A first drum is an important choice even for kids. I think buying a full size drum rather than a so called “kids” drum is a better idea, because the price difference is like 20 bucks. Plus it gives your child something to grow into, rather than out of, or needing to upgrade at some point.

Most of the drums designed with kids in mind are not tunable – just a drum head glued on with some decorative ribbon around it or something. A grown up drum that is tunable, teaches them more, and they will get a lot more enjoyment from it. They can learn to customize the pitch to their liking. Kids like personalizing their phones, and designing levels for video games, so I think teaching a kid to tie Mali weave knots and how to tune a drum is great. Tuning a roped djembe is hard, and not easy to do.

You can get a great sounding drum for around $60 - $100 depending on what kind and brand. As far as the head size, I suggest a drum with a 10” or even 12” playable size drum head. They have a better range of bass to tones.

A couple of video games cost $80, and a drum will last practically forever if you take minimal care of it. I suggest getting a drum with a synthetic head on it, rather than a goatskin one because they are harder to break. A djembe drum is the most popular, or a goblet drum, (doumbek). I think bongos are a very good choice also, because it gives them two drums to play. Most of them have thick cowhide heads and are hard to break. Plus, they can be played with hands or drumsticks. Most bongos have 5” and 6” heads on them. There are also 4” and 5” head size sets, I suggest getting them the big ol’ drums.

With bongos, there are two kinds of rims, one is straight down vertical, and the other has a more comfortable curved edge rim. Some call it the comfort curve. It’s a good name, because the fingers can get beat up after a little while on a straight rim. These days, the curved rim can be found on some djembes and now on most conga drums as well. The bearing edge can be a bit rough on the hands without one. A nice comfortable curved bearing edge on a wood shell djembe is particularity important as well.

Recently I wrote an article about buying a drum for adults, but a lot of it does apply to kids, so you might give it a read. It is one of my older posts. I always suggest buying as much drum as possible so your child can grow into it, but still enjoy having fun playing and being a kid.

You can get a very decent synthetic djembe drum, where both the drum body, and head are synthetic for under $100 these days. Get them a grown up drum with an 8, 10”, or 12” head. (Playable size.) Again I stress getting a lug tuned drum because they can easily learn about tuning and pitch. With these kinds of drums, most have synthetic heads. Once they are tuned up, that’s pretty much it. All you need to do, boom. The rope tuned goatskin djembes are more fragile, and higher maintenance. There’s nothing wrong with learning about and respecting a good djembe though.

I mean, don’t get me wrong here. If you have the money to buy your child a really good drum, I suggest doing it. In my opinion, a rope tuned authentic Ivory Coast djembe is the sweetest sounding drum ever. I also like the LP Giovanni, and Meinl Floatune djembes. Both of those are lug tuned. Most of the high end drums cost in the $350 range. The Gio and Float have goatskin heads, yet are lug tunable. And at least with one of these from a major manufacturer, you can buy it new and be assured that it’s not a knock off drum.

Most of these drums are 12” heads, usually solid wood bodies, and they are a bit heavy after awhile. They can weigh about 15 to 18 pounds. So getting a djembe strap might be a good idea, they can stand and play if they want. Otherwise they are stuck playing seated. Most people prefer to stand and play, it feels better. A djembe strap that criss crosses over the back is best, because it distributes the weight better. Get the one that clips on in front to the drum. They cost around 20 bucks. A tie on style becomes a bit more tedious. A shoulder strap tends to hurt after awhile.

You might as well spring for a djembe hat to protect the head, and a padded drum bag to store and transport it in. Might want to consider springing for a djembe drum stand also. That frees up the weight issue, so you can play comfortable standing or seated. Check to see how well made and sturdy it is. Some of them look pretty solid, but when you try to play a drum on it they bounce around like bobble heads. A good one runs in the $80 range. Having fun yet?

The two main problems with getting an expensive djembe is finding one that really is authentic. There are a lot of knock offs out there. For example, the last time I checked, I don’t think the djembe is indigenous to Indonesia. So you need to find someone knowledgeable to get the real deal here. Some of these drums have magnificent carvings and/or artwork on them. The sound is unmatched by any other drum in my opinion. Wood body drums have a warmer, fuller tone to me. The synthetic are lighter, but have a synthetic sound, for obvious reasons. But they are fine for a good all around playable drum that will last.

The other thing is that a goatskin drum head can be damaged pretty easily. One good drop, bump on a door jam, or hit with a drum stick, bye bye drum head. A head replacement can run $60 - $80. Most of it is the labor tying all the Mail weave knots. We’re talking a few hour job here, minimum.

So, drums with synthetic heads that are lug tunable are better suited for kids in my opinion. They’re a little more costly but worth it. Try to get a good brand name drum. ie: Latin Percussion, Toca, Meinl, Remo, Pearl etc. There’s a bunch out there now. Most of the ones with synthetic heads hold up very well. The wooden shell drums tend to be a bit heavy for kids, and now they not only have synthetic drum shells, but lighter polymer, and PVC ones also. Perfect drums for kids.

A goblet shaped doumbek drum is a good choice also. They have a naturally curved rim and are comfortable on the hands. They are easy to hold and play. I like the ergonomic design of them, they are made to fit the natural curve of your hands. I recommend that you get a professional size tunable doumbek. Look for an 8” playable size drum head, and thick cast aluminum on the drum body. Some of them are very thin and the sound sucks. What I mean is, it doesn’t resonate as much, or have the range of pitch. And of course 6 - 8 allen wrench tuning lugs. Cheap drums give you cheap sounds.

The majority of kids seem to like the bongos. They look like more fun to play, and they are what most of the kids I work with gravitate to because there are two drums to play. Two for the price of one. I suggest getting a decent grown up set, as the kids ones are pretty toy like. A drum that is a genuine musical instrument will serve much better, and a pretty decent set of bongos is in the $60 range. The child can set them on their lap and play, or put them on a chair, stool, or table in front of them and jam away. If you are handy, you can build a bongo stand, or buy a collapsible one for about $40. A stand is going to encourage them to play more. Plus hey, it looks cool set up in the corner of the room.

Many drum manufacturers now offer wide selections of drums designed for kids, They are low priced, sound pretty good, but many are not tunable. They are after all, kids drums. They also make grown up drums with 6 and 8 inch heads that are tunable and better suited in my opinion. A little more costly but worth the extra amount in the long run.

The drum selling businesses is so crazy competitive right now, that once you determine what you want, you locate the lowest online price, bookmark it, and most music stores will meet or beat the price. Maybe even ship it free. Most of them do if you spend $100. When I’m looking for a new brand name drum, I research for the lowest price, print it out and go visit my local music store. Most of the time they will match it or come close. I like to support local if I can.

I guess you can also get an old marching snare drum like I did. The schools sell them off from time to time, and I see them on sites like Ebay pretty reasonably priced with the shoulder strap and everything. These days, you can get a rubber practice pad for the kids to drum away on, (it sits right over the drum head, or on a table) for $20. Had they been around at the time, I’m sure my neighbors would have gladly bought me one.

Two sites I have bought from that seem to have the lowest prices, and have matched prices are and Both also have outlet store pages with some good deals, but they come and go fast. They both carry bongos, doumbeks, and smaller djembes. There are lots of online retailers out there, check for buyer reviews on them before you buy. A simple search on the brand or dealer name + the word “review” will give you plenty of opinions from owners. I like to shop at our local music store for two reasons. Supporting local businesses, and I like to try a drum out before I buy it.

A good drum will bring years of fun and entertainment. It will last a very long time if you take care of it. Playing music is very satisfying alone or with friends.

If you would like to get much more in depth with teaching your children to drum, please consider picking up my 300 page book on hand drumming and drum circles. It’s $10 on Kindle, or physical copies for $18. Purchase it from my website and I include a 75 minute facilitated drum circle CD you can just enjoy, or even play along with. If you do choose to buy it, thanks in advance for helping me out a little bit. With the price of gas going up 35 cents in the last two weeks, entertainment money is a lot tighter. I have 5 full length drum circle mp3’s you can listen to, or download free at my website: - No registering or signing up for anything is required.

With so many changes going on in the world today, I think that the arts can contribute to our coming together on a global scale. And drumming and dancing are both things that everyone can be a part of with minimal training or skill. They transcend barriers of language, religion, and countries. What better reason to introduce your child to the joy of drumming. You might have a lot of fun together along the way.

Shannon Ratigan

Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tuning A Lug Tunable Djembe, Marking It, & Head Replacement

Lug tuned djembes, doumbeks, ashikos, and congas. My favorite drum is a lug tuned LP Giovanni djembe with a goatskin head. Here's a few thoughts on tuning up a lug tunable hand drum, a little about replacing a drum head, and some different ways to put an identifying mark on your drum.

For the most part, lug tuned djembes are less expensive, and more readily available at music stores, and online, so they are becoming more popular, especially with those that are newer to drumming. With a synthetic head, once it’s tuned, it’s basically tuned for life. You can pretty much forget about it, once you have it sounding the way you like.

Goatskin drum heads are a completely different matter, lug tuned or roped. Going from the heat, into air conditioning can pop a drum head if it’s tuned a little too high. Very cold air has less moisture, and the drum heads get dryer and tighten up. I make it a habit to detune a half crank or two each lug after a gig. I go from outdoors to inside a lot. 5 years ago I discovered a broken head when I took it out of the bag for a gig. lol, not good, so I make it a point to take the time, even though I am too tired to do it…before it goes back into the djembe bag, I detune each lug a little after each use. ¾ of a full crank seems to work fine in most cases. The advantage with this kind of djembe, is you can quickly tune, or detune it in minutes, unlike with a rope tuned drum.

Having said that, to me, there is nothing that really compares to an authentic handcrafted djembe. The sound is unmatched, but they are also very expensive. Another problem is that there is a lot of “knock offs” being sold out there as “an authentic indigenous drum”, and many of them are not. You almost need to know someone reliable, or travel.

When I do have to unfortunately replace a drum head, at least I can do so quickly. I do it like the crisscross change a tire lug pattern: 12 0’clock – then 6. then 3 & 9. Equally all around, from one side to the other. After I slide the head back and forth to get it seated nicely, I hand tighten all the lugs equally first. Then it’s a few tuning wrench cranks at a time, in the back and forth pattern. I hold my finger on the one I just tightened, so I can go across the head and remember the one I just did, and my pattern. Back and forth, crisscross, equal cranks all around as best as I can. An important thing to do afterward is look across the flat plane edge of the drum head, and see if it looks nice and even around the rim. Sometimes I didn’t seat the drum head properly, or over tightened on one side, and it may be a tiny bit higher than the other, so I correct for that. (Do it over again! lol)

Another tip I learned was that when I do replace a goatskin djembe head, or a cow skin conga head, I take a little bit of powdered flour, rub some on my hands and lightly rub a very thin coat along the bearing edge, (top) of the drum body before I place the drum head back on it. I slide it around a little, and this allows it to “seat” better on the drum.

The most important thing for correctly tuning my djembe, is after I have it as even and tight as I want, I tap my finger on the drum head about an inch from each lug, and do so for each lug as I go around the drum in a circular pattern. That’s how I can tell if the drum is equally tuned near each lug. Or just a light flick of your fingernail near each lug. If any one sounds higher or lower in pitch, I correct it so that they all sound the same. This not only lengthens drum head life, but it sounds better. It reduces unwanted ringing, and unwanted off pitch sounding notes. Different sounding tones on different lugs can lead to a dissonant combination. This is more important with djembe heads, because they have thinner goatskin heads than cow skin conga heads. So the djembe head is much more sensitive to tension and evenness, both with goatskin and with some synthetic heads.

For those of you that have drum sets, you probably know most of this stuff already, so please bear with me for those that are new to tuning drums. Many of my suggestions are from others who taught me, band gigs in sleazy bars, and the rest from trial and error. These may not be the “best” way, or the only way to do things, I am a musician sharing information. If you have a few helpful tips to add, that would be much appreciated.

An easy way to quick tune my quinta and conga, or bongos, is to recall the song, “Here comes The Bride”. I tune them to sound like the notes in it. It makes it very simple to do, even in a dimly lit situation. (If it’s just my djembe I’m tuning, it’s to the “Bride” pitched note. Maybe just a tad higher.

Some lug tuned goatskin and synthetic drum heads can have ringing, or a ping like sound. Many joke about it, and call it the “twang”. Trying to dampen that overtone a little with synthetic heads is a real consideration for many of us. Especially at studio recording sessions. To reduce it, I hang a blue painter’s tape tail in the center underside of the head. (The blue tape doesn't leave a sticky residue like regular masking tape, or duct tape can do over time.) I use a long single piece - so it has about a 6 inch tail that is hanging down in the center, and stretching about 6 " in both directions across the drum head. ( ----V----) The V is to help illustrate, I close the V section to it is stuck together and hanging down in the middle. The tape I use is 1" wide blue painter’s tape.

I set the drum on the floor upside down on carpet, and try to place it in there with one arm, because that’s all that will fit. It can be tricky getting it in there, sometimes I have to try 3 or 4 times to get it in there nice and even and flat, so the 6 inch tail can be hanging down in the center. I’ve seen other ways to do this, using just a flat straight piece of tape across the underside of the head, a flat “X” pattern, a square, or a circle, or even a sqiggley. Experiment, because that’s part of the fun of drumming, and see what works best for your drum. However you get to it, hopefully it’s bye-bye ping.

One other thing about placing in the blue tape, on the underside of some drum heads is that it will not stick at first. With some newer heads, the bottom surface of the head can have a light coat of powder on it. The solution is to take several dry paper towels and gently wipe the powder off until it is clean enough so the tape would stick on any part of it. I guess the blue painter’s tape is designed like that so it is easy to come off. Another similar simple quick fix, or test idea is to try putting a few Post-It notes hanging under there.

I make it a habit to replace the tape every 4 months or so just to avoid any possibility of sticky tape residue on the underside of my drum head.

If you have to replace or remove the drum rim for any reason, be sure to put it back exactly the same way it came apart. Otherwise it may not fit quite properly when you put it back on, or a lug might get stripped. This is especially true with aluminum doumbeks, I make sure the head is seated properly, and tighten the lugs up again in a crisscross pattern, a little bit at a time. What I do to mark the spot is put a small piece of painter’s tape on the rim and just below it on the drum shell near a lug, so I can mark the spot.

Then I can put it back exactly as it came from the factory. When I remove the lugs, I line them up in a row the way they came off, so I can put them back exactly where they were. Cleaning and twisting them on an old towel, and oiling them is a good idea when you do this. There’s a special lug oil you can get at most drum shops.

Identifying and/or Marking Your Drum(s)

If you have just one prized djembe, or a kit of 50, marking them, or identifying them is a good idea, just in case. Early on, I used a permanent magic marker and would write my name inside the drum body. Later, I painted a bright line across the bottom, or mid-shell. Then when I had a whole bunch of drums, I went to some paper stickers I made on my PC. They left a glue residue, and looked sloppy after a year or so. But it was better than nothing. About 8 years ago I started to use those 4 x 5” vinyl bumper stickers you tend to see many bands use for promoting, publicity, etc. At many of the drum circles I facilitated or hosted, the public was welcome and some would bring their own drums, so things could get a little confusing as people would come and go, and at the end of the gig.

I needed to be able to identify my drums and percussion quickly and easily, sometimes at night in very dim light. I also wanted to deter them from walking away a little bit, that having unfortunately happened one time, but months later, the drum was anonymously returned to me. So I was glad it had that sticker, and/or my name written inside it. The stickers were inexpensive, easy to see, good for promotion, and they looked pretty cool.

If you get the 4” x 5" size stickers with black and white text only. They are about 10 – 50 cents each depending on how many you order. As a bonus you can also hand them out to clients, participants, add to your press pack, etc. But if you start adding logos, colors, or pics, the price goes up on them pretty quickly.

Most all of my kit is synthetic body drums like Remo, Toca, assorted aluminum doumbeks, etc. so slapping a sticker on the side of them was not really a big deal. For groups I prefer synthetic drums because they are easily washable, and can be sanitized. Add to that, they can take more of a beating than goatskin, they do better in humidity, and they cost less to buy. If I needed to remove one of my bumper stickers for some reason, (after a few years there would be a glue residue on there). A product like De-Solv-It takes it off easily. It’s made for removing wallpaper glue.

Obviously you don’t want to put a band sticker on a nice carved wood djembe, but for most of my drums it was fine, and I could easily see from a distance which ones belonged to me. With wood djembes a few ideas are to paint some sort of bright marking on them, or hang those price tags, or luggage tags with a string on them on the ring with a name written on it. Some even carve, or wood burn a name at the bottom of the shell. At least consider writing your name with a permanent marker inside the drum shell. If you have some aluminum, stainless, or nickel doumbeks, carving, or wood burning obviously won’t do, so a sticker or colorful marking of some sort might be the way to go.

About 10 years ago my drum circle facilitating kit was all wood shell djembes. After you schlep 50 drums in and out for an event, (even with some help) they were too heavy to keep track of, let alone haul around. As I mentioned, I prefer the sound and feel of goatskin heads on a wood drum shell, but after a while, it just wasn’t practical. But at least with some kind of bright looking, or obvious mark on them, they’re easier to identify as being yours, especially if you work in public places. As I mentioned, some people bring their own drums. It can get confusing without it.

If you go with that white vinyl band sticker idea, as far as your design is concerned, most of the sticker companies make it pretty easy to do. Most of them will let you design your sticker in a Word doc, you can use most common fonts and sizes, and you email it to them. Make your sticker short and sweet. For my text, I chose my website I made the .com very tiny, (and away at the lower right), so promotion wasn’t so blatantly obvious, and people are less likely to toss them. It’s kind of cool looking, and the .com was so tiny, people would still put them on car bumpers and so on. People would even ask for a sticker to take home all the time, so it was effective publicity for me in the community, and I could easily identify my drums on a budget.

I hope some of this helps you!

Shannon (Got a regular meeting drum circle, or looking for one? Please check out the website. Thanks)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Drum Circles, Drumming In Cold Weather & The Elements

If you are a hard core drum circle lover, sometimes we play in very cold weather, and even outdoors in the snow. I’ve done it, and lots of circles go on up north during the winter. It’s easy to pick up a bruise in the cold. The drum head is a lot harder. When I play my Djembe outdoors in extreme cold, it’s usually in a remote location, and often its dark outside as well. Most of the suggestions below are common knowledge, so please bear with me for those that are newer to drumming.

My drum of choice is a goatskin djembe. When I do choose to take it outdoors and play, to protect it a bit more, I take some precautions. The sub-freezing, cold air has less moisture. If you play a goatskin head drum, the drum head will be very dry. Moisten it with whatever oil or butter you would normally use on it, but do so at least a day ahead. Personally, I don’t like to use any oils or anything on my drum head, just the natural oil build up from my hands. It’s a personal preference. Some people put oil on the wood drum body also, I choose not to do that either.

More often than not, I leave my expensive goatskin djembe at home, and use my “beater” drum. When I’m outside I use a synthetic drum like a Remo djembe or something. They sound pretty good even in frigid weather, and even pretty good when you're wearing gloves or mittens while playing them. The cold even makes them sound a little better. I don't like the feeling of synthetic drum heads. They are not kind on the hands, and I don’t care for the sound that is created as much as goatskin. I don’t endorse Remo or any other manufacturer, I am just giving you my opinion on what I like to use, and why.

That Remo djembe of mine is the 12” head size model. Not too heavy to play for hours, yet still has decent range for bass, tones and slaps. I’ve had it for over 15 years and never had to replace a head or anything to it. Of course it has a few signs of wear, some dings, dents, and scrapes, but hey, so do I. I can’t say the same for my goatskin drum, I’ve replaced the head 4 times in 8 years, but that is my drum of choice for session recordings, facilitating drum circles, important gigs, etc. So my beater is my drum of choice to play in hot humidity, dampness, or very cold weather.

The Remo was like $125 to my door used from an online auction site. As far as I know, they still sell new for just under $200. Picking up a used one isn’t really a problem, because you pretty much know what it’s going to sound like. Considering how long it has lasted, it’s a pretty good value for the money. I’ve played the crap out of that drum in all kinds of conditions. On the beach in hot humidity, gotten sand all up in it, in the rain, snow, extreme cold, and it sounds pretty good all around. You could probably play that thing on another planet with no atmosphere and it would sound okay. It’s a decent all purpose drum, and I don’t really need to worry if I let others play it for awhile. But the ping sound of a synthetic drum bugs me a little. A piece of blue painters tape with a 4 inch tail hanging under the head tames it down a bit.

On the up side, that drum has taken a real beating over the years, and I’m told it is made of all recycled materials. (Not exactly sure what that is, it could be soylent green for all I know, but I think it is recycled wood.) They seem to hold their value, rarely need a repair, so in my opinion, they make a fine all weather condition beater drum, that I don’t need to worry about. It’s just my preference.

When I’m out in very cold weather, obviously, you want to avoid gloves entirely if you can, but you'll do a little better using the thinnest gloves you can find. Be sure to check your gloves for any metal clips or plastic clips on them, and take a look at the cuffs of your sleeves of the coat you'll be wearing. Remember to try and not get to hammering away outside in the cold. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment, and do some real damage to yourself. Remember to pace yourself, and try to play a little softer than you normally would. Don't expect to be getting all these extreme slaps from your drum, and hurt your hands. Take a break now and then, and let your hands warm up. I keep a few of those heat packs in my coat pockets to warm them up with. Plus it keeps my body warmer. For a coat, I like to stay warm and toasty, but have as much freedom of movement for my arms as well. A snowmobile suit doesn’t quite cut it. I have one of what is called a squall or stadium coat. It has a thin windproof nylon outer shell, and warm micro-fleece inside. It’s not real heavy, yet keeps me warm, and allows freedom of movement.

Outdoor drum circles sometimes can get a bit sloppy sounding because everyone is cold, so an ideal thing to have, or for someone to have, is a decent bottom drum. Even an old floor tom from a drum set works great for this with a soft mallet. Sticks are too piercing and loud. Plus with a bottom drum, that’s all it needs to do is help hold the bottom, or downbeat. It holds the support rhythm to be more solid, and everyone knows that the better the circle sounds, the more fun it is. One common problem is that everyone wants a turn on the bottom drum. That’s fine of course, but many people will overplay a bottom drum, get to whaling away, and leave no space for the other drums to be heard. Less is more, that’s why when I bring one, I bring only one mallet for it. Problem solved.

One guy had a 55 galloon barrel with a thick Taiko style cow head on top. As odd as it sounds, the thing sounded great, and was a blast to play. He had used a hole saw and put 3 two inch holes spread out around the base so the sound could get out, or resonate more. Pretty clever idea. I’ve also seen the big blue plastic water barrels that are like 22 gallons done up like that. A little easier to move, the big barrel guy had to use a hand truck to move that thing from his van to the circle. But it was fun, great sounding, and really held the grooves together.

If you are facilitating a drum circle, or even just a rhythm, musical non-verbal cues become much more important, because all the hats and scarves tend to cover our ears, and muffle things a little bit.

For my hands out in the cold, I've had a fair amount of luck using fingerless knit gloves. The tones lose a little bit but the slaps are intact, since the fingertips are exposed. On a synthetic drum head, the difference isn’t all that much. I want to jam, but don’t want my fingertips to fall off.

When you are jamming outside in the cold, do whatever you can to keep your whole body warm. There is less chance of you damaging your hands through poor circulation in the fingers. Wear thermal, or silk underwear, even that “wicking” material is a good idea, because we do get to sweatin’ sometimes. I wear thick socks, boots, and lots of layers of clothing. This new underarmor stuff seems pretty nice for this. Don’t forget the lid, like a wool hat, we lose a lot of heat through the top of our heads when they are uncovered. Huddle close together if you have to, in order to save some heat.

Bring a thermos full of something warm, like hot chocolate. It’s a good idea to avoid alcohol outdoors while drumming. It dilates the capillaries and makes you feel warm, but in reality, you just losing heat quicker. Instead, eat plenty of good food beforehand, to generate some heat internally. Have some of that soft cloth first aid tape ready just in case anyone gets a cut or a bruise on their finger.

You can get some of those new high tech warm gloves. (The furry ones look the best) I’ve seen some people cut out the palms and finger pads, or just the finger pads. Not only will you still be able to hit all notes, but your hands will stay a little warmer too. One of the bellydancers has some sort of black thin arm length silk material that ended in fingerless glove, it sort of hooked around her thumb. She would dance, and take breaks to drum out in them, I’m not quite sure what it’s called, I think it was “arm warmers”. A search under bellydancing gloves should bring it up. She said it kept her arms and hands pretty warm while dancing or drumming. Pretty clever idea.

After the drum circle is over, consider getting a few people together afterwards, and go to a restaurant, eat some warm food, drink, and hang out a little. Get to know a few new people that might just turn out to be new good friends. It’s a great way to wrap up a fun drum circle. A drum circle wrap party.

If you are playing in the opposite conditions, with high heat and humidity, you need to adjust to that as well. Try to make sure that you and everyone else are in the shade if possible. Ask people in advance to bring bottled water and keep hydrated. Or provide it yourself for everyone if you can. Sunscreen is a good idea, except for the palms of your hands. This is particularly important if you are playing near water, as the sun’s rays can bounce and give you a nasty burn, even if you are in the shade. Wearing a hat, or headband keeps the sweat out of your eyes.

Your drums will also need some extra attention. Goatskin heads, especially, stretch in heat and/or humidity. They quickly become out of tune. This is one situation again where a synthetic head might be a better choice. I don’t want the sand or dirt getting all up in my nice djembe. Even the wood in the body of the drum can be affected over time, and possibly split along the wood grain. Those synthetic djembes, or aluminum Doumbeks can be a much better choice than your expensive wooden djembe in this kind of hot humid weather condition.

My hands sometimes get a bit bruised when I get home, so what I like to do is use a hand lotion that has some lanolin in it. That helps heal them up quickly. Some friends of mine use shea butter, use whatever works for you. But anything with lanolin helps to heal them. Or at least soothes them a little. A nice soothing soak in a hot bath tub with Epsom salts takes it down a little also. Treat your body right. At least when you get home.

This is more for indoor or hot weather drumming, but before and after I play, I wash my hands in cold water. It cools them down a little bit, and the odds are you shook a lot of hands today, and could catch somebody’s cold. So there’s the hygiene thing there also. Bring some of that portable hand sanitizer, for you, and more importantly for them. But mostly, you have just finished what amounts to beating on something like drywall with your hands for hours. So a nice cool down of your palms will help you take care of them. Washing them just before you play, gives them lots more “grab” on the drum head, so you can get cleaner, and crisper sounding notes as well. I hope some of this helps you to say warm, and in the groove!