How to Play in a Drum Circle

The point of playing in a drum circle is to have fun.  You are coming together as a drumming community to socialize through your instrument.  The drum circle should be a comfortable, supportive place for you to play and grow as a drummer and a person.  You should approach the Drum Circle with an attitude of collaboration.

There are two basic types of drum circles, freestyle and facilitated.  Both of these types of drum circles can play either ethnically specific rhythms or take a more freestyle “jamming” approach.  It’s quite easy to fit in with either of these circles once you know a few tips for drumming in circles.  Before we get to the tips for playing in a drum circles, it’s important to be introduce to the different roles within the circle.


There are three main roles within any drum circle:

  1. Heartbeat
  2. Embellishing
  3. Lead

The Heartbeat role sets up the foundation.  This is a very critical role and always a good place to start if you are a beginning drummer.  It is my opinion this role provides much of the power behind the drumming event.  Some people love this role, become really good at it and never venture out to the lead or embellishing roles.

 

The Embellishing role provides the color or punctuation.  They embellish the heartbeat with accents and syncopation. The embellisher finds spaces between the core heartbeat rhythms.

 

The Lead role plays more on top of the other roles.  They are more melodic in nature.

 

 


Tips for playing in a drum circle:

 

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and ask for help.  A drum circle that is not supporting and welcoming will likely not be the right circle for you.  Most circles understand the community concept and are very welcoming by nature.

  2. When joining the circle, sit, listen, and generally observe what is going on before jumping in.  Find a place where you would feel comfortable and join in.  Less is more when drumming.  Don’t over play.

  3. If you are a beginner, find the Heartbeat section and sit with them.  Join in with fewer beats rather than more.  Layer in more beats as you get comfortable.  Find the dominant or accent beat and just play that beat for a while.  For example, this may mean just playing on the third of a 4 beat measure.

  4. Don’t try to play loudly.  You would be surprised how well your drum will come through if you find your space.  Be careful not to bruise your hands.  If you don’t think you can be heard, drop out and see what a big difference it makes.  Even when you are playing softly it will add a lot to the feel. See our article “How To Play Djembe” for suggestions on pulling the tone out of your drum and proper posture.

  5. If you are playing in a freestyle circle, it’s all about listening and feeling where you belong and playing what feels right. The more you play, the easier it will be to find what works.

  6. Don’t be afraid to drop out or abandon your beat if you don’t think it is working.

  7. Listen for dynamics and follow them.  When you become more experienced you will learn how to Lead and change the dynamics.

  8. Drum circles are not about showing off.  Your skill is less important than your willingness to be a humble part of the whole.

  9. Purchase some small percussion such as shakers, bells and rattles.  They are very inexpensive and always appreciated.  They add color and a driving under current.  The drum circle is not just about drums.

  10. Have fun and Play From The Heart!
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