The djembe

Drum Circles

23 October 2014, by Al Paton

One of the joys of playing the djembe is the drum circle - a group of people playing drums in harmony (or not, as the case may be).

Either way, the idea is to get together with others and make a beat. A variety of instruments feature and they are sometimes accompanied by dancing.

In my travels I have come across many different kinds of drum circles. Here are a few of the most common:

Informal Drum Circles

The informal drum circle is a great place to listen, play or socialise. They are usually advertised on message boards or by word of mouth and often take place in a public setting.

Many players of all levels usually turn up. Drummers bring their own instruments and jam along within a loose rhythmic structure. They're good because newbies can blend in with the group while advanced players get a chance to practice soloing.

A drum circle in Meridian Hall Park, Washington D.C. Photo by Elvert Barnes

A disadvantage of informal drum circles is that there is often no clear leader or song structure. At the same time it's a good setting for the musicians to experiment, so the drumming is usually improvised, resulting in many rhythms being played at the same time. Some players also have a tendency to solo too much, and the result is often what's technically known as a 'happy mess'.

A drum circle in Meridian Hall Park, Washington D.C. Photo by Elvert Barnes

Still, I love them because they're great fun and a good way to practice playing in a group. They're also one of the best ways to meet other drummers.

Facilitated Drum Circles

Drum circles are also used in education, therapy and corporate environments (as team-building) to bolster a sense of community, increase creativity and have fun. These events are usually privately organised.

Children in a facilitated drum circle

A facilitator or group of more experienced players will take the lead, showing the other drummers exactly what to play to make up a song or rhythm. The group can also be divided to play different parts or use different instruments.

Lessons

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Djembe master Famoudou Konate giving a lesson.
Photo by Tim Bray

Many experienced performance drummers also give classes, either in groups or one to one tuition. This is a great opportunity to sponge up some of their knowledge and increase your repertoire.

Prices and quality of teachers vary greatly, and some provide drums while others don't. Weekly group lessons will most likely be the cheapest.

We have an enormous list of djembe teachers across the world, so there's no excuse!

Corporate/Professional Drum Circles

The idea of using professional mobile facilitated drum circles in community and corporate settings is a Western one, originated by a man called Arthur Hull in Hawaii around 1990.

Here, a group of trained drummers is usually hired to perform a drum circle. They often provide drums and percussion for all the guests and facilitate a circle where everyone plays together. Sessions can last anything from a few minutes to a whole day, and settings range from corporate team-building to informal parties to charities.

I've worked for one of Arthur Hull's students and been lucky enough to experience drum circles on boats, busses, trains, mountain-tops, beaches, restaurants, churches, private homes and prisons with drummers numbering up to 1500!

How to find a drum circle in your area

Hopefully you're all inspired to get out there and find somewhere local to drum. If you still need some more help, see finding local drum circles

As always, love to hear your comments.