A drum circle is any group of people playing (usually) hand-drums and percussion in a circle. They are distinct from a drumming group or troupe in that the drum circle is an end in itself rather than preparation for a performance. They can range in size from a handful of players to circles with thousands of participants. Drumming together is a good way to break the ice between participants, align a group and experience a non verbal/felt sense of collaboration.
Typically, people gather to drum in drum “circles” with others from the surrounding community. The drum circle offers equality because there is no head or tail. It includes people of all ages. The main objective is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves. To form a group consciousness. To entrain and resonate. By entrainment, I mean that a new voice, a collective voice, emerges from the group as they drum together. Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead drummer.
A “facilitated” drum circle is a form of group drumming in which a person seeks to focus the intent and improve the quality and effect of the activity, making it easier for people to effectively participate by taking a more directive approach. The facilitator (leader) takes responsibility for the physical space, arranging chairs and instruments to optimise communication and connection in the group. He or she may provide a range of instruments to create a full and balanced percussion orchestra. In this way, the experience can be thought of as a “standardized drumming circle,” as opposed to the more free-flowing and open community drum circle.
The facilitator is constantly monitoring the music in the group, and generally being encouraging and accepting of participant ideas. In this way, the facilitator takes on a role similar to that of a music teacher or drumming instructor whose goal it is to empower the participants and encourage them to share their ideas. At the beginning the facilitator directs the music through verbal and non-verbal cuing. Cues, which often mirror the movements of an orchestral conductor, are directed at the participants, who respond to the leader. This creates a leader/follower dynamic between the facilitator and participants.
Facilitators with training and experience in other areas and professions, such as music education, music therapy, and corporate training, may use a range of tools and approaches that enable them to work with diverse populations. These types of experiences are more accurately referred to as ‘drumming programs,’ rather than drum circles, in the traditional sense.