Drum Circle Handout

(Jim used to give out handouts at his drum circles so that everyone would have an idea of what to expect and what rules applied to the particular circle. This is a fairly comprehensive example. -Luis)




Since many of the drummers have only classroom skills, the following is an explanation of the setting for the free drum dance.




1. For drummers AND dancers to have a good time. Drummers enjoy both;


a. Free responsive rhythms that interact with dancers and


b. Rehearsed rhythms that don't need dancers.


2. Since we have dancers and the dancers wish to freely interact with the drummers, we will play rhythms that are free and interactive. This type of drumming is traditional with dancers but, unfortunately, is currently not taught much in drum classes or practiced by drum groups. Furthermore, if only certain groups or drum classes were allowed to play, many of you would not be playing tonight.


3. If we had about 8 highly skilled great master drummers, there would be no problem. We don't. Since classroom rhythms lack the flexibility the dancers want, we must call on the community of drumming instinct and drummers of varying skill levels.


4. For everyone to feel free to drum or dance, extra drums have been provided and considerations have been made to accommodate drummers and dancers of varying ability levels.


5. It is traditional for drummers to be grouped by skill level, function and volume so that the less skilled drummers do not dominate, the quieter drummers are heard and the drum circle has focus.


6. Many will be novices. Often skilled drummers ignore the novices and just do their own thing. This leads to separation and confusion. You have to learn to deal with novice drummers; they are here. You can't ignore them. Part of your skill should be the ability to influence less skilled drummers through your playing. Drummers who don't get this ability will never master rhythm. Remember that the dancers don't want just formal rehearsed classroom rhythms.


7. For the benefit of all, occasionally there may be a space for a selected set of drummers to set up and demonstrate some special rhythm. Please be cooperative.


8. Dancers very much enjoy the special rhythmic style of novice women drummers and complain that novice male drummers drown them out. Senior drummers agree. Lest some think this is sexist; women do have a larger corpus calosum, score higher on manual dexterity tests and learn drumming much faster. This applies to novices only. Classroom trained drummers tend to all play the same.




1. Watch the skilled drummers. If you can't hear what they are doing, you should play more quietly. Use fewer notes.


2. Don't just alternate from right to left hand. Leave spaces. Using fewer notes will help you keep up with the dancers and be more creative.


3. Use your eyes as well as your ears to understand what's happening. Pay attention. Look and listen before and while you play.


4. Drummers who play badly and quietly are no problem. If you don't really know what you're doing, feel free to fake it. The better drummers will drown out any mistakes if you don't play too loud.


5. Usually, you should not ask someone for the drum they are playing or their seat. It is distracting and intimidates the less experienced drummers. If you didn't bring a drum, you will have to wait in turn for a drum that is not being played. If someone just asks you for the drum you are playing, ask them if they own it. If they don't, ignore them.


Exceptions: If you own the drum you are asking for, you always have the right to play it. Likewise, if someone tells you it's their drum, give up the drum and the seat without hesitation. Also, you can ask to trade drums with someone.


6. The more skilled drummers should sit nearer the center of the group. Do not remove a drum from the center unless it is yours. If a central drummer quits playing, do not remove that drum from the center and do not play that drum if you are not one of the better skilled drummers. Drums and seats in the center are reserved for the best drummers since this will give the drumming more focus.


7. Don't take someone's drum or seat if they are just stopping temporarily to get a drink or something. It may be hard to tell what someone's intentions are when they get up and leave their drum, so, if you've taken a seat and the previous drummer returns, get up immediately and give the drum back. Some drummers cover their drums or put something on top of it or lay it on its side to inform others that they will be right back.


8. Some drummers don't want other people to play their drums because the drum may be delicate or have to be played in a certain way so that they won't detune. These drums should be kept covered with something so that no one will ask to play them.


Drum class teachers, senior drummers and students:


1. You will sit between the groups of male and female novices for two reasons;


a. So the men novices, who play louder, won't drown out the women novices.


b. Grouping together will give the rhythms focus and cut down on distractions. This will help all the drummers to play together.


2. Be creative and don't play so many 4/4 rhythms.


Unskilled drummers mostly play in 4/4. Therefore, the better drummers should try to play more 12/8 rhythms. This way, the group won't be stuck in a 4/4 rut. Less skilled drummers should pay attention to what the lead drummers are setting up.


Emphasis will be on instictive/ inspirational rhythms rather than rehearsed or formal rhythms.


3. Be responsible. Don't separate. Work with the whole group of drummers and dancers. Playing with a well rehearsed group is easy. Playing with a mixed crowd brings out the best in you and the results are much more natural and whole.


4. People who take drum classes and teachers who teach by giving people "parts" to play, should not get hung up in playing one of their class rhythms. Keep your ears open and play with the whole group. Don't clump together and fall into a subgroup.


5. Drum teachers: Do not give out parts for people to play. We want drummers to respond to other drummers and the dancers creatively, instinctively and inspirationally. We don't need any parrots.


Novice women drummers:


1. You may sit where you wish. However, a place is provided for you so that you are less likely to be drowned out by the louder male novices and the dancers will be better able to feel your contribution. Since the senior master drummers are best able to feel, appreciate and support your rhythms, women novices are encouraged to group near them.


The set up:


The set up:


                  DANCERS           1

     4                             1

      4                           1

        4                        1



1. male novices

2. drumming teachers, drum students, master drummers

3. women novices

4. ritual masters, senior master drummers, drummers skilled in working responsively with dancers.


No long scale instruments, like guitars, flutes, keyboards, etc are allowed. Melodic instruments confine the rhythm instruments to the span of their melody.


No loud bells or claves. Everyone knows how to bang on a bell. Unrestrained bell playing may even lead to physiological hearing damage in your fellow drummers. Novice drummers cannot follow bells and claves well, which causes further chaos.


Because of their volume and high pitch, cowbells tend to dominate. Unfortunately, a person playing one will usually play only one handed patterns. Conga (hand) drummers mostly play denser, more flexible, two handed patterns). Only master bell players can play with enough creativity so that the bell doesn't drag everything. If you are not an expert, play quietly!


No drumsets.


Jim's Notes: A Course in Drumming