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What Is a Drum Circle?

By Janet Planet

According to the father of the modern drumcircle movement, Arthur Hull, "A drumcircle is a group of people coming together and playing various drums and percussion instruments in various pitches to create a percussion melody and drum rhythm song."

There are three basic types of drumcircles:

  • ethnic-specific
  • thunder drumcircles
  • community drumcircle events
In the ethnic-specific circle the rhythms have a history that are hundreds of years old and are passed down from generation to generation. An example of an ethnic-specific drumcircle is a West African djembe ensemble. The big bass drums, called djun-djuns (consisting of dununba, sangban and kenkeni), hold down the bottom beat, the djembe plays the specific accompanying parts as well as the lead solos the dancers dance to. The agogo (bells), and shakere (shakers) also play specific parts to compliment the beat.

Thunder drumcircles, or free-form drum jams, are most often total anarchist events where there are no rules. People bring any percussion instrument to the circle and they focus on expressing their own spirit through music, often not listening to the group as a whole, which can often end up sounding like thunder, hence the name.

Facilitated Community Drumcircles are entry-level circles where people with no drumming experience can easily join with others who may be experienced players. People come together to share their rhythmical spirit to create drum and percussion songs with the help of a facilitator. Community drumcircles will often have specific focuses on such things as building community and cooperation in the corporate world, or improving health, enhancing education, peace, etc. As Arthur Hull says: "A facilitator takes what the community has to offer in their in-the-moment music rhythm exchange and helps them mold it into a synergized harmonic rhythm force that creates a strong feeling of synergy and community amongst the different players."

In other words... the facilitator helps the community come together to create their own rhythm orchestra.

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