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What IS a Drum Circle?

Updated on April 9, 2018
Maren Morgan M-T profile image

Music permeates Maren's soul, whether performing (voice, piano, drum, guitar, clarinet) or acting as a crazily enthusiastic audience member.


A drum from western Africa known as a djembe or jembe.
A drum from western Africa known as a djembe or jembe. | Source

Definition of Drum Circle

Drum circles are activities and events. They are open to people dropping in without any equipment and without much training. Usually, they are based around playing African and middle-eastern hand drums. Latin American and Caribbean instruments may also be present. However, the most important thing to bring to a drum circle is openness to learn. Also, the desire to bang something with some kind of rhythm is a prerequisite. After that, the spirit of welcoming acceptance ubiquitous to drum circles guarantees a comfortable experience for participants.

It Is Not Chaotic

Usually there is a leader and a few drummers who are experienced in hand drumming songs. Often the leader brings extra instruments for (1) those who have none, and (2) those who want to experiment with auxiliary "toys." The leader will set up chairs in a circle (duh) and put instruments in an accessible area. If fees are charged for drum rentals, the leader takes care of that. Also, sometimes donations are collected for either rental of the space or other charitable purposes.

Teaching During a Drum Circle

Although a drum circle is NOT a group lesson, a little bit of teaching can occur. The leaders help newbies get accustomed to whacking at a hand drum, such as a djembe or doumbek; or smacking a stick on a djun-djun. The leaders often get the group started on simple patterns to warm up. These simple warm-up rhythms can serve as the foundation beat for subsequent group creations.

Improvisational Music

Circles are held in church basements or backs of music stores or public parks. All drum circle music is spontaneous creation built on a base rhythm. Beginners can stick with the basic foundation beat. Then, the more experienced (or daring) drummers will build on that with creative flourishes. It all is "a becoming." And it is rather exhilarating to react to each other. The energy just builds and builds!

The leader will help by making endings to the drum songs, so that participants can "digest" what they have just done, get a drink of water, or rest their arms and hands. Yes, it is arm exercise. Also, an official end of a song permits a new rhythm to be started for the next round.

Auxiliary Percussion Instruments

The instruments pictured are tambourine, guiro, cabasa (also called afuche), maraca, concert castanets, triangle. These are the fun "toys" that may be available to try at a circle.
The instruments pictured are tambourine, guiro, cabasa (also called afuche), maraca, concert castanets, triangle. These are the fun "toys" that may be available to try at a circle. | Source

Percussion Toys

In my book, any percussion instrument is fun. Consider, though, all the various instruments that fall within the percussion family: rattles, maracas, sticks, whistles, shakers, shells, tambourines, castanets, rain sticks, guiros, etc. Just about anything that can be struck or shaken is a percussion instrument. (OK, I know that a whistle is blown, but percussionists get to lay claim to police and slide whistles. Also, think what fun the Cuban 3-tone whistle could be for you!)

Acceptance of All

Acceptance is the supreme mandate of behavior. People play simple or complex patterns and it's all ok. People change instruments in the middle of a "song" and that is great. It is impossible to "play wrong." Like the saying "all God's critters have a voice in the choir," it really all works together and everyone's contribution is valued as a fiber in the fabric of the whole.

2 Djembes

If it's "one djembe," is it "two djembi?"
If it's "one djembe," is it "two djembi?" | Source

Emotional Release

Did you ever have one of those days at work where you were so frustrated and angry that it was all you could do to keep from quitting on the spot? Banging away on something is a great way to get all the angst out of your system. A big, heavy, sonorous djembe can take that energy and convert it into something positive! Or, have you been so happy to be alive that you need to shout? Again, the African drums allow you to share that joy with a community of drummers. Furthermore, if you are the sort of person to whom words do not come easily, drumming may be your mode of communication.

Give a Drum Circle a Try

You'll like it. And, unlike lessons, there is no commitment for time or money. Show up when you can. Pay what you can. But beat the music of your soul out into the world!

© 2008 Maren Elizabeth Morgan


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    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      BluesBear, that sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing. What happens if it rains?

    • profile image

      BluesBear 6 years ago

      Spring 2012 is right around the corner & the Huntsville, Alabama hand drum rhythm jammers will be starting up the FREE entertainment on beautiful Sunday afternoons, bangin' away in our downtown Constitution Hall Park, a section of Big Spring Park. We have been gathering for almost 25 years and it is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. Also, if you do play or want to be introduced to hand drums (conga, djembe, ashiko, bongo, doumbek, tabla, dohl, dundun,etc) or learn to belly dance or even juggle... we can connect you with a group that does that and they usually have either instructors or advice.


    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Hi Djembe. I have been in some of those kind of circles, too. that's why a good leader is priceless. the best leader I ever drummed under is named Scott. He had a bubbly, positive personality and was great at ending a "tune" before it got deadly long. Also, he was good at upping the tempo when some neophyte started a riff at learning speed. Maybe you are ready to creating a djembe performing group.

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      djembe 6 years ago

      Drum circles was my introduction to music and it has brought me far. I guess it's a safe environment in which to explore different musical concepts.

      I eventually had to move on from drum circles because I got disillusioned by the lack of structure and the fact that often people just weren't listening to each other.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Please let us know what yours is like. Thanks for writing.

    • Danette Watt profile image

      Danette Watt 6 years ago from Illinois

      I just found out yesterday that our farmer at La Vista started a drum circle that meets every other Monday at the farm. I'll be sure to check it out now that I've read your hub.

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      J-Froman 7 years ago

      I have been a part of a few drum circles and they are always a great emotional release for me. I need to tune my djembe, though. thanks for a great hub!

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      Bangin' Away-Hand Drum Connection 7 years ago

      It's not hard to find hand drummers/drum circles...Google groups, Facebook, Meetup groups, Myspace, etc.

      Nothing in your area? Pack your drum (tamborine, etc.) into the nearest park and rhythm out. Check with local jam sessions, Latin-Caribbe groups, music stores & teachers. If you want it....find it or make it happen. That's what was done here in Huntsville, Alabama and we are expanding still. Good luck.

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      matt 8 years ago

      There also some great forums that will keep you informed of when and where drum circles are on! Try the Goblet drumming group (yahoo) or maybe Fingers of Fury.

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      Doug Libby 8 years ago

      I didn't know you made up this excellent bit of information online. I love it! Why haven't you shared this one with me?

      I need some help with finding a good web builder. Do you know of anyone?

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 9 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Oh Herman darlin, it can become quite an addiction. There is always that "next instrument" that we have in the back of our minds. I got an agogo bell last Christmas. Also, as an auxiliary percussionist, you can play a few instruments that are technically wind instruments. These are the ones that are used for effects. I own a slide whistle and my most recent acquisition is a bosun's whistle (think of a sailor piping an officer onbaord a ship). The good thing, however, is that friends and family know that for gift ideas they can give a percussionist a gift certificate to a world music store!!!

    • profile image

      Herman Wheeler 9 years ago

      I did not realize so many percussion instruments existed. Thanks, I can now start adding to my collection.

    • Maren Morgan M-T profile image

      Maren Elizabeth Morgan 10 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Great question! I have done searches for drum circles' meeting times. There are a few web sites which attempt to list them for the entire U.S., but unfortunately it depends on the voluntary efforts of local circle leaders to keep it up-to-date. Also, the efforts of the webpage master. I suggest that if one is looking for an established circle, inquire at a retailer which has hand drums, other retailers who seem to be very hippie-new age- metaphysical, a Unitarian Church (they seem to be big supporters), and substance-abuse treatment centers. If you are wondering about the last suggestion, at least in my area, hand drumming is considered to be very therapeutic for these sorts of problems.

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      Chuck 10 years ago

      So, Is there a schedule posted somewhere? If one were to want to attend a head-banging session (it's a percussion joke) then how would one go about finding a drum circle....other than listening for one?


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      Amerben 10 years ago

      Couldn't have said it better myself!