Drum Circles  ° Corporate and Conference Drumming  ° Community Drumming
Percussion Education   ° Percussion Performance

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions, and my responses, that I’ve received over the years regarding drumming, rhythm, drum circle facilitation and related topics. I encourage you to send me your questions, as well. I will update this section regularly.  Enjoy! -Jim

– What Is A Drum Circle?
– What is the role of a leader or facilitator in a drum circle?
– How do you facilitate rhythm activities for different types of groups?
– What kinds of percussion instruments do you use in your work?
– What is more important when playing recreationally with other people; technique or feel?
– How do you prevent getting tense and tired when playing fast?

Jim: A Drum Circle can mean different things to different people, depending upon the needs, goals and experience of the group. My short answer would be, “A Drum Circle is a rhythm-based jam session”. Some people define drum circles as being “in-the-moment” improvisational sessions without any pre-planned patterns. Others see drum circles as including differing amounts of planned patterns, or even some traditional rhythms. Some “drum circles” do not even include drums (or, in some cases, do not include any percussion instruments at all), but emphasize “rhythm-play” and rhythm-based verbal games. These are all valid descriptions, since drum circles are such a grassroots phenomenum.

I prefer to call most of my work, “interactive rhythm-based programs and events”, since the term, “Drum Circle”, is so ambiguous. My corporate programs are very different from my youth programs or my community programs, because the needs and goals of these groups are different. However, they are all participatory and all involve using rhythm as a process to reach the goals of the group. The fundamental goals, themes and nature of the group determines the specific process of my programs.

In fact, the nature of most rhythm-based events is to serve the group; to use rhythm-play to help the participants to create their own group process in order to reach their goals, whether the goals are team-building, energizing minds and bodies, releasing stress, breaking down communication barriers, having fun… or any combination of these!

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What is the role of a leader or facilitator in a drum circle?

Jim: This depends upon the style of the leader/facilitator and the needs and goals of the group. Facilitate means to “make easy”, so I approach my job as making it as easy as possible for the group to play together, meet their goals and have fun. I’ve developed a number of techniques and rhythm-based activities that I have available to use when needed; one of the most important of them is knowing when to just let the group PLAY so that the participants experience what it feels like to get into a groove together!

It’s up to the leader/facilitator to know when and how to facilitate the process that serves the group, and, equally important, when NOT to facilitate. There is always the temptation to over-facilitate, just as there is the temptation for a musician to over-play. Each type of event and group (corporate, community, school/youth, therapeutic or private) requires differing types of facilitating/leading.

In most situations, I will give a short verbal introduction to the fundamentals of drumming together (cooperating & communicating through rhythm), and how group drumming relies on, and reinforces, the same universal values and skills that are also necessary for building thriving communities. I also emphasize the importance of respecting the traditions of the instruments and the peoples who have developed them. However, whatever the specific techniques I may use for specific groups, my main emphasis is helping groups and individuals experience what it feels like to get into the Groove Zone. This is the experience that elicits the many, powerful “Aha!” realizations that brings enduring, positive change to peoples’ lives!

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How do you facilitate rhythm activities for different types of groups?

In my drumming programs for corporate clients, I work in advance with them to customize my corporate programs to meet the group’s specific needs, goals and themes. I will help the group to create basic grooves and then, over time, I help the participants to build upon the basic groove. I will also often introduce specific elements that are targeted at giving long-term solutions to specific teamwork, communication and motivational issues. Above all, I help the group experience fundamental teamwork- and community-building breakthroughs, as well as reinforcing real-world, individual life-skills, while creating an atmosphere of celebration.

In community festivals and private events, I will often quickly demonstrate some easy, fundamental playing techniques and patterns to help beginners get started.  This process also shows respect for the peoples who have originated the instruments we use. I then just let them play! I will play along to give low-key help to individuals or to the group, and to help maintain the groove and the energy level. My basic concept in community and private events is to have the group experience grooving together rather than to get in the middle and perform facilitation techniques just because I can.

When working with children, it is crucial to make the drumming program age-appropriate in order to maintain their interest, help them experience actual rhythmic success and to help them have fun. Drumming can have a number of very beneficial effects upon children, and it is important to work with the teacher/group leader to make the most of these.

In therapeutic settings, I always work with the staff professionals to ensure that the drumming is accessible and appropriate to the population, and genuinely serves them. I also design my therapeutic drumming programs to help create a support system among the group members. The drumming then becomes a social activity, as well as a therapeutic one.

My Rhythm Power® personal growth and group empowerment drumming programs are designed to awaken and reinforce universal life skills that transcend individual cultures and regional ways of living. For this reason, my facilitation methods are based upon the fundamentall ways that we humans have developed our personal, professional and community lives…. that is, how to create powerful and positive Life Skills and Life Rhythms.

In my Rhythm-Based Facilitation Skills Trainings, I always emphasize the importance of learning, and practicing, a number of facilitation tools and techniques, but I also stress that we know how to use only those tools that will effectively serve the group. It takes time, training and intention to develop the intuition and experience to know when and how to use the tools we have.

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What kinds of percussion instruments do you use in your work?

I use large hand drums (African style Djembés), frame drums (Middle Eastern and Asian instrument types), shakers (Caribbean Maracas and Brazilian Ganzas), tamborines (good old western Rock & Roll instruments), and Boomwhackers® (tuned percussion tubes).

I use this wide range of instruments from around the world in order to reinforce one of the core principles of my group drumming work: the different instruments play interlocking, interdependent patterns that fit together to create the complete rhythm.  This is the same principle that creates thriving groups of all types as their members contribute their individual skills, talents and personalities to shared goals and values… it’s also a very fun and uplifting, real-world vehicle for reinforcing effective teamwork, communication and cooperation skills!

These instruments, from a variety of world cultures, also reinforce my theme of “celebrating diversity while creating unity”.

I incorporate these instruments into a variety of programs that give me the flexibility necessary to accomodate any and all of my clients’ budget, space, sound and time parameters.

I am proud, and blessed, to be endorsed by some of the top instrument manufacturers in the world, including:  Latin Percussion, ProMark Drumsticks, Sabian Cymbals and Gongs, Gibraltar Hardware, Audix Microphones and Factory Metal Percussion.

I also do many programs, especially for very large groups and for conference keynotes, that don’t use any instruments other than those we were born with: our hands, our voices and our feet.  A group of hundreds, or thousands, of people clapping, vocalizing and walking in place while seated… in interlocking patterns… creates an amazingly uplifting and enormously powerful community spirit and celebratory atmosphere that reinforces a huge range of very positive themes!

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What is more important when playing recreationally with other people; technique or feel?

Jim: Both are important! Technique and feel are intertwined and interdependent. Technique should include what to play and when and how to play it, as well as how it feels. Feel should include the ability to play clear and consistent sounds (technique) in patterns that groove and serve the music (feel).

Always remember that we get good at what we repeat! In other words, to get good at technique and feel, as well as to develop the ability to listen, communicate musically and to work with other musicians, we should always play with the intention of including and reinforcing all of these elements through repetition.

Also, learning at least some fundamental, traditional techniques on our instruments will help us to feel the music, play consistently, reduce the possibility of injury, have more fun and show respect for the peoples who originated the instruments. Remember also that it does take time and patience to get anywhere worth going, so don’t be overly critical of your playing. Just be aware of all these elements, steadily incorporate them into your playing and have fun!

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How do you prevent getting tired when playing fast?

Jim: Your question goes right to the core of the fundamentals of drumming. That is, relaxing while playing, beginning at the beginning by learning and reinforcing the fundamentals of our activity, practicing good habits and progressing in a step-by-step process over time.

It takes time, disclipline and a dedication to being relaxed to be able to play fast, or at any tempo, for extended lengths of time.

The body operates at peak efficiency when relaxed. Relax your wrists, arms, shoulders and entire body when practicing and playing. I tell people to “drop your shoulders” when playing. This has the effect of releasing tension and relaxing the body. Let your wrists be flexible, not floppy… just not locked.

Practice a pattern slowly for extended lengths of time. Start with quarter notes at 60 beats per minute for five to ten minutes at at time, several times a week at least. Stay loose, keep your sounds and your timing consistent. Over time… that is, weeks, months and years, gradually increase your tempo in regular stages.

Enjoy every stage of your development! Don’t get frustrated by the gradual pace of improvement; consistent progress and regular small successes, and the repetition of good habits (yes… in life, as well as in music!) lead to the big breakthroughs… the huge “Aha!” revelations!

It takes time to get anywhere worth being! You’ll find that this type of practice will improve all aspects of your playing. Intersperse this gradual process with bursts of speed to push yourself and to stay excited. You may find that these bursts of speed increase tension, so make sure to end your session at a tempo slow enough so you can get relaxed again. You want to build this relaxed playing process into your playing at all tempos.

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