What Is A Drum Circle?

By Jim Greiner

Written for Latin Percussion Instruments Education Magazine

Short answer… a gathering of people who are playing percussion instruments for recreation, personal enrichment and group bonding.

There are many types of Drum Dircles, and different definitions of them, depending upon the participants, their goals and the percussion instruments (not only drums) used.  They can be more-or-less spontaneous, free form percussion jam sessions geared towards personal expression and group play within an upbeat (pun intended) social setting.  They can also be more structured  rhythm-based activities, led, conducted or “facilitated” by one or more people, and designed to meet specific personal and group goals, such as releasing stress, being physically active, building community bonds and simply having fun.

Drum circles, not to be confused with traditional, culturally-specific group drumming styles, are a grass roots phenomenon that have emerged in the U.S., and beyond, in the past few decades as an enormously powerful, contemporary cultural movement.  Drumming is one of humanity’s universal activities. Drum circles are an outgrowth of our innate, universal drive to collaborate with, and to entrain with, to connect deeply with, other people.

I prefer to call my own programs Interactive Rhythm Programs; Drum Circles, which I usually do at open-to-the-public community events and private parties, are just one element of the rhythm activities that I use in my work. My corporate and conference programs, for example, use the rhythms and activities that I’ve developed over decades of doing this work to integrate and reinforce my clients’ own themes, goals and values, rather than to just have a free form drumming jam session.  In this way, they have enduring benefits for the group members, and the organization, rather than just being a one-time, albeit very fun, group activity.

Drum Circles are not necessarily oriented towards any particular cultural drumming traditions, nor are they drumming classes, though many do become vehicles for sharing and learning drumming techniques and rhythms.

Drum Circles do have their roots, though, in the many drumming styles, traditions and instruments  that have spread worldwide from and by the peoples of Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and other drumming cultures.  I personally believe very strongly that it is important to acknowledge and honor these peoples and their traditions when we engage in Drum Circles and any other group drumming activities.

When I lead my own interactive rhythm-based programs, whether they be for corporate, community, school, therapeutic or private groups, I introduce each instrument with a short story of their history.  This shows respect for the people who originated the instruments, and helps the participants realize that they are part of the rich, age-old, worldwide tradition of drumming.

Drum Circles can be lively and playful ways to connect with family, friends, colleagues and strangers in a spirit of community cooperation and community celebration.  Purposefully-designed Drum Circle can also be used in therapeutic settings for their clinically-demonstrated physical, mental and emotional benefits.  They are used in the corporate world as lively ways to build teamwork, energize minds and bodies, encourage creativity, enhance focus and celebrate important events.

Drum circles are interactive, rhythm-based sessions that are, at their best, profoundly fun and effective ways to inspire people from all walks of life to express themselves, to create community, and to celebrate the blessings of life.