Looking for a quick intro to the history of drumming circles? At its heart, a drum circle is any group of people playing hand-drums, together, in a circle. People bring their own instruments or use ones provided at the gathering. They play the finest djembe, cheap bongos or homemade percussion like coffee cans with pebbles inside or food buckets turned upside down. The key word is "together," because drum circles are communities of like-minded people sharing rhythm and playing together. People drum in circles to reduce stress, build community and have fun. It's one of the few group activities that engages the mind, body and spirit.
Drum circles are the oldest form of community-building known to the world. They were around long before Jesus Christ (4,000 years before Jesus, in fact). Back then, in the Neolithic Age, tribes depended on each member doing his part for the betterment of all. So naturally, that concept extended to their music-making and entertainment. Drum circles are the same deal; the music is created by everyone contributing to the whole. Everyone in the community can join in and not only make music but commune with one another without inhibition and with their own self-expression.
The drum circle also offers true equality, without regard to race, color, creed or sexual orientation. In a drum circle, everyone is equal. A six-year-old banging on a tin can is as welcome as the 96-year old woman playing the custom-made conga drum. The rastafarian plays next to the white guy who's sitting beside the Jewish lady from Miami Beach. They're all welcome, no matter their age or skill level.
There are three basic types of drum circles. Community circles are free-form, informal drum circles, usually in a public place like a beach, a park or a community center. Like jazz, the music is improvised through group interaction. No leader. The drummers make up the music as they go along. Participation is voluntary and the drummers welcome drumming, singing, chanting, dancing or listening. A facilitated drum circle is basically a "guided" community drum circle. One person—called a facilitator—helps to focus the intent and improve the quality and effect of the circle, making it easier for everyone to participate. This leader provides a rhythmic ground, supporting and reflecting the others in the group by encouraging and supporting the ideas of the drummers. A conducted drum circle (think: corporate) is where a (paid) leader directs the music. The conductor cues the drummers to raise or lower their volume, accent particular beats and to play or not play. Conducted drum circles are popular with groups who have no experience with music or drumming and when the group is very large (50 to 300+ people).
Drum circles are used on a corporate level for team-building, in hospitals to assist healing of chronically ill patient and in parks, beaches and community centers for community building. Like meditation, drumming aids self realization and the development of interdependent relationships. Through group drumming, people are empowered and stimulated through the voices of the instruments.
The main objective of the drum circle is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other. To form a group consciousness. To resonate. To ultimately create a new voice, a collective voice, which emerges from the group as they drum together. In the 1980s, Arthur Hull, father of the modern day drum circle, observed and quantified the fact that, when we drum together, it changes our relationships and helps us cope with life. It tames stress and creates a group version of the so-called "runner's high." Energy swells as drummers share joyful bliss conversing through sound and rhythm. There is a natural high produced by a drum circle that you simply need to experience to believe.