Drumming Defines Us – An Ode to Remo Belli


When I heard the news on April 26 that Remo Belli had died I was surrounded by birds.
Small birds chirping loudly
Kept swooping around me
Practically bumping into my legs,
Encircling me with a rush
Of wings in flight.

And I thought, YES, this is Remo
His swooping flight
World traveler
Global drum entrepreneur

I send out my drum beats to you today Remo
And the consciousness of every person
Beating every drum you ever created
Your heart beat, drum beating soul
Celebrated in drum circles
in schools, hospitals, beaches and parks
in corporations, homes, studios and stages

There’s no second “line” in this drum parade
Honoring your life
like a New Orleans cacophony
Only circles encircling circles
Entrained in rhythm

Christine Stevens

Group Drumming Research – Summary of Six Studies

1. Group Drumming Strengthens Immune System
Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects (2001) Journal of Alternative Therapy. Jan, 2001. p. 38-47. Bittman BB, Berk LS, Felten DL, Westengard J, Simonton OD, Pappas J, Ninehouser M

• N=111 non-drummers. Tested five conditions: Listening Control, Drum circle, Impact Drumming, Shamanic, Composite Drumming
• Natural Killer NK cell activity was boosted in subjects who drummed compared to controls.
• Natural Killer cell activity stimulated by Cytokines (Interleukin II and Gamma Interferon – Helper (Th1) cells) was boosted in subjects who drummed compared to controls.
• Drumming changed cellular biology and reversed the stress response.

2. Group Drumming Reduces Employee Burnout
Recreational Music-Making: A Cost-Effective Group Interdisciplinary Strategy for Reducing Burnout and Improving Mood States in Long-Term Care Workers (2003)
Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. Fall/Winter, 2003. p.4-15. Bittman MD, Karl T. Bruhn, Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, James Westengard, Paul O Umbach, MA

• N=112 employees in Long Term Care. Interdisciplinary teams drumming once a week for one hour for a 6-week series.
• Significantly decreased burnout on Maslac Burnout Scale.
• Improved employee mood states by 46% on POMS Profile of Mood States – sustained effect of 62% six weeks post intervention.
• Economic Impact – saved $89,000 for typical 100-bed medical facility through employee retention and reduced turnover.
• Total annual savings to the industry based on an 18.3% decrease in turnover at every long-term care facility is therefore projected at $1.46 billion.

3. Group Drumming Reduces Nursing Student Burnout
Recreational Music-Making: An Integrative Group Intervention for Reducing Burnout and Improving Mood States in First Year Associate Degree Nursing Students: Insights and Economic Impact. (2004) Bittman et al. International Journal of Nursing Education and Scholarship. Vol. 1 Article 12.

• N = 75 first year associate degree nursing students.
• Improved mood states by 28.1% on POMS Profile of Mood States.
• Economic Impact projections – retention of 2 students annually per a typical 105-student program, resulting in a projected annual savings of $29.1 million to US Nursing Schools.
• Projected cost savings of $322,000 for the typical acute care hospital, and more than 1.5 billion for the US healthcare industry.

4. Group Drumming strengthens Immune System in Japanese employees
Recreational music-making modulates natural killer cell activity, cytokines, and mood states in corporate employees. Wachi, et al. (2007) Medical Science Monitor. 13(2): p. 57-70.

• N = 40 Yamaha employees. The RMM group demonstrated enhanced mood, lower gene expression levels of the stress-induced cytokine interleukin-10, and higher NK cell activity when compared to the control.

5. Group Drumming reduces Instrumental Anger in Adolescents.
Creative Musical Expression as a Catalyst for Quality of life Improvement in Inner-city Adolescents Placed in a Court-referred Residential Treatment Program (Bittman, et al) ADVANCES Spring 2009,VOL. 24, NO. 1 Creative Musical Expression
• Adapted HealthRHYTHMS™ program
• N = 52 ages 12 to 18. Pre/Post test matched controls.
• Measured Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS)
Adolescent Psychopathology Scale (APS), Adolescent Anger Rating Scale (AARS), Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale, 2nd edition (RADS 2)
• Improved scores in school/work role performance, total depression, anhedonia/negative affect, negative self-evaluation, and instrumental anger.
• Extended impact – improvements 6 weeks after completion of the protocol.

6. Keyboard playing Reverses Stress on Genomic Level
Recreational Music-Making Modulates the Human Stress Response. Bittman et al. (2005) Medical Science Monitor.

• Applied Biosystems and Yamaha.
• Reversed 19 of 45 gene markers of stress response versus 6 of 45 in resting control and 0 of 45 in continued stress condition.
• First study to develop an individualized genomic stress-induction signature.

Remo organizes International Symposium featuring music therapy & drumming for wellness


Music therapists Dr. Barbara Reuer, Helen Dolas, MS, MT-BC, and Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC excited an international crowd of Remo distributors from five continents, and countries around the world including: Germany, Israel, Italy, Phillipines, Spain, Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Jamaica, Brazil, Serbia, New Zealand, Panama, Morocco, China, Sri Lanka, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Hong Kong, Bolivia, and Thailand.

The attendees picked their own instrument of choice and blended together in an amazing jam session. The theme of the program was expanding global markets into drumming for wellness, music therapy, and recreational music making. The event was held in North Hollywood at The Remo Recreational Music Center (RMC) with over 60 people in attendance.

Additional presenters included Ping Ho from UCLA Arts and Healing and George Thompson from Teri Inc. Remo employees John Fitzgerald, Alyssa Janney and Mike DeMenno gave presentations and led drumming experiences as well creating a beautiful memory for attendees.

Through Remo Belli’s advocacy of the use of drumming in rehabilitation centers, individuals with autism spectrum, older adults and the use of the HealthRHYTHMS program, distributors learned about the importance of networking with music therapists and music therapy organizations in their respective countries. Through continued efforts, Remo and its supporters hope to inspire a global movement towards using arts for healing.

Remo is considered a visionary with over 25 years experience supporting recreational music making. The award-winning RMC – Recreational Music Center in North Hollywood has been operating for over 15 years, hosting free drum circles on Tuesday nights and kids programs on Saturdays.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA
Helen Dolas, MS, MT-BC
Barbara Reuer, PhD

Vitamin D – Vitamin Drum – Drumming for Health, by Christine Stevens

Christine celebrating her musical spirit in Santa Fe NM

Christine celebrating her musical spirit in Santa Fe NM

A young woman sits in a circle of empty chairs playing her djembe, a West African healing drum. Gradually other women arrive. They join the song, playing their own rhythms on a variety of different drums. No two rhythms are alike, and yet somehow they all go together. Over thirty people are now playing an amazing rhythmical symphony, painted above the driving rhythm of the first pattern. Their shoulders relax, their breathing becomes deeper, and their minds become calm and present. On the leader’s cue they all end together. 1-2-3-4-BOOM. Silence.

This drum circle empowers their spirits and heals their hearts. They are transforming themselves in the deepest way: without speaking, through music and rhythm. They leave refreshed, re-inspired, and re-connected.

Sound Health

“Sound” is within the very definition of health. According to Webster’s Dictionary, health is “being sound in mind and body.” Other terms, such as being at a “higher vibration” and being “in tune” point towards the role of music in wellness. The drum is a vibrational tuning fork, offering a mirror of what is truly inside our hearts, a rhythm that has been within us since our birth.

And the process of group drumming is quite possibly the next big method of creative fitness for stress reduction. There is healing value in playing music, expressing oneself rhythmically, and connecting with others. In fact, in a controlled study of 111 normal subjects, just one hour of group drumming showed a significant increase in circulating white blood cells and two specific cytokines, markers of cellular immune function (Bittman et al., Alternative Therapy, January 2001). Drumming successfully boosted the immune system.

For centuries, drumming has been valued as a tool of personal and community well-being. Shaman, healers in many cultures, rode the rhythms of their drums to the invisible worlds to bring back antidotes and totems for healing. Doctor and drummer were one and the same.

Modern day shaman called music therapists continue to lead their patients on vision quests of musical expression to their own inner healing resources. Used in this way, drumming is not so much a cure as it is a preventative measure, a vehicle of life-enhancement, spirituality, and empowerment.

Making music is becoming an integral part of the wellness movement, not as entertainment, but as a tool for healing, self-expression, and connection. Today, drum circles can be found in community centers, music stores, churches, festivals, and local parks. Some may be specifically for women or cancer survivors, while others reflect the truest diversity of humanity – young, old, disabled, able-bodied, all within a multi-cultural mix.

Why not begin today by rhythmatizing your life? Even on your own, you can include rhythm and drumming in your everyday health practice. Consider it the recommended daily allowance for achieving your highest functioning.

Getting Your RDA – Rhythmical Daily Allowance

#1: Get the Beat
The beat in music is the driving force, the contagious element, the energy. Choose a song with a beat you love to begin your day. Drive to work moving to the beat. Tap your fingers and feet to the beat of the song. When you’re at home, play a drum to the tune. When the tune has finished – and this is the essential part – don’t stop. Keep going; take that beat and make it your own. Improvise, play around with it, challenge it, allow yourself some freedom. Use the beat as a spring-board for your own improvisation.

#2: Modulate Your Rhythms
All day long, we adjust our tempos. We wait in traffic on the way to work, speed up to meet a deadline, or slow down if we’re tired and need to recuperate. Today, listen, look, and feel the rhythms around you. Listen to the rhythm in your speech and that of others. Look at the tempo of people’s walking. Feel your breath. Then take time to control and change the tempo and rhythm of these biological beats.

Whatever rhythm seems to feel most comfortable, put it onto your drum. Just take a few moments to be with the music and PLAY out your day. Put all the tempo and rhythm changes onto the drum, and then end with the steady place you found for yourself.

#3: Daily Decrescendo
Begin by sitting in front of your drum. Imagine any worries, concerns, issues that are causing stress in your life. Using your fingertips, nervously tap on the drum. Allow the sound to represent the issues boiling up inside you, pestering you, tapping at you. As you inhale your next breath, allow your tapping to become full hands-on drum rolling. Now, at the next exhale, change your playing to represent that exhale by rubbing your drum with your full hand in a swirling motion. Listen to the sound this creates on the drum. This sound, like wind rushing by, is a representation of the exhale of the breath, of the releasing of stress. Now, in a calm state, gradually begin to play your own rhythm. Notice what comes out of your hands when you maintain a calm state.

#4: Heartbeat Harmonics
Lub-dub, Lub-dub, Lub-dub. What happens when we take the rhythm of the heartbeat and play it on the drum? The external sound links to our internal state. We play a pattern that is so familiar to us, it pre-dates our consciousness and our birth. Today, take time to listen to your human pulse. Then play the heart-beat rhythm on your drum. Use this heart-beat rhythm as a meditation, as a return to the heart-centered place of healing and well-being. Allow it to connect your mind, body and spirit.

#5: Knocking on the Door
Whenever we knock on the door, we usually have our own rhythmic phrase, our unique rhythmical introduction. Today, begin your day with a tap on your drum. Introduce yourself with five minutes of playing, as if it were your unique way of saying “good morning,” knocking on the door of your life.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq. Website – www.ubdrumcircles.com

Drumming with Oncology Patients & Cancer Survivors, by Christine Stevens

On a Saturday morning in Santa Monica, Californiaupbeat photos sedona logo 027, two separate groups joined together for an experience that was unique, powerful and impactful. A group of twelve volunteer drummers from the Remo Percussion Center brought the joy and spirit they found in drumming to a group of cancer patients at The Wellness Community. In the joining of the two groups, there was a common chord of health and wellness, achieved through the experience of recreational music making.

It began with a basket of fruit shakers in the center of a circle. Out of the quiet anxiety of a group of strangers meeting for the first time, first a chuckle and then some laughter began as one by one, people chose a shaker and started making music. But it went deeper than that. Participants commented on the meaning of letting go and giving themselves permission to not be perfect, lessons important for all of us.

Through a series of rhythm activities geared towards putting people at ease with the process of making music, the group became more comfortable and relaxed. In one hour, they were playing their hearts out on the drums, creating moments of expression unrivaled by any words.

The session ended with an experience called guided imagery drumming where participants closed their eyes and drummed to a story. As a meditative activity, the drumming created a distraction from the chatter of the critical and worrying mind. After the drum circle, one patient commented that it was the first time she forgot about her cancer. She began to feel good again.

In the words of Nikki Fiske, a mother, teacher, cancer patient, and a first time drummer?

“It felt so relaxing and freeing to concentrate on the rhythms and be completely in the moment. Without judgment, without pressure? we each drummed to our own internal rhythms, yet we worked together as a group to create a unique and harmonious sound. There was a lot of laughter, sharing and mutual applause. When I left, after two hours of drumming, it was with spirit, heart and courage lifted up!”

Drumming also has important biological effects. According to a study (111 normal subjects) performed at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, PA, one hour of group drumming following a protocol entitled, Group Empowerment Drumming™ was shown to significantly increase circulating white blood cells called natural killer (NK) cells that seek out and destroy cancer and virally infected cells. (Bittman et al. Alternative Therapy, January, 2001).

James Gordon, MD of the Mind-Body Center in Washington D.C. states “Oncologists should be open to group drumming if their patients are interested in it. Drumming can put people in a state of relaxation. It was used as a healing technique 1,000 years ago. Why not now?” (MAMM Magazine, July/August, 2001)

Remo drum volunteers agreed that they received more from the experience than they gave. Professional drummer Sam Kestenholtz commented, “Seeing and feeling the spirits of the participants being lifted as the group played together was an experience like no other. It was like a room full of strangers became a community of one.”

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq. Website – www.ubdrumcircles.com

What is a drum circle? by Christine Stevens

The drum circle brings people together in a unique rhythmic experience that transcends language and cultural barriers. It is energizing, spontaneous, fun, creative, and synergizing for body, mind, and spirit.


How does a drum circle work?
A drum circle works because of the principle of “entrainment” – when a strong rhythm exists, the other rhythms around it fall in sync. Everyone can feel the pull of a strong beat, and can easily play along, provided they dont try too hard, essentially interfering in what is natural. The result is an experience in collaborative creativity that is accessible, inclusive and sounds really great!

Why do people go to drum circles?
People are drumming for a lot of great reasons. Not to become the next famous rock drummer, but because they want to feel good, reduce stress and reconnect with community. It becomes part of their recreational routine. We now have scientific evidence that group drumming may improve our health through boosting our immune system. (see Should Drums Be Sold in Pharmacies?).

What if I don’t have any musical talent?
It is a law of life that everyone is rhythmical. Beginning with our heartbeat, rhythm is something that all people have inside them. Because of that, everyone can participate in the drum circle. Even if you’ve never played an instrument before, you can contribute to the drum circle and discover the music inside you. (see You ARE Musical!)

What is the role of the drum circle facilitator?
The drum circle facilitator weaves together two main tasks – building the group cohesiveness while bringing out the musical potential. Drum circles are “facilitated” by individuals who have a good knowledge of drumming, rhythm, and music, and can empower a community of people to have fun and be connected. Today, there are training programs for people who want to facilitate drum circles and even a list-serve of e-mail dialogues across the world between drum circle facilitators.

Are there different types of drum circles?
There are many different types of drum circles for specific purposes. · Recreational drum circles – in community parks for playing together. · Corporate drum circles – to build teamwork and morale, using the metaphor to improve corporate functioning. · Diversity drum circles – to educate and demonstrate using music to build unity and appreciate differences. · Conference drum circles – as an general session or keynote. · Health and Wellness drum circles – at medical and wellness centers and senior living facilities, often facilitated by music therapists. · Music Store drum circles -for recreational drumming enthusiasts.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq. Website – www.ubdrumcircles.com

Creating a Musically Accessible Culture by Christine Stevens

Christine at New World Fair.1It’s like creating handicap-parking spots.
It’s like building on-ramps.
It’s like making reachable doorknobs.

We live in a culture of musical disability. “Music is healing” a message we’ve inherited from indigenous tribal people seems to be rarely shared. We live within the myth that music is a complicated, discipline-oriented task, filled with grueling practice, lengthy time commitments, constant critiques, and frustration. We have high expectations and we fall short.

Guess what? There is a paradigm shift occurring. It’s time to return music making to the accessibility it enjoyed in hootenannies and jamborees, to its purpose beyond entertainment and performance. It’s about creating safe, success-oriented, fun, playful musical experiences. We call this recreational music making. According to Merriam Webster, the term “recreatio” actually means “restoration to health.”

It just may be the most important revolution our culture has ever witnessed – the revolution of musicality.

Constructing On-Ramps

To create musical accessibility we need to build on-ramps, ways for people to enter music more gradually, instead of struggling up a long, steep staircase. Such construction is already happening in two main areas.

  1. A growing number of music coaches – facilitators of the new paradigm. The names of the professions are many; music therapists, drum circle facilitators, ORFF educators, and Music for People facilitators. They work within their stated professions to create musical accessibility. But imagine the impact of a more concerted effort. Imagine yourself belonging to this inter-disciplinary organization of troubadours, musical coaches, and visionaries of musical accessibility. Notice the difference?

    When you think of what it truly takes to change a paradigm, you begin to appreciate the connections. Last November, in a period of one week, I attended both the ORFF and Music Therapy conferences. It appeared amazingly synchronous. Is it any coincidence that only a few days later, a 200-person drum circle took place at the Percussive Arts Society Conference? Imagine three separate conferences with a similar desired outcome.

  2. Quick-start musical products – More and more user-friendly, non-intimidating instruments are being created. From paddle drums to electric keyboards that light up; boomwhackers to strum-sticks. But perhaps the simplest, most immediate access ramps are the drums. Offering the experience of community rhythm, many untrained people are entering the benefits of active music making. We are no longer limited to noisy kazoos! The quick-start instrument market is growing. Keep an eye out for the newest ideas.

Making Reachable Doorknobs

How many times have you heard people say, “Music is out of my reach?” The ORFF teacher’s pentatonic scale and the drum circle facilitator’s heartbeat rhythm. Both are portals into music making. Both create reachable doorknobs.

When we look across the various disciplines of musical coaches, some overall principles can be identified which create reachable doorknobs.

  1. Improvisation is KEY. Improvising seems to be easier for the “non-musician” and more challenging for the trained musician. How ironic!
  2. Musical development does not require an instrument from the start. Musical development begins with the music within and extends to singing, clapping, banging around in the kitchen, and eventually playing an instrument.
  3. Community support is critical. As opposed to individual lessons, which isolate the musical experience and force a state of self-conscious attention on the “student,” in community music making and group experiences, there is a feeling of belonging, support, and camaraderie.
  4. Musical skills development may not be the primary outcome. Music making extends beyond entertainment, into health, recreation, fitness, and spirituality. Let’s continue discovering and sharing these benefits of music making.
  5. The first music lesson in school is NOT the first experience with music. Children have been singing and playing for YEARS already. Let’s not treat them as if they are inexperienced. Let’s recognize and celebrate the experience they bring through their playfulness in music.

Rebuilding Society

I’m proposing we broaden our professional identity. Envision the larger perspective of musical accessibility, a culture rich with hootenanny-consciousness that once permeated barns, churches and parks of the 1920’s in the Adirondacks and Blue Ridge Mountains. Music making can become part of every medical center’s treatment program, every long-term care center’s activities, every fitness center’s creativity component, and every school’s requirements in every grade. Imagine families playing together, kids drumming together after school in the playground. Councils in every community made up of an inter-disciplinary team of doctors, teachers, musicians, and facilitators working together to create musical accessibility in their neighborhoods.

I leave you with this story. Two stone-cutters were asked what they were doing. The first stated, “I use tools to cut down the stone to form a brick.” The second one stated, “I am part of a team that’s building a castle.”

The next time you facilitate a musical event, in your home, school, or workplace, remember you’re not just creating one brick after the other. You’re part of a team that’s building a castle, an incredible culture of musical accessibility. As our team builds more ramps, more parking spots and more reachable doorknobs, we are witnessing the recreational music making revolution here and now.

Happy Revolutionizing. See you in the watchtower.

Could Drum Circles be the next Ropes Course? by Christine Stevens & Christofer DeGraal

Drum Circles capture the cadence of the new economy
while shaking up traditional notions about team-building.
- M. Kathleen Pratt, Fastcompany.com.


9583 Smple B 96 5x7


If you’ve attended a teambuilding retreat in the past ten years, you’ve probably experienced the benefits of the popular “ropes course.” With its characteristic features; challenge by choice, low and high elements, and trust games, ropes courses have been a standard in corporate teambuilding. But if you’ve been there and done that, what happens next? Is the ropes course paradigm still meeting the needs of today’s corporate clients, or do we need other options?

We live in an era of innovation and creativity, two primary aspects necessary for survival in the post-millennium economy. “Challenge” is being redefined beyond simply rising to a difficult task. Constantly creating and re-assessing a corporate and personal vision and discovering new e-commerce paradigms are among today’s challenges. And if you aren’t part of an employee’s personal and professional growth and happiness, they’ll leave or even worse, they’ll burn out.

What is this thing called the drum circle? Who is using this new leadership and teambuilding strategy and for what purpose? How does the drum circle paradigm meet the demands of today’s new leadership teams and corporate culture needs?

Similar to the ropes course, the drum circle is facilitated by trained professionals who are adept at not only leading the music and group activities, but also in de-briefing and processing the experience in a way that is useful for the client. Metaphors are processed and applied to corporate culture following the rhythmical activities.

But there are key differences.

Traditional ropes courses have been defined by three major elements. First is an established goal that drives a group’s performance and provides a tool for evaluation. Secondly are the limited resources that surround the group’s specific challenge; whether a time constraint, amount of materials, or number of people. This is meant to simulate the stress of daily tasks. Thirdly, there are established rules to obey, which are set by the facilitator.

In contrast, the drum circle has very different defining elements. First, the goal is constantly evolving according to the unique contributions of the players. Secondly, the group discovers its unlimited resources; internal and external, through the process of being supported in their creative expression. Thirdly, rules are created in the moment by the team, according to the discovery of what’s needed to reach their highest potential.

Apple Computer, Hallmark, AOL/Time Warner, Hewlett Packard, EMD, Dupont and Sony are part of a growing list of corporations turning to drum circles to assist in teambuilding strategies that fit the new corporate era. Guy Baker, founder of Catalyst Event Management, based in London with satellite offices in USA and Australia, has been successfully using drumming events for corporations for over six years. According to Baker, “In the ropes courses there are a few people at risk up on the ropes with the rest of the team standing on the ground yelling encouragement. But in a drum circle, everyone is at risk together, creating the rhythmic music. They all succeed or fail together. We are bridging the technology of ropes courses into the arts, which present a deeper, more affective and social challenge to teams.”

Perhaps the drum circle is a modern day embodiment of the philosophies that are being devoured by today’s successful creative leadership. According to Margaret Wheatley in Leadership and the New Science, “we need to develop new approaches – not management but encouragement, not control but genesis. Innovation arises from ongoing circles of exchange, where information is not just accumulated or stored, but created.”

At Internet World, 2001, a drum circle at the annual VIC party (Venice Interactive Community) erupted into a cathartic experience in self-expression, stress-reduction, and community building for the Dotcom industry executives who had survived a difficult economic year. According to Brad Nye, “the drum circle helped inspire a downbeat technology community to feel the power of rhythm and professional connection through our drumming.” The event was featured on MSNBC.com as a demonstration of the power of collaborative creativity and a much-needed morale building experience.

Perhaps there is a modern-day application of the wisdom of the ancients who practiced drum circles in order to strengthen the tribe, develop their creativity, connect to spirituality, and inspire and honor their gifts. And perhaps this modern day application has a place in corporate culture where tribal change is frequent and challenging. The drum circle certainly has all the makings to be the next rope’s course.


Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA, holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq. Website – www.ubdrumcircles.com

Top 10 Tips for Facilitating Drum Circles by Christine Stevens

There are some great things you can do to prepare to facilitate a drum circle.
christine in desert

1. Discover your own rhythm first. – From playing along with a recording to building up your confidence in expressing yourself musically, you can do a lot to demonstrate your love of music and inspire the circle. Don’t be self-conscious and don’t expect to “teach” anyone anything.

***Remember, its about people discovering the rhythm that’s already within them!

2. Get the gear you need. – Outfit your group in good equipment. World percussion instruments by Remo are the perfect drum circle tools because they are light-weight, hold their pitch, and sound GREAT. It’s important to have many different timbres:

- Bass (djembes, buffalo drums)
- Middle (bongos, smaller djembes)
- High (shakers)
- Nature sounds (thunder tube, and ocean drum)

3. Invite people to bring their own drums and percussion, emphasizing what type of instruments you want there. Don’t be afraid of found sounds or melodic pitched instruments like flutes or xylophones. Everything is really a percussion instrument.

4. Create the space. – The drum circle actually begins long before anyone arrives. It is your job to set up the circle in your own personal way. Make it welcoming. Pay attention to your surroundings and make sure there’s water available and ample space for a spontaneous dancer in the center. (To really encourage dancing – have a few shawls available!)

5. Be prepared to stop the group. – In any new sport, we always learn how to stop before we go. If you were new at roller-blading, you would want to know how to stop before the harrowing task of skating down a mountain.

Using your voice to cue a stop over a group of drummers can be futile. Even the loudest, “1-2-3-4- STOP” can’t be heard over a group of drummers. So, try cueing the group without using words. Your body becomes the conducting instrument. Experiment with this exercise.

***Stand in a quiet, comfortable posture. At the count of three, move quickly into a pose that demonstrates “stop.” Come back to neutral and try it again, making each one bigger and clearer as your experiment and find your own personal way to signal a group to stop.

6. Use dynamics. – In music, there is an ebb and flow of volume changes called “dynamics.” By raising and lowering your hands, you can successfully cue the group to play louder or softer.

7. Make people LAUGH! – Sometimes people are nervous about making music. They actually believed all those bad messages that, “they weren’t musical,” or that “they didn’t have rhythm.” To help people overcome these lies, find ways to help them laugh at themselves.

8. Encourage “Heads-Up” drumming. – It’s easy to get more into your own beat than noticing the group around you. Encourage people to steal rhythmic ideas from one-another, to learn from the exchange of rhythms within the circle. This creates more synchronicity and more connection.

9. Try not leading at all. – A lot of time, there is no need for a facilitator. A group can often successfully jam together without a conductor. This is the ultimate. Don’t try to do more than what the group needs you to do.

10. Be yourself – Incorporate your unique gifts in the drum circle. From tap-dancing, playing a saxophone, singing, and dancing, bring all of your personality into your experience.

Top 10 Tips to Run a Successful Drum Circle by Christine Stevens



Top 10 Tips to Run a Successful Drum Circle

1. Have participants remove their rings before playing hand drums. This protects their rings AND the drums.

2. If you use chairs – make sure they don’t have arm rests to best facilitate drumming.

3. Identify “Welcomers” and “Greeters” who help people choose drums and get seated.

4. Have Remo drums and percussion instruments beautifully displayed to allow people to discover the instrument that best fits their unique personality

5. Be clear about the purpose and intention of the drum circle…what it is and what it isn’t. Drum Circles are not a cure, but rather a tool that gets defined by the individual experience. Drum Circle

6. Start with a strong beat that isn’t too fast to follow. Often a low bass drum goes a long way to hold down the rhythm.

7. Try having people add into a groove one at a time. The rhythm will naturally build and it allows people the opportunity to really listen to each other.

8. Acknowledge the Ancestors and Cultures that have been practicing group drumming for centuries.

9. End the circle with a “one-word symphony.” Have each person stand up and say one word about their experience in the drum circle. Let the group find their own rhythm of speaking their word. Conclude with everyone standing.

10. Ask them if they want to come back and do it again!