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.

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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.