Six Steps for Peace Building Through Drumming


“The best way to create peace is more music festivals.”  – His Holiness the Dalai Lama

It’s not Kum Ba Yah, peace-love-and-granola, or healing wounds of war.  Drumming is not a magic salve to heal humanity.  It is however, an effective tool to address conflict, violence, war, bullying, and other challenges.  All can be mitigated with one key element; relationship building, facilitated through improvisational music making.  Oddly, we bond quicker through sound and rhythm than verbal communication; through drumming, we bond at the heart.

Drum circle facilitators are naturally trained peace-makers.  We understand how to create unity and value world rhythm-cultures.  Who knows whether enemies are sitting in your circle?  What I found in doing peace-building programs for over a decade, is that it takes more than just drumming – we need to introduce melody, harmony, and silence.  All four elements of what I call “music medicine.”

Here’s how..

6 Steps to Peace-Building through Drum Circles:

  1. Begin with an ice-breaker where everyone plays the same instrument. After you welcome the group, use shakers, body percussion or even stretching. Recruit a few “ringers” to create a small pit band to support the groove. This initial step sets the container for the rest of your program.
  2. Offer a quick drum lesson. Even with cultures with rich drumming traditions, include tips on how to play and hold the drum. Use call and response with different group members taking a turn leading to keep expanding the rhythm vocabulary.
  1. 1 – 2- Lets all play! Introduce the drum circle with the purpose of entrainment. Avoid using cues that set people apart, which is counter-productive to relationship building.  No soloing or fancy facilitation that divides the group in half.  Dialogue is better than division.  Sculpt eye-contact across the circle or rest hands on drums to feel the vibration of others. 
  1. Honor silence. Silence at the end of the groove may be the strongest moment of felt-peace; so let it ring. People can breathe more deeply. It’s a rare and holy thing.  We must pause to feel the power of co-creating in community. 
  1. Cultural sharing. Invite participants to share a cultural rhythm, dance, song with the circle.  This is where Music Medicine comes into play; allowing melody for the heart and harmony for the soul and silence for the mind. This is a window to peace-making.
  1. Closing. Invite any comments and close with a one-word share.  This lets you know the impact of the program.  There may also be a closing tradition or song that applies.

4 Essential Tips:

  • Trust the rhythm and music. Allow the music to do the work. Do not push.  Honor the pacing.
  • Maintain neutrality and curiosity. Cultivate an awakened interest in the cultural capitol that’s buried inside those images of soldiers at war.
  • Partner with peace-building agencies. I’ve partnered with funding sources like Musical Ambassadors of Peace, License to Freedom, and Center for World Music.
  • Learn their rhythmical- language. Make sure you know a few rhythm patterns, songs or dances from the cultures you serve.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is the founder of UpBeat Drum Circles and author of The Art and Heart of Drum Circles, Music Medicine and the Healing Drum Learning Program. She leads trainings in drum circle facilitation and music medicine  Her work with Iraqi refugee women has been featured at San Diego World Refugee Day.
Christine hosts an online training program for drum circles – drum circles online