A drum circle is any group of people playing (usually) hand-drums and percussion in a Circle. They are distinct from a drumming group or troupe in that the drum circle is an end in itself rather than preparation for a performance. They can range in size from a handful of players to circles with thousands of participants.

In 1991, during testimony before the United States Senate Special Committee on Aging, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart stated:

Typically, people gather to drum in drum "circles" with others from the surrounding community. The drum circle offers equality because there is no head or tail. It includes people of all ages. The main objective is to share rhythm and get in tune with each other and themselves. To form a group consciousness. To entrain and resonate. By entrainment, I mean that a new voice, a collective voice, emerges from the group as they drum together.

Drum Circle Awaits

Drum Circle Awaits

Types of drum circlesRectify

In Western countries, drum circles have developed into three main types: "culturally specific", such as Samba bands or West African groups, "facilitated circles" with drums from any culture, and "Anarchic" circles - improvised communal drumming with no designated musical leader.

The culturally specific drum circleRectify

This is generally an informal gathering of drummers and percussionists who have some knowledge and skill in sets of rhythms that are specific to a culture. They would tend to use instruments that are authentic in relation to that culture. They may be peer led or given structure by teachers or performers.

The facilitated drum circleRectify

A facilitated drum circle is a facilitated jam. Drums and/or percussion are handed out or already in place, and people come not to 'learn to drum' but simply to have fun playing together.

Drum Circle Awaits 130 school children

The facilitator guides and encourages the participants to create exciting in-the-moment music. The focus is on the connection and communication between the participants. Drums and percussion from any culture, homemade or junk instruments are usually welcome at such a circle. Noted drum circle facilitators include Arthur Hull, who has written two handbooks for would be facilitators, John Yost , and Christine Stevens who set out some Drum Circle Principles in her book The Art and Heart of Drum Circles:

"There is no audience - Everyone is part of the musical experience,
There is no rehearsal - The music ... is improvised in the moment
There is no right or wrong - The Drum Circle is a safe, permissive explorational environment.
There is no teacher - Instead, the drumcircle is lead by a facilitator who has the dual focus: to build musicality of the group while also building the sense of community and connection."

The anarchic drum circleRectify

Anarchic drum circles are open gatherings of drummers with no formal leadership or moderation. The structure is often casual as the participants themselves are responsible for the starting and stopping of rhythms. Once a rhythm is introduced, others follow and contribute their own accents to build the beat organically until it either evolves into a new rhythm or loses its momentum and stops. Listening, improvisation and restraint are the keys to following the ever shifting layers of rhythm.

Drum Circles with a Spiritual focusRectify

Solstice Drum CirclesRectify

Summer Solstice Drum circles are growing throughout the world and many of the participants are of various faiths. The summer solstice is the day of the year with the longest daylight period and hence the shortest night. Winter Solstice drum circles are also growing in popularity. The day of the winter solstice is the shortest day and the longest night of the year. These Winter Solstice drum circles are often referred to as "Drumming up the Sun", and will frequently begin before dawn.


Neopagans have created another type of drum circle. At Neopagans festivals, people gather around a large Bonfire, the drummers generally sitting on one side to encourage better listening. The musicians sit together and play while dancers dance and circle around the fire. Often, those present will stay and play throughout the night until dawn, treating the evening as a magical (or alchemical) working. Sound is not limited to drumming alone; there is also chanting, singing, poetry, and spoken word pieces. This type of drum circle is not usually facilitated.

Shamanic drum circleRectify

This type of circle tends to center around Native American Cultural Drums and rattles but is primarily focusing on the spiritual rather than the musical aspects of the culture. They are a facilitated circle but the leader is facilitating a Shamanic journey type process rather than a musical event. Shamanic drumming is generally simple and repetitive, often considered as a form of prayer or method of trance induction, rather than as music or entertainment. During a shamanic trance or shamanic journey, the shaman uses the steady beat of the drum as a "lifeline" to find the way back to the world of ordinary consciousness.

Professional drum circle facilitatorsRectify

Professional groups exist in most countries to serve various markets. They are firmly established as a Team building activity in the world of corporate training and drum circle companies are regular visitors to schools. There is also a growing body of facilitators working in hospitals, prisons, hospices etc using drumming as a therapeutic tool.

Notable Drum Circle facilitators:Rectify

  • Babatunde Olatunji
    Drum Trance,
  • Arthur Hull
  • Mickey Hart

John Yost -

References Rectify

External linksRectify