Drum Circle Fundamentals

A circle brings an awareness of yourself, everyone there and the music brought forth.


Circle Time and Things to Think About:


  • Have fun, Relax, Be easy on yourself, Watch, Listen, Ask
  • Find out about what type of circle it is: Facilitated? Light facilitation? Jam Time? Leader? Meditative? Ceremonial?
  • If borrowing a drum, ask permission to play someone’s drum and give your thanks
  • Never touch someone else’s drum without permission, they are personal friends
  • Warm up your drum with the palm of your hands going in a circle
  • Give thanks to the drum, get to know and appreciate your drum
  • Give thanks to the mothers and fathers of rhythm and the African or other cultural roots
  • If you are new; observe, watch for drum skills – holding of the drum, body position and hand position
  • Sit quietly, start slowly, play softly at first until you figure out the circle
  • Relax, find the pulse, find the tempo
  • Come in on the pulse, find the one beat, match the pulse
  • If you want, repeat the rhythm that’s just started, this gets the rhythm strong at the start and it gives you time to get connected to the group as your gettng ready to bring in your own rhythms!
  • Match the bass, middle of the drum with the group, then add variety
  • Listen for patterns and repetitions, match up once in a while, repeat those then do partial rhythms.  Leave space in your rhythms so there’s a conversation and it’s not just all the drums talking at once.
  • Watch for a rhythm’s lead hand, is the leader right or left-handed, this might help you
  • Fill in the space, add some hand-held percussion, and bring in some splash!
  • Watch for introductions, breaks, and ending signals
  • Find out if there is a circle fee or donation
  • Say your thanks for using the drum and to the facilitator / host
  • Return your drum and chair, mat etc.

Your Drumming Body – Things to Remember:

Raven drumming in Penticton

  • Start slowly, relax, say OMmmmmm, breathe
  • Be ready to play the drum with respect and a relationship.
  • You are not going to be hitting the drum.
  • You are ready to lift the music out of the drum. It’s a patty patty pat pat.
  • It’s a beautiful sound no matter what pitch you are playing.
  • Review body posture, sit up straight, lift your bum cheeks with a pillow if needed
  • Eyes up for communication
  • Drum is tilted away from you
  • The position of the drum head is on a slant facing away from your torso
  • The bottom front of the drum is on the floor, the back is up off the floor
  • The drum is held between your legs
  • Your feet can wrap around the bottom
  • Your thighs hold the drum
  • The drum can be tied around your waist with a scarf or belt to secure the drum to you.
  • The drum a fist high in height above your thighs
  • Hands –  3 different positions are used; bass, tone, slap
  • Ready position is a two hands on the drum in a triangle shape in front of your belly button, the thumbs close the triangle on the rim of the drum and the fingers close the top of the triangle near the middle of the drum
  • Tone position – pull back from ready position and your hands are in tone place with your pads and fingers on the drum and your thumbs up
  • Bass positon is a soft but firm closed hand on the near middle of the drum, the heart spot
  • Slap position is the same as tone but your fingers are open to get a higher sound and your wrist may have some flexibility if you want
  • Feel the rhythms within, sing in your head
  • Feel the rhythm in your body, shoulders, bob of the head
  • Make a pretty sound on the drum, 3 distinct sounds on the drum positions
  • Hinge at the elbow, your arm and hand are one drum stick
  • The wrist bends a bit to make a slightly cupped hand, wrists may bend a bit and drop below the rim
  • Have soft hands, they relax coming off the drum, the wrist position is firm but not locked, hands are cupped just a bit
  • Fingers are closed for tone and bass sound, this can vary on the bass with some drummers
  • Your thumb is up and out on the rim for the tone sound, while your fingers from the pad of your hand up are on the outside part of the drum head. An open and up thumb can prevent you hurting yourself on the ropes and rim
  • Your fingers are open for the slap sound on the rim, your fingers snap off the drum and the wrist can come back to relax on the rim at times
  • Wrists can drop below the rim on the tone hits
  • Relax, lifting hands to heart level and lower in faster rhythms
  • Love the drum, pat the drum, lift music out of the drum
  • Breathe, sing!
  • Connect with Mother Earth
  • Have fun with the drum!


“Rhythm is the soul of life.
The whole universe revolves in rhythm.
Everything and every human action
revolves in rhythm.”

– Babatunde Olatunji