Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Drumming Up Some Fun

I am a drum circle novice.  It is a 2-part problem for me.  First, I have yet to experience a real drum

circle for myself.  I have a lot of books and resources (see below), but I haven't attended one of those great conferences with an expert.  Second, with elementary students, getting a drum circle to actually "groove" is very difficult.  We do simple drum activities, but seldom do we attempt a real "drum circle" where everyone is in the groove at the same time.  But I do have a great set of drums.

Recently, I finally was able to get a "real" drum circle going and loved it.  My 8th grade general music class has been doing really well and we have been studying rhythm.  So, I loaded up my car and took my drums and a few other percussion instruments across town to the middle school.

If you are a drum circle novice and just trying to get it started, here's what worked for me.  Most are from Kalani's book "Together in Rhythm".

• Pieces of Eight - Everyone picks a number, one through eight.  Counting slowly, students play once on their own number (once every 8 counts).  To make it more difficult, students can then pick two numbers and/or try speeding up the tempo.  Then stop counting out loud and just play.

• "Let's all play our drum" - The teacher says this phrase at various tempi, but the students only play on the word "drum" at the end of the sentence.  Shorten the phrase to "play our drum".  Lengthen it to "Let's all play our drum because it's so much fun" and have students play on the word "fun".  Start leaving out words so that students have to think the phrase and still play at the right moment.

• Rumble Ball - Two students pass a ball between themselves.  When the ball rolls on the ground or flies through the air, the class "rumbles" on their instrument (a light tapping or rolling sound).  When the ball is caught, the class hits the drum once.

Yes, I know it's not a circle ... 
• My own variation on Rumble Ball - Instead of using a ball, use your hands.  "Roll" your hands for a rumble, and clap for a hit.  To make it more interesting, add a dynamic level to the gestures.  When you roll or clap low to the ground, the class plays softly.  When you roll or clap higher from the ground, the class plays forte.  Makes for some great dynamic contrasts.

• After all this, we were finally ready for a "real" drum circle that was able to go on for several minutes.

By the end, we were exhausted as a group.  And I still had to load my drums back in the car and drive across town ...

Here are some great drum circle resources I have found, if you are just getting started like me:
Kalani - Together in Rhythm (DVD included) from Alfred - great activities and ideas
Will Schmid - World Music Drumming (classroom kid includes teacher guide, DVD, and reproducible student book) from Hal Leonard - great ensembles to use
Mark Burrows - Accidental Drum Circle from Heritage Music Press - anything Mark Burrows is great for elementary music!
Christine Stevens - The Art and Heart of Drum Circles (CD or DVD included) from Hal Leonard


  1. I know this is an older post, but I found it at the perfect time. Thanks for the suggestion; just the boost I need to give it another try.

  2. Mary Knysh is also a great resource for drum circles! :)

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