Group drumming is a popular form of music making, used by all types of people for all types of reasons. From elementary classrooms to advanced ensembles and from drumlines to drum circles, group drumming offers people multiple choices for choosing ways to plug into rhythm and do something that is both fun and rewarding on many levels.
There are many forms of group drumming. Some are defined by the types of instruments that are used, while others are defined by the goals and methods that are used by the participants. This post will help you identify different types of group drumming by name, even when they might look similar in many ways. The most important aspects in identifying any form of group drumming is 1) the qualifications, training, and experience of the leaders, 2) the dynamics that exist between the participants and the leaders, and 3) the overall goals for the experience (education, recreation, ritual, therapy, team building, etc.)
Note that the following are general descriptions and that in reality, there is some overlap between drumming types. Each type is often used in conjunction with other types. For example, within a group drumming program, the leaders might have participants engage in different types of group drumming at different times (and for different reasons). Some types look very different and some look similar, but they all have different dynamics and qualities that make each type unique.
Groups of people who meet to develop their drumming skills as a group, often with the goal of performance. Most ensembles fall into two main categories; traditional music and contemporary music. Many ensembles practice and perform both traditional (re-creative) music as well as write their own pieces (compositional). Drumming Ensembles are usually run by a leader or team and often require participants to audition, come to rehearsals, and maintain specific standards of skills and knowledge.
A drum class is a group of students who gather under the guidance of a teacher for the purpose of learning the art of drumming. Most classes meet regularly and are progressive in nature. Some do allow drop-ins, but many are setup as a series of lessons. Students learn how to hold and play their instruments, how to play specific rhythms, how to combine instruments and rhythms to create ensembles, and how to function as a member of the musical community, often guided by traditions that provide status based on someone’s level of skill and experience. Classes are taught by experienced drummers and usually open to anyone who wants to participate.
Drumming in Music Therapy
Music Therapists sometimes use drumming, either with an individual or with a group, within their clinical practice. Within the contact of therapy, group drumming can take the form of an ensemble, an improvisation (similar in appearance to a drum circle), or even a drum lesson (demonstrating, learning, practicing, etc.). The therapist determines which type of drumming experience will best serve the clients’ therapeutic goals. Drumming in music therapy is guided by the therapeutic needs of the client and shaped accordingly by the therapist. While there might be some similarities in appearance to other types of group drumming, music therapy services are very different with regard to the types of interactions that happen on both a musical and personal level.
Drumming is often used as a form of ritual, as a cultural tradition and within contemporary programs, as a way to structure aspects of a gathering. Ritual literally means ‘to fit together’ and group drumming, by its nature, provides structures and dynamics that assist in the creation of both temporal and textural aspects of a program. Workshop leaders, speakers, and presenters often use drumming or drop rhythm making as a way to bring people together, organize around a central theme, and create a ‘container’ for other elements of the ritual or program.
A drum circle is a form of community music making where the primary focus is on inclusion and in-the-momement music making (improvisation). The main characteristic of a drum circles is that the music is co-created by the participants, who are often at various levels of technical musical development. There’s no leader in a drum circle and no agenda, except to make music together and have fun. Drum circles take many forms and might have a host, facilitator, or conductor, or they might be completely ad-hoc and open to the public. Drum circles are unplanned and spontaneous. Often, there are no requirements for participation, aside from some etiquette and general guidelines for keeping drums and people safe.
Interactive drumming is a structured music-based program that is led by a percussionist for individuals who often have no prior drumming experience and no expectations of continuing to play drums beyond the scope of the program. Interactive drumming provides instruments, musical guidance, and thematic material to safely bring a group of people through a program. ID Programs are often designed to promote certain beneficial qualities and values, such as communication, sharing, teamwork, and mutual support. ID Leaders are sometimes accompanied by dancers, singers, and other musicians. This type of group drumming is very popular in the world of corporate training and events.
Drumming games, also called Rhythm Games, are uses of drums and percussion instruments within a game or play format. To qualify as a rhythm game, there must be ‘play rules’ that structure and guide participants. The rules often limit, shape, and guide the ways people interact and play the game, just like any other type of game. Games sometimes have a beginning, a middle and an end, but they can also be cyclic – ending when the leader stops the game. Games are often played with teams, but sometimes participants self-select or switch roles depending on the play rules. Games are typically not focused on creating music as much as they are on creating certain types of relationships and dynamics between group members.
We engage in drum play when we use drums and other percussion instruments in non-musical ways. For example, we might create a sculpture out of instruments, or use instruments as props in a story. We might tell a story about an instrument or use drums to create a kind of ‘obstacle course’ within a space. If there drums are being used for something other than creating music, it’s likely that drum play is happening. Drum Play can be similar to Drumming Games in many ways and the two are often combined.
These are just a few types of group drumming, but there are others. I hope this article has helped you understand some of the differences and similarities between them. As always, if you have questions, please leave them below or send me a personal message.