Kalani is working with WePlayWellTogether.com to help music makers choose and enjoy instruments that work together, musically, and that are beautifully made by people who know music. Learn more
Flute Choir Cards make it easy to play harmonies and chord progressions (songs) on your Native American Flute. Use them in any key and with any flute to instantly create harmonies and music that flows, for all levels of experience. Include everyone in a flute circle, from beginners to advanced players. Play popular songs with accompaniment on your favorite chording instruments or use play-along tracks to access hundreds of popular songs.
Group drumming has risen in popularity over the past decade because it offers myriad features and benefits for helping meet the goals of music educators. Some of these include:
- opportunities for ensemble and solo play
- improvisation, composition, and recreating traditional music
- abundant, affordable, durable instruments
- vast musical material, vis a vis folk music from around the world
- opportunities to explore various roles, such as leader, follower, and partner.
- opportunities for musical and social skills assessment and development
- tie-ins to geography, sociology, cultures, customs, languages, and more
- connections with singing and dancing in various genres.
- performance goals and opportunities for achievement
Not all “drumming” may be equally “potent” when it comes to meeting the educational needs of teachers and students; however. While there are many resources (both published and via live training courses) that provide educators with the skills and knowledge they need to create developmentally appropriate curricula for their students, there are also some approaches to group drumming that may fall short in terms of content.
Most music educators will have heard the term “drum circle,” largely due to heavy marketing my drum manufacturers and “facilitators,” who present them as accessible musical experiences where there are “no wrong notes” and where the focus in on “community” over musical quality. While the message sounds wonderful, a closer look at the content begs the question: What is being taught and how will students use what they learn?
While there’s certainly nothing wrong with focusing on “making music easy” or “building community,” it’s also important to make sure that students are learning. Because drum circles are improvisational in nature, musical content is often limited to what students can already play, which doesn’t provide them with new and challenging musical material. Because there are “no wrong notes,” students may not be developing critical listening and performance skills they will need in band, orchestra, and other ensembles. Because the focus in on “community” and not on the musical product, students may gain a false sense of achievement, much like getting a “participation trophy” for playing a sport, which can result in a casual attitude towards their ensemble responsibilities.
Drum circles are casual, improvised drumming experiences that provide maximum freedom for participants. They are best suited for after-school programs, fund-raisers, and “special events” where music education is not the focus or goal. When music education is the goal, traditional drumming ensembles (learning, practicing and performing) is still the most potent tool to provide students with the content, skills, and opportunities they need to become successful, both musically and socially.
The “myth” of traditional music education is that it tends to “place students into stress mode” and can “take the fun out of learning.” I disagree! It’s true that poorly taught lessons by a teacher that has lost his/her spark can be a drag, but most educators I know are absolutely some of the most amazing, inspiring, and talented people on earth. The myth that a “facilitator” (who may or may not be a drummer or a musician) is a better person to bring the joy of music to students is likely more about marketing drum circles to schools and less about supporting students with high-quality curriculum, teaching process, and the inspiration they need to be their best.
This is why I, and many other music educators, are turning towards traditional drumming, such as the World Rhythms program, as a platform for group drumming in educational settings. Music educators can still give their students plenty of opportunities for improvisation and community building without abandoning quality music in the process. Rather than lowering the bar, we can help students clear it by giving them the skills and resources they need to reach their greatest potential.
Let’s honor the power of music to transform lives, not by diluting it, but by diving deeper.
Why are people taking the DCM course?
It offers a lot more than drum circle facilitation.
DCM is about facilitating creativity, community, and is based in a universal process of Inclusion, Cooperation, and Appreciation.
Drum circles are fine, but we can do so much more. A lot of people are looking for fun ways to engage people in music-based experiences without the need for music skills. They want to help people enjoy some of the many benefits of music making without having people feel the anxiety that can come from music performance or learning. The DCM course provides answers. Kalani is a master musician, educator, and music therapist. His specialty is in helping people make connections while being creative.
“Facilitation is much more than standing up in the middle of a group and conducting different activities. That’s more of a form of control. What we’re doing at the DCM course, is developing our skills to help empower people to be the ones leading themselves towards something magical. We believe that people are inherently creative and playful. Our role, as facilitators, is to unlock that creative, playful side of people by creating an environment that is free from judgement, abundant in resources, and encouraging.”
When we study DCM, we’re not just thinking about drum circles, drumming, or even music. We’re thinking about people. When we root our goals in what people can do, create, and feel, we point towards a personal outcome. We’re not just thinking about getting people to play the same beat or follow directions from a conductor. We’re giving people the permission and resources they need to find the magic in purposeful play. We never have to get out of the way because we’re never in the way in the first place.
Because DCM has its roots in music, education, and therapy, it’s especially powerful for people who wish to be of service to others, whether in the areas of recreation, education, or therapeutic experiences. As founder of teh Therapeutic Drumming Network, Kalani understands how to create meaningful experiences that help people make progress in a variety of areas, from emotional to cognitive and spiritual. DCM participants often find that they learn much more than they expected, which is one of the main lessons of DCM: Always expect to discover more than you were looking for.
There’s still room in the 2018 DCM course in Los Angeles.
Want to add a BASS voice to your music without spending a fortune and staying portable?
Traditional BASS instruments are bulky and expensive. Some of the most common include upright bass, electric bass, keyboard bass, or Orff Bass bars. Many of these option will run several hundred to over a thousand dollars, but that’s just to get the instrument. What about an instrument that is also super easy to learn and play?
The PADDLE BASS is the solution.
Kalani envisioned an instrument that anyone could pick up and start playing right away. Because the Paddle Bass has just one string, it makes it super easy to find the right note and join in. The”Boomwhacker Color” coded fret markers made it easy to find notes and coordinates them with other classroom-friendly instruments, such as Boomwhacker percussion tunes, chimes, and bells.
The Paddle Bass can be played on the lap or held to the chest. Children and adults find it equally accessible, even those with no musical training.
The Paddle Bass is perfect for music ensembles, elementary music class, ukulele clubs, music therapy settings, and anyone who wants to play the bass.
The Paddle Bass is available directly from Kala Brand instruments.
Register for the course here: http://playsinglaugh.com
Get the most from your DCM training course experience. I talk about what you can do, the books you could review, and some other steps to make your DCM experience the best it can be. The Developmental Community Music Course is a professional development program for music educators, music therapists, and community music facilitators. We explore music and the relationships created through active music making as a means for fostering communication, collaboration mutual support, and more. DCM Facilitators are able to design and present a variety of rhythm-based experiences, from drum circles to interactive drumming, musical games, and more. Influenced by Orff-Schulwerk and Music Therapy, the DCM Approach is the result of years of practical application of drumming, world music, improvisation, group facilitation, and community building. Kalani Das is a professional musician, Orff-Certified music educator, and Board-Certified Music Therapist with many years of experience as an educator, author, presenter, trainer, clinician, performer, and therapist.
Together in Rhythm Book with DVD: https://amzn.to/2qaMpJa
The Way of Music book with CD: https://amzn.to/2qhF3E7
Kalani’s World Rhythms Book: https://amzn.to/2HhcxKH
Drum Fun DVD: https://amzn.to/2Hf4Vs9
The Drum Circle DVD: https://amzn.to/2qesUzF
Akiwowo – Chant and World Drumming Arrangement
Learn all the drumming parts below.
Get the notation! Join the Club.
Akiwowo (Aki Wo Wo) is a song popularized by Nigerian Sing/Drummer Babatunde Olatunji. This arrangement was produced and performed by World Drum Club founder, Kalani Das and features Djembe, Dundun, Agogo, Caxixi, Ukulele, and Bass. World Drum Club is an online resource for drum and percussion lessons in a variety of styles, including latin, brazilian, west african and more. Kalani teaches lessons for beginners, intermediate and advanced players, as well as music therapists and music educators. Drummers of all kinds can enjoy percussion lessons for congas, bongos, cajon, dundun, djembe, shakers, rattles, cowbell, and a wide variety of hand percussion instruments. Music educators can use this channel to help teach their students about rhythm, timing, pulse, steady beat, dynamics, phrasing, meter, poly-rhythms, practice, ensembles, soloing, techniques, and playing world music. Support WORLD DRUM CLUB, for http://patreon.com/kalani. By supporting WDC, you support music education and the growth of quality drumming around the globe. Patrons get more access to videos, notation, and downloads and may message Kalani directly. Percussionists who are serious about their own education join WDC as part of their self-enrichment program.
Join Kalani for the Developmental Community Music Course
Drum circles have gotten most of the drumming-related press and promotion in the past 20 years, largely due to big spending and marketing efforts from major drum companies and organizations such as the International Music Products Association, but there are some other types of group drumming that offer more functionality and potential.
Why not a drum circle?
To be clear, drum circles can be fun. In fact, that’s what they’re supposed to be. They are a casual gathering of people to make music together, without the need to reach any particular musical goal, level of musicianship, or specific outcomes. These can all be seen as positive aspects, especially when getting everyone involved is the primary goal. But what about reaching other goals beyond involvement or having a good time? What are some of the best ways to reach musical and other goals? There are several.
Traditional Drumming Ensembles
Since drum circles are not about reaching technical music goals, there’s no place in them for focused learning (or teaching) with regard to techniques, rhythms, or even roles and responsibilities that often come with playing in a musical ensemble. To help teach musical skills and tap into the learning potential of music in general, engage people in a basic drumming ensemble where they learn about the instruments, simple techniques, and participate in the playing of a simple simple piece of music, such as a two-bar rhythm. There’s a myth floating around in some circles that asserts that people will feel stressed out if you try to teach them to play music. Not true! People love learning how to play instruments and play together. They get a huge sense of satisfaction from reaching even the most basic level of competency. Rather than playing down to your groups, elevate their self-esteem by giving them a simple goal, teaching them basic techniques and rhythms, and celebrating with them as they achieve something new.
Drum circles don’t have many rules: play what you feel, blend in, try to get along with the groove and everyone in it. They are meant to be flexible and fun, without rules and regulations. Musical Games (also called drumming or rhythm games) do have what we call “play rules” or “givens.” They are similar to other types of games, in that they happen within a structured setting, have specific “cause and effect” actions, rules, if-thens, and other guidelines that form, shape, and ultimately determine how the game is played. Musica games offer the structure that drum circles can’t. They’re great for school-age children, adults in team-building programs, groups who want to socialize in a fun way, group challenges, and more. Musical Games are easy to understand and very easy for most people to participate in. The leader lays out the rules and everyone knows what to do, whereas in a drum circle, people are sometimes not sure how to participate.
Mixed Media Improvisation
Drum circles are all about drumming, but what if not everyone is able to play an instrument or doesn’t feel like it? Allowing for ALL forms of musical expression is a great way to increase inclusiveness and take advantage of people’s fun expressive potential by opening up the playing field to include ALL types of media (music, art, word, movement) while allowing for any and all types of expression (improvisation). By not planning anything specific, the world play becomes much more broad and able to accept any form of play that comes. Mixed Media Improvisations often start in one area, such as speech, then brach out into body percussion, instrumental play, dance, movement, art-making and more. They offer far more in the way of expressive possibilities than a drum circle alone.
Drumming can be loud, especially when more than five or six people are involved. Using drums and percussion instruments as “play objects” is another way to access the novel and fun aspect of the instruments without having to worry about disturbing your neighbors (or your participants). With the average drum circle hitting sound pressure levels of over 90 dB, hearing loss can become a real factor. By using the instruments in a non-musical way, more like art or play objects, you reduce the noise while increasing the play potential. Using instruments to create sculptures is a fun way to spark creativity, story telling, and promote teamwork. Drum Play can be part of a larger music-based program, used either as an ice-breaker or closing session.
Guided Interactive Drumming
Drum circles are fine if everyone is game, but that’s not always the case. Even with an experienced facilitator (conductor/leader) helping everyone along, there may still be question marks hanging over people’s heads: “What am I supposed to do? How should I play? What is this thing? My hand are tired. Now what?” Sometimes, what people need and appreciate is more structure, not less. This is especially true for large groups of people who were not expecting to be drumming together, at a conference or training event, for example. Guided Interactive Drumming helps provide structure by giving participants specific ways to play together. GID events often feature a core group of drummers who do most of the playing and keeping the music together. The participants play “on top of” the music of the leaders, feeling the satisfaction of making music, without the need to know a lot or have musical skills.
Drum circles are fun, but there are many other ways to engage people in group drumming experience that might be more effective. Knowing which ones to use in a given situation, as well as how to create and present them, is part of what a Community Drumming Facilitator (CDF) does. As longtime percussionist, music educator, and music therapist, I help people learn how to present many types of drumming experiences. My goal is always to make sure my students are making the most out of any experience.
With the rise in popularity of drumming in music therapy, and many other areas including music education, recreation, and even corporate events, the term “drum circle” has become nearly synonymous with “group drumming,” but there are more than a few reasons a music therapist should carefully consider including the term as part of his/her professional practice.
The following is not a comparison of the relative value of drum circles vs. music therapy. Both have value and both are useful. It is an argument for the dis-use of the term “drum circle” within the profession of music therapy.
1. The definition of a drum circle is completely different than that of music therapy.
In her book, Music Therapy Improvisation for Groups – Essential Leadership Competencies, Susan C. Gardstrom, MT-BC, PhD, writes, “It is critical that you understand the distinction between clinical improvisation and a drum circle. The two experiences are often mistaken for one another, even though they are more different than alike.”
A drum circle is a community-based experience wherein participants self-organize, self-select, and create in-the-moment music as a form of both self-expression and community. It is the participants who decide why and how they participant, whether or not a facilitator is present. This is not how music therapy works.
Clinical improvisation is the process whereby the therapist and client(s) improvise together for the purposes of therapeutic assessment, treatment, and /or evaluation. In clinical improvisation, client and therapist relate to one another through the music, and the improvisation results in a musical product that varies in aesthetic, expressive, and interpersonal significance. This is how music therapy works.
2. Drum Circles Have a Stigma.
Drum circles have been in the news for years, but not always presented in a positive light. They’re often portrayed as gatherings of half-naked sweaty men and woman dancing around a bonfire, or tie-dye-clad hippies flaunting dread-locks and patchouli oil at a music festival. Even though the term has been pushed into schools and even the corporate training world, the stigma of the drum circle as a counter-culture “psychedelic music jam session” still remains to this day. The fact is, public drum circles, such as those found at places such as Venice Beach, are notorious for the unrestricted use of drugs. Music therapists may wish to not intentionally associate what they do with the stigma attached to some drum circles. It’s true that many facilitators create “drum circles” that are almost nothing like their public counterparts. Nevertheless, drum circles continue to be joked about as “hippie” culture to this day.
3. The Term “Drum Circle” is Misused and Overused.
The term “Drum Circle” has been used to describe so many types of drumming experience over the past two decades that it has lost most of its meaning. Because of over-marketing and selling drum circles as just about any type of drumming experience (from elementary school drumming to retirement home activities and corporate training), the term is often misused to describe everything from conducted improvisations, to singalongs with drums, traditional drumming, drumming games, guided interactive drumming, conducted drumming, and more. The are MANY types of group drumming beyond drum circles, but many people don’t know the difference and label everything a “Drum Circle.” Some people even use terms like “Drum Circle Games,” which adds to the confusion. Is it a game (a structured experience with clear guidelines for participation, procedures and play rules) or a drum circle? Who knows! This over-application of the term may be due to an effort by some to cram as many types of experience under the “drum circle” umbrella as possible, thereby creating the impression that the “drum circle movement” is much larger than it actually is. In any case, the term is now almost meaningless when compared to its original definition. See this Taxonomy of Drumming Experiences for some examples.
4. The Term “Drum Circle” is Not Part of the Profession of Music Therapy.
“Drum Circle” is an American term that rose in use during the 1960’s often to refer to groups of people gathering in public to play improvised music. Music Therapy, as a profession, pre-dates the popular use of the term, and has seldom included references to it in professional writings. The canon of music therapy literature and pedagogy, makes little mention of drum circles and instead, focuses on the use of various drumming types, some of which are mentioned above. Music improvisation has been part of music therapy since its inception and continues to play an important role to this day. On the surface, there are some similarities between a drum circle and a group music therapy session using drums and percussion, but as mentioned previously, the purpose, methods, techniques, roles, and responsibilities of the therapist and clients are entirely different.
5. Clinical Improvisation Already Provides Everything Music Therapists Need.
Although many music therapists are still not familiar with the term, “Clinical Improvisation,” the study, teaching, and codification of this aspect of music therapy predates the popular use of the term drum circles by several years. Music Therapists including Kenneth Bruscia, Tony Wigram, Susan Gardstrom, and Kalani Das (me), have all written about the use and applications of clinical improvisation, which can account for virtually every conceivable technique, strategy, and structure a music therapist would need in his/her work – even when using drums exclusively. It is likely because of the explicit nature of drum circles and the heavy promotion by drum companies, that the term rose in popularity, even when music therapy already provided the tools from within the profession. (What’s the definition of a “professional?” – Anyone from out of town!). Click your heels together three times and look no further than your own front yard!
6. Anyone Can Facilitate a Drum Circle.
There are no limits, rules, regulations or standards about who can lead a drum circle. If you’re a music therapist who claims to deliver “drum circles” as part of your music therapy services, then you’re opening the door for anyone else who offers drum circles to do what you do. As music therapists, we know that what we do is much more than just a drum circle, but do your clients know that, or the people who hire you? With the rise of corporate-driven training of drum circle facilitators, there are more and more people looking for jobs with special and sensitive populations. By using a non-music therapy term, such as ‘drum circle’ in your work, you could be opening up the door for increased competition from anyone with a car-load of drums and a weekend of training.
7. Music Therapy is About More than Fun.
REMO Inc., founder, Remo Beli, used to assert that drum circles were mostly about having fun. He was right! We can all appreciate the freedom of music improvisation and the good feelings that can come from self-expression and playing music with others, but music therapy is about a lot more than feeling good and having fun. Your job, as a music therapist, is to assess, treat, and evaluate your clients every single time you see them. You’re not there to just “have fun” and see that they “feel good.” If that’s what you’re doing, then you may not be practicing music therapy! Drum circles are fine, but you do so much more in your clinical work. Every music therapist needs to make sure that he/she is communicating a depth of knowledge to other healthcare professionals, especially those for whom we work. If you tell your supervisor that you “had a drum circle” during your music therapy session, what will they think about your professionalism? It would probably sound more professional to say that you “provided an improvised group drumming experience that sought to develop self-determination, confidence, and build trust among the participants.”
8. Drum Circle Facilitation Training is Not Music Therapy Training.
You may ask, “What about drum circle facilitation training? Can’t I use that in Music Therapy?” As mentioned above, drum circles and music therapy have very different goals and relationships between the “leader” and participants. They are about as different as hanging out with friends and a group therapy session. It doesn’t matter if they appear to be similar, they are actually quite different. Drum Circle Facilitation trainers may make claims about the applications of such a training program in music therapy, but are they truly in a position to make those claims? Why is there little mention of drum circles or drum circle facilitation in the music therapy literature? You may ask, “Why are there drum circles at music therapy conferences if they are not part of music therapy?” Good question – Easy answer: Fun and Marketing. Music therapists use drums and drum companies want to build relationships with music therapists. Having a fun drum circle at a conference is a great way to get your product into people’s hands and build your brand. This should not be taken as a directive to include drum circles as part of your music therapy practice; however. Drum Circle Facilitation training is aimed at helping the facilitator create accessible and fun musical experiences. Personally, I recommend that music therapist learn how to play drums and percussion instruments, then practice clinical improvisation techniques. These two areas of study will provide more than enough skills, techniques, and strategies for the professional music therapist to provide quality services – and, since music therapy training includes other methods besides improvisation, such as recreative, compositional, and receptive methods, it will open up more options for using drums than any drum circle training ever could. (See Taxonomy of Drumming Experiences above.)
9. The Term “Drum Circle” Can Be Confusing to Clients and Employers.
Music therapy clients and those who hire music therapists can be confused if a music therapist uses the term “drum circle” to describe what he/she does in music therapy. As already discussed, the term is somewhat of a slang term to describe casual music making in a community setting. There is a stigma around the term, like it or not. The term describes an experience that is largely unstructured, has no clear goals or objectives, and no clear client-therapist relationship. If a music therapist calls what they do a ‘drum circle’ and then proceeds to design and deliver a structured experience with specific goals and objectives (does their job), they are, by definition, not doing what they said they were doing – having a drum circle. This could cause confusion and even break down trust between the clients and therapist. For those clients who have participated in traditional drum circles, they may expect something completely different than what is offered. For those who have not experienced a traditional drum circle (either individually facilitated or group-lead) they may leave with an unrealistic perception of what a drum circle is, which doesn’t honor drum circle culture or the people who facilitate drum circles.
Drum circles are accessible and fun music-based experiences that can help people of all ages and abilities enjoy playing music in a community setting. The term has been in use since the 1960’s and is generally thought of as a counter-culture experience, sometimes among those on the “fringes” of society. Drum circles have been heavily promoted by drum companies and those who offer drum circle facilitation training courses and certification. Because the term has been heavily used for the past 20 years, it’s meaning has been somewhat diluted and distorted. Many people confuse the term with other forms of group drumming, such as traditional drumming, rhythm games, guided interactive drumming, and even drumming in music therapy.
Music therapists can avoid confusion and clarify their work by using professional terms, such as clinical improvisation, drumming improvisation, and group drumming. Music therapy training and drum circle facilitation training are more different than similar and are not interchangeable. Music therapists can differentiate themselves from “drum circle facilitators” by not using the term drum circle in their work, with clients, or business partners. Music therapists can facilitate drum circles outside of their music therapy practice by employing the techniques and skills learned in traditional drumming and clinical improvisation training. Clinical Improvisation training contains adequate and substantial information for any music therapist to effectively design and deliver group drumming experiences to his/her clients.
For more about drumming-based training for music therapists, visit the Music Therapy Drumming website and see my book, The Way of Music – Creating Sound Connections in Music Therapy.
Bruscia, K. (1987). Improvisational Models of music therapy.
Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
Das, K. (2011). The Way of Music:
Creating sound connections in music therapy. Denton, TX: Sarsen.
Gardstrom, S. (2007) Music therapy improvisation for groups:
Essential leadership competencies. Gilsum, NH: Barcelona.
Wigram, T. (2004). Improvisation: Methods and teachings for clinicians, educators and students. London: Jessica Kingsley.