Benefits of participating in a Drum Circle

Drum Circle Benefits for Everyone

The Drum Your Dreams Program was amazing!  Arthur engaged each and every resident.  We had 100%participation, even from the few residents that are not really “joiners” participated.  I would definitely recommend this program to all Alzheimer’s/Dementia care facilities.  Thank you so much for providing us such a wonderful program!!”  Katrina Hicks,  Activities Director of The Memory Center Richmond-A Memcare Community

Drum Circle Benefits! It is well-known that playing a musical instrument can help develop mental competency and motor skills as well as provide other intangible benefits to the player (and the listener). It is also widely documented that the unique rhythmic and social aspects of a Drum Circle can produce a broad range of benefits among participants. These benefits are considered important elements in the physical, psychological and social developmental dimensions of a healthy and well-adjusted individual. Best of all, a Drum Circle is accessible and beneficial to absolutely anyone regardless of age, ability or personality type.

Benefits of participating in a Drum Circle:
It’s suitable for anyone regardless of age or musical abilities. – Promotes effective interaction and cooperation among group members – Promotes bonding as a group and a sense of individual belonging and purpose – Simultaneously stimulates both right and left brain activity which is associated with creative or “out of the box” thinking – Develops clear communication skills by encouraging the mutual exchange of ideas – The “Soloing” role provides a safe and supportive environment for creative expression – The “Supporting” role demonstrates the uplifting power of allowing others to shine – Both of these “roles” promote a give-and-take balance between listening and speaking which is required for effective conversation and relationships. – The sound of one drum in the circle demonstrates the profound effect of the individual on the larger group.

Drum Your Dream at Riverside Pace Community Senior Center in Richmond VA.

 “Arthur, The residents loved today’s interactive presentation…..I have to make sure I scheduled you again and again and again. You were absolutely wonderful.”  Tina Thomas, Activities Director of  Williamsburg Landing.

Participating in a Drum Circle helps develop confidence which benefits all types of human interaction from one-on-one to public speaking It’s a celebration of life capable of breaking down all of societies barriers: age, gender, culture, religion, language -Places the participant squarely in the here-and-now, which suppresses feelings of regret about the past or anxiety about the future and allows the individual to enjoy life in the moment – Promotes deep breathing and cardiovascular health – Releases stress and subsides anger – Revitalizes and energizes in a healthy and uplifting way – Sparks a general feeling of well-being – It’s just plain fun!

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Autism and Drum Circle Rhythms

The Autism NoteBook – April/May 2014 :

Awareness of the Rhythm… Natural Groove Circle Style

By Jorge Ochoa

The Autism NoteBook — April/May 2014

Many children with autism seem to have an innate natural rhythm. Does your child tap, flap, or beat on whatever is in his field of reach? Do his beats shift with his moods? Is he comforted by simple patterns in his environment? If the answer is “yes”, then maybe it’s time to consider participating in a drum circle.

What’s it all about?

“A drum circle is a rhythm-based event that utilizes a variety of hand drums and percussion instruments to empower a community of participants with the ability to create beautiful, spontaneous music. Drumming and cooperatively creating rhythmic based music as part of a group is a kinesthetic activity that involves everyone, regardless of musical experience or ability. A drum circle benefits individuals by connecting them to a common purpose of creative self-expression … groups have found the power that drum circles have to create an environment for joy, expression, team building, stress relief and communication.” – Drum Circle Facilitators Guild.

Just Play

“The act of playing is an important tool that influences a child’s life. The primary goals of childhood are to grow, learn, and play. It is often through play that children learn to make sense of the world around them. It is a child’s ‘job’ or occupation to play to develop physical coordination , emotional maturity, social skills to interact with other children, and self-confidence to try new experiences and explore new environments.” (AOTA, 2012) Far too often in the present world of ever-exhausting deadlines, we have a tendency to forget to take a moment and “just play.”

Activities like a drum circle encourage play, as well as other functional life skills. Here kids aren’t asked to “perform” what someone else is dictating; rather children are invited to share their own personal rhythm. They learn a variety of ways to express themselves in a nonverbal, non- confrontational, and free-spirited way. This type of activity helps kids with autism move beyond their “boundaries” and gives them a “sense of belonging”.

How the Session Begins

In a drum circle, special attention is given to the set-up. Chairs are placed in a circle (which includes one for the instructor). By keeping the group fairly small, it is possible to give individualized and extended attention to the participants. Drums are placed on every other chair and alternated with other percussion instruments such as shakers and rhythms sticks. Additional chairs are placed around the outside of the circle for family and loved ones to sit and assist as needed. Each session begins with some basics on how to play the instruments and once a level of comfort is reached, the beat goes on.

A variety of skills, far surpassing musical ability, can be developed as a result of participating in a drum circle.


Being part of a drum circle gives both verbal and non-verbal children the chance to experience the give and take that occurs during a conversation. During call and response sessions, one beats the drum, and then the next one beats the drum, keeping in rhythm with one another. In addition, drumming can give children a voice and a means to express their emotion through the rhythm, tone, and volume of their drumming.

Focus and Attention

Since this activity has no intimidating qualities and the children are excited to participate, implementing “follow the leader” activities is simple. The instructor begins playing a simple rhythm and tells the group to start playing when they hear the word “go”. Next, the instructor plays and each person plays when their name is called. They continue playing and the group builds upon each other’s rhythm. This helps in building attention, self-control, and teamwork.

Turn-taking and Sharing Skills

Different instruments are played together at any given time during a drum session. The shakers may play first, then the sticks, and finally the drums. Each group has the opportunity of alternating their playing. Boy and girl playing are also alternated. These 2 activities enhance turn-taking skills. Half way through the session, sharing skills are targeted when those who have a drum switch with someone that has a shaker or rhythm sticks. Everyone gets the chance to experiment with different instruments.

Motor Skills

During drumming sessions, participants utilize eye/hand coordination, vestibular movement and visual perception. Motor skills emphasized include coordination, strength, and endurance as hands and arms are moving and the body is swaying to the rhythm.

Sensory Acceptance

Group drumming is surely a sensory “rich” experience. It assists with reinforcing body awareness, touch, balance, vision, and hearing skills. There have been reports of children becoming less sensitive to loud sounds after participating in drumming activities.

It brings a smile to everyone’s face when the facilitator of a drum circle senses the enthusiasm of the crowd and brings the playing to a universal halt with a “1, 2, 3, 4, stop! “. The children silence in unison. A that moment it’s easy to see the calmness, yet excited looks on their faces. They wait with anticipation for the cue to continue. As soon as they hear the anticipated “1…2 … back to the groove!” they are ready to join the group jam once again.

Jorge Ochoa is a registered and licensed occupational therapist living in San Antonio, Texas. He facilitates TamboFunction through his company Tambo-Rhythms. More info on group drumming can be found at





How Drumming Helps Children with Special Needs

Your Musical Self

Using music to learn, heal, and live

by Kimberly Sena Moore, Drumming for Development: How Drumming Helps Children with Special Needs.  Using drums for a child’s social, emotional, motor, and cognitive development

Published on March 10, 2011 by Kimberly Sena Moore in Your Musical Self.  This article was originally written for PediaStaff, a provider of pediatric therapy services.  A friend of mine, and fellow music therapist, Kat Fulton shared a story with me recently:

I utilized drumming at a camp for kids who have parents with cancer. We sang, chanted,  and drummed. At the end of it all, I invited each child one by one to come to the center whenever they wanted. When they got to the center, they could cut off the drumming and share something they are thankful for. Then we’d continue drumming. After drumming and singing, and playing rhythm games for an hour, you can imagine how supported and safe these kids felt among their peers. One little 6-year-old girl came to the center and said “That my mom can still be happy.” Her father had passed from cancer

This little girl experienced what many other children and adolescents have experienced before: group support and the feeling of safety that allowed her to share a big feeling. All facilitated through drumming.

Drumming isn’t an experience that “only” music therapists can use. In fact, many professionals with a little bit of training can use drum and percussion experiences to help children with special needs in the areas of motor strength and control, speech and communication, social skills, emotional expression, and cognition.

But what exactly is drumming? And how can it help children with special needs? Let’s explore…

What is Drumming?

When I first approached Kalani, a professional percussionist, Orff-certified music educator, and music therapist, and asked “how do you see group drumming used as a therapeutic tool?”, he responded with “how are we defining the term ‘drumming’?”

Kalani then shared with me an article he wrote with music therapist Bill Matney called “A Taxonomy of Drumming Experiences.” This article outlines various type of drum-based experiences: Drum Play, Traditional Drumming, Guided Interactive Drumming, Drum Circle, Musical Improvisation, Clinical Improvisation, and Technique-Oriented Play.


When they envision “drumming,” most people think of the Drum Circle, which the taxonomy on the Music Therapy Drumming (MTD) website describes as an interactive group process that utilizes a variety of drums and percussion instruments. Although drum circles can be used for recreational purposes, they can also be used to target other goals. The drum circle facilitator, or leader, need not be a formally trained musician, but s/he should have some musical skills and some sort of training in drum circle facilitation.

However, “drumming” can include any number of experiences, from traditional playing to improvisation to “drum play.” For the purposes of this article, “drumming” will refer to any type of group drumming experience–the exact type of which will depend on the goals of the group.

Does Drumming Work?

The evidence seems to say “yes.” In December 2010, a research study was published in the journal Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. This study looked into the effectiveness of a drumming program in LA called “Beat the Odds”

This program is geared for low-income youth and integrates drumming activities with counseling to help foster student growth and development.

What did the study find? That participating in drumming activities led to significant social and emotional improvements for the students involved.

This wasn’t the first study to look into how drumming helps children. One of the earliest studies, published in 1976 in the Journal of Music Therapy,  investigated how a percussion “game” improved social behaviors for children with mental retardation.

Since then, research has provided support for the positive effect of drumming experiences on social behaviors, grief, self-expression, self-esteem, group cohesion, depression, behavioral issues, bimanual coordination, and learning for children and adults both with and without disabilities (you can find a short bibliography at the end of this article).

How Does Drumming Help Children?

This is all well and good, but what exactly can drumming do? And, more specifically, how can it help children with special needs?

Music therapist Bill Matney shares that there are many reasons why drumming can be useful as a therapeutic tool. Drums and percussion instruments are progressively accessible, physical, sensory, portable, socially interactive, expressive, cultural, and offer a unique aesthetic experience. Someone who has never played a musical instrument in his/her life can pick up a shaker and participate in a drumming experience.

For children with special needs, drumming can be a powerful tool to help them address:

  • Social Needs. Drumming often occurs as a collaborative, interactive process. If facilitated correctly, participating in drumming experiences can help a child work on skills such as turn-taking and sharing, as well as help them feel they are part of a group contributing towards a group process.
  • Communication Needs. Playing a drum or percussion instrument can be a useful way to communicate nonverbally and to “listen” to another person’s nonverbal communication.
  • Fine and Gross Motor Skills. This may almost seem self-evident, but different playing techniques can be used to help work on different fine and gross motor skills. This can even be true for developing lower extremity strength (e.g. imagine standing and playing a large conga drum).
  • Emotional Needs. As with the girl Kat Fulton worked with, participating in a drumming activity can help a child feel safe enough to express his/her feelings. Additionally–and speaking from experience–there’s nothing much better for releasing angerthan banging on a drum.
  • Cognitive Needs. By participating in a drumming experience, children can be working on attention, impulse control, anddecision-making skills.

As with many interventions, there are contraindications involved. Kalani notes that too loud a volume, playing with poor technique, and using instruments with a high vibrotactile response can potentially pose problems. This is why getting trained as a facilitator is important.

What Training is Required?

One of the benefits of utilizing drumming experiences is that trained leaders or facilitators do not have to be trained musicians (a pre-requisite for becoming a board-certified music therapist). There are various training programs and resources around the country that offer training for future drumming facilitators.

If you are interested in learning more about drumming, please check out:

And for further reading on the subject, please check out Bill Matney’s book Tataku: The Use of Percussion in Music Therapy.

I would like to thank Kalani ( and Developmental Community Music), Kat Fulton (, and Bill Matney ( for sharing their drumming experiences, expertise, and resources. I could not have written this article without you!

Follow me on Twitter @KimberlySMoore for daily updates on the latest research and articles related to music, music therapy, and music and the brain. I invite you also to check out my website,, for additional information, resources, and strategies.



Brakke, K., Fragaszy, D.M., Simpson, K., Hoy, E., &  Cummins-Sebree, S. (2007). The production of bimanual percussion in 12  to 24-month-old children. Infant Behavior and Development, 30 (1), 2-15.

Gunsberg, A.S. (1991). A method for conducting improvised musical  play with children both with and without developmental delay  in preschool classrooms. Music Therapy Perspectives, 8, 46-51.

Haines, J.H. (1989). The effects of music therapy on the self esteem of emotionally disturbed adolescents. Music Therapy, 7, 43-53.

Jorgenson, H., & Parnell, M.K. (1970). Modifying social behaviors of mentally retarded children in music activities. Journal of Music Therapy, 7(3), 83-87.

Kennedy, R. (2008). Music therapy as a supplemental teaching  strategy for kindergarten ESL students. Music Therapy Perspectives,  26(2),  97-101.

Lehrer-Carle, I. (1971). Group dynamics as applied to the use of music with schizophrenic adolescents. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 3(2), 1971, 111-116.

Montello, L., & Coons, E.E. (1998). Effects of active versus passive group music therapy on pre-adolescents with emotional, learning, and behavioral disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 35(1), 49-67.

Currie, M. (2004). Doing anger differently: A group percussion therapy for angry adolescent boys. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 54(3), 275-294.

Ringenbach, S.D., Allen, H., Chung, S., Jung, ML., (2006). Specific instructions are important for continuous bimanual drumming in adults with Down syndrome. Down Syndrome: Research & Practice, 11(1), 29-36

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Welcome to Drum Your Dream

Creating Unity in the Community with Drum Circles™

We provide Professionally Facilitated Drum Circles for Nursing homes, Schools, Corporations, Special Needs Groups, At-Risk Youth, Hospital Patients,Festivals, Nonprofit Organizations, Private parties,   Weddings, and Community based events. Provides Professional Drum Circle Facilitation for your organization or special event. Our group drumming can be a powerful vehicle for connecting the body, mind and spirit, supporting healing and transformation in the process. We create a safe, supportive environment in which participants can freely explore and play. Participants tap into their individual creativity and experience connection to the group, releasing inhibitions and experiencing true mental/physical benefits.

Drumming Fun for Everyone

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