Spiritual Gathering Drum Circles
By Shannon Ratigan - drumcircles.net
I facilitate drum circles quite often for spiritual gatherings, religious services, and drumming in churches,
pretty often. Sometimes they are outdoors, sometimes in the church, or in the Rec hall, or parish hall after
a Sunday service, or for a special event they are having. Sometimes even at weddings and/or receptions.
Many drum circles in churches focus on spirituality; some others focus more on drumming as a social activity.
Some groups like to bring in a variety of activities on a monthly basis. A drum circle can be one of many.
I work with all paths from New Age, to Baptist, Catholic, Presbyterian, UU, and Episcopal churches,
as well as groups of pastors. Iím open to most any group that wants to drum.
These are just my opinions, and I hope to help anyone that is considering doing this kind of a drum circle.
I feel that if I am bringing drumming to someone or some group, it is a good thing, and itís good for them.
No matter who they are. Or what path they are from, or what they may represent. The same goes for kids
groups, adults, special needs, business, and corporate drum circles.
I hardly ever get asked what my faith or belief is, but I do get asked that sometimes. I say the truth, this:
ďI am respectful and understating of all faiths. This is what I do for a living, and I have to be respectful
of all paths, and faiths.Ē Most of the time they understand, and it doesnít go beyond that. The caterer at
church functions hardly ever gets grilled, so neither should I. Iím just there to bring drumming to people,
and help to guide them on a spiritual drumming experience, if that is what they wish to have.
We all have certain boundaries on who we want to work for. I have mine. And if working with a particular group
feels uncomfortable to you, well, you make your own decisions on who you want to drum with. Whether you volunteer
your time, or are hired to do this, it can be very satisfying work. It doesnít pay very well monetarily, but
it does inside your heart. You are helping to facilitate a spiritual drum circle experience, and helping
to bring some joy into the community, and the world. Even if it only reaches a few people.
More and more groups are realizing the significance of spiritual drum circles. Itís not just for visionaries
anymore. One pastor I worked for was criticized for doing this, until he invited the other pastors to attend
one. They changed their mind once they experienced the power of a drum circle and how meaningful it was to
When Iím approached to host a drum circle at a spiritual gathering, or church, I donít have a problem with it.
Drum circles bring people from all paths together, and the world would be a better place if they sat down and
drummed about it. Communicating musically transcends talking, and there would be a lot less fighting in the world.
When I am contacted for the first time about a spiritual drum circle, I always try to have a face to face short
meeting with them, but it is not always possible. I want to better understand their vision of the drum circle,
and exactly what they would like from it, and from me. I have done this communication via email only before,
but I will try to have a meeting if I can. I recall one time it was for a conference that was a convention
of pastors who were assembling from around the country. It wasnít possible to have a meeting, as even the
organizer lived 3000 miles away.
The pastor at one particular church that Iíve done multiple drum circles for once said, ďA drum circle is
truly a spiritual experience.Ē and ďit will truly bless your life and the lives of your people.Ē Well said.
It seems rather odd to me that I started on this drumming path for reasons that had to do with my needs. I started
drumming because I was a hyperactive child, and then I joined the school band. Later on, facilitating drum circles
turned into a hobby, and then into a calling. People began telling me that I was helping them reach new levels of
spirituality. I about fell over when one of the regulars at a weekly nightclub drum circle began calling me the
groupís Shaman, a holy man on a quest to use the drums to help the world. That was hard for me to accept
intellectually, but at times, I can feel the group, and myself, tuning into something much bigger and
more important than I can even get my head around. So, while I canít explain it,
I can merely let go and try and accept it.
Often with spiritual drum circles, some of the people will already have a drum of their own, and they will come
parading into the circle with it. It always makes me smile when I see that.
Many times Iíve needed to research a particular church just because I wasnít familiar with their uniqueness.
I should at least have some understanding of them and what their beliefs are before I go in there and bring
a drum circle to them. What behavior from me might they expect, what are some of their practices, customs?
Real no - noís? I usually do a little homework here. Itís the polite and professional thing to do. Would
they like to begin with a prayer? Most of them do, but I always ask. Some also want to make announcements
prior to any drumming. Knowing in advance if there will be kids in attendance is obviously very important.
If itís out in a public place, are they okay with people happening by and joining in? Most of them are.
Be sure to make arrangements for them to have chairs set up, and mention that everyone will need to remove
rings and jewelry prior to playing a drum. Mention to ask for some shade if out in direct sunlight.
If they are reluctant to remove jewlry I ask them to play a doumbek which can handle it better.
They will likely want to have a bulletin, flyer, or email they send out announcing the event. Ask them to
mention that. Sometimes they will be serving refreshments or even a meal. Of course we would prefer them
served after the drumming, and I do try to suggest that, but sometimes itís unavoidable and I have to
roll with it. There may be a guest speaker before, then the meal, then the drumming.
If itís what they want, okay then.
Usually itís the pastor, or organizer is the one I ask questions like this. Sometimes the leader makes the
decision before we start. Often, I can only ask them when I meet them just before the drum circle starts,
and Iím still schlepping in my drums. They usually have somebody in the group whom this normally falls to.
Whatever group it is, I just try to be respectful of it. Most of the time, itís everyone standing and a
prayer is said, and away we go. 1 - 2 - Bang the drum. I go with the vibe I feel there, as to how I start.
Sometimes there are mixed age kids with the group. It can be more fun, or more difficult. For the most part,
I tend to keep the program a bit more mellow with earth, healing, and after a warm up rhythm, slower R&B
style rhythms with a good downbeat that they can feel, but I always include a few key things if I can.
As far as the rhythms we play after the beginning, I almost always going with the feeling I get from the group.
The collective energy can guide me, if I let it. My instincts on it are usually pretty close to right. The good
olí default drum circle rhythm you hear at most freestyle drum circles makes a good ice breaker - warm up.
ďpa_Go-Do_taÖ pa_Go-Do_taĒ, etc. Or, the Heartbeat is a good one to get right into. Like this:
ďDoum Doum tek-ka-tek-ka Doum DoumĒ. Or keep it real simple with Go_Do_pa-ta-pa _ (2 measures in 4/4 time.
Bass bass, tone tone tone rest, and repeat). Use any rhythm that is basic, & easy to get the group groove going.
Many people have never touched a drum before, and the sooner I can get them playing and making music, the sooner
their uneasiness or nerves will melt away. Less talking and more music making is my approach. I vocalize the
first few bars and start playing the rhythm at about one third the normal tempo so people can latch onto it.
This way they donít feel a sense of catching up or worse, panic. Then I can ease up the tempo if it feels
right for them. The one thing I do say before we start playing is, ďPlay however you want...whenever you
want - whatever feels naturalÖjust follow your heart, and THE BEAT.Ē It usually gets a laugh, and that
sets the right tone that this is going to be fun and not overly controlled.
I just want to get them playing and creating as quickly as possible. I let people know right away that the
support rhythm Iím playing is just a starting point for them, they donít have to try and play that exact
thing. Just add your unique voice to the group song and lets all take it wherever we want, together.
After we play a few rhythms I touch on hand technique, and playing too loud. I donít want anyone to
get injured, or be uncomfortable. If you canít hear the person playing across from you, itís too loud.
I have a slightly different set list of rhythms for a spiritual circle than I would use for other groups.
I will usually change it as we go along, but having it handy gives me more confidence. Most of the time,
it is all slow 4/4 rhythms with one or two up tempo ones to keep some variety mid way into the set.
If itís all slow tempo rhythms it doesnít have any ebb and flow. I mix in a 6/8 mother rhythm somewhere
in there as well. I try to keep it spontaneous and fun, and I guide things from the side, not the center.
Most of the time, Iím just there to provide the drums, start a variety rhythms, bring them to an end
so they donít go on for too long, and the rest just seems to fall into place. Imagine that.
After a rhythm ends, a nice rumble will get them all excited and clapping. I think itís important to take a
few moments after a rhythm ends to let things ďbreatheĒ a little. Then start out a new one. I like to come
up with different endings for rhythms so it doesnít get too routine. A fade out, count down, and so forth.
As with some of the other groups I work with, about half way through the drum circle, After a few rhythms,
itís a great time to try the 2 people in the center, 2 at a time for a few minutes each. I bring two yoga mats,
(or beachtowels if my vehicle is too cram packed to pack them in.) How it works is like this: About half way
through the circle, I lay 2 yoga mats in the center of the circle before the next rhythm. I ask for 2 volunteers,
and, if they want to REALLY feel the healing power of the drum, I ask them to carefully lay down on them for a
few minutes. (Starting applause for them helps.) I ask them to lay out flat on them, on their backs, arms to
their sides, and close their eyes while we play a rhythm for a few minutes. When I offer up the idea, there
are always a few takers on that one. And when they get up, the faces say it all. Itís powerful to feel the
drum downbeat absorbed into your body. Itís spiritually very powerful, if done to a good slow tempo
rhythm with a heavy downbeat.
If there is an allotted time, I like to leave them wanting more. So when I say this is our last rhythm, and we
play it Ė after it is over I ask the group, ďShould we play just one more?Ē The answer is almost always a
resounding YES! And we do one more jam out for fun. It ends things on a high note. Or, you can go the other
way, and make it more soft and meaningful. It really depends on the group dynamic that was created.
You can feel the vibe of which way it should go by this time.
At the end of a spiritual group drum circle, I almost always do the ďLet them feel the healing energy of the drum,
in their bodies thing alsoĒ. This is the one where at the end of the drum circle, I ask them to all stand up still
in a circle, and hold their palms open and outstretched, opposite to each person next to them, and palms opposite
facing each other. Hold your palms outstretched directly above each otherís palms, about 12 inches apart.
Now slowly compress your hands to the other person without actually touching them to about an inch. Slowly compress
your hands up and down slowly a few times and feel that energy. The ohís and ahís as they feel it compress Ė they
are feeling their chi, or mojo in their bodies (some for the very 1st time). This is very powerful. Next, turn
their hands into themselves, to let the healing power reach inward, into your bodies. Start from your head,
and work it down slowly. This is incredibly powerful when you feel it for the first time.
This whole process takes about 3 Ė 5 minutes. It leaves a lasting impression.
Thatís why I try to get everyone to drum, and not just play a shaker, or tambourine for at least a half hour.
I want to get that drumming energy flowing in their bodies. All you have to do then is show it to them
at the end of the circle. It can bring up very deep feelings in people.
For the most part, everyone just wants to drum, make music, and have a healing spiritual experience.
I think itís doing some good in the world.
There are quite a few references in the Bible to using song and dance as a means of worship. French African
(Congolese) worship services use drumming and singing in praise music. Lots of people use drumming as an
active way of meditation, so it's not really a huge leap to make that religious drumming connection.
Do drum circles in church really need to be much different from other drum circles that offer creative outlets,
bonding, support, interpersonal interaction, etc? Not that much really, just a little more mellow, & less volume.
For the most part, I avoid drum circle games and activities, and just focus on in the moment, music making.
I do bring along a few hula hoops and put them off to the side where everyone can see them. Once things get
going someone usually grabs one and starts hooping. If they are outside the circle I invite them in the center.
We all know that drumming to some sort of movement elevates the fun level and gives them something to connect
the rhythm to. I like to have a wide open circle of at least 15 feet so thereís room for people to get in there
and express themselves. Thatís part of what this is about. One idea when working with just kids is drumming
to Sunday school songs: "If you're happy and you know it, bang your drum" boom boom.Ē And so on.
My favorite spiritual drum circle was at a Gospel church; I was later invited to attend their services, was
welcomed like family, and got to play in the church band. It was cool. These were some heavy musicians,
one of them toured with Herbie Hancock. What an honor to be welcomed there and play in the band.
The singers in the choir were amazing talents also. The band would rumble here and there as the
minister spoke. Now thatís a fun way to rumble. Rumbling to the intensity of places in his sermon.
Almost always, a drum circle is after the service, or part of an activity Ė function, but I have done it as
a part of a church service before. Hereís an example outline I was given that was for about an hour & 1/2:
1. GATHER IN THE LORDíS NAME
Drumming: a welcoming/gathering rhythm; Shannon introduces newcomers to the circle and explains the rhythm(s).
Brief spoken prayer at the end (Pastor)
2. SCRIPTURE: LUKE 19:29-40
Entry into Jerusalem (Palm Sunday) (Lector)
Verse 36 (ďAs he rode along. . . ĎĒ) begin softly drumming, getting very gradually louder and faster.
(Shannon) At end of verse 40 (ďHe answered, "I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out...")
we drum as if we were the stones shouting out glory to God. More than one rhythm is fine. (Shannon)
3. Prayers of the People
Earth rhythm. (Shannon) Series of ďbiddingĒ prayers: Request for prayer on various topics (prayers for the
church, the sick, the dead, troubled spots, thanksgivings). Response is a few moments of drumming,
then softer for the next bidding prayer. (Rector)
4. Exchange the Peace
Invite everyone to play a simple rhythm on the drum of the person to the right of them, then to the left.
5. Take Eucharist
Pastor goes to table in center of drum circle and does an extemporaneous Eucharistic prayer. Shannon alone
accompanies the words with drum.This will be a time of words/pauses (with drum)/words/(pauses (with drum) Ė
no sense of hurry. (Shannon and Pastor work together)
6. Lordís Prayer
No drumming while this is recited. (Pastor + everyone)
7. Break and Share Bread and Wine
Simple, soft rhythm of peace that people can leave off while receiving bread and wine, then easily pick back
up when finished. Depending on the number of people, this will take 5+ minutes. There should be a few
moments of drumming while Pastor tidies up the leftover elements. (Shannon)
Another time of big, enthusiastic drumming! This and the ďstonesĒ drumming (end of #2) should be the
lengthiest and most spirited times of drumming. More than one rhythm is fine. (Shannon)
Pastor blesses and dismisses everyone
This was held outside in a park, (on church property), and it was a very powerful experience. Obviously we had
a prior meeting, as this outline had to be planned in advance. It was what they wanted, and while I was a
little nervous about it, everything went beautifully.
So to sum up, I work with all paths. I donít refer to myself as Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Pagan, etc. or any other
dogma. I donít completely subscribe to any one particular religious group or ideal, but I am a christian. Words
can be a credible barrier to the understanding of human spirituality. I prefer to take from each religion and
culture what I feel kindred to. And I do consider myself to be a spiritual person. Drumming is my outlet,
my sanctity, where I feel the most at home. As I mentioned, some drum circles in churches focus on
spirituality; some others focus more on drumming as a social activity. That is often to entice
more young people to participate.
Again, the main thing is, I try to get each person on a body drum, so they can feel the healing power of
the drum in their bodies, and have a more spiritual drumming experience. I do bring a few big plastic
bins of mixed percussion items to keep things interesting for the group, and to entice the shy ones
to get involved. Once they see everyone is having a good time, and not really focusing on them,
they usually move to a body drum. (Which is the main reason I bring small percussion items.)
I donít bring anything that can be played with a stick. It usually finds its way to a drum
head. Not good. Sound shapes with plastic sticks are okay, but anything played with a
wooden stick...nope. I do have a few guiroís, woodblocks, and such, but the stick is
attached to it with a 2 foot nylon string.
Much of the world's most powerful music is associated with religion and spirituality. Music down through the
ages has been designed to take the listener to another place. Facilitating a church, or spiritual drum circle
usually affects me very deeply also, even though my beliefs may differ from their particular ones.
Drum circles bring us all together. The healing energy of the drum transcends all. And, somehow,
it also brings us closer to our higher power, regardless of how we perceive that.
Copyright © Shannon Ratigan All Rights Reserved.
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Here's the link, or search on the title. 101 Drum Circle Rhythms (The DVD disc is a few bucks more.)
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If your desire is to get much more in depth with this, please consider picking it up. It goes into
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