Drumming at SuspenDC

Everyone at the event is welcome and encouraged to drum for the flyers. We do our best to have a few dedicated drummers at every event. We also have extra drums and noisemakers for all participants to use.

Why do we drum?

The sound of drumming, live drumming in particular, creates a feeling that connects everyone who can hear it. Drumming helps the people getting pierced to trance-in, be present in the moment, and ride the wave of endorphins, emotions, and whatever else is going on in their experience. It’s fun and anyone can drum, not just musicians – some instructions are provided below. General tips for drumming. Instructions for 1st time drummers.
Drumming is one of the oldest, most primal ways we have of connecting and communicating with each other. It moves us – literally. We think it will move you, too. Give it a try. Pick up a rattle or drum and add your rhythm to the experience.

Everyone can drum and shake!

Everyone can play a drum, especially if there are others around to play with. Being part of a group of people drumming is its own experience. As part of a group, you contribute your groove to the sound while others share theirs. Mistakes happen and the rhythm just keeps going. It’s ok to experiment! It’s ok to practice new things! Not everything has to work every time.
By playing together we all share and learn how to play better.

Here are some tips:

REMOVE ALL RINGS, BRACELETS, AND HAND JEWELRY BEFORE PLAYING A DRUM. Drum heads and drums scratch easily. They are made for contact with hands and mallets. Not metal or hard plastic.
-Listen to the other drummers. Try to play what they just played right back to them.
-Watch how their hands move. See if you can make your hands do what they do.
-Start by following the biggest hand movement, then add the others as you feel confident.

-Move your body in the same way you see that they do. Drumming communicates through the whole body. Imagine you’re talking to them – just with your entire body and your hands are making all of the sounds.
-Play just the bass line – the other drummers will love you for it! Even better, play a heartbeat rhythm. It will support all the other sounds.

-If you’re lost, stop for a moment and feel your drum vibrate. Instead of trying to figure out what you should be playing, just strike the drum the next time it vibrates. Pretty soon you’ll be on your way.
-Language has rhythm. Many cultures teach complicated rhythms as a series of spoken words or syllables. If you can say it, you can play it. Conversely, if you can’t play it with your hands, try to say it. Speaking can help you feel a rhythm. Find a natural way for you to speak the rhythm and your hands will find a way to play it. Childhood phrases offer a good starting point. Try, “Shave and a Haircut” or, “Knick knack Paddywack” – Those are real drum rhythms. If you can figure out a way to say it, you can play it.

-If you’re really lost, ask! We’ll be happy to help.
-A good question to start with is: “Show me the One”. Meaning, show me where the first beat of the rhythm is. Even a professional drummer will ask what’s going on when first sitting in with a bunch of people already drumming. Questions show interest and drummers love when you are interested in the rhythm they are playing.

-Don’t worry that everyone will hear you make a mistake. Let go of worrying about the groove surrounding you. Engage, watch, listen, experiment, help, and most importantly have fun. You’ll do fine. (Besides, everyone makes mistakes – even “pros”. “Mistakes” often end up being new and welcome rhythms!
-Get into it – imagine that you are the soundtrack for the people being suspended (because you are) and play with the same energy you imagine they are feeling. Trust us, it’s hot!

-Less is always more. Some drums and instruments are overpowering. Claves come to mind immediately. Listen to the tool you are using. If you are overpowering those around you, lighten up and pull back a bit. The idea is to create a common sound that grooves with itself. Remember the More Cowbell sketch from Saturday Night Live? Don’t be that guy!

Many of the instruments on this end of the table can single handedly overcome the entire drum circle. Use with care.

First Time Drumming?

Some Guidelines and Basic Etiquette
This goes for drumming at this event and most drum circles. Yes there are basic manners for drumming. Just like there are basic manners for eating dinner at someone’s home. Fortunately, they are simple and easy:
Take off rings and bracelets: they damage the drum’s skin and body, and can harm yours!
Smile at the people around you drumming. Drumming is a joyous expression of movement and play. Give that feeling a chance by sharing a smile with the people helping to make the rhythm. Bonus – smiling can help you have more fun.

-Sit comfortably so you can easily reach across the drum to play a note. Oh, yes, and remember to breathe…
-Drums need to breathe, just like you. Keep the open end of the drum from sealing with the floor. This traps the sound of the skin and makes the drum mute. Tilt the drum to one side or, better, have it up off the floor completely so the sound can come out of the open end and move through the space! Most people find it most comfortable to have the drum head slanted down hill from their hands.
-Avoid hurting your hands or exhausting yourself. Play the drum with the fleshy part of your hand. Play with both hands or take turns. If your hands get tired, take a break. Try only playing the bass line for a while. Grab a different instrument. Options abound!

-Everyone is welcome to play the community instruments. They will be on a special table, or standing uncovered on the floor near that table in the drumming area.
-When you’re done playing with an instrument, please put it back so others can play it. Also, a long drum or instrument poses a tripping hazard. Keeping things in their place helps keep everyone safe.
-Some people bring their own instruments. Private instruments will either be covered (in a bag, with a drum head topper, a towel, or lying down (as opposed to standing). Obviously, you should ask first before playing with someone’s private instrument. When in doubt, ask.

-If you’ve not played an instrument before, or it doesn’t sound right, don’t just bang away at it. Ask. It might have a special way of making its sound or be a quiet instrument.
-If you’re in the drumming area, just like being in the flight zone, avoid chatting about things outside the space or the moment. Part of being an intentional space means being intentionally present in that space. The drumming area is for drumming and supporting the rhythm. Pick up an instrument and play!

—–Most Important—–

Play WITH the people around you. If you trance out (it happens), get bored/tired/hungry, or find that you can’t hear or see what anyone else is playing: take a moment to check in, watch, listen. Most of the time you’ll get a smile back. Or maybe someone will look at you needing help. Then it’s your turn to smile with them.
TRY something new, even if only for a couple of minutes. Every time you venture out of your comfort zone, you risk discovering wonder and novelty. What an amazing opportunity.
It’ll be okay.
Have fun!


Communication is the key to cooperation. Anyone can have a great idea for a groove (rhythm). However, one of the suspension team might need some quiet to hear the person in the air. Signals and questions can help get everybody on the same page when needed. Drumming has a common language for communicating ideas. Use them when needed. Listen and try to honor them when you hear them:

Faster and Slower – “faster” does not = “louder” and “slower” does not = “softer” They mean what they say: speed up or slow down. A short hand for “faster” is “Sup!” Meaning to speed up.
Louder, Softer, and Shhhhhh… As above, these have nothing to do with speed. Change volume only.
Steady = Good, keep playing just as you are, no need to go any faster, louder etc.
Watch Me, Listen Up, or Hep = Pay attention, something’s either about to change or we’ve wandered away from playing WITH each other.
Match Me = Play what I’m playing as close as you can so we’re together.
Show Me or Show Me the One – If you can’t figure out what someone’s playing and you want them to play it in such a way that you can better follow.
Shine on (name) = Let the person named ____ solo, go to town, play their heart out, and be heard above what everyone else is playing. Everyone else needs to stay steady and keep playing as well.
Sail Out or Fade Out = Everybody keep playing what you’re playing but get gradually quieter until you all come to a natural stop.
Countdown/Break or Stop = This is a warning that everyone should get ready to come to a dead stop, after a count – usually -3-2-1-BREAK and then silence. You may hear “Break in 3…2…1…” then stop. Sometimes the word BREAK will not be said but a standard drum break played after which there is silence. The break may be like “Shave and a Haircut – Two Bits” or DA-da-da-da-da. DA-DA-DA-DAH! You’ll know it when you hear it.

Drumming Is Fun!
Did I mention?

Happy Drumming!