Feel the beat.
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 enter trance, to be present in the moment, and to ride the wave of endorphins, emotions, and whatever else is going on in their experience. It is one of the oldest, most primal ways we have of connecting and communicating with each other. It moves us—literally. 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.
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. This is a space to experiment and practice new things, and not everything has to work every time. We carry this attitude through every moment of our events. By playing together we all share and learn how to play better.
If you’re in the drum circle, just like being in a 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 with the people around you. If you trance out, lose interest, or find that you can’t hear or see what anyone else is playing, take a moment to check in, watch, and 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. Really. Have fun!
Drum Circle Manners
There are basic manners for drumming, just like there are basic manners for eating dinner at someone’s home. This goes for drumming at this event and most drum circles. Fortunately, the rules are simple and easy:
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.
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.
Sit comfortably so you can easily reach across the drum to play a note. Oh, yes, and remember to breathe!
Keep the open end of the drum off the floor. Sealing the end traps the sound of the skin and makes the drum mute. Drums need to breathe, just like you. Tilt the drum to one side or support it 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 “downhill” 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. Private instruments will either be covered (in a bag, with a drum head topper, a towel, etc.), or lying down (as opposed to standing). Obviously, you should ask first before playing someone’s private instrument. When in doubt, always 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.
Put instruments away when done so others can play them. Also, a long drum or instrument poses a tripping hazard. Keeping things in their place helps keep everyone safe.
Joining the Circle
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 they do. Drumming communicates through the whole body. Imagine you’re talking with your body movement and the sounds of your hands.
Play just the bass line. The other drummers will love you for it! Even better, play a heartbeat rhythm (thump-thump, thump-thump). It will support all the other sounds.
Keeping the Beat
If you’re lost, pause and feel your drum vibrate as others play. Instead of trying to think through what you should be playing, strike the drum the next time it vibrates. Pretty soon you’ll be on your way.
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.
If you can say it, you can play it. Language has rhythm. Many cultures teach complicated rhythms as a series of spoken words or syllables. 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. Think “shave and a haircut” or “knick knack paddywack.” Those are real drum rhythms!
Get into it. Imagine that you are the soundtrack for the people being suspended (you are!) and play with the same energy you imagine they are feeling. Trust us, it’s hot!
Less is more. Some drums and instruments are overpowering. 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!
Don’t worry that everyone will hear you make a mistake. Let go. Engage, watch, listen, experiment, help, and most importantly, have fun. You’ll do fine. Besides, everyone makes mistakes, no matter how experienced. “Mistakes” often end up being new and welcome rhythms!
Connect, Communicate, Conspire
Communication is the key to cooperation. Sometimes you have a great idea for a new groove. Sometimes 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. Drumming has a common language for communicating ideas. Use it when needed. Listen and try to honor these signals when you hear them:
Faster, slower. “Faster” does not mean “louder” and “slower” does not mean “softer.” They mean what they say: speed up or slow down. A short hand for “faster” is “sup!” meaning “speed up!”
Louder, softer, shhh… As above, these have nothing to do with speed. Change your volume only.
Steady. Good. Keep playing just as you are.
Watch me, listen up, hep! Pay attention: either something is about to change or we’ve wandered away from playing with each other.
Match me. Play what I’m playing as closely as you can so we can come back together.
Show me. If you can’t figure out what someone’s playing and you want them to play it in a way you can follow.
Shine on [name]. Let the named person solo, go to town, play their heart out, and be heard above what everyone else is playing. Everyone else should keep playing steadily.
Sail out, fade out. Everybody keep playing what you’re playing, but get gradually quieter until you all come to a natural stop.
Countdown, break, 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.” Sometimes the word break will not be said, but a standard drum break will be played, after which there is silence.