Monday, 11 December 2017

Drum Circle Etiquette — The Do’s and Don’ts

Life is very much like a drum circle; those who drum, those who dance to the beat of the drum, and the audience who watches them both.

As many of you know, I have been religiously drumming for the last four years. Mostly in drum circles, either in Venice Beach or at the Full Lunacy full moon event the One lucky Soul community organises at Dockweiler Beach here in Los Angeles. Naturally, all this time taught me a whole lot about drumming, drum circles, and people.

Drum circles are known to be where you go relax and let loose; it is also where you get creative and be yourself. Because of the sincere passion I found in drumming, I read and learned quite a lot about it; even wrote a couple of exposés. You can know much more about the benefits of drumming and playing music in general in those previous exposés of mine: How Drumming Changed The Way My Brain Processes Music and the more recent The Intertwining of Music and Sexuality ― A Djembefola’s Tale.

As such, there is a number of unwritten guidelines which are understood by most regulars and old-timers. Being plagued by a philosophic mind which thrives to write about the unutterable, reminding ourselves of some of those “do’s and don’ts” will hopefully ensure that the drum circle experience is enjoyed equally by each and everyone, including oneself. Technically, I have been writing this article in my mind for those entire four years — chronicling, reasoning, weighting one point at a time. The following thorough observations are all based on first-hand experience in addition to some further readings.

1- When arriving at a Drum Circle try to greet the players before joining in. If you don’t know anyone, a simple eye contact or friendly nod would do. It creates a certain harmony between those who create music together, and connect and communicate with each other. In case you have been invited by a host, saying hello upon arrival or perhaps a later goodbye before leaving — or both — seems like an organic thing to do.

2- Listen to the music before playing. Observe who’s playing what; the different beats and the instruments involved, who’s leading, who’s following, who plays solos. Also observe the dancers if there are any; what rhythms are they dancing to, which drummer(s) are they resonating with. 

3- Now that you have a clearer understanding of what is going on around you, as you integratively fit in, try to complement the music being played with the intention to support it. Do not mimic the beats of other drummers. Be creative with your own rhythm while synchronising with the overall melody. 
Yet, never get too distracted by your drumming that you stop listening and become disconnected from the soul of the circle. 

4- Know that the occasional eye contact between band members is as essential as the nod between security personnel. It reassures them that all is going smooth and that they are all doing great. It is certainly normal to zone out sometimes, but if playing with others, one must stay aware of their surrounding. For the musicians, beside helping that no one really goes out of tune, there is also this certain dreamy gaze moment of sharing the ecstatic high with them. This has a tremendous effect on the players, the music, as well as on the audience.

5- Make sure to leave Rhythmical Space for other players. I recently learned this new term and I couldn’t be happier to finally find a name for that nameless thing I had been pondering. I used to say: It’s all about patterns; your own need to synchronise with the players’. This is what is succinctly called Rhythmical Space.

You see, if one is constantly playing, how will others find the creative space to express themselves? The only way for them to do so would be to get louder, which leads to blocking all other tunes while significantly restricting them by making them hear only their own drumming. Obviously the overall outcome will be negatively impacted if that is the energy spreading around. 

Conversely, when we give others the chance to display their tunes — and patterns — without distractions, we will then have our own chance to creatively build upon those patterns with newer ones. In the simplest terms, this is how real music works. There is no domination in music, even if there is a leader. Quoting from the Tao Te Ching, “By not dominating, the Master leads.”

That said, remember that neither volume nor speed mean quality; we certainly do not have to drum as loud or as fast as we can every time. Oftentimes low, soft tunes can be a great way to complement drumming. This is when more subtle percussion instruments like shakers and cowbells get to work their magic.

Equally remember that we all have an inner beat — think of the heart and the breath; some simply learn how to express it outwards and possibly make a melody out of the different tunes.

6- Following on Rhythmical Space, it is a similar case when there are multiple soloists. The “Solo Space is something which I personally have to deal with in larger gatherings since I consider myself a soloist who is capable of drumming around, over, and through the collective beat being played across the circle.

This was why after a while I began going to the Venice Beach Drum Circle on Saturdays rather than Sundays, as the latter tend to get a tad too loud for my taste as a drummer. From the sheer excitement and the sight of the dancing women, multiple soloists end up playing at the same time, while the rest could hold the same mechanical rhythm for hours at a time. We’re talking perhaps about as many as 40 or 50 drummers improvising with no leader, facilitator, or rehearsal. Many Sundays though remain great to party, have fun, and to just be.

Quoting from an article titled Drum Circle Etiquette by Arthur Hull, which I came across after writing this piece and Googling its title out of curiosity. A reason why I eventually settled on adding “The Do’s and Don’ts”, even though the initial title came strictly from my head. There are, however, other articles titled Drum Circle Do’s and Don’ts. 

Hull insightfully writes: “Soloing through a drum circle groove is very much like a bird flying through the forest. But the “solo air” above can’t accommodate more than a few people soloing at the same time. If there is more than one soloist available in a circle be sure to share the solo space with them. The best way for two or three drum soloists to play through the groove together is to have a “drum dialogue” with each other. In a facilitated drum circle event a good facilitator will have found all of the advanced drummers in the circle and would be “show casing” them individually or encouraging them to trade solos with each other.” Open your ears, Ned Flanders with the earplugs.

Now, I hold that drumming for men is very much like sex. Some fast drummers play like they are constantly ejaculating ― which forces them to stop after a while to be able to start again; while others learn how to prolong the orgasm until it becomes a state of mind, eventually leading to explosive Tantric ecstasies.

With that being said, playing loud or fast is not necessarily always a good thing. The Duracell bunny can keep going for a couple of days straight. The question is: Is one producing music, as is there some kind of melody or patterns being followed, or it
’s just repetitive drumming. While speed is a useful skill, it is not just it, especially when playing with others. Many drummers are capable of going at insane speeds, but how to creatively incorporate their speedy tunes with the slower ones played by those around them is what makes a real musician.

Some Sunday at the VBDC in 2014

7- Dancers at drum circles should do their best not to give their backs to any one player for too long. If it’s crowded and there is no space to move around as in the above photo, a simple 90 or 180 degree turn every few minutes would do the trick. First, because drummers do not particularly enjoy staring at the back of a person, unless of course the dancer is twerking or grooving on purpose for them to see. Second, because it may be blocking their view — of the circle itself or of other dancers; as well as obstructing the air flow, especially for those who drum sitting down.

8- Do not under any circumstances use an unattended drum or any other instrument without asking permission first. Music instruments are like babies to players, quite a personal matter, so it’s not worth getting anyone pissed off. If you happen to ask someone, make sure you are not wearing watches, rings, or metal bracelets first, then maybe they would agree; maybe they wouldn’t.

9- Visibly intoxicated folks who cannot control themselves shouldn’t show up in the first place. If there already, it is better for everyone if they stayed outside the circle, or to just leave. At a more public circle such as at Venice Beach, this may be somewhat tolerated as it’s much harder to control. But at a more private circle as Full Lunacy for instance, they will be asked to leave, by myself personally. 

I never felt the need to add this bit of info in the introduction of the event until a knobhead showed up totally plastered this last time, mindlessly crawling on his knees and freaking the dancers out — which is something he is usually seen doing around Venice. Stuff like that are bound to happen during events and gatherings, especially when the numbers increase, but I will make sure to handle such people. Remember, drum circles are not that place or club where you go to get pixilated. The true experience is more holistic than that, even spiritual, one might say. I know for a fact that at other drum circles the rules are actually real rules; if you don’t follow them you will not be allowed in.

Actually I ended up writing said tosser online, informing him that he has been banned from all future Full Lunacy events.

10- On that same note, if you choose to drink alcohol at a drum circle, do it outside and not right inside where people dance. In other words, be discreet and respectful to the circle and the musicians rather than showing off while walking around with a full bottle in hands — like that other dude. Bear in mind that the drum circles discussed here are the ones taking place in public locations where alcohol is prohibited anyways, at least in the U.S. So if you will still go for it, as some do, do it at your own risk, be considerate, and do not ruin it for the rest. As mentioned, holistic, spiritual, healing, therapeutic, community experience are words to consider when stepping into the drum circle world.   

In actual fact, I heard from Andy, an old-timer who has been around since 1965, that not too long ago at the Venice beach Drum Circle when someone drank booze, the drummers would stop and ask them to leave.

Similarly, try to avoid smoking in the middle of the circle. Drumming and dancing are a form of exercise, during which drummers and dancers alike are required to breathe fresh air in order to optimally perform. So consideration is key.

Full Lunacy on December 4, 2017

11- If a drummer is really into their Flow State, do not attempt to say hello using your hand, requiring them to stop and shake yours. While some have no problems doing so, others mind the interruption, and they will probably not stop drumming — yet may still mind the sudden pause. A smile or eye-contact along a basic word or a tap on the shoulder work just fine. You can always greet them later when they take a break. The same can be said about interrupting them for other reasons, like asking for a lighter or talking about this or that. 

12- Not because a girl or a woman is standing by watching then she is interested in being taken to the middle of the circle to dance or to have a selfie taken with. Some are just there because they are curious, some may be interested in someone specific, while others may simply not be interested in dancing with, or being touched by, a stranger. So better not be sleazy and embarrass oneself, possibly causing her to leave — again, ruining it for her and the rest. I hope the senseless bald plonker gets to read this. 

13- If you drum while standing using a belt/strap and can move around, make sure not to position yourself too close to someone who drums sitting down. The level of the drum will be directly opposed to their ears which could be disturbingly loud. And because they are sitting down, for them to move requires a full cumbersome “migration”. Same story when some go stand in front of sitting drummers and start casually drumming, blocking their view and tunes as if they do not exist.

14- This is not a do or don’t”, but rather a suggestion. I encourage everyone who goes to drum circles just to drum to every now and then try to enjoy the gathering as a non-drummer. You could dance, use shakers or cowbells, or purely just watch. The experience teaches you how to carefully listen; how to better understand other drummers’ melodies. Hence be able to later complement them with your own. You also get to know the perspective of the dancers and spectators, as well as how to just BE.

15- Last but certainly not least, whether advanced or beginner: Have fun. Keep it simple. Let go of your worries and obsessions, leave them all behind. Be One with the music and everyone. And enjoy the drum circle uplifting experience.

See you dare if there not being square.

More photos can be viewed on here: Venice Beach Drum Circle and Full Lunacy.


The Intertwining of Music and Sexuality ― A Djembefola’s Tale

How Drumming Changed The Way My Brain Processes Music

A Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2014-’15)

Another Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2016-’17) 

One More Year at the Venice Beach Drum Circle in Photos & Videos (2017-’18)

A Wacky Day Out at LA Burning Man Decompression in Photos & Video
Kool Tunes Everyone Should Know

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