Group size: up to 30
“The first time I tried it with a group they got really into it and spontaneously introduced mouth noises. The noise changed from hums to yelps and the whole group joined in and followed the rest. The teacher and I had real trouble working out who was instigating the changes but I think it was different people. There was a really rare feeling of oneness around our fire for about 10 minutes. Magic.”
Richard Irvine, Devon Discovery
Setting up a drumming circle can be a noisy and fun experience. A name-drumming orchestra is a simple way to start drumming in big groups. Once a basic stomping rhythm has been established, the players can use their own names to play their part of the over-all rhythm. You can use the names of plants or animals or descriptive words instead of human names if you like.
You will need two short sturdy sticks that you can hit together without them breaking (although, if you need a cheap gag… have one that will break and a spare one as back up). Choose a suitable spot to gather the group in a circle (I usually do this activity standing in a circle but you can always do it around a circle of logs or along a fallen tree trunk). Trying to explain how to drum using the written word has been challenging, so bear with me and hopefully you will have enough understanding to give it a go!
A useful thing to know
If you find it hard to stomp, count and hit out your name pattern all at once while pointing to the players in turn (as I do!!!), you can ask someone to step in to the middle of the circle to be the conductor. Basically, the role of the conductor is to keep the beat steady and point to people. The conductor counts “1, 2, 1, 2…” along with the stomps and then when the rhythm is steady, points to each person in turn (about every four “1, 2s”). If you are already confused and there are too many ones and twos…take a breath and read on!
“Okay everybody! We’re going to have some drumming practice! We are going to make a layer cake of sound by drumming our names. Please go and find two sticks you can hit together that sound good, like this!”
I demonstrate hitting the sticks together.
“Okay, off you go and when you’ve found your sticks come right back here!” When everyone returns we form a circle and I demonstrate hitting out the rhythm, or pattern, of my name:
“Chris-to-pher Holl-and”, with three short, and two long beats - one for each syllable of my name. eg “datdatdat do do, datdatdat do do” (Another way to do it would be to do three soft and two loud.) I get everyone to copy my name pattern a couple of times in a call and response way.
We then work slowly round the circle with each person hitting out their name pattern and it being repeated by the rest of the group. There will be a few sticks that break mid performance and this can be the cause of much hilarity. Laughter is good. It creates timeless bonds between people and the place.
“Right! In a moment we’ll begin with one name pattern being hit-out repeatedly and then slowly, a name at a time, build our layer cake of sound until we are all drumming our names together. Then we will slowly stop drumming, one person at a time, until there is silence and we can watch the last ripple of sound flow out across the land!”
“But first, we need to start with a pulse, an even beat to keep us in rhythm.” Now start a slow walking-on-the-spot pulse, (about one beat per second is fine) and encourage everybody to join in:
I mentally count “1, 2, 3, 4…” along with the stomps.
Then begin to add name patterns to the stomping pulse by either choosing someone to go first or simply by starting with my own name. After every 1,2,1,2, cycle point to the next person, so that each player adds their name pattern to the layer cake, fitting it in with the rhythm, like this for example (emphasis is on the first beat in bold, there are two four beat cycles and this is really hard for me to show in ebook formatting with no tables, sorry!):
Stomp,stomp, stomp, stomp, (1 2 3 4), stomp stomp stomp stomp (1 2 3 4)
chris-to-pher holl-and, (1&2, 1 2), chris-to-pher holl-and, (1&2, 1 2)
to ny hunt, (1 2 3 - ), to ny hunt, (1 2 3 - )
Slowly a wonderful polyrhythmic, sometimes cacophonic orchestra builds to a crescendo layer cake of sound! Hold it there for a while and bathe in the bliss of the noise before slowly pointing to everyone in turn again, and slowly each person stops drumming their name pattern, until only silence remains and the last concentric ring of sound spreads out across the land like a ripple across a pond. Imagine it going, going, going…with stillness following like a calm breath. At this point, crouch down, pointing to the ground, with arms out low and wide to signify silence….
Waiting...Mimicking the sound rippling off into the land…
Waiting…And when ready, after a theatrical pause, (with everybody watching me),
I whisper “Final drum roll!”
Slowly we stand up, raising hands above heads, clicking our sticks as we go. Everyone does a final drum-roll together and then finish the finale by jumping up and cutting the air in a flourish to finish!