Focus Exercises
Adapted from Workshop by Debra Giebelhaus-Maloney
The objective of these exercises is to establish a focus and attention to non-verbal communication in the drum circle. These exercises begin with body percussion and then can be transferred to the drums.

Passing the rhythm
The students are sitting on chairs in a circle.
  • The leader begins playing a four-beat rhythm using body percussion (snap, clap, pat, and stamp). As the leader makes eye contact with the person next to him or her in the circle, that individual takes up the rhythm.
  • The leader continues to make eye contact with each person individually around the circle until everyone is performing the initial rhythm.
  • The process continues as a new rhythm is introduced and imitated when eye contact is made.
  • Eventually, four rhythms are being performed simultaneously.
  • Note that every second rhythm sent should be fairly simplistic (four claps). In this way the underlying beat is always audible.

This same exercise can be used with the drums when students have learned the strokes – bass, tone, and slap. Similarly, the rhythms passed can involve alaeatory sounds, and finally singing of pitches using solfege syllables.

Echo Body Percussion
  • The leader performs a four-beat rhythm using (snap, clap, pat and stamp). Students echo the rhythms immediately after hearing them.
  • When student are comfortable and confident with this exercise, divide the circle into three groups – assign each group to be the snap, clap, or pat. Echo a four-beat rhythm using these three parts of the body; students in the circle will collectively echo the part of the rhythm they have been assigned.
  • Extend this exercise by the parts until all students have performed the snap, clap and pat. The complexity of this exercise can be extended by increasing the pattern to be eight, twelve, and sixteen beats.

Transfer this exercise to the drum circle assigning the “snap” to metals, “clap” to woods, and “pat” to skins. Another possibility is to assign the “snap” to the slap on the drums, the “clap” to the tone, and the “pat” to the bass. Finally, the teacher will use this exercise using only the drum (tone, slap, and bass).

Canonic Imitation
  • The leader performs a four-beat rhythm using body percussion.
  • Students immediately echo the rhythm while focusing on the next rhythm being performed by the leader.
  • This exercise continues in this manner.

The students are divided into three groups. Group two follows the leader; group two follows group one, and so on. This exercise can also be transferred from body percussion to the drums.

Layering Rhythms
In this exercise students experience the way rhythm fit together to form a cohesive whole by being conscious of what another group is playing while performing their own rhythm.
  • Divide the circle into three equal grouping.
  • Begin by echoing a four-beat rhythm which the whole circle echoes and continues to repeat.
  • When the rhythm is initial rhythm is solid, indicate using non-verbal communication which group will play the second rhythm that is being echoed.
  • When the first and second rhythms are being solidly performed introduce the third rhythm for the remaining group.

  • Add dynamics to the exercise by establishing non-verbal cues to represent piano (soft), forte (loud), crescendo (gradually getting louder), and decrescendo (gradually getting softer). You could also create a set of flash cards indicating the dynamic levels.
  • Dynamic changes can begin used first with the whole group, and then with individual groupings within the circle.
  • Another extension is to have the groups switch parts without stopping the drum circle (Group 2 would take the rhythm of Group 1, Group 3 would assume the rhythm of Group 2, and Group 1 would take the rhythm of Group 3). This could happen on a signal from the leader (four quarter note beats on the claves or gankoguis). This exercise can continue until each group has had an opportunity to perform each rhythm.