1. Set up enough chairs for each student, you, and one extra in one big circle.
Part of the point of a drum circle is that everyone is looking at everyone else and there is no one person leading. Having an extra chair next to you will serve 3 important purposes: it gives you a place to set down the things you might normally keep on your music stand or nearby desk (like your clipboard, keys, clock etc), it gives a little space between you and the students so they are facing you a bit more without taking you out of the circle, and it gives a nice spot for any troublesome students to move to if they need some extra reminders.
2. Have the drums already set up (bigger ones in front of the chairs, smaller instruments under the chairs) before the students come in.
One of the most magical moments is when the class comes in and gasps at the sight of a drum circle set up and waiting for them. Don't waste a chance for magic like that (not to mention all the headaches you will save yourself). If you have students assigned to smaller groups in your normal setup (like the color teams I use), you may want to think about finding a way to assign spots by those smaller groups. In my case, I have djembes in each of the 6 colors I have for the groups of students in my classes, so I have students go to a chair that has their team color's djembe. That way I can plan for any assigned seats I need for specific students but also give students a sense of choice.
3. You don't have to have a class set of drums to have a drum circle!
If you don't have enough drums, add small percussion to the mix. Shakers, scrapers, cowbells, and whistles are all great and still fit with the genre. Make sure you alternate instruments when you set them up around the circle, and then have students rotate through the instruments by switching chairs throughout the class period.
4. Always establish ground rules before you start
Before they even go sit down in the circle, I always have the class sit off to the side while I give them the first rule: don't touch the instruments, even by mistake, until I give you permission. After we are all seated quietly, I go over the rest of my rules:
- Because we are in a circle, it is very important that we not only think about what we say and do but also about what we show on our faces. Your facial expressions need to communicate appreciation and respect for each other when others are playing. When you are playing yourself, your facial expressions need to communicate confidence.
- Knowing that every person in the circle is being held to a high standard of respect, it is important for each participant to be creative and take risks. Don't just play what you already know you can do. Try something new.
- If you play your instrument when it is not your turn, even if it is by mistake, you will be asked to put your instrument down for a few minutes. If it happens repeatedly, you will be asked to leave the circle. In order to be able to play together as a united group, we need to be able to listen to each other even more keenly than we usually do.
Demonstrate and have them copy back (just point to them and they'll get it). You'll have to explain some things but most cultures that incorporate drum circles regularly practice a master-apprentice style of learning anyway. The less time they have to sit and listen to you talk without playing their instruments, the better :)
I think that's it from me! I'd love to hear other tips you may have to share as well- leave a comment!