Lets Get Rhythm - Parties

Drum Circles For Kids - Drumming With Children

Drum Circles For Kids in Schools, Youth Groups, Birthday Parties, Functions, and Events

Drum circles at schools work very well, because it is a fun, experiential activity that promotes multi-cultural learning. It builds self-confidence, and social abilities. It helps with motor skills, (processing information) boosts creativity; it even helps to teach them some basic mathematics. The drum rhythms are in time signatures, so math is taught without actually teaching it. It’s done in the process of just playing the drums, and having fun. Drumming teaches them more focused listening, concentration, and about reaching goals. Plus, it’s an activity parents can enjoy with their children at a later point. So a drum circle makes good sense. Kids like to make up rhythms to play to. The teachers begin to see this occurring, then the light goes on and they want you to come back.


Kids love kicking a drum circle off, and starting rhythms out with a fun.

For young children, a great way to teach rhythms is to use stuffed animals to represent sounds the drum can make. 

Or talk about wild animals representing the different sounds, such as:

  • The Tiger (or kangaroo) – is a tone sound
  • The Bear (or elephant) – is a base sound
  • The Snake (or myna bird) – is a closed tone slap

Rub your hand on the drum head to make sounds of wind, finger tap is rain drops and so on. 

Drums & percussion on chairs. Set up for a transitional drum circle. Kids come & go during ongoing rhythms.

For public events, a colourful kid's drum circle sign is a good idea.

Helping spread the love and healing of drumming is important to me, as it was a big part of my life and a major outlet for me, as I was a hyperactive child myself. Once I got into it, I went on to join the school band, learned to read music, and I've been a musician ever since. 

I've worked with various age groups of children both in schools, groups, community functions, birthday parties, and so on for about 30 years. Sometimes it’s all one age, sometimes mixed ages, sometimes with parents, or even transitional drum circles with the general public mixed in. From 8 - 13 years seems to be that perfect age, eager to learn the drum rhythms.

Every situation with kids drum circles is different. If you’re looking to facilitate or teach kids drum circles, and you don't have a kit of drums yet, the idea of body percussion ie: hand clapping foot stomping etc. it does work – pretty much the same with boomwhacker musical tubes, Remo soundshapes, and things like that. I have some of both in my kit. For the most part, kids tend to get bored with it after a while. If it's there for them, kids like to play an actual drum, and that’s what I try and do with each child. Give them a real drum to play. 

They can play rhythms just like an adult, sometimes even better. They just need a little instruction on proper hand technique and volume so nobody gets a bruise or is too uncomfortable.

Then we get right to drumming. If it feels like just having fun, rather than a class they learn faster. I use vocalizations to help them start rhythms out. For example, Yum Yum Tastes like chicken, (bass...bass...tone tone tone-tone) 

Repeated out loud a few times, and then play it on the drum. We say it, and then we play it. Try cuckoo for cocco puffs... Use rhythms, commercial jingles, and so on. I tend to avoid drumming games and activities because my experience is they want to just jam on a drum and make some music. The next time I show up, they say things like we want to play Fanga or Beledi or some of the other more popular rhythms.

I have Word docs of rhythms and various ways to notate, read, and start them on my website you can download free. 

Kids like learning these, and they like the challenge of making up their own rhythms. Kids can be playing the actual Native heartbeat rhythm, African Fanga, Mid-east Beledi and Latin Clave, or hip hop in a matter of minutes like adults. These days an 8 year old can build a website, so playing a drum rhythm is just plain fun, and that's the idea. Make it fun. Make some music and not just noise.

As for drum circle and chair set ups: If I can get in there early, I check for the best acoustic spot to set up. 

Look for the best place for the drum circle, where I can see everyone, and with the least amount of echo. I use my voice or clap loudly all around the room. Sometimes you are outdoors, or you get a small classroom, other times an auditorium. Every situation is different. And most of the time I have to figure things out like the best place to set up when I get there. Often times, the spot has already been selected for you, and you have to go with it whatever it is, wherever it is. A good idea is to check it out beforehand if you can, and suggest the best location. If inside, ask the staff if they can get those little exercise cushions so some of the kids can sit on the drums if they want to. It’s hard for some of them to hold the big ones up, let alone tilt a big Djembe. So lots of times I have the drums set out flat on the carpet so kids can try playing them both ways. Most kids like to try sitting upright, and down on the ground playing on the drum. I let them know they can try either way.

 
I usually set up my chairs in a circle, or sometimes concentric - one a few feet outside the other. I leave a little 
leg room for the kids in the outer circle. Leave a few open pathways so kids can exit the area, or enter. I try to 
make the circle about 20 feet across. Any more than that, the kids can’t hear what’s being played on the other side, 
and you get a disconnect. You can end up with 2 completely different rhythms going on at the same time. 
Try not to clog the center too much with dancers either – a few at a time if they want to 
get in there. That can cause sound block and a rhythm disconnect also.
 
 
 
I give them the tools (a drum or percussion item) and they figure it out for themselves and play. I let them know they 
can play when, and whatever they want to, and they can play whatever they want...but just follow the beat. Unless it’s 
a one time circle, later, maybe you can have them make their own drums, try a search on that. What we call junk 
 
 
 
Every situation is different. Sometimes I’m working with children either at a single grade level, with mixed ages, and 
with their parents on occasion. Often it is a one time outdoor event with mixed aged kids transitioning in and out of 
the circle as rhythms are going on. I had to learn to roll with it. If they want to put you in a huge auditorium and 
drum with the entire school, then you need to hire a few assistants, and you’re back to the hand clapping and foot 
stomping. Having 300 drums is just impossibility for me so I try to talk them out of a huge all at once drumming 
event. I need to keep it fewer than 60 at most. I’m one guy over here, and I just don’t do that kind of thing anymore. 
The kids seem to get little from it in large groups, as opposed to having each child play a drum in a smaller 
classroom or outdoors.
Most of the kids drum circles I do are one time things, sometimes two, a week long, or a few times a year. Usually 
they are kids groups or organizations, in private schools or for special occasions, parties, etc. The kids really 
look forward to it because it’s a special event, and it’s just pain fun to bang a drum. I’ve done a few ongoing 
semester programs, but they are hard to get going, and usually the school already has a music program. You 
need to present them with a course curriculum, and the kids don’t seem to benefit as much. Selling the 
idea to the school is very difficult as opposed to a one day or half day drumming event. 
 
I find that the kids actually become more interested and intrigued by hand drumming if it’s a one day or sometimes 
a one week program. With private or public schools it’s important to know the schools code of conduct, 
and I adjust the drum circle accordingly.
 
Sometimes I teach little family home schooling drum circles. Where it’s one on one, or one on two drumming lessons, 
I like to include the parents in the drumming if I can. They are usually just sitting there watching, so I try to 
include them in the drumming as well. It’s better for their relationship with their children anyway. 
 
 
 
Working with mixed age groups of children is obviously a little more challenging. And, if outdoors, even more so. 
When working with only one child, you have to be able to keep their interest for an entire hour. Younger kids have 
shorter attention spans, and you need a bunch of ideas ready to go with. There are quite a few drumming ideas, and 
games here. As a general rule, when I work with particularly younger age groups, I will structure my program to suit 
them, and the goals of the educators, or parents. I usually talk with, or email them beforehand, and we discuss it. 
I ask what their particular vision of the drumming might be, and what they would like to achieve from it. 
We figure out the program, and tailor one that’s right for them. 
 
Take it one step at a time. Getting a foot in the door by doing a benefit “Teach In” at smaller schools can do wonders 
for you. Drum circles usually only get press if it’s something negative, and most of the time I am pitching the idea to 
someone who has never seen one before. So I have to overcome that and explain the drums are expensive. That they 
don’t just magically appear, and years of work, and musical training goes into this. I charge by the event, and not 
the hour. A 1 hour drum circle takes me 4 hours to pull off by the time I figure in the loading, unloading, travel, 
setup and etc. So if it’s two 45 minute drum circles, 2 hours, however it goes, I charge by the event.
 
Most of the schools and youth groups that benefit from this the most have very limited recreational budgets. So if 
I can get $100 or $200 for the day, I’m doing pretty well. This kind of work pays in the heart, more than it does in 
the wallet. You’re doing something that may inspire these kids to make playing music a part of their lives like it 
did for me. It is a life changing thing you are offering. So that hundred bucks may not seem like much after a full 
day’s work, but you put something good out in the world. At the end of the day when I sit and reflect how things 
went, that’s when it sinks in. You remember the smiles on the kid’s faces, how much fun they had, 
inspiring them, and how great they sounded.
 
 
 
Back to the pitch. Some of the questions that I ask beforehand include the following. Are there are any issues I should 
be aware of? What is their policy on any extremely disruptive behavior, etc. Unfortunately you don’t always have that 
luxury when you work with a group, but I try to get as much information as I can. Even beforehand, I research the 
particular school, club, youth group, or whatever it might happen to be. I speak to the administrators, look up 
their website, examine their mission statement, and try to have a good understanding of who they are, and what 
they are about. It just makes good sense to do your homework before you go in there to facilitate a drum circle 
for a children’s group. Kids are very impressionable, and I feel you are a role model for them. 
Whether you think so, or not. Children see any adult in authority as a potential role model.
 
In a relatively short time, kids can understand how music is being made, and they are making it themselves. Perhaps 
a few will like it so much they will look harder at the school music programs where they now understand they can 
express themselves creatively, and possibly even join one. Maybe some will join the school marching band. 
I did, and it was fun. That was the only place in school where I fit in, and wasn’t the outsider. 
I wasn’t one of the cool kids, the pretty kids, the jocks, you get the idea. 
 
You can make a big difference in somebody’s life – that’s the real point here. They might go on to have a great musical 
career. Even if not, they will have a safe place they can go to heal themselves when they are hurting. They can also 
play their drum as an outlet for frustration, peer pressures, stress, hyperactivity, or even just for fun.
 
If it’s a music program, a small group, or a school class situation, or just a mixed age’s event, each one has a slightly 
different approach that I use. Whenever it’s possible I try to speak to the parents or teachers in advance and ask for 
some advice. They are a big help if you can get it from them.
 
 
 
As a general rule, at the start of a drum circle or drumming program, I like to get them tired out a little bit first. 
I get them up and moving or dancing with those small egg shakers, as I play a dancing rhythm on my Djembe. Then we 
get to the drumming, after a warm up rhythm, I mix in a quick lesson here and there. The history of where the 
instruments are from, and some lessons about hand technique. So a children’s drum circle needs to be 
tailored a little bit to the specific needs of the age group, or mixed ages.
 
You can try some of the ideas below with different age ranges or with mixed ages. Some of them are mine, some are ideas I 
learned from other teachers, and facilitators whom I’ve seen work with children a lot. More often than not, if it’s ok with 
the staff, I begin drumming, as my group comes in and wordlessly gesture to them to join in with the shakers. I don't speak 
till they all have started to play. This may work, or it can lead to a stand-off. It depends on the group, and the situation. 
Usually it’s a smooth move and transition, the kids just join right in and play what they feel. It sets the right kind of 
tone for the session. Hey, this is going to be fun! Sometimes the teachers want everyone to be seated first before playing, 
and say some things. If that’s the case, then I let them do that, and get to the drumming as quick as I can. 
 
Since every situation is different, I never really know how I am going to start. My preference is me playing as they enter, 
and gesture to them to join me. As a general rule, as I mention in more detail below, I want to get the kids up on their 
feet and moving around in the circle to tire them out a little bit first thing. Then they are a lot easier to work with. 
I use the little egg shakers, one or two for each kid. I pre-set them on the chairs, and when they enter the room I start 
playing a funky beat on my Djembe, and ask them to play the shakers with me and dance in the center. Obviously, 
this needs to be discussed with the teacher first, so see if they approve of starting this way. For the 
second time I work with them, I use small tambourines instead of the egg shakers.
 
 
 
If trying to pitch an ongoing program to a school, they are more than likely going to expect a curriculum of some sort 
from you. What will you be teaching, and how do you plan to do it? They like to see that there is some structure 
involved in your lessons. I show them sample programs I have used in the past. 
My approach with this kind of thing is slightly different. I like to educate the kids about playing goat skin wooden body 
drums. I always begin with the drums away from the center of the circle, far enough in so that they can not be played as 
they take their seats in the circle. I start with the egg shakers, and let them think about how they will soon be playing all 
those cool looking drums over there, and wondering what they might sound like. Then I begin to introduce the drums as 
my friends, and encourage a conversation about how we treat our friends, and how we like to be treated. I ask them to treat 
my drums that way please. These are my friends, my good buddies, so please be nice to them. And they will be nice to you. 
Please don’t bully my friends. Then we play.
After a few rhythms I break for a few minutes and talk a bit about what they are made of, highlighting the wood first then 
goat. Sometimes, there is a vegetarian in the class who is repulsed, or refuses to even touch them. I assure them that their 
views are respected and then give them a synthetic head drum, like a Doumbek. It’s pretty rare, but it has happened to 
me before. I don’t have any gluten free drums. (well, actually, I do.)
 
 
 
Occasionally, I am called upon to do a one time series of short drum circles for multiple groups of kids at a school 
or with a group. Often they come in one class right after another without a chance to even take a breath. 
I use the following, slightly different approach for that.
When the kids come into the room, I will be playing my drum and have a shaker or drum placed out on each chair, 
or in front of it. I gesture/ask them to dance, or play the shakers along with me as a warm up and also 
to give them something to do immediately. When all of them are there, I move on to the following.
5 minutes – Warm up and build rapport. We start off with a body warm up, doing arm stretches, etc. I act a little silly to 
get them to laugh, setting the mood for fun. This puts us all in the right frame of mind and starts to build my relationship 
with them. I introduce the drums, which are over to the side, again, as my friends. I talk about how we treat our friends. 
This is so very important. If I lose a drum, It’s the equivalent to a day’s pay. I have no percussion items that are 
played with a stick, because it usually finds it’s way to a goatskin drum head. Bye bye $60.
 
Back to the fun. Five minutes – Drum, and dance. I play an African rhythm on my djembe. Depending on the number of kids in 
each age group, and how much room we have, the rhythm also includes some movements and dance. Each child plays a shaker and 
dances while I drum. This activity tires them out a little bit more, so that they are more in the mood to learn. Plus, 
it is great fun. An alternate is doing an activity I call funky musical chairs.
Five minutes – Sound shapes and/or boom whackers. I use these simple percussion instruments to teach some basic music theory 
playing on the downbeat, in a 4/4 time, using these instruments. In the process, I demonstrate how mathematics applies to 
music theory.
Then a short call and response, then maybe a call and echo rhythm game. With vocals or percussion instruments.
5 minutes – The introduction to the drums, with some brief history of djembe, doumbek, and other drums. 
I demonstrate the physics of playing a drum. How it is shaped like a rocket engine. We apply the 
“energy” with our hands and the sound is the rocket fuel.


 
Each child selects a drum, and I teach them how to play the bass and tone notes.
 
20 minutes – Group drumming on the djembes and doumbeks. We play a few basic rhythms from each culture and have some fun 
drumming. End with a big rumble finish. That’s it. Take a breath, Next group.
 
 
 
Before, or afterwards, try suggesting to the teachers to have the kids read books and journals about musicians, and about 
different music genres. Even suggest that they talk to musicians whenever they can. For the most part, most musicians 
are very accessible and willing to help by answering questions about our craft, to help them grow musically. 
 
Always try to be on the look out for these opportunities to chat a little and learn something from a professional. 
Suggest to the kids that they have their parents take them to live music performances if possible. Attend a 
clinic, go to a concert, stage play, or a music class. Or bring Djembe Dad to school week. And to 
listen more closely to the beats of their favorite music in their iPods or mp3 players.
 
One of my favorite mixed aged kids circle was a birthday party in a park, when a friend of mine's very young daughter danced 
her way to the center and started to facilitate the drum circle. She grabbed a rattle and rattled at just about every 
drummer there. Any they all responded to her musically. Then she started dancing. She was a natural facilitator.
 
Lots of kids have never played a percussion instrument before, so some of them are very timed, scared, and even self conscious. 
Some others can‘t wait to get to it. (Not as much as with the teens though.) Don’t expect to get miracles on the first session 
with kids. Sometimes it may take them two or more drum circles to loosen them up enough, and become comfortable with you. 
The second session is when the most magical things usually begin to happen.
 
 
This happens with dancers dancing, also. That’s one of the reasons why teenagers, and young adults get so hooked on raves, 
(parties) They dance and dance for hours and all of a sudden it’s morning, and the sun is rising. And to them it feels like 
it’s just been a few hours. Like the golden ratio exists in music, it also exists in dance and singing. 
Believe it or not, some kids can be good facilitators. Many are naturals at it, and love to get to be in the centre alone 
for a few minutes. Almost all age levels of kids seem to like giving it a try. I'm always amazed at what they do in 
some drum circles. I offer to let them do it all the time. Almost every time it works perfectly. (Almost.)
With mixed ages of children, it is considerably more challenging. I try not to show so many things at once. I don’t want 
learning about drums to get in the way of just learning to drum. I need to try really hard, not to try too hard, or over 
think it too much. It’s supposed to be fun. Let the kids have a little fun along with you. I usually tell them, “Just 
have fun and play what you feel like playing to the beat with me. Just follow the beat.”  When you think about how 
to drum too much, it takes the pure joy out of the drumming. 
And as odd as it may sound, don’t forget to breathe, or remind them to breathe. Many musicians and teachers will tell you 
that. Take a deep breath now and then as you play, and remind the others to do the same thing, 
take it all in, and enjoy the experience.
 
 
 
Hula hoops are your friend at kids drum circles. I bring 6. Kids hoop to the beat inside & outside the circle.
 
I’ve found that certain ages are much easier to work with. Myself, and most facilitators I’ve spoken with, like working with 
the 8 to 13 year old age range kids, because they are like these little sponges wanting to soak up all these new fun things. 
They are also somewhat more used to having respect for authority, or what an adult has to say. Anyway, the 10 year olds 
tend to raise their hands to ask questions, and they are much more orderly, making it easier for you to work with them. 
They can just pick up fun rhythms very quickly, if you vocalize them first.
Things certainly have changed over the years in the schools. (Me being 50+ years old now) Early on at the beginning of one 
year, I saw a teacher in 6th grade put an extremely disruptive student up against the wall, get in his face and read him 
the riot act. Well, as a result we all behaved really well in his class for the rest of the year. I sure didn’t want to 
get embarrassed like that in front of all my friends. 
 
 
 
 
In my experience a lot of the kids are either overly excited, or a little nervous and possibly even scared at first. So 
welcoming them and telling them that this is all about having fun, and that there are no mistakes you can make. You are 
not going to mess anyone else up if you think you made a mistake. I’m not going to be giving you a grade here. Each one 
of you is unique, different, and special, (just like the drums, their hands, and their fingerprints). All of you have 
a special contribution to make, whether it is a little or a lot. It puts them at ease right away. (And me to.)
I remind them of their beating hearts, the way they walk, and that in all of nature there is rhythm, even the city sounds have 
rhythm, and everyone has rhythm in their bodies. And I try to get them all playing as quickly as possible. 
And I get to be a kid again for a little while too
 
 
 
 
 
When you sense the kids want to learn, try not to rush them at it. Because every minute spent in a drum circle helps 
every drummer from beginner to expert become a better drummer, and to be able to learn faster.
 
 
An advanced idea is to invite one player at a time to contribute a new solo rhythm of their own creation. I get a rhythm going 
on my djembe. Get them to actively listen before adding their own rhythm to the mix. Although it may take some time, you 
will be amazed by the magic that might result. Don’t force them to solo though. Only if they want to try it. Let them use the 
“safety button” if they are uncomfortable in the spotlight. Believe me, not everyone wants to solo. They may just need 
more time. Don’t force it on them. I usually use this one on a second or third session with the same group. 
I go into more intoformation on that that below.
Too many times, we try to 
impose our sense of what sounds good, or what we may think is right and what sounds bad, or wrong on the kids. Sometimes they need 
to be given the opportunity, and/or time to experiment and create without a bunch of rules. The drum circle in class is ideal 
environment for this reason, and many others. At times, they don’t need us. That needs to be in your head the entire time.
 
Sometimes a teacher will want to run in there and try to get a kid playing who appears to be uninterested. I usually speak with them 
beforehand about please not doing this. I explain that it’s easier for kids to learn if it’s at their own pace, and when they feel 
comfortable. They will play eventually on their own when they see how much fun everyone else is having, they’re not going 
to mess things up, and that self discovery is the way to go.
 
I show them rumbles, volume, tempos, and stops as soon as I can. (Let the kids try doing this if it feels right.) Have them try the 
weather jam where we simulate Wind, Rain, Hail, Lightning, Thunder. Play storm rhythms on the drums, and percussion. It usually 
turns into a good rhythm. Sometimes it train wrecks. It lets the kids know we will all go wherever this is going together, 
and not be afraid of making mistakes.
 
 
 
The best time to experiment with solos is after you have worked with a class a few times. 
Offer them the “safety button” to use if they are timid.  They can push the imaginary safety button when it’s their turn.