Integrating drumming and other contemplative practices

“When the drum stops, the stillness is palpable. Somehow with less sensory stimulation, we are more alert, more present, more in touch with our surroundings. And certainly more resilient to the overload of sensory stimulation that awaits us, ‘out there.’ “

   – A contemplative drummer

Although the general public might not consider drumming to be a contemplative activity, those of us who have tried it know it can be a meditative experience. Contemplation, a deeply thoughtful process, is often imagined as a silent activity in solitude. Stillness practices are one kind of contemplation, but there are also contemplative movement practices, creative practices, relational practices, and more.  “Contemplative practices are practical,radical, and transformative, developing capacities for deep concentration and quieting the mind in the midst of the action and distraction that fills everyday life.” (The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society, accessed 1/14/15 at

Contemplation in a group or community with a shared intention can be a powerful experience. The intentions of contemplative practices, communion, connection, and awareness, are no strangers to drum circle facilitators. “Contemplative practices can help develop greater empathy and communication skills, improve focus and attention, reduce stress and enhance creativity, supporting a loving and compassionate approach to life.”(The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society)

Contemplative practices you may want to try with your drumming circles

The simplest way to integrate a contemplative practice into a rollicking drumming circle is to allow for periods of silence.  Suggest silence be held for several minutes when drumming stops. Some pre-arranged cues from you can facilitate a clear beginning and end to the contemplative period of silence.

Another drumming circle activity is to play a steady repetitive beat for several minutes. If you change the rhythm,participants’ attention will be drawn away from contemplation as their minds process the new rhythm. Playing a steady 60 beats a minute mimics a slow heart rate and promotes entrainment.  Some advocate for a steady 180 beats a minute, which is the average fetal heart rate.It is possible but challenging for a group to sustain a synchronized beat.Often the repetitive beat is played by one drummer. To practice these beats, sit where you can see an old fashioned clock or watch that has a secondhand.  For 60 beats a minute, match each movement of the second hand with one beat. For 180 beats a minute, the ratio is 3 beats per second.  Remember to breathe!

Meditation is what most people think of as a contemplative practice, and there are many kinds of meditation.  Either a guided meditation or silent opportunity for personal meditation can be incorporated into a drumming circle at the beginning, or as a conclusion. Beginning a circle with meditation helps attendees to center as they transition from busy lives to the healing opportunities in the circle.  It can provide an opportunity for each present to set their intention for the drumming circle experience.  Ending a drumming circle with a meditation can promote a sense of being grounded and centered facilitating a safe transition into the outer world.

Integrating Drumming with other Contemplative Practices

There are many opportunities to blend meditation and drumming. During a walking meditation the drum could be used to hold a beat pacing the walk.  Or it could be used to call people back into circle at the conclusion of the walking meditation.  I often use Belleruth Naparstek’s walking meditation script in her book titled, “Staying Well with Guided Imagery.”   It can be challenging to simultaneously read a guided meditation and drum, so you might consider pre-recording the guided walking meditation script for play back during your group. That leaves both of your hands and your mindfulness available to your drum.When using Belleruth’s script, titled, “Walking Imagery Exercise,” I simply read the meditation and as discussed with the group before beginning, use the drum to call them back into circle.

“Heart’s Beat” is a style of doing Reiki with the assistance of a drum taught by Lucrezia Pierro and Pat Cicerone. Following attunements by a Heart’s Beat Reiki Master, you learn to do a healing session in which the Reiki energy passes through both the practitioner and the drum.While beating a steady 180 beats a minute, the drum is passed over and under a supine client to restore, clear, and balance life force energy.

You may contemplate in nature with your drum. My favorite experience of drumming and nature occurred several years ago up in the mountains.  I was attending the American Holistic Nurses Association annual conference, held that year at the Mount Washington Hotel in New Hampshire. During a break I and my drum hopped in the car heading for Crawford Notch.  The few tourists there looked a bit askance at my business dress.  You should have seen their faces when I began to drum!  Soon I settled into a contemplative state of mind, sensing the ancient presence of mountains and valleys created during the Ice Age.

Crawford Notch, NH

Various other practices may be combined with drumming for a multisensory contemplative experience.  Some are easily implemented by experienced drum circle facilitators, and others might require some training. Here are a few suggestions to try.

Drum while walking a labyrinth.

Chant and drum.

Experience shamanic journey during shamanic drumming.

Softly play a drumming track while doing the new/old craze now called “adult coloring.”

Call people to a sharing circle, or use drumming to end a sharing circle.

Drum while your group walks a labyrinth

These ideas are simply a beginning. Contemplation and drumming are both creative practices, and I imagine your creativity has or will dream up all sorts of ways of combining a variety of practices.  Please share!  What contemplative practices are you using in your drumming circles?  To what contemplative practices have you brought drumming?

Published previously in the Drum Circle Facilitator Guild Newsletter, 2016

Ed: Barrie McArthur

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