Drumming Circle Etiquette: 21 Do's and Don'ts for First-Timers

drum circle drumming circle drumming circles Aug 12, 2023

Above: Jim Donovan's students lead a social drumming circle activity for the first time

Stepping into the rhythmic world of drumming circles can be an exciting, yet somewhat intimidating experience, especially for first-timers. Navigating one can be as intricate as the rhythms produced within them.

For the uninitiated, a drumming circle may seem like an exhilarating freestyle jam, but there's a delicate balance of spontaneity and respect underlying each session.

To help first-timers embark on this rhythmic journey with confidence, we've crafted a list of 21 do's and don'ts to ensure harmony in every beat.

Getting ready for an outdoor drumming circle at the Great Rhythm Revival retreat

1. Do: Arrive with an Open Mind.
Every drumming circle has its unique energy. Embrace the experience, even if it's different from your expectations.

2. Don't: Interrupt an Ongoing Rhythm.
Wait for a lull or natural break in the music before you start playing, ensuring you don’t disrupt the flow.

3. Do: Listen Actively.
A drumming circle thrives on listening. Engage with the beats and people around you and do your best to find a rhythm that complements them.

4. Don't: Dominate the Session.
While it's great to be enthusiastic, remember it's a group activity. Enjoy yourself and give others space to express themselves.

5. Do: Familiarize Yourself with Basic Beats.
Knowing some fundamental rhythms can help you join in with confidence.


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6. Don’t: Use Someone Else's Drum Without Permission.

Instruments often hold sentimental value. Always ask before playing another's drum.

7. Do: Position Yourself Properly.
Sit in a way that your drum is stable and you can play comfortably. Ensure you’re not encroaching on someone else’s space.

8. Don't: Bring Alcohol or Drugs.
Many drumming circles are spiritual or meditative events. Respect the sanctity of the occasion.

9. Do: Seek Guidance.
If unsure about a rhythm or a pattern, ask a seasoned drummer for tips or insights.

10. Don’t: Get Discouraged.
Mistakes are part of the learning curve. If you miss a beat, smile and keep going!

Jim Donovan leads a drumming circle with children and parents

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11. Do: Respect the Circle's Leader.
Some drumming circles have a leader guiding the rhythm. Follow their cues and tempo.

12. Don’t: Start a New Rhythm Without Syncing.
If introducing a new rhythm, ensure it blends harmoniously with the ongoing beat. When in doubt, start with simple patterns.

13. Do: Bring Your Instruments.
While many circles have extra instruments, it's good etiquette to bring your own if you have one.

14. Don't: Play Louder Than Everyone Else.
A drumming circle is about unity, and helping each other "sound good" together—not overshadowing.

15. Do: Stay Present.
Engage fully in the moment, appreciating the magic of collective music-making.

16. Don’t: Record Without Asking.
Always get consent before recording, as some participants might value their privacy.

17. Do: Join the Closing Ritual.
Many circles conclude with a song, chant, or moment of silence. If it feels right to you, participate or simply observe with respect.

18. Don't: Leave Without Expressing Gratitude.
A nod, smile, or a simple ‘thank you’ to those around you goes a long way.

19. Do: Clean Up After Yourself.
Leave the venue better that you found it.

20. Don’t: Forget to Relax and Enjoy.
At its core, a drumming circle is about joy, connection and stress relief. Do you best to immerse yourself fully.

21. Do: Return for Another Circle.
One session might not capture the full essence. Attend multiple sessions to truly understand and appreciate the depth of drumming circles.

Massive drum circle with Jim Donovan and college students 

Remember, the resonant beats of a drumming circle are more than just musical notes; they can represent a tapestry of emotions, cultures, and personal expression. By following these do's and don'ts, you'll not only contribute to the harmony of the circle but also to the collective story being crafted.

Whether you're a seasoned percussionist or a novice with eager hands, there’s a spot for you in the circle. So, dive in and let the rhythms guide your soul!


Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a professional musician, trainer, Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University and TEDx speaker.

His mission is to share the healing power of music through education and performance. He specializes in placing music and wellness programs in organizations who focus on people with disabilities and people recovering from addiction.

Having presented over 3000+ rhythm and sound based programs since 1999, Donovan works internationally facilitating music and wellness events with a wide variety of populations including corporate, university, people with disabilities, and people recovering from addiction. 

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