Drumming: Relationships Through Rhythm

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Relationships Through Rhythm Lesson

Students express themselves through the Djembe Drums. Through a series of drumming practices and activities, the students are given a chance to express themselves, develop their listening stills, and learn about teamwork, communication, and another culture.


Students will be able to: 

  • Express themselves and share ideas in a group setting
  • Listen and respond to other team members
  • Explore the different ways of communication


Formative Assessment:

(reflection and transfer of knowledge; this is essential!)

During Lesson:

  • Observe how well students are able to respond to others during the Call & Response introductions
  • Observe how well students are able to stop on cue following a group drum roll

Following Lesson:

  • What are the 3 elements of communication that helped us create such great rhythms?
  • What do you think our rhythms would have sounded like if we didn’t listen, leave space for others and invite different voices in?
  • Which element can you continue to work on to build greater teamwork this week?
  • How can you use these three elements to improve your communications with other people?
  • How can we use what we’ve learned here when we go to the Teams Course?

Summative Assessment Indicated:

Solo Walk (team building component)


Time: 45min-1hour

Age group: 9-79

Concept: Team Building

Skills: Drumming, Communication

Venue/s: Art Studio (outdoors weather dependent)

Materials: Djembe drums, percussion instruments, stools

Set up: Drums; stools in a circle; perussion instruments in the middle on floor


“I feel like we’ve developed a pretty good rhythm since we came together on Monday. You have risen to the challenges on the teams course (OR We will be heading to the teams course tomorrow…) and we’ve had lots of opportunities to work on our teamwork and communication skills. So, we’re going to keep building on those skills by drumming together. Through drumming we will learn 3 important elements of communication and we’ll work together to create and hear what the rhythm of Team ¬____ sounds like!”

Students are invited to select a drum, sit down (w/ stools) and form a circle. They are asked not to play until the group has gone over how to care for the drums. One or two students are asked to read aloud the ‘care tags’ on their drum as the rest of the group follows along. Instructor checks for understanding and/or compliance.

Students are invited to explore their drum – play it loud! Hit it hard! See what kind of sounds it makes! The instructor uses this opportunity to establish a clear, non-verbal “stop” command to regain the group’s attention (i.e. object drop, or hand/body motion).

Instructor models how to properly hold and position the drum, while introducing and demonstrating drum strokes one at a time. Students are given a brief time to practice each stroke after it is introduced while the instructor provides some individual encouragement and/or support.


Drum Strokes:

Bass, Tone, Slap, Press, Heel/Toe

Activity 1: Call & Response Name Game

In this activity one student issues a verbal and rhythmical call to the group. The group must listen and respond. This is essentially a rhythmical game of “Simon Says.”

Each student will issue a call to the group by introducing him or herself using their nature name followed by a very simple 1-5 stroke rhythm that they make up (i.e. “My name is Marc Magpie”…bass|bass|tone|tone)

The rest of the group will respond in unison saying hello, repeating their name and playing the same simple rhythm. (i.e. “Hello Marc Magpie!”… bass|bass|tone|tone)

Continue around the circle until each student has introduced themselves and their own rhythm.

Processing Questions, Introducing elements of communication and segue:
What did you have to do in order to respond to the caller? Was it ever hard to respond? Was it easy? Why? How is that like having a verbal conversation with someone?

[Here you can introduce the importance of listening. For the rest of the lesson the group will be required to listen to and build upon what others are playing]

Activity 2: Building Rhythms

This begins as a partnered activity that builds to the entire group working together to combine simple rhythms to create more complex rhythms.

Processing Questions, Introducing elements of communication and segue:
“In this next activity it is important that everyone leaves space for other people to play with them. The more notes you play, the less room there is for the other people to play and be heard. Just like in a conversation…”

Demonstrate this by having the group do a drum roll together while the instructor plays a simple rhythm. Ask the group if they could hear what you were playing. Do it again, but this time ask the group to play a simple, four stroke rhythm (1, 2, 3, 4 - 1, 2, 3, 4) and play the same rhythm. Ask if they could hear you that time. Why?

Have students partner up with someone on either side of them. They are given 5 minutes or less to create one rhythm out of two simple parts. They can play the rhythm they used during the call & response name game or make up a new one. Go around the circle and give each pair an opportunity to share their rhythm.

Repeat the activity with groups of 3 or 4 depending upon time available.

Processing Questions, Introducing elements of communication and segue:
What happened to the rhythm as you added more people to your group? Did anything become more challenging? Was anything easier? How important was your part in creating the rhythm?

[Introduce the importance of having many different voices involved in order to create something bigger than ourselves and how it is even more important to listen and leave space.]


Activity 3: Group Drum Jam

Build a whole group rhythm in the same way paired and small group rhythms were created.

Select a student with a strong sense of rhythm to begin

  • Add parts as you go around the circle OR select students at random to join the rhythm circle (the option allows you to create a strong rhythmical foundation with the most solid drummers)
  • Encourage students to switch to a percussion instrument at sometime during the jam (wood block, shaker, etc.)
  • Try to orchestrate the jam by changing the dynamics (volume, tempo, etc.) without stopping the music
    • This requires verbal and physical cues from the instructor and for the group to pay attention to more than just their instrument
  • Close the jam with a group drum roll

Activity 4:  Blind Jam

This time get a jam going on but have everyone play the same beat.  The key for this lesson is that everyone has their eyes closed.

  • As the instructor start the first jam.  You control the tempo and dynamics.  The goal is for the kids to respond to your playing only using their ears.
  • After jamming for a bit stop playing and see how long it takes the whole group to stop, have the chaperone time it. Challenge the kids to really listen and see if the whole group can stop within a couple of seconds after you stop.
  • You can have students then lead the blind jam to see how hard it might be to lead the whole group.  This can be an effective team builder and it can be transferred over to making sure each student listens to each other outside of our drum circle.
  • Jam out!
  • Also you can ask the kids what animals might use hearing as their primary sense.  Relate how the group now has been channeling their inner _____ by really focusing with their ears!



Congratulate your group on creating a totally unique rhythm from their many voices! Remind them that they learned and practiced three very important elements of communication while they were drumming.


Science Tie-ins!

  • There are also opportunities to bring in science with this lesson, primarily how rhythm is used in nature.
  • Ask the kids when do they hear rhythm in nature?  Help funnel them to the idea of bird calls.
  • Bring an iPod and play them different bird calls.  Have the group try to replicate the rhythm.  Great examples might be
    the pileated woodpecker and the bard owl.
  • Kids can come up with their own interpretive calls on the drum and the group can respond.  This is a good time to bring up the idea of call and response in nature and how organisms in our ecosystem communicate.
  • You can also split the group into sections, similar to a group jam, but this time have each be part of an ecosystem.  Encourage the kids to think about some major parts and how they interact.  When the whole group then jams tie in the fact that the group is now an ecosystem working together and interacting in different ways.

Safety Considerations:

Ensure that all participants feel emotionally safe participating. Support challenge by choice and allow students who don’t feel comfortable with a drum to choose a percussion instrument if they wish.

Background information:

This lesson is not about teaching specific drum rhythms and does not require the instructor to know how to drum. Demonstrating the drum strokes at the beginning of the lesson is the only “formal” teaching that is specific to playing the drum. It is important that the instructor NOT put too much weight on proper technique or sound. Drum strokes are shared in order to give students direction for self-exploration and self-expression.

Trying to teach specific cultural rhythms is challenging and may lead to frustration that can cause some students (adults and children) to check out. Stay aware of the needs of individuals in the group. If an individual is challenged by drum strokes you can offer them a simple percussion instrument (shaker, wood blocks, etc.) that will still allow them to participate fully.

Drumming with any group is more successful when you play more and talk less. Give the group every opportunity to play their instruments. An effective way to do this is to use the group drum roll as a way of applauding group members and teaching the group verbal and physical cues.


These are Djembe drums from Ivory Coast West Africa

Every drum has a very powerful spirit that of the tree they were carved from and that of the animals which gave its skin for the head The skins on these djembes are coatskins

Please show respect for these drums listen to the sprint of the drum let it connect with your own Spirit as you play it and speak your voice your inner rhythm in community pay it much love and respect and it will give back so much more

Words cannot explain the healing energy of these drums for the body mind and spirit

How to care for IW Djembes:

  •      Remove all rings watches or other jewelry from your hands before playing
  •      Never hit the drum head with a stick
  •      Do not drop bounce or banthese drums around they are not toys
  •      Do not play these drums outside in the rain
  •      Never use lotion oil or lubricant of any kind on the skin
  •      Avoid playing the drum after using lotion or oils on your hands
  •      Do not attempt to tune adjust or fix a drum


Pictures of Practice:

https://vimeo.com/19406040 - Djembe Drumming Lesson: IslandWood Teacher Professional Development in Music Education



Hull, Arthur. Drum Circle Spirit: Facilitating Human Potential Through Rhythm. Village Music Circles. 1998.

Masala, Kenya. Rhythm Play: Rhythm Activities and Initiatives for Adults, Facilitators, Teachers and Kids! JuJu Studios, 2004

Created by Eric Wilborn I July 2005 .