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What is a Drum Circle


Drumming for Football
Sensory Processing Study
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What is a Drum Circle? Information on Drum Circles in Orange County.

By: Stephen Dolle, Drum Circle Facilitator        Last updated: April 10, 2015

    What is a Drum Circle? Are you looking for information on drum circles in Orange County? We organize drum circles, plus facilitate a wide variety of drumming events where we bring in instruments. SEE also our drumming and drumming for the brain posts on my company blog, including, information on Drumming for Rain events in California.

    In this section, we offer our own views and science in drum circles and the rhythms of your brain, from community drumming, drumming therapy, drumming for wellness, drumming for team-building, spirituality, and ceremonies, to drumming for sports play.

    Drum circles is a term used to broadly identify a collection of people organized to play a variety of percussive instruments, from small to large drums, bells, shakers, wooden blocks, beaded instruments, and more. Participants might come together for a healing or spiritual ceremony, for musical performance, community assembly, in celebration, or in competition as was portrayed in the movie, "Drum Line." Here's an earlier flier on the many ways drumming is used today Modern Applications of Drumming and Rhythm.   

    Scientists have studied the human response to rhythms for many years. Yet it is only in recent years, that cognitive neuroscience has been able to identify the influential effects that audible rhythm has on the brain, body, emotions, and spirit of human beings. We have been following this research and the relationship with audible rhythm, physical movement, functional neurobiology, and inter-personal communication since 2002. The following content is a compilation of many of our findings. We are also developing a new web section on cognitive neuroscience which lists the many areas where we are involved.

Drum Circles

    There are four major components that make up the "perception" of rhythm. They include: the audible beat or rhythm structure, vocal/instrument  audible toning features, a performers body movement, and words or lyrics spoken. Each conveys a message heavily based on the "intent" of the performer. It is very difficult for a performer to alter all the components during a performance. For this reason, listeners come away from a performance feeling the intent of the performer. If all components elicit the same message, it is then viewed as a powerful performance.

    Live musical percussion affects listeners on physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual levels. First, you physically feel and move to the rhythms. We reference rhythm and time structure to time in each day, and also to our own heart beat. The rhythms and intent of the performer next affect us in emotional ways, which causes numerous chemicals to be released within the brain, each having its specific role in human activity. The music or rhythm spurs intellectual thought from the increase in brain chemicals, with subsequent prompts to take action. And lastly, it produces a type of spiritual response where we may reflect on the larger or communal issues in life. All of these combine to create a cause and affect upon us, and it is in these regards, that we view music and rhythm as a form of communication. These elements take place in every drum circle at some level.

    On the PR (public relations) front, we earlier launched a new awareness campaign on the benefits of rhythm and musical percussion in learning, entitled, "Play Rhythm, Be Smart." This campaign is designed to inform organizations, schools, and the public on the many benefits of performing rhythm and percussion. We are also actively encouraging (through PR) leading rap and hip-hop artists to write/record a 2nd and less offensive language version of some songs so that they can be more readily listened to by non-adult audiences. Earlier, we were advocating drumming to help inner city and at-risk teens play and compete using live percussion, and in conjunction with rap/hip-hop vocals.



Rhythm is the portal into Time, Space, and our Creator

    What are the boundaries of time and space? Why are we so drawn to rhythm and movement? What is the 6th sense? Why are some people more intuitive or more knowing? These questions have not only been raised in science and popular discussion circles in recent years, but they are coming up within the drumming community. Of rhythm and mind: the photo at right was taken by a photographer for the Orange County Register newspaper at the Stefan Kaelin "Drum for Snow" event in Newport Beach in Dec. 2007. Stephen Dolle, closest to the camera, came in and facilitated the event. The following morning it began to rain and snow heavily in the mountains, and did so for 4 days, dumping some 10 feet of snow in the local mountains. Fact or fiction?

    Rhythm exists in all forms of life - whether you hear it, see it, think it, or feel it. Our heart and lungs, and thousands of body physiologic processes, all move with a specific rhythm. We walk and run with our own unique rhythm. Rhythm gives us cues about what is about to occur.

    Math is rhythmic, and rhythm is mathematical. Momentum, or the rate of change in time and movement, is found in music, sports play, and most activities, represents the speeding up or slowing down of an action - but referenced to "time." TIME is the constant in our sun and Earth's orbits, which we reference to TIME on Earth. The earth also has a magnetic field that gives off vibrations at a certain frequency and time structure. When audible rhythms such as Latin rhythms, move in, over, and around a TIME structure, it is that magical movement in contrast to the more predictable rhythms of our bodies, that creates an extraordinary effect of unusual movement against our more simplified body movement. In addition, research has shown that waveforms in the human brain can align in "syncopation" with audible or visual rhythms after just 8 to 10 minutes. This syncopation of brain waves is referred to as "brain wave entrainment," and offers wellness and teambuilding benefits and is widely used in drum circle facilitation.

    The rhythm of percussive sound say from musical instruments, is made up of both "time" and "movement." When you melodically change the tempo and rhythm structure of percussion, it feels as if you have "bent" the sound or have "bent time." Since time is what defines our every element of existence here on Earth, "bending time" then momentarily frees us from the simplistic human movements that ordinarily ground us. Bending percussive sound can also alter the waveforms of thought in our brains, which vary between beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves, and largely determine our activity level of conscious thought. We postulate there is a close inter-relationship between conscious or "cognitive" thought, and our everyday awareness of time and space, which we regularly are aware of. We also store and recall much of our brain's memory and experiences according to time and our emotions of those memories. Improving your understanding of math and audible rhythm, can help you better store and recall memories, and improve your skill in learning. With so much of our everyday life referenced to time, a better familiarity of audible rhythm will help you to better process time and thought. Specific types of rhythms also offer the capability to elucidate a pre-determined action to a sound stimulus.  Sound can put us at peace, can be motivational, make us fearful, filled with love, excitement, anger, etc., it can produce an entire gamut of emotions and behavioral responses.

    Within the drumming community, there are rising interests in spirit images which seem to appear during drum circles, as can be seen in these bonfire photos at one of our full moon drum circles. These photos were taken in 2009. While spirit and animal-like images may be one's interpretation, the fact is that many of the photos seem to contain "animal & spirit-like" images in the flames of the bonfire. It would seem that, on some level, there spiritual communion occurring here. In addition, some participants of drum circles can enter trance-heightened states, a state of heightened consciousness that has been observed on MRI scans, and which I have come to know and observe in my drum circles. Professional musicians, athletes, people undergoing fasting, and those who live a religious or meditative lifestyle, have all been observed in trance-heightened states. Participants at some drum circles will also cast their troubles into the fire. In the photo above of Stephen Dolle (red shirt), there appears to be an eagle, a wolf, a killer whale, a gazelle, and a human face all in the flames of the bon fire.

    In the photo at left, a man stands over a fire with a drum, while there appears to be a figure of a man's head and shoulders coming out of the ground, with flames above his head forming artwork of a "crown."

    In the photo at right, a man can be seen running and circling the bonfire and as he runs, flames from the bonfire seem to leap out onto his back and form an image of "angel wings." In the photo at left, there appears to be an image of full standing spirit bearing a "crown" over the head and squirting some liquid at the crowd.

    Our brains are capable of processing complex rhythms far more easily than previously thought, and while we are unaware. The more we listen to music and complex rhythms, the more efficient the process becomes. At some point, rhythm recognition and processing becomes autonomous (effortless), and it allows one's brain to more freely and efficiently devote effort to important complex and conscious thought. In some instances, the brain can become so "free" that one looses orientation to TIME and SPACE, similar to what occurs in deep meditation. This can and does happen in many drum circles, and dating back more than 2000 years in spiritual and communal ceremonies.



Drumming for the Brain

Below is Stephen Dolle's power point presentation from his 2011 keynote at Wright State University on the prospects of drumming in STEM3 education.





    Science has shown that rhythm also helped form early "language" and communication in humans. Our core functions like breathing, eating, walking, etc. are said to originate in an area of the lower brain referred to as the cerebellum, or "primal brain." The primal brain initially helped us learn to talk, communicate, walk, and be mobile in order to survive. But, as our intelligence developed, the frontal lobe of our brains became more and more dominant in what are termed as "executive functions" today. Still, the rhythm of movement, originates primarily in the lower part of the brain, whereas, following or playing of music involves more of the frontal lobe. More specifically, it is the cerebral cortex in and around the frontal and temporal lobes that is responsible for processing of sound. Lyrics are then processed in Broca's and Wernicke's areas of the cerebral cortex, visual images by the visual cortex, and the action of "dancing" is triggered by the motor cortex on the lower brain. Familiar songs and associated memories are said to occur in the prefrontal cortex.

    Another critical part of the brain involved in processing sound and music is the "hippocampus," whose primary mission is converting short term memories into long term memories, and helping maintain feelings and emotions concerning our memories. The hippocampus sits on either side of the brain under the temporal cortex, and helps process signals from our five senses. For this reason, it plays a critical role in our emotions of music appreciation, and also is a critically affected part of the brain in post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dimentias, and traumatic brain injury (TBI). Considerable research has been done to show that " overstimulation" of the hippocampus is leading to much higher levels of stress and mental health problems today.

    Still, many of our primal or natural inclinations today in our use of language, sports, and skilled movement originate in the lower or primal brain. And in these regards, we still hold similarities to monkeys and many animals. In fact, scientists report that monkeys scored the same on math tests as college students. Using more sophisticated higher brain functions, including mathematics, humans then pioneered Morse code, electronic signaling, and the advent of electronic communications devices today.

    Have you noticed the number of television ads today that feature "drums and percussion" to elicit the ad message? Gone is the the once staple ad format that featured a popular TV or film personality pitching a product, with a recognizable musical jingle in the background that reached a crescendo by the finish of the ad.

    Advertisers now know that developed countries like the U.S. inundate viewers with audio, visual, intellectual, and physical information. As a result, consumers are much more discretionary in what information they take in. So, advertisers have been using musical percussion to deliver their ad messages without spoken words. How does one know which rhythm/percussion sequence will transmit what message?

    First, let's examine how audible rhythms form the foundation of music, language, and non-verbal communication. Our bodies are mere conduits of thought, emotion, and spiritual "intent." It is this "intent" which is broadcasts as observable audio and physical rhythms, and received by others. Internationally recognized author and drum circle facilitator, Arthur Hull, posed the question: "Which occurs first, the rhythm, or the dance?" Hull writes, "the dance," as the dance comes from within us. So if physical dance is the transmitter, and we sense it via our body's complex sensory system, how do we sense " intent?"

    As the best modern science can tell, we sense "intent" through our brain's highest level functions, raising speculation on our brain's role in intuition and spiritual telepathy, broadly termed the "sixth sense" today. Why all the above discussion? It appears at the core of all forms of rhythm reception is a "sixth sense" type operation taking place in sensory areas of our brains, working in concert with our primal brain. Researchers cannot say with any level of certainty which rhythmic sequences transmit which "message," but we know that the intent of the transmitting person is integral in the message. Secondly, there are culturally specific "rhythms" which have been in existence for thousands of years and transmit communications that are innately (partly) understood, though in the West we appear further removed and less aware. Some of these rhythm sequences today still form an integral part of communication in a number of African and Latin American tribal communities.

    How can music, percussion, and rhythm be of practical use today? It can be used as a learning tool, as a personal coach or therapist tool for wellness and healing, and it can be used to train work and sports teams to become better coordinated in communications. Group rhythms tend to cause a group to think and behave alike, in syncopation, and can create a common "brain wave entrainment" for the entire group. This is accomplished when participants use heightened listening, sensing, and trusting of the instinct and judgment that emanate from the circle. Active participation in drum circles and percussion will enhance an individual's ability to both transmit, and receive/interpret, non-verbal rhythmic and visual language cues.

Your Brain is especially Designed to Process Rhythm and support the Mozart Effect

    Rhythm appears to more easily reach key sensory pathways and is processed faster (than other sensory information) largely by the "pre-frontal cortex." Wikipedia features a great overview of music and the brain. According to published research, the sense of smell is processed the fastest. Because the hippocampus can become inundated by visual and auditory stimuli, we believe rhythm is more readily processed to thought and that are better able to utilize it in our "sixth sense" receptors than information coming through our other sensory pathways. One could equate processing of rhythm to that of a computer processing "raw data."

    In 2002, and revised again in 2005, our Sensory Processing Study reported on our experiences with a metronome in measuring the different responses to auditory, vestibular, and visual stimuli, where we varied the rhythmic patterns, volume, and tempo in an attempt to explain the sensory integration or sensory processing difficulties (i.e. neuro-hypersensitivities) which widely occurs when individuals with neuropathology are exposed to certain types of sound. This involved a decrease in the tolerance level to various visual, audio, and vestibular stimuli and experiences, known to occur in autism, PTSD, TBI, migraine, hydrocephalus, concussion, and related disorders.  And we found a direct relationship between heightened sensitivities to specific repetitive rhythm patterns (i.e. diesel engines, air tools, room noise) and headache, dizziness, nausea, irritability, and fatigue - which then interferes with cognitive function, learning, and comprehension. Next, we introduced a protocol gradually exposing study subjects to the problematic metronome rhythms, with the intent of "improving" tolerance and compensation and reducing the ensuing neurological deficits. We found a causal relationship between simple harmonic rhythms, complaints, and a decreased ability to learn, where more complex or "syncopated" rhythms were actually helpful in developing compensatory mechanisms and noise tolerance. 

    The complex pathways of the human brain involve a specific flaw in how we process sensory information, that can result in audio and visual processing difficulties where the signals appear enhanced as louder signals, making a lot of audio and visual stimuli difficult to tolerate. We found, using a 50-pattern metronome, that the dysfunction is related to the syncopation of the sound, where melodic beat patterns were much easier to process, to the point of being therapeutic. It would seem that our brain's melodic affinity to syncopated sound is at the very core of the positive cognitive benefits of what is widely known as the "Mozart Effect." Our Auditory Study also discusses the mechanism of audio-visual over-stimulation from sources like machinery and room noise in public places. Research suggests that music's extraordinary affect upon the brain is due to the result of both rhythm and tonal influences emanating from voices and musical instruments. Music & Art Therapy has emerged today as a form of medical therapy in of itself.



Drum Circles are a modern Application of an age old Practice

    Stephen shares his extraordinary story and drumming discoveries in this keynote and Power Point, Engage the Rhythms of your Brain, presented at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, on October 5, 2011.

    Our connection with rhythm, music, and language dates back to the earliest period of man. It is believed that rhythm producing tools emerged not long after early man first began communicating with vocal groans and rhythmic tones, prior to the formation of any spoken language. Early language is believed to have originated from thought intent, vocal toning, and then rhythmic cues. These same communication features are culturally fundamental to all languages today, with some exception provided for English and Western languages, which have relied more on the spoken and written word, and somewhat less on non-verbal cues. However, more recently, it appears that Western scientists and communications experts are now emphasizing the additional information gleaned through non-verbal language, and an improved familiarity with rhythm is integral in understanding non-verbal cues. Listen to two community drum circle audios: a short drum circle audio 1 and longer drum circle audio 2.

    Today, Western scientific research is paving the way for new applications of rhythm and participation in "drum circles," in such areas as improving health and wellness, enhancing family, social, and workplace communications and integration, and boosting one's attentiveness to non-verbal cues critical in team tasks and sports. Drum circles also aid inter-personal expression by allowing participants to communicate deep personal messages without the apprehension and/or trauma of actually speaking. Did you see the 2008 film, "The Visitor?" Follow all the post release discussions.

    There is a growing interest in today's corporate culture to utilize drum circles for corporate team building and professional sports, such as football, basketball, and cycling. Stephen Dolle has undergone drum circle facilitator training with Arthur Hull's Village Music Circles, plus is qualified to design protocols for a variety of applications.  We utilize a mix of neuroscience, music, business, sports, and health care knowledge to create specific application protocols for each and every client.

    Drum circles can have a large impact on the performance of team sports, such as football and basketball, where a tailored drumming protocol can enhance team non-verbal communication, and subsequently, team performance. Group drumming teaches participants to "function as a unit," where split-second decisions are critical. Drumming may also have applications in military and police training, which requires peak readiness and coordinated execution. The following "flier" lists the many ways Drumming and Drum Circles are used today.



Interesting Stuff:

Below, Babatule Olatunji, founding father of the modern drum circle.


1. Simple Instructional YouTube Video on How to Play a Djembe Drum



Modern Day Drumming & Drum Circle Facilitation

    Research is underway to better explain the cause and effect relationship that rhythm has on our brains, and to determine which rhythms and musical tones produce what types of behavioral responses. We postulate it is in part related to each person's psychological and cultural make-up, to our time/space memories, our various states of mind, and to the fact that it is also a learned response. Group drumming has proven to provide relief to those battling cancer. We specifically advocate the use of rhythm and drums in those with neurological disorders. Using specific rhythms in concert with the body's own sensory system, people can learn to subconsciously "cue" new compensatory control over many physical movements like walking, talking, standing, eating, etc. We encourage interested persons to employ "trial and error" test of rhythms to try to learn which produce the more favorable responses. For example, Stephen Dolle, our founder, is drawn to lively bending Latin rhythms, deep tone melodic beats, and multi-part syncopated African progressions.

    Earlier, we launched a campaign to boost new applications of rhythm and percussion in learning, entitled, "Play Rhythm, Be Smart." This campaign is to inform organizations, schools, and the general public of the many benefits of performing rhythm and percussion. We will be presenting specific applications of rhythm (drumming) for the workplace, team sports, education, and for the care and treatment of persons with neurological disorders, including, traumatic brain injury (TBI), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism, and others.

    Dolle Communications founder and neuroscientist, Stephen Dolle, is uniquely qualified as a drum circle facilitator and keynote speaker on rhythm and the brain. He has been active in neuro-behavioral wellness and research, musical performing, and has extensive experience in health care, sports, and business. He advocates the use of "live percussion" in pop music, particularly, in Rap and Hip-Hop, which today mostly uses electronic rhythm tracks. It is next to impossible to generate matching electronic to vocals that give a true human feel and synchronization. Live percussion can do just that, and fill each and every space with syncopated movement, energy, and intent!  The following link identifies our own philanthropic music outreach proposal to help inner city and at-risk teens to play and compete with live percussion.

    Stephen consults on applications of rhythm and drum circles for interested companies, organizations, educational institutions, and governmental agencies, and performs with numerous area artists.


Scheduling of Drum Circles & Workshops:

To schedule a drum circle or workshop, contact Stephen Dolle per the contact information below. Please also complete and fax/email this Drum Circle Facilitation Client & Deposit Agreement. You may also make payments and deposits via our PayPal link below.

Email: contact[at]dollecommunications[dot]com


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