We Got the Beat: Part 3

February 14, 2012

So, now that I’ve introduced the instruments and checked in with everyone, we can begin with the fun stuff.

For those of you who came from Musicworx like I did, or who have training in Drum Circle Facilitation, this technique will be familiar.  I call it “sculpting,” which I picked up somewhere along the line, but the following descriptions are variations on a theme because of the populations I work with and the size of groups.

When I was in internship (It feels like yesterday, but I finished in June of 2006) we worked in a 28-day substance abuse/addiction program once a week.  One out of every four sessions was an “active music making” session, where we would facilitate drum circles and lead chants for an hour.  There were usually 20-30 people in the circle, so this exercise took quite a while and often had many different layers to it.  There was often very little direction that needed to be given, and the participants followed non-verbal cues well.   In my groups, this is not the case. I have also led drum circles outside of my clinical settings, and it’s a different ballgame altogether.  Enjoy this video by Kalani if you are not a music therapist or DCF and are wondering what on earth I’m talking about.

1, 2, back to the groove…(inside joke?)

I encourage participants to choose an instrument to play, and explain that they needn’t mimic the rhythm I play, but rather find a creative way to play their instrument while I provide the structure.  I begin playing a rhythm on my drum (usually in 4/4 time) that is easy to improvise on and everyone plays with me.  After we’ve been playing for several minutes, I do a stop-cut (“4, 3, 2, 1, STOP”), and we continue with the cue, “1, 2, everybody(3) play(4), and -“.  I usually do three stop-cuts before we begin sculpting, so everybody is familiar with what that means, and once the group members have gotten the hang of it, I explain what we’re going to do while we’re still playing our instruments.


Set up for the psych unit group

1. For psych unit drumming  – The group I have is usually fairly small (4-7 clients) and we are seated in a small circle (with instruments in the center), so I do not stand and physically facilitate.  I tell the patients: “I’m going to say someone’s name.  If I say your name, I would like you to keep playing the next time I say ‘stop’.”  I then choose a client with good cognitive skills (when possible) and a good grasp on rhythm (when possible) to start.  I reiterate and say, “Joe Schmo, when I say stop, keep playing.” and shortly thereafter I do another stop-cut and Joe takes a solo for seven measures. On the eighth measure, I count everyone back in.  I do this with each client, (some needing more prompting than others) until everyone has had a turn, and then do the same thing, having two clients play at a time until every person has played a “duet” with every other person in the group.  Sometimes I have each client choose the next person to take a solo, as well, depending on the cognitive skills of the group.  We end on one final stop-cut, but if the clients don’t all end with me, I try again until we’re successful.  I don’t care if we accurately end a drum circle, but the clients really enjoy it when they have a nice strong ending.  They seem proud of themselves, which means a lot.

2. For Assisted Living drumming – As I’ve said in many posts, including one from the other day, the assisted living facilities I work in are specifically for people with dementia, so the residents typically require more direction and prompting than even my psych unit group does.  For starters, I do not place drums in the center of our circle for many reasons.  Confused residents may walk through the group and trip over the drums, participants may not be able to bend down to pick up the instruments (and if they tried, they might fall), and if the previous two reasons were not valid… there would be too many options if I put all of the drums in the middle – it would be super overwhelming for them to make decisions, and they might be distracted from all the extra visible stuff in the room.  So…I take each drum and instrument out of my cart, and one by one, I announce what the drum is and simultaneously demonstrate how to play it and what it sounds like while saying, “Who would like to play the buffalo drum?” while striking it, and I give it to the first person who raises their hand or gestures affirmatively.  I do that with all of my instruments.  If no one wants the one I’m demonstrating, I put it back and take the next one out, etc.  If there is a person who has not raised their hand to claim a drum (possibly because of cognitive issues) I bring two instruments over to the person and have them choose one.

I introduce the aspects of the session the same way as in the psych unit drumming group, except that I do not say people’s names.  I do a few stop-cuts until everyone gets the hang of it, and then I walk over to my chosen starter while playing my drum (my big djembe), I squat next to them and say, “So-and-so, when I say stop, you keep playing.”  I clarify this as many times as necessary, and then AS SOON AS POSSIBLE, count down to “stop,” and remain with the person until I’m sure they know what to do.  I count everyone back in after seven measures and we jam for a bit until the next person is cued/prompted.  We continue this until everyone has had a turn.  I only sculpt with more than one person if the two people are sitting next to one another, to reduce further confusion.  If I happen to have a student in this percussion group, I have them do their solo first, so the residents don’t misunderstand what is happening when someone keeps playing after the stop-cut.  I end the exercise in the same fashion as in the psych unit, until everyone stops together.


I hope this was helpful!  Stay tuned for We Got the Beat: Part 4.


One Response to “We Got the Beat: Part 3”

  1. Anonymous said

    Thanks! Great suggestions for working with seniors.

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