Drum Circle Facilitation and Music Therapy

After a meal and an evening of music-making with three amazing women drummers last weekend, I was inspired to write about drum circle facilitation and a program that connects all four of us: Remo’s HealthRHYTHMS®.

Mary Tolena and Jú Linares of ZaBoomBala Drumming Works stayed with me in San Diego for 2 days and told me stories of their recent Drum-About across the United States and through Brazil. Christine Stevens of UpBeat Drum Circles joined us over the weekend, and we four shared music and touching stories about our experiences in our work.

The following paragraphs should clarify the difference between a music therapist (MT) and a drum circle facilitator (DCF). There are MTs, there are DCFs, and sometimes people are both MTs and DCFs (like myself and Christine Stevens). DCFs are not considered therapists, but facilitators, coaches, teachers, and/or mentors. Music therapy is an allied healthcare profession established in the 1940s, while drum circle facilitation is a relatively new field. DCFs come with diverse backgrounds: professional drummers, social workers, music therapists, healthcare professionals, wellness consultants, corporate trainers, and more.

Music therapists ~

  1. Use evidence-based music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship (American Music Therapy Association, 2010)
  2. Are required to obtain a degree (bachelors, masters, PhD), attend a 6-month internship, and pass a board-certification exam.
  3. May be members of the American Music Therapy Association in the US.
  4. Are all formally trained musicians.

Drum circle facilitators ~

  1. Utilize a variety of techniques to make an interactive music experience easy, fun, and meaningful for participants (Drum Circle Facilitators Guild, 2010)
  2. May attend a training program. They vary between 4 days and 2 weeks. HealthRHYTHMS is one such training program. I’ll be writing about more DCF training programs soon.
  3. May be members of the Drum Circle Facilitation Guild in the US.
  4. Are not necessarily formally trained musicians, but some are world-renowned musicians.
Drum Circle Facilitation and Music Therapy

MT is an awesome path if you are a formally trained musician and would like to work in the medical, psychiatric, educational, or wellness fields. DCF is a wonderful opportunity for people interested in empowering others to make music in a recreational setting, without having to obtain a degree or become proficient on an instrument. DCF is also great for those already on a healthcare or corporate career path, looking to supplement their current services.

For those interested in continuing education with regards to wellness, the HealthRHYTHMS® training program is a good option because the program focuses specifically on health and wellness through group drumming. The HealthRHYTHMS® research over the past ten years has helped to bridge the gap between the ancient art of healing and modern science.

The body of music therapy literature is prolific, spanning 5 decades of quantitative research that focuses on a variety of techniques with a variety of populations. For instance, I have posted a snapshot of the MT research on infants in a NICU here. MTs are formally trained with regards to the importance of the therapist-client relationship, how to build rapport with the client, how to follow systematic steps for successful client transformation, how to apply these steps with a variety of populations using an enormous variety of music interventions.

Read more about music therapy…
Learn more about drum circle facilitation by joining the DCF’s Yahoo Group…

Although I was never lucky enough to meet legendary music therapist, Bongo Barry Bernstein, MT-BC, he left his mark in the music & wellness world through his years of service, creative rhythmic interaction, and creating the bridge between music and science. In this video, you may notice that the spirit of Bongo Barry lives on in both the music therapy field and drum circle facilitation.

Image courtesy of Lucas Lee.

, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

18 Responses to Drum Circle Facilitation and Music Therapy

  1. roia March 30, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Thank you, Kat, for articulating the difference between a drum circle facilitator and a music therapist. I think it’s often difficult for people to know the difference.

    • Kat Fulton October 5, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      Hi Roia! Totally agree – It can be confusing at times. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Bill Matney March 30, 2010 at 3:56 pm #

    Hello Kat,

    Thank you for your well written thoughts. The lines that describe these two arenas have, in my experience, become somewhat blurred over the past five or so years. As someone who has worked in both arenas (and as a professional percussionist), and as someone who has appreciated the dialogue that such has created across arenas, I am glad to see a refocus on the “drum circle” as a community event, as well as increased acknowledgements of the differences offered so well by you here.

    The music therapy literature of 60 years also describes in detail the vast and rich world of clinical improvisation models (in both quantitative and qualitative formats). Clinical improvisation techniques allow us to engage in experiences with clients that are individualized, creative, goal oriented, and evidence-based, and perhaps most importantly, driven by musical interaction. I highly recommend this approach to any music therapist interested in creative, improvised music-making with their clients.

    • Kat Fulton October 5, 2011 at 9:46 am #

      Perfect addition to the conversation here, Bill. Thank you for your thoughts!

  3. Lulu Leathley April 7, 2010 at 2:27 pm #

    Many thanks Kat for this fabulous site. Your weekend with Mary, Ju and Christine sounded wonderful, three extremely talented people. I am working more and more with music therapists here in Canada, introducing Arthur’s method and Health Rhythms. It is so important to have everyone understand the differences and similarities in our work.
    Hope to meet up with you sometime soon,
    All the best and thanks again, this will be a welcome link for me as well as many,
    Lulu Leathley

    • Kat Fulton October 5, 2011 at 9:45 am #

      Hey Lulu! Thanks for visiting the site my dear! I know you do wonderful work up in Canada =)

  4. JoAnn Jordan September 22, 2010 at 6:59 am #

    Great description, Kate. And, Barry was a wonderful man I had the pleasure to now both as a student and a professional.

    • Kat Fulton September 22, 2010 at 7:12 am #

      Thanks for checking it out, JoAnn! Barry’s spirit lives on.

  5. Sherrye November 28, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    This article is so well written!! Thanks for clarifying a line that gets blurred all too often!

  6. Kat Fulton November 29, 2010 at 6:46 pm #

    Thanks Sherrye!

  7. Crista January 19, 2011 at 9:42 am #

    Great article on the distinction, Kat!! I loved the video too!

    What do you think is the difference between music therapists who used drum circle facilitation and those who do drum circles without the extra training?

    • Kat Fulton January 19, 2011 at 10:22 am #

      Hi Crista~ Great question. It’s all fair game! In my opinion, the most important consideration is that the client is best served.

      Music therapists require no drum circle facilitation training. But that’s why there are supplemental curricula out there such as Bill Matney’s project.

      • Bill March 29, 2011 at 3:31 pm #

        Hello Crista, and hello Kat!

        Crista, you asked….”What do you think is the difference between music therapists who used drum circle facilitation and those who do drum circles without the extra training?”

        I agree with Kat that music therapists, like anyone else, do not require “facilitation training” in order to facilitate a drum circle. I also completely agree with her that the client is the focus of the music therapist’s work.

        Another set of questions some of us have asked is “Does a drum circle, as commonly defined, has a particular relationship to music therapy practice? Does it really describe what music therapists do when they use percussion instruments?”

        In the Music Therapy Drumming training programs, we teach percussion music skills relevant to the music therapist. Amongst many items we teach, we discuss instrumental techniques (foundational and traditional), rhythmic considerations (foundational grounds, rhythmic acuity), and clinical process (indications of instruments, taxonomy of drumming experiences). Within our categories of drumming experiences, drum circles are mentioned, but not as an arena for music therapists. This is not a matter of exclusion, but rather an embracing of clinical improvisation, which was created by music therapy, and has a long and rich tradition that addresses the needs of music therapy. We also see this as a validation of the original intent of drum circles, that being the empowerment of communities. While both drum circles and group clinical improvisation might look similar to a new observer, the underlying purpose, processes, techniques, and assessment practices are very different.

        I do “facilitate” drum circles, both as a service and occasionally for payment. However, this only occurs in areas outside of music therapy work for me. When I am acting as a “drum circle facilitator,” I am not acting as a music therapist.

        I hope that helps answer your question, or provides new questions to consider!


        • Kat Fulton April 5, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

          Great addition to the discussion here, Bill. I think taking your course would be highly beneficial for music therapists!

  8. Crista January 20, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    Thanks, Kat! This is an area Ii would love to look into more in the future myself! Plus, in the near future, I am going to get your Drumify DVD! : )

    Best wishes!

  9. Daniel March 29, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    Absolutely a great article and good discussion! Thank you so much, Kat! I am so excited that more music therapists are using drumming in therapy. I think all music therapists would benefit from some of the additional training offered through programs like HealthRhythms. I think that the trainings help to build confidence and provide cognitive structure for using drumming in therapy situations. It sounds like you had a great weekend! You are lucky to have so many drummers and music therapy drummers around you! Keep sharing the stories and the knowledge! We can’t wait to see you next week for our Skype event! Take care,

    • Kat Fulton April 5, 2011 at 1:13 pm #

      Skype event is coming up, Daniel! I’m looking forward to it as well. Thanks for your work in putting drumming in the curriculum!


  1. Hiring a music therapist in long-term care: Specialized music-making groups | Soundscape Music Therapy - March 3, 2013

    […] is not centered on a therapeutic process, it does not need to be facilitated by a music therapist. (Drum circle facilitators, music educators, church choir directors, teen volunteers and activity professionals could all be […]

Leave a Reply