Michael Drake gives a step-by-step introduction to Shamanic Drumming.


 by Michael Drake , Copyright 2008
"Drum fever is sweeping the country as people discover the physical,
psychological and spiritual rewards ... even for those who can't read a note of music," wrote Claudia Ricci recently in the New York Times. All over America, people of all ages are taking up drumming in astounding numbers. At a grass roots level, small drumming circles are gathering in communities all across the country. Since there are no prerequisites to drumming, anyone can join in and explore rhythms with hands and drumsticks as an exhilarating way of communing. While some drumming circles are content to jam and make a lot of rhythmic noise, others prefer to explore intricate patterns of rhythm, and still others gather for shamanic drumming.


Shamanic drumming is a time-honored method of healing and helping others. Shamanic drumming circles provide the opportunity for people of like mind to unite for the attainment of a shared objective. There is power in drumming alone, but that power recombines and multiplies on many simultaneous levels in a group of drummers. The drums draw individual energies together, unifying them into a consolidated force. Synchronized drumming is the most effective, so individuals should alternate the responsibility of setting the tempo and leading the group. The basic steps that I find most effective are as follows: 1. Simply join together, forming a circle. By creating a circle, you are structuring an energy pattern that will contain, focus, and amplify the power generated by drumming.

2. Next, you should smudge the space and all participants. This can easily be accomplished by passing a smudge bowl clockwise around the circle. The drummers can then smudge themselves and their drums. Smudging cleanses the mind and environment in preparation for spiritual or inner work. The sacred smoke dispels any stagnant or unwanted energy, opens the energy channels of your body, and raises your personal power or windhorse. According to Mongolian shamanism, windhorse can be increased through smudging, drumming, and other forms of shamanic practice in order to accomplish significant aims. Sage, cedar, thyme, and sweetgrass are traditionally used for smudging, but any dried herb is acceptable. Light the herbs in a fire-resistant receptacle and then blow out the flames. Then use a feather or your hands to draw the smoke over your heart, throat, and face to purify the body, mind, and spirit. Next, smudge your drum by passing it through the smoke. Conclude the smudging by thanking the plant whose body made the cleansing possible.

3. At this point, you may wish to invoke the powers of the four directions. Invoking the four directions or elements is an ancient
shamanic rite practiced cross-culturally to access and honor the powers of creation. The facilitator can lead the group in this process. I like to have the participants stand and face each direction in unison. Rotate clockwise, facing first the East, then South, then West, then North, inviting each direction to participate and assist in the ceremony. If you wish, you can include Father Sky above and Mother Earth below as the fifth and sixth directions.

4. Having invoked the four directions, it is important to form the group's collective intention or goal-what you desire or expect to accomplish. Intent is a kind of decision making that directs the focus of our attention. It is through our attention that we influence and direct the aspects of our experience and the world around us.

5. The next step is to commence the first or "prayer" round of drumming. All participants should focus their attention on the group intention or
goal during this round of drumming. It is the responsibility of the facilitator to set the tempo. A steady, metronome-like pattern with
precisely regular intervals, at around 180 beats per minute (or three beats per second), is the most effective. This rapid "eagle-beat" creates the sensation of inner movement, which, if you allow it, will carry you along. It is projective in nature and carries your intention, prayers, and awareness into the spirit world that underlies and sustains our physical reality. All forms and events in the material world have their source in the spirit world.

6. The timeframe, however, varies from ceremony to ceremony. It is best to trust your intuition in this process. When leading a group, I move the beater around the drumhead until I find the sweet spot and my drum begins to sing and hum. Eventually, I can hear the sound of my drum moving around the circle, resonating through each person's drum. The drums begin to sing in unison and the experience is indescribable. I sense that each person is connected to the spirit world. I try to hold this energy dynamic for as long as possible. This climactic phase eventually wanes, and the drums start doing their own thing again. This is usually the point where I signal the end of the first round of drumming with four thundering beats of the drum. 

7. Once the group intention has been introduced, commence the second or "healing" round by drumming the pulsating lub-dub, lub-dub of a heartbeat rhythm. Stroke a steady heartbeat rhythm at around 180 beats per minute (or 90 heartbeats per minute since one-heartbeat equals two beats). This magnetic pulse draws power from the spirit world into the drum circle.Each participant should clear his or her mind of everything. You must surrender all attachment to the desired outcome to achieve success. It is best to close your eyes and focus on the sound of the drums. Let the drums do the healing. The drums will shape available energy into a powerful vortex that will spiral out into the fibers of Mother Earth's web.

8. When you feel the power ebbing, signal the end of the second round of drumming with four booming beats.

9. Commence the final or "thank you" round of drumming with the even cadence of the eagle-beat. Sustain a tempo of 180 beats per minute for
one to five minutes. Participants should give thanks for the needs met and the needs they are asking to be met.

10. Finally, signal the end of the drumming with four resounding beats.It is important to conclude the drumming circle by rotating
counterclockwise, thanking each of the directions for their participation and assistance. This counterclockwise movement will close the energy vortex and signal that the sacred time of focus is ended.Exercise Summary The basic steps in the preceding exercise are:
1. Join together, forming a circle.
2. Create sacred space by smudging.
3. Invoke the four directions.
4. Formulate the group intention.
5. Drum the eagle-beat and focus on the group intention.
6. End the prayer round with four thundering beats.
7. Drum the heartbeat and focus on the sound of the drums.
8. When the power ebbs, signal end of healing round with four booming
9. Drum the eagle-beat, offering thanks.
10. End the drumming with four resounding beats.

I have found these basic steps be very effective in a myriad of situations. Feel free, however, to adapt them to serve your own needs. Rhythm is a very personal thing. Experiment with different tempos and rhythms. My intention is to provide a foundation upon which the reader can then build.

Drumming circles open portals to alternate realities. They facilitate a merging of the physical and spiritual realms. They expedite communication with helping spirits and draw them in. The drumming circle also links the consciousness of each participant to the entire web of life. It develops a continuous, shared consciousness with all our relations. Even small groups of people of one mind, one purpose, and fully attuned through the drums can transform the world and manifest what is needed to benefit all beings.

A recent medical research study indicates that drumming circles boost the immune system. Led by renowned cancer expert Barry Bittman, MD, the study demonstrates that group drumming actually increases cancer-killing cells, which help the body combat cancer as well as other viruses, including AIDS. According to Dr. Bittman, "Group drumming tunes our biology, orchestrates our immunity, and enables healing to begin." Other studieshave demonstrated the calming, focusing, and healing effects of group drumming on Alzheimer's patients, autistic children, emotionally disturbed teens, substance abusers, trauma patients, and prison and homeless populations. The primitive drumming circle is emerging as a significant therapeutic tool in the modern technological age.Michael Drake is a writer, rhythmist, and ceremonial drummer of Cherokee descent. He is a member of the United Lumbee Nation and author of The Shamanic Drum: A Guide to Sacred Drumming and I Ching: The Tao of Drumming. He has studied with master drummers from the Native American
and Mongolian shamanic traditions. Michael lectures and gives workshops around the country. Through his work, he has guided thousands in the healing art of ceremonial drumming. To learn more, please log onto Michael's web site at: www.geocities.com/talkingdrumpub.