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Young girl in a pink t-shirt using an African-style drum in a classroom.
from Bridge Magazine, Spring 2023 Edition

There is something magical about a circle.

Throughout history and across cultures, circles have represented cyclical movement, timelessness, totality and wholeness. When people join together to form a circle, they are bound into a single unit, which encourages feelings of equality, acceptance and connection.

With this in mind, it is unsurprising that circles often feature as essential components throughout the customs and practices that many cultures use to bring people together and build community. One such example of this is West African and Caribbean drumming. For the past 20 years, Erin Deighton, Music Teacher at Wentworth, has taught world music drumming to various grades at Wentworth. West African and Caribbean drumming is especially suitable for elementary students because it allows for interesting and complex rhythms yet is extremely accessible. Through simple and fun speech patterns (e.g. wa-ter-mel-on), students are able to pick up the rhythms quickly. Everyone in the class can drum right away, with not a lot of upfront theory required.

“Not only do you have to listen to yourself in the drum circle, but you have to listen to others, too.”

- Ellie, Gr. 4

Young students in a classroom playing African-style drums with their teacher.

Three students playing on African-style drums in a classroom.

Erin Deighton begins each class with what she calls “Thunder.” This is a giant, full-class drum roll that helps students get all the big drumming out of their system, so they can focus on the exercise of the day. In the drum circle, students learn to compose rhythms together using various speech patterns or words. Taking risks and making mistakes is all part of the experience. Listening to others is an essential part of participating in a drum circle, as is leaving space musically for one another to allow other drums to speak. One of the students’ favourite exercises involves someone being selected to walk around in the centre of the drum circle. Students then play their drums to the rhythm of the person’s steps. These musical exercises naturally encourage the building of cooperation, mutual respect and empathy between individuals. It naturally brings people together.

“It’s about listening and communicating with people to have a steady rhythm to the beats. If someone needs help, you can show them the rhythm, but if you’re playing a random note, then they will play a random note.”

- Kenneth, Gr. 4

World music drumming also provides a valuable opportunity for interdisciplinary learning. Through drum circles, students have the opportunity to learn about the peoples and musical cultures of West Africa and the Caribbean, view the world through different perspectives and see how music reflects similar cultural themes and patterns found in art, dance, literature and communities.

Read the full Bridge, Spring 2023 edition here.

Young boy in a Collingwood uniform sweater smiling while he plays on an African-style drum in class.


  • Junior School