Tool no.90 - The Return Beat

rhythm is used as an organisational focus for what the group shares in space-time.

Tool Purpose

  • How can you get a new group (between 4 and 30) to find its shared (and individual) sense/s of self in a very short span of time?
  • A simple 'metric' experience of rhythm and movement is focused on the idea of linear travel, the 'return' beat prompts a more 'curved' and reciprocating sensation of rhythm.
  • The desired outcomes from the use of this tool are that the individual
    • moves to the group identity;
    • experiences the somatic group experience;
    • becomes one with the group through focussing on the rythm of the whole group.
  • In order to achieve successful results watch out for how and when the group becomes 'one' in the flow of the rhythym. This can be significant in how the group is gelling. This will be different with each group.
  • This is democratic tool which cuts across cultures and languages.
  • In its current form this tool requires Olu as the facilitator.

Tool Context

  • 'LINEAR' MODEL: Imagine that the 'spaces' between the handclaps are taking you in a straight line through static and finite points in space and time. The space is perceived to be motionless, and therefore you move into it, or through it. When clapping with this model, imagine tracing a straight line between each handclap, so that it will lead sequentially to the next clap, and so on.
  • 'RETURN BEAT' MODEL: In between each handclap, imagine tracing a curved line which goes out from your 'centre' and returns to you for the next clap. Think of this space-time as a dynamic whole. Imagine each next clap as augmenting the previous clap rather than the next one in the sequence.
  • This tool may be difficult to develop without a facilitator who is very aware of the theory behind the return beat and with drumming.

Tool Process

  • Find a calm, reasonably uncluttered space
  • Find at least two other willing participants
  • Settle everyone with some relaxation exercises
  • Make sure that everyone closes their eyes
  • Tell everyone to listen to the others
  • sit in a comfortable position with your spine upright and relaxed - more like a straightened string of pearls than an iron rod
  • close your eyes and focus the eyeballs up into the centre of the forehead
  • breath from the stomach area, expanding the abdomen as you inhale, contracting it as you exhale
  • repeat 1-3 a few times until you feel relaxed
  • the facilitator claps a bet in the linar model (explained above)
  • this is folowed by one in the return beat
  • participants echo the clapping and then begin to clap a rhythm together
  • these rhythms work with the whole group.
  • this tool can be accompanied by the storytelling tool

Tool Example

  • This tool was used at Pines Calyx and generally received good feedback from the participants (see transcriptions).
    • In the interviews undertaken a short time after the event, one of the participants, who is from from Korea said, in answer to questions 3: What were the best / most engaging things about it?
    • "My favorite part was the rhythm workshop we did. We played the rhythm with some percussion, we played all together, not individually. It made me feel very, playing the rhythms, I can feel involved with the group. It was very enjoyable as well. I remember that workshop. It was my favorite."
    • And another participant, who is from Japan, said in answer to questions 7 and 8: Did you experience any synergistic moments with your group? / How did they (synergies) manifest themselves?
    • A. "Yeah, I actually I felt… To be honest, I’m totally not sure what synergy is. For example, when we were working with the final part, on currency ideas, we were able to summarize what we think and also everyone was taking some part to sum up our ideas. I thought that part was quite synergetic. Also when we did the rhythms workshop {a}, the one with percussion. We were able to make some harmony with our clapping hands, that moment was quite synergetic I thought. It was quite complicated but it sounded pretty beautiful. I quite liked that rhythms, and quite enjoyed it."
    • And to question (15)Which activities do you remember from the two days?, she answered,
    • "Well the percussion thing, {a} rhythm workshops. Because it was a very physical workshop, and for me speaking is pretty tough. So in that way, it was fun and you could really feel about how we can harmonize in rhythms."

These participants found that this tool gave them parity with the other participants - we all experience rhythm and can learn it quickly. In some ways a workshop like ours requires good language skills in the main language of communication: English. This tool cuts through that. This tool is somatic and as such can be used as a leveler for any developing language-based hierarchy.


  • The term 'Return Beat' was coined by Olu Taiwo before 1998.
  • It refers to an internalised version of 'call and return' that derives from African vocal traditions.
  • Dr. Satinder P. Gill (external link) & drew our attention to the phenomenon of entrainment, (6th July 2007), then Jonny found an entrainment experiment on YouTube.
  • The famous precedent for this experiment was Blaise Pascal (1623-1662), who noticed how adjacent clocks synchronised.

Keywords: Rhythm, Harmony, Beat, synchronicity,

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