How Sound Affects You: Drumming for Health, Part 1

Continuing her exploration of using sound for healing, Lynda Arnold delves into the rhythmic side of music: drumming. Combining science and experience this article is a fascinating read.  

A wonderful shot of a drum circle set-up on the beach (http://pinkbananashoes.wordpress.com/tag/london-drum-circle/)

A wonderful shot of a drum circle set-up on the beach (http://pinkbananashoes.wordpress.com/tag/london-drum-circle/)

During my certificate program Sound and Music Healing a few years ago, I took two workshops that opened my eyes and ears to the world of drumming for health. One of the workshops was with professional musician and recording artist Glen Velez and the other with drum circle facilitator and certified music therapist Christine Stevens. Before taking these classes, I didn’t think of myself as a drummer. My drumming consisted of programming beats in Reason and occasionally overdubbing a sound or two with my MIDI keyboard. But, I’ve always been fascinated with drumming as an art and after these workshops, as a tool for well-being.

When most people think about drum circles, casual jams on Venice Beach or Golden Gate Park come to mind. Not to say that those experiences are not beneficial to those involved, but for the most part, what you find is an unorganized clutter of sounds and people meandering in and out. The drum circles that are evolving today bring together community for an intentional purpose of connecting to one another, engaging in critical listening and learning the art of drumming in a group setting led by a trained professional. So, it’s one part music class and another part community based stress reduction practice. As I’ve mentioned before, as audio producers and composers, we often spend a lot of time in our studios making music with computers and gadgets as opposed to participating with our larger music community in live music making. Drum circle participation is a great way to get out of the house, meet people and take care of your mind and body at the same time through the power of the drum.

Drumming Reduces Stress

REMO HealthRHYTHMS Drum collection

REMO HealthRHYTHMS Drum collection

Drum manufacturer REMO has a section of their business devoted to drumming for health called HealthRHYTHMS. This is a great resource for the why and how of drum circle participation. They also have an extensive article database on research conducted over the past decade showing solid evidence that recreational music making reduces stress, especially in high stress employment situations. Detailed research was conducted involving long-term care hospice workers and nursing students for example. The group of workers and students who participated in the drum circles showed boosted immune system markers, improved mood states, and in one study, stress reversal on the genomic level. Researchers were able to get this detailed information by drawing blood from the control group and the participating group immediately following the drum circle experience. In addition, the research showed greater employee and student retention as well as decreased health care costs overall. These results speak volumes about the benefits of recreational music making and the power of vibration! 

Drum Circle Techniques

Christine Stevens, UpBeat Drum Circles

Christine Stevens, UpBeat Drum Circles.

Christine Stevens, a certified music therapist and percussionist, has traveled around the world giving presentations, teacher trainings and setting up drum circle experiences in the places that need it most. In her workshop, she spoke extensively about her experience facilitating drum circles in Iraq and how music crossed barriers in the war torn country. There are many moving parts to the structured drum circle experience that we participated in during our hands on training with Christine. 

Here are some important aspects of the drum: 

  • The Set-Up - There is usually a rug in the center of the circle with chairs or cushions around for participants. The leader will often have a big, low sounding drum in the middle to help keep the beat.  The facilitator can also lead from the center, where he or she can cue starts, stops, dynamics and individual solos.
  • The Drums – You will find many different types of percussive instruments in drum circles including frame drums, bongos, djembes, shakers and other smaller percussive instruments. Participants can swap instruments to try the different timbres. Participants are also encouraged to explore body percussion or even their voice to make rhythm patterns.
  • World Rhythms – Christine uses rhythmic patterns from Africa, Brazil and more in her drum circles. If you are part of a weekly group, the facilitator may use different patterns from musical traditions around the world from session to session. Playing these rhythms adds a great musical richness to the experience.
  • Drum demonstrations – Call and response techniques are used to develop focus between the facilitator and the participants. A technique called ‘Dum Talk’ is used to phonetically convey the rhythms before they are played. The use of the voice is just as important as the act of hitting the drum. Some classes even encourage instrument making. For example, old pill bottles can become great shakers with a little rice inside.
  • Cultural Sharing – Participants are encouraged to share simple songs like lullabies, songs from their heritage or any tune that is an important part of their lives. 
  • Ceremonial opening and closing – A strong introduction and goodbye are a part of a well-rounded drum circle experience. A welcome song may start with drumming the rhythm of each person’s name or offering each person to make an opening sound. The closing allows the facilitator to integrate everything that was shared during the experience and lead in a rousing conclusion or drumming ritual.

These are just some of the key components of the drum circle experience. Drumming for health is a multi-sensory experience available to everyone regardless of musical ability. The intentional structure behind this growing area of vibrational healing allows for participants to feel safe to express themselves freely. When participants feel free to be themselves, a sense a well-being is sure to follow.

Drum Circle in Action (source: Wikipedia)

Drum Circle in Action (source: Wikipedia)

Stay tuned for Part 2 of Drumming for Health

In my next article on drumming for health, I will highlight the work of internationally renowned master percussionist and overtone singer Glen Velez. Overtone singing is an ancient technique often used in sound healing. I will also share the experience of a local San Francisco Bay Area drum facilitator, Jeni Swerdlow, and her observations and thoughts about the benefits of drum circles.

For More information Check out this Sites:

HealthRHYTHMS/REMO – www.remo.com/health

Mind Body Wellness Center – www.mind-body.org

Yamaha Music and Wellness Institute – www.yamahainstitute.org

UpBeat Drum Circles – www.ubdrumcircles.com

Lynda Arnold is a singer/songwriter, multi-instrumentalist (voice, flute, piano, and guitar), and electronic musician/sound artist who has been producing, performing, and developing her own sound for over 12 years as ‘Divasonic;’ an ethereal, song driven electronic music project with multiple album and single releases on labels EMI, Cl... Read More

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