How Sound Affects You: Drumming for Health Part 2

In part 2 of this series on drumming, Lynda Arnold continues her exploration of using rhythm for better health. From group drumming to lessons learned from experts, this is a fascinating read.  

In part 1 of Drumming for Health, I introduced the concept of the organized drum circles and some key players in this growing vibrational field like Christine Stevens and Remo HealthRHYTHMS. I also outlined some basic parts of the drum circle experience including how to set-up to the activities you might find during the experience. 

In this article, I will share my own experience with drumming and also share the insights of a seasoned facilitator in the San Francisco Bay 

Benefits of Group Drumming 

Jeni Swerdlow leading her Drummm Circle

Jeni Swerdlow leading her Drummm Circle

I am lucky enough to know a wonderful group drumming facilitator, Jeni Swerdlow, who is not only part of the REMO drum community, but has built her own company DRUMMM Rhythmic Events ( She produces and facilitates events all around the bay area including a long running east bay drum circle gathering in Berkeley, CA that is entering its fifth year. She has many observations from leading hundreds of groups and has wonderful insight to the benefits of group drumming.

Jeni has seen participants come into the experience feeling stressed, tired, burnt out, a little resistant and quiet at the beginning. By the end of the workshop, many participants show extreme shifts like feeling energized, feeling more connected to others in the room, expressing themselves freely and playing with reckless abandon. Participants often tell Jeni they didn't know they had rhythm until they participated in one of her events! I've included a link to Jeni's blog about one of her favorite 'breakthrough' participant stories at the end of this article.

6 Ways to Success

Jeni summed up these 6 important ways to create and lead a successful drum circle. These are great tips for any creative endeavor where you may be leading a musical group activity:

1. Know your audience

How is “success” being measured? What are the abilities or limitations of the group? Are participants drumming for health, empowerment, team building, celebration, spiritual awakening, community or fun? Let that be your guide. 

2. Create a plan

Think about what rhythms, games, activities, or information you want to impart. Then, be willing to adjust or throw out your plan depending on what shows up in the moment.

3. Have a good starting point

How are you going to frame the experience and engage the group in drumming so that everyone feels capable and inspired to participate?

4. Clear communication

Maintain a strong connection to the pulse and demonstrate it to the group through your body language. Use clear signals (usually expressed through the body or through a drum or cowbell) to denote starts, stops, changes in volume, tempo, etc.

5. Be present

Develop a deep listening and awareness to subtle changes in the group's energy, focus, cohesion, dynamics, musicality, etc. The group will always let you know when something needs to happen if you are really paying attention.

6. Model a positive experience

Play and have fun, and the group will too!

Her overall thoughts and observations are summed up here:

“It's just amazing how the various qualities of drumming – volume, tempo, pitch, timbre, time signature, etc. can dramatically affect change in the body and mood of the participants. Drumming has the ability to energize, relax, stimulate, irritate, release, agitate, refresh, synchronize, and calm the body and mind. How does it happen? Through the vibrations of the drum and the collective experience I suppose!”

Learning from Master Glen Velez

4 Time Grammy Winner Glen Velez

4 Time Grammy Winner Glen Velez.

A few years ago I took a weekend workshop with Glen Velez. Besides being an internationally recognized drum master, Glen is also an overtone singer and passionate group drumming educator. One of his CDs, 'Rhythm of the Chakras,' takes you through the body's energy centers using different kinds of drum patterns, tempos and chants. It is wonderful to explore how artists are interpreting sound as it affects different areas of the body. 

If you've been keeping up with my previous articles in the 'How Sound Affects You' series, I interviewed Jonathan Goldman about his Chakra Tuner App where he is doing something similar but with his recorded voice and tuning forks for the energy centers.

In his workshop, Glen Velez taught us using frame drums and shakers. Much of the first day of class was spent speaking the rhythms using drum language. When he felt we were internalizing the drum language, we transferred the pattern to the drum. He was a wonderful and patient group instructor who led us through each step from how to hold the drum to playing a consistent, steady pattern with basic technique. By the end of the weekend, we were splitting up into three groups with drums and shakers and creating more complicated patterns.

There is no substitute for learning from a master player and teacher. 

Experiences with my Drum

Lynda Drumming in the Studio

Lynda Drumming in the Studio.

I was so inspired after the Glen Velez training, I went ahead and purchased one of his beautifully resonant frame drums. I started to play it during yoga classes, music meditation sessions and on my recordings using the simple patterns I had learned. Although I want to get better and learn more techniques, I feel I can add a lot to a piece of music just with what I learned and in addition, add to a larger group dynamic, like a drum circle or jam session with confidence. I played my frame drum on my upcoming yoga/meditation CD that I will release this year.

The Heartbeat - Our first rhythmic entrainment experience

Listening to Mommy's Heartbeat

Listening to Mommy's Heartbeat.

Rhythm is a part of our lives before we are even born. In utero, babies entrain to the steady rhythm of their mother's heartbeat amongst all the other steady noises in the body. This first primal experience with rhythm sets the stage for a life in tune with the rhythms of nature and the world around us. 

The key thing is to connect to the rhythms of life through music and community when we become adults in a complex world. Drum circles are certainly a way to do this. Adding to the collective rhythm of a group promotes a sense of well-being and connectedness through the power of music.

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... Read More


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