The word “Rhythm” originated in the ancient Sanskrit language of India from the word Hridayam, which means Heart. The heartbeat is the original rhythm that is imprinted in our soul. From our earliest perceptions of sound and vibration we had our mother’s constant heartbeat with us… and the beating of our own heart began when we were only a few weeks old in our mother’s womb.
Rhythm has the power to connect us with both ourselves, as well as with our fellow human beings. It also connects us to our Great Mother, the earth. Drumming is grounding - it brings us into deeper alignment with the body, our roots and our connection to the physical earth. When we drum together, we move together, we vibrate together, we feel together, and in that togetherness is the potential for great joy, love and even states of bliss. We all yearn for that blissful love and connection, even if we’ve forgotten what’s been missing.
Drumming as a group - be it a group of 5, 10 or 50 - is a magnificent way to create real connection and rapport without ever having to say a word. Communication happens through making rhythm together - making music. It is automatically collaborative, intuitive, and empowering. Those that are normally shy and reserved or reluctant to speak, can find a different voice through the drum, while those that are normally compulsive talkers, can learn to listen, to harmonize with others and to share their space.
The facilitation of group drumming requires sensitivity and awareness to the group dynamic - to the personalities of the group. Just as a group therapist looks to create balance, by drawing out those that are holding back, and helping to contain those participants that are too loose and boundaryless, a drumming facilitator influences the group in much the same way. Even without necessarily singling out any particular person, the facilitator, through demonstration and the sharing of basic tips of etiquette, can encourage and empower those who are timid and self-conscious about being heard. The emphasis is never on strict technique or music theory or performance. The idea is spontaneity, natural and intuitive expression, and deep listening (not with the critical ear, but with the whole body). Teaching drumming in this context creates a feeling of safety, acceptance and comfort. By emphasizing the importance of listening, over the importance of being heard, an important lesson is experienced. Even the more aggressive, loud, and overbearing players, can begin to be more aware, more sensitive and more conscious. They can begin to understand that the connection they seek can only be experienced when they pay attention to hearing everyone in the circle and forget their own ego. This can be a profound lesson.
I can think of no person or population of people that cannot benefit from group drumming and the deep lessons, connection and healing that it offers. I have drummed in hospitals with cancer survivor’s groups, with women’s groups, with men’s groups, with adolescents in residential treatment centers for emotional disturbances, with school children with special needs and learning disabilities. I’ve drummed with kids that have Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD/ADHD).
I’ve drummed with addicts in recovery. I’ve drummed with groups of teens in psychiatric hospitals. I’ve drummed with people at outdoor music festivals, and in warehouses in San Francisco with large groups of adventurers seeking more soulful community, and with elderly men and women in Senior Care homes in suburbia.
And despite their differences, the same beautiful simplicity and connections take place. An 85 year old man in a wheelchair smiles like an innocent child. A young woman with social anxiety closes her eyes and feels the warmth of love and connection in her heart as she joins with the collective energy of the group. A child who normally feels excluded, awkward and good at nothing, finds that he has rhythm, and actually influences those around him in a positive way while drumming. A 20-year-old hipster can connect with a middle aged mom, and a 30-year-old insurance broker, and all can blissfully jam together without any feeling of awkwardness.
The deep lessons learned through drumming are both subtle and profound. And it is nearly impossible for a neophyte to leave a drum circle without some new insight, self-awareness or life altering insight. This is true both for experienced musicians as well as folks who never thought they could carry a tune, or dance to save their lives.
Here’s one of my favorite drumming experiences, and one which is worth gently pointing out to new drummers: You feel self-conscious having never drummed before, so you are drumming rather softly. You don’t want to just sit there doing nothing, because that would be even more awkward, but you don’t want anyone to really hear you because you think you can’t play well enough. You’re listening to everyone else, just like the leader suggested, and you’re playing so softly, you can’t really even hear yourself anyway. You see your hands moving on the drum head in front of you, but it’s more like just feeling the vibration than actually hearing it. You start to get comfortable, even though you think you’re just faking being part of the group rhythm. Surely nobody else can tell, and they certainly can’t hear your mistakes because you’re playing so softly. After some time passes, you get a little tired and decide to stop. Many of the people have their eyes closed or are gazing into the distance, or looking down at their own drums, so who would notice anyway? But then something amazing happens. Almost immediately after you stop, everyone else gets softer and one by one, the other players fade into total silence. You thought you were completely insignificant, unimportant and unnoticed… thought you had no part in this spontaneous symphony and had no impact on these experienced drummers with their fancy beats. But you were wrong. Your every move contributes to the whole. You are as much a part of this group consciousness as anyone else in the circle. And you brought the whole group to a gentle stop without even meaning to….
As you sit in that supreme silence, hands buzzing, ears gently ringing with the eternal hum of atoms, smiles on faces, breathing deep, you realize why you came here. Your innocence is restored, and in this timeless moment you know you are among true friends, and your laughter says it all.
LEARN MORE ABOUT DRUMMING THERAPY
Author, Ben Schwarcz
Transformational Coach, Psychotherapist, EFT Tapping Practitioner, Teacher and Author.