Wahlbangers Drum Circle Organization is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit
(based in Los Angeles, CA.) dedicated to
“Banging down walls” of stress, isolation, and stigma
& building bridges to inclusion, acceptance, and contentment
with the therapeutic benefits of group drumming.
Excerpts and notes from: Drum Circles in Context – Implications as a Music Therapy Intervention
By David Armstrong, BMT
Community drum circles are being used clinically and offer unique attributes.
In the community drum circle, a facilitator intervenes or conducts the group to realize the group’s highest potential by providing opportunities for structured and exploratory playing.
In this drum circle there is the mix of structure and freedom music therapists typically strive to, but cannot always, maintain.
FACILITATION vs INSTRUCTION
One noticeable difference between drum circle therapy and music therapy groups is that drum circle instruction is done in the moment. This offers a unique blend of structure and freedom, as well as offering the facilitator a unique and dynamic level of control over what participants are playing. The drum circle facilitator is always attempting to minimize the group’s dependence on the facilitator, emphasizing the participants’ relationship with each other and their engagement in the rhythm. The facilitator is there to serve the group by helping it towards its highest potential. This is different than music therapy groups, where emphasis is usually placed on individuals.
COMMUNITY vs INDIVIDUAL
Community drum circles are typically used by healthcare facilities to increase feelings of belonging or ‘community’. This happens because of the co-operative, dynamic relationship that is rewarded by increased engagement and quality of rhythm. Music is also deemed to be a universal language, and drum circles are used in almost every culture around the world. Drum circles can synchronize participants so they think, react, and even breath alike, and this diffusion of differences between people brings them closer together. Drum circles provide a forum for participants to be creative and expressive without the level of intervention involved in traditional music therapy.
LARGE GROUP vs SMALL GROUP
Typically, for effectiveness and accountability, music therapy groups do not involve more than six people. However, most community drum circle facilitators prefer no less than 12-15 people. In larger circles, a facilitator is successful at an intervention because the majority of participants have been shown some of the universal signals and the indications of particular waving of the arms. If there are only six players, however, there is more attention drawn to those who don’t understand what is happening, and those players have no one to play up to. In traditional music therapy, the rule is to facilitate success, which can increase stress especially for those more sensitive emotionally to failure or deviation from others. In the drum circle, players are united in a commonality of rhythm, and they play off of one another.
A smaller group of people also changes how a person can affect the musical whole, and how their actions affect the rest of the group. But because of a similarity in beats in drum circles, and the restricted amount of pitches each drum can produce, there is more emphasis on the pulse (or heartbeat) that leads to meaningful perception of the music. In larger groups, the pulse can take on a life of its own – since there are so many people playing in relation to a pulse, a larger number of people can play in little relation to the pulse and the overall sound is still musical. This lessens the sense of failure possible in a small music therapy group where each individual affects the others in the group.
Definitions of "Therapeutic":
Having or exhibiting healing powers.
~ The American Heritage (R) Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Tending to overcome disease and promote recovery.
~ Dorland's Medical Dictionary for Health Consumers.
~ Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health.
Curative or Healing (ie: Stress Reduction)
~ Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine.
THERAPEUTIC vs THERAPY
Studies show that musical experience is the most important therapeutic element responsible for change; therefore, the musical experience of a drum circle should be considered therapy.
Therapy involves a process. A therapy process can consist of assessment, treatment, and evaluation; however, more importantly, process involves (a) many engagements; (b) happening over a period of time; and (c) this results in engagement and relationship (in contrast to manipulation and encounter).
DRUMMING vs LISTENING TO MUSIC
Drumming allows for a combination of physical and emotional release through cathartic playing.
Cognitively, drumming is accessible to many because the multi-faceted perception of rhythm is not localized in any particular part of the brain.
Research has demonstrated that the physical transmission of rhythmic energy to the brain synchronizes the two cerebral hemispheres. When the logical left hemisphere and the intuitive right hemisphere begin to pulsate in harmony, the inner guidance of intuitive knowing can then flow unimpeded into conscious awareness. The ability to access unconscious information through symbols and imagery facilitates psychological integration and a reintegration of self. (2)
2) Holistic Healing / “Drum Therapy – Therapeutic Effects of Drumming" by Michael Drake
DRUM CIRCLE THERAPY vs. TRADITIONAL MUSIC THERAPY
A study was conducted to show the differences in traditional instrumental music therapy and drum circle therapy. Five themes emerged from the data that described the differences in the drum circle and music group experiences:
The most noticeable difference was the enthusiasm levels of participants in the beginning of the sessions. Participants were typically more enthusiastic about the drum circle. There was also more resistance to improvisation in the instrumental music group.
Participants typically reported feeling a groove during the drum circles that did not appear in the traditional music sessions. High levels of engagement reportedly accompanied this rhythmic drive, and this engagement was typically described as a body movement (ie: swaying, bobbing their heads, tapping their feet, dancing).
3. Inter-creative processes (def: processes that occur between two or more people engaged in the same creative activity):
In the traditional music therapy group data, participants used words such as “nice / interesting sound”, or “beautiful music” to describe the creative product; however, participants used much more concrete terms such as “patterns”, “groove”, “beats”, and “rhythm” when describing the product of the drumming sessions.
Participants used words such as “flowed”, “played along”, and “following” to describe how they interacted during the traditional music sessions; however, participants stated they were “playing off of each other”, “act and react”, “incorporate” and “building”, and “mimicking” in the drumming sessions. It was concluded that there is a very direct form of interaction in drumming as opposed to the ‘parallel play’ or ‘global manipulation’ in instrumental music groups.
In the instrumental musical activities, participants referred to their place in the group in reference to the instrument they played. For instance, the bass player saw himself as an “anchor” supporting the person on xylophone as a soloist. On the contrary, participants reported feeling an equal role in the group within the drum circle.
In the instrumental music session reactions, there was a strong presence of anxiety. Typically, responses indicated that participants were dissatisfied with their performance, and made references to making “mistakes” - perpetuating or creating a sense of frustration and failure. The drum circles, however, were reported to generally reduce anxiety and participants reported a cathartic release of stress.
Everyone can drum!
DRUM CIRCLES USED CLINICALLY:
Benefits of group drumming are based on five principles:
1. Response to rhythm is basic to human functioning (heartbeat), making percussion activities highly motivating.
2. Since rhythm is fundamental, percussion activities are interesting and enjoyable to a wide variety of people regardless of cultural or ethnic backgrounds, musical preferences, or age ranges.
3. Participation in active drumming experiences has physical benefits including sustained physical activity, relaxation, and use of fine motor skills.
4. A strong sense of group identity and belonging is created because sustained repetition of a steady beat naturally brings people together physically, emotionally, and mentally (rhythmic entrainment).
5. Percussion activities can be done with little or no previous musical background or training, making these experiences accessible to all people.
Drum circles have been used clinically for over twenty years with people with PTSD; as well as for skill development, normalization, and integration. A study performed in 2001 shows that drumming boosts the immune system.