Drumming—from tablas to tympani to djembes—is universal, so much so, says author Sayer Ji, that it seems “hard-wired into our biological, social and spiritual DNA.” Drumming may well be “an inborn capacity and archetypal social activity.” But many modern people have become alienated from the drum. We outsource drumming to professionals, and machines. Neuroscientists theorize that drummers may have different brains than “non-drummers”—findings that suggest the activity is confined to specially-designed people. Not so, say many scientists who believe that “drumming has some profound and holistic uses,” as Luke Sumpter writes at Reset.me, “to enhance physical, mental and emotional health.”
In addition to anthropological evidence noting the centrality of drumming to human culture, abundant research has demonstrated its potential for personal healing. While drum therapy may be nothing new for cultures who have retained the practice, those who haven’t can learn group drumming easily enough with teachers like Peter Marino in the short clip above. The benefits, as studies have shown, include reduced stress and increased immunity. Group drumming may reduce anxiety and blood pressure, it may work as pain relief and boost positive emotions, and may even lead to “improved executive function” and a growth in white matter in the brains of patients with Huntington’s disease and other neurological conditions.
The evidence-based approach to group drumming’s socio-physical benefits should sway skeptics, even those likely to see drum circle therapy as some kind of hippy-dippy woo. Science-minded people without such hangups may also take an interest in studies of drumming as a “shamanic” activity that “induces specific subjective experiences.” As Michael Drake reports, one recent study “demonstrates that even a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity,” which is “associated with meditation, shamanic trance, and integrative modes of consciousness.” Drumming with others “produces greater self-awareness” as well as a sense of interconnectedness, and can strengthen social bonds among adults as well as children.
While much of the writing about group drumming as therapy stresses more intangible, mystical benefits, no small amount of data suggests that the physical effects are measurable and significant. This is not to minimize the musical prowess of your favorite drummers, or to belittle the musical value of machine-made beats. But the research strongly suggests that not only is most everyone able to pick up a drum and get into a groove, but also that most everyone who does so will be happier, healthier, and more peaceful and tuned-in.