The Drum Circle—A Giant Jam Session

Grafton-Berryville-297A drum circle is a group of people in a circle experiencing the spontaneous creation of music with a variety of drums and percussion instruments. Drum circles have no beginning, no end, no top, or bottom. The format really places each participant on equal footing, an important component within the therapeutic milieu. Drum circles are usually led by a facilitator who encourages creative participation from those in the circle. The entire process, however, is spontaneous and improvisatory. Each drum circle experience is unique.

When first asked to join a drumming session by Music Therapist, Bronwen Landless, I must admit, I was apprehensive. I don’t consider myself “musically inclined” as my musically gifted parents’ frequently remark, “I think our talent skipped a generation!” They’re right! Nevertheless, I reluctantly joined the circle and was immersed with nine other participants, none of whom I knew. As Bronwen facilitated the circle, I played quietly and reluctantly at first. As she cheered us on with smiles and encouragement, I became more confident and began to listen and collaborate with other participants in the circle. Each of us took turns becoming the “leader” within the circle, and the music we created inspired us to have fun and truly enjoy the moment.

In the last few years, the scientific research has documented the health and emotional benefits of drumming and drums circles. Other studies have shown that music can have a profound effect on your body and psyche. In fact, there is a growing field of healthcare literature that has shown how music therapy helps with pain management, depression, mood disorders and overall physical and mental health.
From this perspective, drumming and drum circles can provide a complementary role in mental health treatment. Positive effects of drumming include increased sense of relaxation, restoration of the balance in the opioid and serotonergic neurotransmitter system, positive spiritual experiences, interpersonal support and connection to others. (Winkelman, M. 2003. Complementary therapy for addiction: Drumming out drugs. American Journal of Public Health, 93, 647-651). Peer-reviewed journals confirm that music therapy can facilitate self-expression and provide a creative channel for transforming frustration, anger and aggression into the experience of creativity and self-mastery. (Montello, L.M. & Coons, E.E. 2008, Effect of active versus passive group music therapy on preadolescents with emotional, learning and behavioral disorders. Journal of Music Therapy, 25, 49-67)

And listen to one Grafton client: “Music therapy has taught me to be me. I am more comfortable around others and have learned to trust others more. Most importantly, I have learned to ‘go with the flow’ and see mistakes differently. It is also cool to be in a group to get other people’s perspectives on how you are coming across.”

A well facilitated drum circle is a fun, exciting and powerful way to bring individuals together through music. Drumming increases concentration skills and encourages people to listen and communicate effectively with each other. Drumming within a drum circle exemplifies teamwork at its finest. As drum circles are facilitated by music therapists, children quickly realize the need for trust and dependence amongst their fellow drummers. They learn lessons within the circle that can be applied in all facets of their lives. Children learn to:
• Lead when necessary, and follow as needed
• Listen to each other and accept feedback
• Appreciate the moment and be in the now
• See someone else’s perspective
• Alleviate self-centeredness and isolation

Music therapists work with other professionals such as speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, behavioral therapists, animal assisted therapists and other clinicians within the transdisciplinary teams to improve a client’s functional autonomy and achieve positive clinical outcomes. At Grafton, music therapy has been very effective with children with autism as music therapists focus on the development of language skills, identification and expression of emotions and socialization skills, which are characteristic challenges in autism.