Creating community music experiences to promote health and wellness is a shared goal across a range of professions, from music therapists to recreational music makers. ‘Health drumming” or music making for wellness is something that everyone can enjoy, regardless of age, gender, and abilities.
Arthur Lopez from Drum Your Dream had a fantastic time with the 4-H Club Women’s Wellness Week in Williamsburg VA. More than three-quarters of the group were new to Drum Circles and they found out how easy it is to share their Rhythm Spirit with everyone there. They sounded great when it came time to sing along with me. They sounded like a choir of angels when I asked them to say OHM……….. for the Sync with the Universe Mediation I did with them.
About ten years ago, a group of doctors consulted with a music therapist who provided an outline for a community music session designed to reduce stress and promote feelings of well being. The study, called Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation of neuroendocrine-immune parameters in normal subjects (Bittman et al, 2001), showed that an hour of group music making (including humor and guided imagery) with a music therapist has the potential to positively affect the immune system, which could result in health benefits for the participants. Other forms of music making, such as group drumming under the guidance of a recreational drumming instructor and shamanic drumming, did not produce the same positive results. The question then becomes: What factors resulted in the positive outcomes?
The study indicates that those factors occurred along the personal and interpersonal level and had more to do with how the participants felt, rather than with the music they were learning or playing. This finding supports the DCM goals of Inclusion, Cooperation, and Appreciation. As you might expect, people often remember more about how they felt during an experience, as opposed to what they did (or at least the feeling might carry more weight).
Can you think of some times when you felt particularly comfortable in a group setting? What about time when you didn’t? If you’re like most people, factors such as feeling socially included, being able to freely express yourself, not being judged or corrected, and feeling like the group leader is on your side, all contribute to you feeling safe and supported through an experience. It doesn’t even matter what the experience is. It could be anything. If you feel valued, free to be yourself, and supported by group members, you’ll likely feel good.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling like you’re; on your own, unsure of how to do the task, being judged or compared to others, unsupported and unimportant, then you’re probably going to feel some anxiety (the feeling than can result from stressors). Getting back to our musical experience, we can imagine that most people, when faced with the prospect of creating music with and in front of others might be feeling a little stressed out (unless they do it all the time). They might not be sure how to play the instruments – and they might want to know what is expected (and not expected) of them, when and how to share personal information, etc.
The keys to creating a health drumming (music) session are about helping people feel included, relaxed, authentic, safe, and supported. These are the main goals and there could be more within each category. Let’s take a brief look at each one.
Imagine that a friend of yours has invited you to dinner with a group of his co-workers. You arrive at the restaurant and make your way to the table. Everyone is already seated and your friend greets you. What is the next thing that happens? That’s right – He introduces you to everyone else. Imagine how you would feel if that didn’t happen! We expect to be introduced and if this doesn’t happen, it can add to our stress levels. Meeting everyone, sharing a little about yourself, and learning a bit about the other people is an important interpersonal step in any group experience. In the above study, introductions were completed right away to help people feel included.
When people come together in a group for the first time, there are often some feelings of anxiety. This is natural and probably stems from some deep-rooted programming that tells us to use caution in new situations. Most people will show some signs of tension upon entering a group. These could take the form of; a flat affect, tense posture, crossed arms or legs, and minimal eye contact. In order to help people feel relaxed, group leaders will guide people through what is commonly called an ‘ice-breaker,’ an experience that helps people ‘warm up’ to the experience and each other. Ice-breakers are usually very simple, fun, and often funny activities that anyone can do in-the-moment, without any particular skills and very little preparation. In the above study, the leader guided people through a game that resulted in people laughing. When people laugh together, they tend to relax. Their bodies get more oxygen, their body sends a message to their mind that ‘everything is OK,’ and their smiles tell each other that they are among friends.
People generally like to ‘be themselves’ around others. When you’re in a group, you don’t want to have to work to censor yourself or feel as if you’re going to be judged if you say something off the top of your head. One could say that our friends are the people who don’t judge us, no mater what. Feeling as if you can freely express yourself is at the core of being human. It’s something that most people don’t seem to get enough of, in their work and sometimes in their personal relationships. Finding ways to encourage authentic expression helps reduce anxiety and can help create meaningful social bonds. In the above study, participants were encouraged to create rhythms based on their names, but in a very flexible and accepting way. Basically, when you let someone know that there’s no wrong way to do something, they stop worrying and can be themselves. When people can be themselves, they can better cooperate with others because relationships are based on real thoughts, feelings, and values.
Feeling safe is one our basic needs, right after food. In many cases, safety isn’t so much about being physically safe as it is about feeling psychologically and emotionally safe. Think about someone who you don’t feel emotionally safe around. How long did that take? Are you smiling right now because you though of someone immediately? Maybe you thought of several people! Maintaining emotional safety for your participants is of utmost importance. It’s critical for keeping stress levels low and fun levels high. Group leaders can help increase feelings of safety through how they speak to group members, the amount and quality of the information they provide, the things they ask participants to do (or not do), and a host of other ways. When people feel safe, they are much more likely to share personal information, which turns an experience into something meaningful.
When people do share personal information, it’s common to also feel vulnerable. Feeling and being vulnerable can be an very productive state because it allows people to take risks, to find their “edges,” and to explore uncharted ground. Consider times when you’ve felt the most vulnerable and what happened as a result. If you’re like most people, you may have had an experience that you consider ‘life-changing.’ Since we spend most of our time trying to NOT feel vulnerable, being vulnerable means that we need to also feel supported. The group leader can find ways to support those who have chosen to open up to the group. and themselves. This can take the form of asking the right questions, listening, providing comfort and understanding, and if needed, further support and guidance after the session.
‘Health Drumming’ is more about creating and maintaining a safe and supportive emotional environment as opposed to playing specific instruments, rhythms, or other activities. A group leader can structure a session and provide guidance that helps participants feel included, relaxed, authentic, safe, and supported. Learning how to create and present healthful music-based experiences is something that anyone can do. DCM naturally aligns with and supports “Health Drumming” sessions and other forms of recreational music making that are designed to promote feelings of well being and happiness