Drumming To Build Community Rhythms

By Jim Greiner

– Health & Fitness Magazine, March 1996

Imagine this: a clan of early humans is scattered on the ledge in front of their cave thousands of generations ago. Each person is busily engaged in their own private task: scraping hides, chipping flints, crushing nuts with stones.

These are tasks they have done many times before, each working alone for long tedious, repetitive hours. Suddenly the sounds of scraping, chipping and crushing fall together into a spontaneous, repetitive rhythm!

They work together for a while before they even realize that their sounds have become a pattern. Then the realization of what is happening bursts upon them! They look at each other in amazement and erupt in joyous laughter. The day has flown by and left them with piles of completed work and a powerful feeling of accomplishment and closeness. The next day they take up the rhythm where they left off. Community drumming was born!

I’ll always wonder how we did discover drumming! People all around the world and all throughout history have used drumming to raise their spirits, release stress, energize their bodies, achieve a state of clarity, strengthen their community bonds and celebrate the pure joy of being alive.

The nature of group drumming is just like the nature of communities themselves: the drummers play specific patterns and definite parts. The parts fit together to create the complete rhythm, just as in a community where the members contribute specific skills, talents and personalities to common goals.

When the drummers play their parts, as when the community members do their jobs, these groups thrive. When the community thrives there is room, and support, for individual expression and creativity. This holds true for any kind of community, whether it be a village in Africa, a pre-Roman Germanic tribe or a corporation in the modern world.

This is why drumming is reemerging in contemporary technological cultures. It is part of our nature as humans to gather together to make music and celebrate.

I’ve led community-building, revitalizing drumming events for groups a varied as Shell Oil, Hewlett-Packard, The Society Of Certified Financial Planners, civic groups, healing centers, therapists, doctors, “at risk” young men and many, many others. They all had one thing in common: a desire to experience a feeling of community, of being a part of a group of people with common goals. They all became members of a community, and more powerful individuals, because of drumming together.

The act of repeating movements and hearing repetitive patterns of sounds puts us in a heightened state of awareness of ourselves and of the group. It is a state of clarity, of effortless, relaxed power. There have been many studies published in the past decade (some even commissioned by the U.S. Senate and the Veterans Administration) that have documented the positive mental and physical changes we go through when we drum.

We seem to have come full circle from our drummer ancestors to modern scientific studies of the effects of drumming. Whether we rely on clinical studies or simply trust millenia of drumming history, the fact is that drumming brings us together in a powerful, uplifting way!