Rhythmic stimulation has a profound effect on the human state of mind. Drumming actually induces deep relaxation, lowers blood pressure, and reduces stress, but contrary to what the 60’s taught us, this enhanced state of mind is achieved without the use of mind-altering chemicals. A study by Barry Quinn, Ph.D. demonstrates that a brief drumming session can double alpha brain wave activity, dramatically reducing stress. The brain changes from Beta waves (focused concentration and activity) to Alpha waves (calm and relaxed), producing feelings of euphoria and well-being.
This is however not always the natural process we would like it to be. Drummers, particularly those in an educational setting, are frequently faced with challenging patterns that require concentration to perform accurately. When unable to execute a task we are hyper-focused on, feelings of frustration and defeat disrupt our ability to complete it. This in turn creates tension, preventing us from arriving at the relaxed state of mind that is necessary to find a rhythmic balance.
I believe this begins with breathing. If we look at our breathing patterns as their own rhythms, we can make the assessment that all living and breathing creatures are innately rhythmic. In moments of intense focus, we experience disrupted breathing patterns, which throw off the natural rhythms our bodies are attempting to create. In a drumming setting, how can we create rhythms when our own bodies are out of sync? The challenging patterns we attempt to play become more accessible when breathing remains consistent, which then leads to easier repetition of the same pattern. By repeating a rhythmic idea over and over, it becomes familiar and requires less focus to execute. Either way, it is an entirely cyclical process.
Think about a group of drummers in a drum circle. The patterns need to work with one another to establish a rhythmic balance. A drum circle not only provides opportunities to connect with our own spirits at a deeper level, but also to connect with a group of other like minded people as it alleviates isolation, and alienation. Music educator Ed Mikenas finds that drumming provides “an authentic experience of unity and physiological synchronicity.” If we put people together who are out of sync with themselves (i.e., diseased, addicted) and help them experience the phenomenon of entrainment, it is possible for them to feel with and through others what it is like to be synchronous and connected. The sound of a drum actually generates dynamic neuronal connections on its own. So while the stereotypical hippie-like drum circle is commonly thought of as a mind-altering activity, it is more powerful to achieve a higher state of consciousness through the brains normal activity, as a response to drumming.