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The Neuroscience of Drumming

Stock Photo via Unsplash
”The first sound everyone on Earth heard was the sound of our mother’s heartbeat. Our relationship with rhythm began in the womb.” - Jennifer Tarnacki (Author: This is Your Brain on Drumming)

We, as humans, are deeply and innately connected to rhythm. It moves us on a primal level. So it is no surprise that the drum is the oldest instrument on the planet. Drumming has been used ceremonially across almost all cultures and is even revered as sacred in some traditions.

In modern times, most of us can agree that the drum or the bassline is the foundation of any song. It creates a groove that locks us into the record and intuitively influences us to move along its timing.

Yet, the power of the drum extends far beyond just music. The sound of the drum can have a healing influence on the human mind, body, and spirit. Our ancestors have long known this. However, modern science is just beginning to explore and confirm this phenomenon.

According to Soul Rhythm African Drumming, "The reason rhythm is such a powerful tool is that it permeates the entire brain. Vision, for example, is in one part of the brain, speech another, but drumming accesses the whole brain. The sound of drumming generates dynamic neuronal connections in all parts of the brain even where there is significant damage or impairment such as in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)."

Not only does the drum spark neural connections, but it also grounds us and connects us to the Earth. This can have a centering and stabilizing effect on the listener. In modern times, we see a resurgence of drum circles as a means for group therapy and healing. This form of community fellowship is proven to have healing and therapeutic effects on many levels.

“Drum therapy is an ancient approach that uses rhythm to promote healing and self-expression. From the shamans of Mongolia to the Minianka healers of West Africa, therapeutic rhythm techniques have been used for thousands of years to create and maintain physical, mental, and spiritual health.” - Michael Drake (Shamanic Teacher and Author)

Shamans and shamanic healers have long used drumming as a tool to bring people into trance states. From this altered state of consciousness, the Shaman is then able to facilitate healing work. In this form of healing, the Shaman uses the drum to connect with and influence the listener's brain. The repetitive and consistent rhythmic patterning of the drum can sync with and direct human brain waves. Science is just beginning to confirm what ancient healers have always known, that rhythmic techniques can have therapeutic effects on human beings.

“Drumming synchronizes the frontal and lower areas of the brain, integrating nonverbal information from lower brain structures into the frontal cortex, producing feelings of insight, understanding, integration, certainty, conviction, and truth, which surpass ordinary understandings and tend to persist long after the experience”. - Michael Winkelman (Author of Shamanism: The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing)

In recent studies led by Neurologist Barry Bittman, M.D., it was found that participating in drumming circles helps to fortify and increase natural killer T cells that fight cancer and viruses such as AIDS. Other studies have also demonstrated the profound healing effects of drumming as a treatment for stress, anxiety, asthma, mental illness, migraines, cancer, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's patients, paralysis, autistic children, chronic pain, and a wide range of physical disabilities.

In cases of significant damage to the parts of the brain, such as with Parkinson’s disease, drumming has the ability to generate neuronal connections between all parts of the brain. These rhythmic cues, according to Michael Thaut, director of Colorado State University’s Center for Biomedical Research in Music, “can help retrain the brain after a stroke or other neurological impairment”. - Jennifer Tarnacki (Author: This is your Brain on Drumming)

Drumming has also been shown to help Alzheimer's patients improve their short-term memory and increase their social interactions, autistic children grow their attention span, and help stroke victims regain control of their movements. In addition, recent studies by Barry Quinn, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist who runs a neuro biofeedback clinic for stress management, have shown that drumming for brief periods can alter brainwave patterns, dramatically reducing stress.

We are just beginning to scratch the surface in our understanding of the healing power of the drum. Stay tuned for more research and findings coming soon.



Have a story you’d like to share about how drumming has affected you or someone you know? Drop us a line at, we'd love to hear about it!

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