Drumming and Stroke – Not Rudimentary

Robert Lawrence Friedman

Following a meditative breathing pattern used by Samurai warriors, thirty men and women, ages ranging from 40 to 80 years, sit in a circle awaiting their next instruction from Jim Greiner, a drum circle facilitator. These individuals are learning to create rhythm patterns using frame drums, agogo bells, shakers and maracas. What makes this drum circle extraordinary is that these people are all stroke survivors, and many are partially paralyzed.

Stroke, the third largest cause of death in the U.S., killing upwards of 600,000 people yearly, can cause a person to become paralyzed and/or lose the ability to speak. The Cabrillo College Stroke Center in Northern California where Greiner offered his instruction, views stroke survivors as students, with the ability to learn to live their lives in a new way.

As Greiner explains, he begins with breath work because “focusing on the breath allows people to get connected to their bodies and exercise those muscles that they use when speaking.” He introduces the students to their rhythm instruments using innovative methods, such as creating shapes in the air with their shakers to change the rhythm patterns. Each week the students meet, he adds new elements so that by the fourth session they are playing relatively complex intertwining patterns. Greiner describes the sensation the group has when they realize that they can play their rhythm instrument as “watching the light go on in their eyes.

Greiner notes that the students have had noticeable improvements, such as a greater range of motion and an ability to communicate more clearly. Beth McKinnon, lead counselor for the Stroke Center says “The stroke survivors found ways to move their bodies in ways they couldn’t before, so that they could contribute to the musical fabric. It was very clear that the drumming brought them absolute joy.”

Despite these encouraging results, Greiner says that he is simply looking for a way to allow these survivors to be inspired, live life to the fullest, and experience the celebration that drumming provides!

For more information, contact Jim’s website or Cabrillo College Stroke Center. Please watch for a PBS special about the Cabrillo Center, featuring Jim’s work with the stroke patients.