Drumming – The Emotional Elixir

Robert Lawrence Friedman

Emotions are meant to move through us, but in some cases, perhaps because we can’t find the right words to express them or we don’t feel comfortable talking about our feelings, we stuff them inside. Experts from various fields, including music therapists, drumming facilitators and even medical doctors, are beginning to recognize the benefits of using the hand drum as a vehicle for releasing emotions.

An example of someone who successfully used the drum to unblock her emotions is Ginger Graziano, a Long Island mother whose adolescent son, Jeremy, had died of cancer. She discovered by accident that by going to drum circles and hitting a djembe, she was able to transform her heavy emotion of grief. “Drumming felt powerful. I was speaking my grief through my fingers. It was coming out of my body through the drum. What you bring out will heal you, what you don’t will hurt you.” Ginger found that as she hit the drum, the emotions changed — from intense grief, to anger, and finally to joy. Through hitting a drum and expressing herself, her feelings became unblocked. If a drum can transform the sorrow of a mother whose son had died of cancer, then who among us can say our problems are too insurmountable for the drum to help?

Arthur Hull, a well-known drumming facilitator who compares the vibration of drumming to the fluidity of water, contends that the action of hitting a drum provides a release to wherever the individual needs it the most, whether it be emotional, physical, or stress release. If drums had been used as a vehicle to release pent-up anger, could the violence of Columbine High School have been avoided? Organizations such as Drums Not Guns and Remo’s new Health Rhythms division are exploring how the drum can be used to unblock emotions, create a sense of community and even boost the immune system. As research and anecdotal reports continue to support the link between drumming and wellness, the drum is becoming more and more accepted by drummers and non-drummers alike as one path towards emotional well-being.