I run drumming events all over the world. Drumming is my life and almost all I do is drum! While I may appear somewhat biased, I have also organised, run and witnessed almost every other type of corporate team activity available. Reflecting on all that experience and what I see every day in my own work, there is something very special about drumming and the effect it has on individuals and teams.
Experts now have overwhelming evidence that drumming, or at least basic sound music making, was part of our ancient tribal life. Starting in central Africa, our species has been using musical instruments for at least 50,000 years, but probably a lot longer!
Back then, much of the Earth was suffering in the grip of an ice age. Existence must have been a constant life-or-death struggle for food, warmth and security. While it’s almost unimaginable that music and rhythm would exist at all, all the evidence suggests that it did.
A conundrum still remains for evolutionary historians, biologists and musicologists. There seems to be no reason why humans would spend precious time and materials on music making. It appears to make no evolutionary sense, and yet they did.
So what would have been the purpose of early music making and drumming? Repetitive sound, rhythm or music are definitely known to entertain us. On a basic level, a constant drum beat within earshot will always catch our attention and naturally lead our awareness towards it, and maybe to tap along with it – even step or dance in time with it!
Maybe our illiterate and savage ancestors discovered the unexplainable sensation of drumming together and found it strangely enjoyable. Participants in our drumming events will certainly testify that the activity itself is very enjoyable and satisfying.
As civilizations grew and matured, the intrinsic need for drumming and rhythm permeated first through religious ceremonies and rites, and then into communal traditional folk music.
Throughout history, one very specialised group of individuals has always known about the effects of drumming and rhythm. It has been well documented that Shamens, witch doctors, healers and soothsayers (from as far apart as the Mongolian Flats to the Nevada Desert) have used drums extensively. They often had a real understanding of how to induce meditation, trance, healing and what we might call nowadays ‘counselling’ through the sound and vibration of a single drum.
Historical facts give us only half the story, and we really need to leave the solid material world of fossils, carbon dating and DNA records in search for answers, and move into the effects of sound on the human brain. There is a growing amount of research being conducted in this fascinating field, which suggests that our brains are somehow hardwired for music and rhythm.
Of course, when most people drum, they are not aware of exactly what is happening in their brain. They just seem to feel it or simply relish the experience!
In his book The Healing Power of the Drum, the author Robert Lawrence Friedman (who is a drum facilitator and psychotherapist) presents extensive research on how drumming can reduce stress and provide significant health benefits. Clinical psychologist Dr Barry Quinn has spent more than eight years researching how a variety of techniques, including drumming, affect brainwaves. In a particular study, Dr Quinn discovered that even a short drumming session could double alpha brain wave activity, substantially reducing stress levels. He declared that the results of 30 to 40 minutes of drumming were the most amazing that he had encountered in the whole of his research. With drumming, the brain changes from beta waves (associated with increased stress) to alpha waves (associated with relaxation), producing feelings of well being. We regularly see the signs of this welcome change in our team building activities and meeting ice breakers.
In his book The Shamanic Drum: a guide to sacred drumming, Michael Drake also describes the impact of drumming on the human brain, discussing how drumming produces feelings of insight, understanding and integration, which tend to persist long after the experience. Feedback from clients and participants often refers to the long-lasting impact of our drumming events.
In a future blog, I’ll continue my journey through the history of the drum and drumming, as we move closer to the time when it was discovered that the positive benefits of drumming could be applied to corporate team building.
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