Drumming and the Prayerful Mind
by Chris Vessey
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has been a part of our culture for many thousands of years. Certainly,
it predates recorded history by untold millennia. It seems that,
almost as long as humans have gathered together in groups, drumming
has been an integral part of their interactions.
I began to explore this topic, I thought to myself, "this
will be pretty easy . . . drums are a very straightforward instrument."
In sharing that thought with you, I must admit to a little bit
of misguided melodic instrument chauvinism. You see, I am a saxophonist,
but I also play recorder, tin whistle, some guitar and mandolin,
and a few other such instruments. I do a little bit of Irish drumming,
on the bodhrán, but that's been the extent of my involvement
with percussion since high school, where I took a module on drumming.
it's a standing joke in concert bands, jazz bands, and especially
rock bands that the drummer is the least intelligent member of
the group - after all, they just sit there and hit things (ungh!
ungh!) This, of course, is only a joke - but many of us wind and
string musicians regard drums as simplistic. They don't play melodies,
they just go "thunk," right?
was I ever wrong. The variety and types of drums available in
this modern world is, well, astounding. Hand drums, finger drums,
drums with beaters, drums with beads or ball bearings, as well
as the more traditional marching band, concert band and orchestral
its heart, a drum is simply a resonating chamber which has some
form of semi-rigid surface that can be struck to produce a sound.
The vibrating drumhead causes the air around it to vibrate, and
the drum's frame amplifies the resulting sound. Modern drumming
can include other percussion instruments, however - triangles,
glockenspiels, wood blocks, and cowbells are just a few found
in modern usage. Shakers and rattles of varying design are also
very prevalent traditionally. Just a few of the drumming types
I encountered in my search were: African, Afro-Cuban, Taiko (Japanese),
Scottish Pipe and Drum, American Pipe and Drum, Klezmer (Jewish),
Irish, Native North American/Shamanistic, East Indian, Chinese
course, drums have been a part of military life for centuries
- we are all familiar with military bands, and marching bands
which are patterned after them. Drums have been used to signify
war, both on the battlefield, and in the music of the great composers
(they are, for example, often used to simulate cannon blasts in
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture).
the attention on drumming, outside of the performing arts, centres
on the metaphysical and the spiritual. This links drumming to
its ancestral roots in many religions around the world. As such,
drumming has played a very important role in the varied spiritual
experiences of the peoples of our planet.
reading of the experiences of Ms. Traute Klein, we discover how
her use of drumming, in the aftermath of a life-changing car accident,
brought peace and rest that is simply not possible by the means
we take for granted - lying down at night and falling asleep.
She outlines how women in general can find peace and inner healing
in the communal beat of a drum. She describes how, in her group,
each woman has her own individual drum, but that in other groups
they use a single, large community drum. Each mode has its own
spiritual appeal - the individual drums would obviously allow
for individual expression around a common beat, whereas the community
drum would bring an intense sense of harmony with each participant
providing comparatively little individual variation, but instead
melding into the commonality of the experience.
reference, the "All One Tribe Foundation" website, describes
methods of forming a drum circle. Interestingly, the motto of
the site is "The drum's universal language of the heartbeat
reminds us of our unity..." The site indicates that, from
a scientific point of view, drumming increases alpha waves in
the brain which are indicative of heightened relaxation.
most basic form of their tribal drumming is for the group to form,
with one person starting the "heartbeat" - the others
can then join in when they feel in tune with the rhythm, but all
that is done is a communal copy of the original heartbeat.
form starts in much the same way, but each person joining the
group seeks to "harmonize" with the existing beat or
beats, and to create something new, spontaneous and magical. This
continues until participants feel satisfied, and the drumming
comes to a natural close as people drop out of the work one by
focus, in all things, is harmony and visualization. The drumming
should, if engaged in fully, bring about a somewhat heightened
state of consciousness and bring one closer to the harmonic reality
of the world. As was observed by the author of this site, we all
have a heartbeat - we seek the Unity of this reality.
is not to say that solo drumming is not also spiritual in nature,
or any less sacred. In her book "Drumming for the Gods –
The Life and Times of Felipe García Villamil, santero,
palero, and abakuá," Maria Teresa Velez writes of
how drumming was an integral part of this man's life, through
its many stages, and the spiritual grounding that it gave him.
Although there is no real opportunity to read much of the book
itself, what is said makes it obvious that Señor Villamil
has made drumming a huge part of his personal life and a personal
practice in spirituality - I see no reason why any individual
cannot do likewise, and use the drum as an intensely personal
seems that these traditionally-oriented experiences utilize sound
to produce altered states of consciousness. The "Shamanic
Drumming" website features an article by Jade Wah'oo Grigori
which states that the goal of such drumming is to facilitate the
simultaneous experience of the mental states of silence, alpha
and theta. The silence cancels out the normal daydreaming of the
alpha state, leaving it empty, which becomes a space where our
inner Spirit can express itself without inhibition, in images,
symbols, songs and chant, tones, colours, sensations and heightened
knowledge and awareness. Shamanically speaking, we then gain the
ability to speak once again in the Language of Spirit, something
that humankind lost æons before.
we've reviewed the very basics of ancient shamanic drumming, which
forms the basis for all religious drumming and probably all drumming,
right up to military. Can it then be any coincidence that the
military has long used drums, if they enhance focus, concentration
and awareness - all aspects desirable in a soldier?
music in a continuum from the Renaissance baroque styles right
up to modern music, we see an increasing use of drums in that
music. In fact, modern dance music is heavily based on its drum
beat, and so-called "raves" have a primary attraction
in that participants say that the music contributes to an altered
state of consciousness.
a lot to be learned from meditative drumming. I leave it for you
to consider how prayer may fit into a shamanic-style drumming
session, how the energy of individual drumming and synergy of
group drumming may enhance your ability to turn thoughts into
reality. I certainly find it most relaxing and enjoyable, and
perhaps you will continue to find it so. Be ye therefore blessèd
in that which ye doeth.
Healing Drum" – Traute Klein, 2001. One woman's experience
with shamanistic drumming and its healing effects after a debilitating
car accident, and her view as drumming as a healing outlet for
http://www.allonetribe.org/newmoon.html"All One Tribe Foundation
– How To Form A Drum Circle" – A website dedicated
for the Gods" – Maria Teresa Velez, 2000. A companion
website and review of a book about an Afro-Cuban spiritual drummer
named Felipe García Villamil, who is considered a master
of a number of different sacred drumming forms.
Drumming" – Jade Wah'oo Grigori. An interesting article
on the theological origins of shamanic drumming, and the reported
psychospiritual effects of such drumming.
http://www.nemeton.com "Nemeton – The Shamen's Web
Site" – Official website of the new-age neotechnoshamanic
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