Drumming As Therapy

My name is Karenna, and I’m a drum-aholic. I’m not ashamed or proud of that. It’s simply something that is. And as I begin my eighth year of playing the djembe drum, here’s some of what I know:

  • 16-mickey-hart-quoteHitting and slapping the drum and generally using it as a hand trampoline is something I’ll most likely do as long as I live. If reincarnation exists, and if I really have to come back here (and I certainly hope not), I’ll include a djembe clause in my soul contract for my next lifetimes.
  • I absolutely love connecting with the rhythms and patterns of the universe through the touch of my hands on the skin of the drum.
  • I’ve seen the drum soothe and sometimes heal various physical ailments in people I’ve known. I’ve seen it spark the life force in those who are close to exiting this world. I experienced the healing power of the drum as I ushered my husband into the arms of the universe. That was a biggie.
  • I love the djembe. I love the djembe. I love the djembe.
  • Well okay, maybe I’ll reincarnate again, but only if I can come back as a djembe master.

In the January 2017 issue of the Humboldt County Senior News, there’s a short piece (around 350 words) I wrote about how I came to drum and the therapeutic and spiritual benefits of it. So much more can be said about drumming, and I’m sure I’ll write more about it one day. But for now, I am moved to spend that time with my drum while that essay simmers and bubbles and takes shape.

Here’s the Senior News piece, followed by a list of videos that show some pretty cool drumming going on . . . . .

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Hooked on Drumming
by Karenna Wright

It echoes the human pulse, structures our life force, demands our presence, and weaves a cadenced web of well-being and support. It’s the first sound we hear in the womb–not our mother’s heartbeat–but the sound of the blood coursing through her veins. “It” is rhythm.

Mickey Hart, a drummer for the Grateful Dead, wrote, “In the beginning was noise. And noise begat rhythm, and rhythm begat everything else.”


Me lovin’ on my djembe.

It was no wonder I was drawn to rhythm as my husband deteriorated into dementia. And it was equally auspicious that I came across a class on therapeutic drumming. I was hooked after my first session.

The drum of choice was a djembe (gem-bay), provided by our instructor, Gregg. The djembe is from West Africa, made of wood, rope, metal rings, and goat skin. “Female goats because the males are too smelly,” Gregg jokes.

The hourglass-shaped drum stands about two feet tall. Around 17 inches in diameter, it’s played with the hands. It has a short learning curve. I can get behind that.

We learned that the distinction among bass, tone, and slap notes is in the shape of your hands and where they hit the drum. The bass corresponds to the root chakra, the tone to the heart, and the slap to the crown.


With every touch on the drum, I felt a dormant force of primal energy awaken within me. After 20 minutes, Gregg said we’d been reaping health benefits while we drummed. Cool!

Drumming fires up our circulation, reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, boosts the immune system, gives our right and left brains a hefty workout, encourages balance in carpal tunnel and arthritis conditions, and stimulates acupressure points in the hands to help balance body energy.

Most of all, drumming put us in the Now, alongside the rhythms we played, where there’s no room for stress or worry. During drumming, I laughed (a lot) and stumbled across an understanding, nurturing group in this new community. Drumming allowed me to be a better caregiver.

My husband has been gone for more than five years now, and I’m still drumming. I think he hears me.

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Djembe drums – photo by Niels Timmer

Want to learn more? Here are some drumming videos to inspire you.


How to Play the Djembe
Jim Donovan’s Rhythmic Foundation. How to play the bass, tone (also called open tone), slap (the slap tone), the muted tone, and the flam on the djembe.

Djembe – All One Spirit
There are a lot of beginning djembe videos out there. In this one, Gregg, the man who taught me how to play, gives some background info on the drum and a little about its care and feeding.

Longmont Djembe Group – Kakilambe
Just me and some friends having fun playing Kakilambe, a set of rhythms from coastal Guinea. You can get a good idea from this video how three different rhythms come together to make a great sound.

DjO Plays No More War
This is DjO, Gregg’s performing group I was part of. This was taken back in October 2011 during the studio recording session for our CD. (I’m in the blue shirt and silver vest.)

DjO – Welcome Wave
This one was our encore after our performance at a drum and dance festival. Not as good quality, but you definitely get the idea. (I’m second on the left of the director, Gregg, the guy in the blue shirt.)

Now go out there and beat on a drum! If you need an excuse, call it therapy…because it is. It just happens that it’s also fun.


4 thoughts on “Drumming As Therapy

  1. Hi! My name is Marco. I also play on Djembe and I must agree with You. But, It depend on which drum do You use. For example, Darbuka has great sound also, but It isn’t great for therapy and Djembe has mostly warmer sound. I don’t know, how to explain It. English is not my native language.


    • Thanks for your comment, Marco, and the best to you in this New Year! Your English is great! From what I understand and have read about drumming, health benefits occur no matter what kind of drum you’re playing. You also get benefits just by being in the same room. It has to do with the vibrations of the drum adjusting our body rhythms to a more natural state.


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