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Drum your way to happiness

By Gemma Pitcher | ninemsn

Stressed? Uptight? Low in energy and feeling down? Instead of reaching for the essential oils or grabbing a glass of wine, how about beating the bejaysus out of an African drum?

Rhythm, defined as 'a sound or movement recurring at regular intervals', is one of the most fundamental ways that humans relate to the world around them. We are aware of rhythm from the moment we are soothed by our mother's heartbeat as a tiny newborn baby. Remember how much you enjoyed clapping along to the nursery rhymes in primary school? How running steadily to a beat in the gym relaxes you? Rhythmic sound and movement has the innate ability to make us feel happier and more relaxed, which is why to many of us music is so important to our daily lives.

Connecting with a group

Drumming is just about the oldest form of music on earth and drumming exists in the traditional rituals of most of the world's cultures. Just as important as rhythm itself is the connection that rhythmic music and dancing gives to members of a group. As far back as human history goes, drumming and dancing has allowed societies to connect deeply to each other and form the social bonds that are needed to keep the community strong.

These days, in our fragmented, hectic world, we rarely get the chance to connect to a wide group of people at a deeper level. Even our closest family and friends barely see enough of us. That's where a drumming group can be surprisingly therapeutic - the mere act of sitting in a circle and beating out a uniform rhythm is soothing, stress-busting and satisfying. Studies have shown that drumming is beneficial for people with depression and anxiety, and that levels of the stress hormone go down after a drum session. An hour or so of drumming after a hectic day at work can leave you feeling relaxed, upbeat and even mildly euphoric and dreamy!

A new skill

Drumming is also great if you've always fancied learning an instrument but don't think you have any innate musical ability. No need to understand the complicated nuances of pitch, tone or key, and no need to master difficult fingering or strumming. Anyone who can count to four can participate in a drum session, and most drum courses are simply based on a system of call-and-response, with a facilitator beating out a simple rhythm for the class to repeat. It's far easier than you think to become proficient enough to join in a group jam, and if you do make a mistake, you can rest easy in the knowledge that you'll be covered up by the sound of everyone else!

A good meditation session

Drum courses usually use African drums such as djembes, which are played by hand rather than with drumsticks. Sessions teach simple, short drum phrases that work towards building up a more complicated rhythm over several weeks. At the end of the drum lesson there's often an 'open jam', which mostly involves everyone choosing a drum or percussion instrument (think shakers, tambourines, cowbells, or blocks) and improvising wildly. Even though it feels a bit like an adult version of kindy, it's amazing how soon a chaotic noise turns into a cohesive rhythm. Being involved in a drum jam can be as good as a meditation session for connecting with yourself and those around you, clearing your mind and letting go of tension and stress.

If you get really into drumming and want to take your newly learnt skill further, there are often opportunities to get involved in live group (or even solo) performances at public events such as local festivals or drumming circles.

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