A Simple Drum Changed Jack’s Life That Night

As 2020 winds down, many of us are starting to think about all of the potential 2021 holds.

A new year signifies a fresh start… a “reset” of sorts. And with that in mind, I’d like to share with you one of my favorite stories about starting anew in a very big way.

Let me tell you a little about Jack.

The first time I met him was at an addiction recovery center. He was sitting across from me in a drum circle I was about to lead. Jack was glaring at my long hair and djembe—his face painted with disdain.

It was clear that he would have much rather been anywhere but there.

I didn’t take it personally, though… Jack was fresh out of detox and faced with putting pieces of his life back together.

My goal at the group therapy session that day was for each person in that room to experience a small reprieve from all the feelings of pain, shame, trauma, and guilt. I hoped they’d leave the session feeling a little bit better than when they first walked in.

If anything, I wanted to help them feel at peace… even if just for a little while.

Most of the folks there had never touched up a hand drum before, so I walked them through a few simple techniques.

I knew a lecture was probably the last thing these folks wanted or needed, so I strived to blend some wellness education in with interactive music making. Plus, in my experience, I’ve found that people learn things much more effectively when they’re enjoying themselves.

So we spent two hours drumming, playing rhythm games, doing some deep breathing exercises, and learning more healthy, practical way to manage stress.

About halfway through the session, I noticed that Jack was cracking a smile during one of the exercises…

And during another exercise, Jack let out a full-on belly laugh. He was genuinely having a good time! And the more Jack laughed, the more the group laughed with him.

For the remainder of that session, Jack and the rest of the group were completely engaged. Everyone was participating!

After the session ended and everyone had exited, Jack hung around.

He walked right up to me and said, “Jim, I was ready to absolutely hate this, but I have to say…man, I really do feel better! I haven’t laughed once since I’ve been sober. Thank you for that.”

I thanked him for taking the time to say so. And I suggested how his willingness to trying something new thing—despite being extremely uncomfortable at first—could prove to be a very useful skill in his recovery.

 Six reasons why group drumming works

I’ve traveled all over the country facilitating drumming workshops and the one thing I’ve learned is that group drumming has been overwhelmingly effective and therapeutic in helping all types of people, from all walks of life.

And I recently came across one landmark study that explains why it’s so effective.

In a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being, a group of researchers demonstrated the positive effects group drumming can have—especially on people with mental health challenges.

In this study, 39 study participants—who identified as either actively receiving mental health services, providing care for mental health patients, or both—engaged in a 90-minute group drumming session once a week for 6 to 10 weeks. The role of each participant (care provider vs. patient vs. both) was kept anonymous. Each participant was interviewed either one-on-one or in a group after each group drumming session.

Upon conclusion of the study, the researchers found that collectively, the participants experienced six overarching themes—all of which reflected improvements in emotional, psychological, and social facets of their health, including:

1. Hedonia: Self-gratifying feelings of joy, happiness, and fun in the moment.

2. Agency: Acting on free will and making free choices. A sense of control and initiative.

3. Accomplishment: Feelings of achievement, gratification, and triumph. Not giving up.

4. Engagement: Enhanced focus and concentration.

5. A redefinition of self: Increased self-awareness and construction of a positive identity. Realization of personal capabilities.

6. Social well-being: A sense of belonging and meaningful connectedness to a group.

It’s important to note that the group consisted of various skill levels, including beginners. This allowed for an inclusive learning environment.

Like I always say, don’t worry at being perfect at your instrument or perfecting the technique—it’s the simple process of doing that provides the most useful benefits.

  The very real ways music enriches lives

Below are a few compelling snippets I wanted to share. These were taken from researchers’ interviews with the study participants about their experiences with group drumming:

  • “This was life-changing! Because I come from a background of failure, and shame and disappointment. I find learning in the formal way, how people learn [to be] absolutely impossible.

    So when you take that framework, you have people that are not being graded, not performing to anybody […] you get this liberty. I found it really powerful, and the first session [I was surprised about] not only how much I could do but how good everyone else was… […] We were creative! It was a good standard… It was a good sound!”
  • “All that horribleness was drained out of you… I can’t even describe it […] it comes in beautiful flowing in you… I always left on a high.”

  • “I felt good about making it to all of the sessions and being on time, because it has been a real issue for me in the past… So it was nice that I could see some improvement. […] It meant that I got up and did stuff. Because a lot of the time I won’t get up and do anything.” 
  • “It helps the stress, and you’ll come out feeling very happy, and it’s just a different happy […] I felt it inside and that’s why it was just really a wonderful and happy experience.”
  • “I found it was very therapeutic to me to get out of my zone that I normally keep in, away from people.”
  • “My cheeks would hurt because I would feel the smiling. Yeah, I really did… I haven’t really smiled like that for a very long time.”

Making music—even if some seemingly simple drumming—can bring people together, help express emotions, lift your mood, give purpose, and provide a sense of accomplishment.

I can certainly relate to the depth of thoughts and feelings the study participants experienced.

Quite frankly, these effects are a large part of what inspired me to pursue my current role as a group drumming facilitator and sound healing expert. And since 1999, I’ve had the pleasure of leading more than 2,000 workshops, and sharing these gifts with thousands and thousands of people.

 Boost your mental health with group drumming

Interested in trying group drumming for yourself? Here are a few of my go-to tips:

  1. Start by learning a proper technique. I walk you the right way to play a djembe drum here: bit.ly/djembe-technique  

    Of course, any type of drum will do! And if you don’t have access to a drum, you can practice this technique on your lap or a pillow. You can even create a makeshift drum from items in your kitchen—turning a plastic mixing bowl or pot upside-down works just fine!

  2. Find a drum circle near you. Try looking online first. I highly recommend searching the term “drum circle” on MeetupFacebook, or Eventbrite. If the event doesn’t indicate it it’s for beginners or if they provide drums, contact the organizer. (Many drum circle organizers have plenty of extra drums!)

  3. Stay tuned to my Facebook events page. I facilitate drum workshops all over the country, educating those on how they can use the power of rhythm and sound to better their overall wellness.

Pick up a drum.

Be happy!



Ascenso, S., Perkins R., Atkins, L., Fancourt D., and Williamon, A. (2018). Promoting well-being through group drumming with mental health service users and their carers. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-being. (13)1: p. 1484219. Retrieved from: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6041820


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