Archive for April, 2013

Silent Drum: Tips for Rhythmic Meditation

Silent Drum: Tips for Rhythmic Meditation

According to board certified music therapist, Christine Stevens, “Drumming may be the oldest form of active meditation known to humanity.” In this article, Christine explores the parallels between meditation and drumming, and shares her perspective on the added value of drumming.  She also offers tips on how to use it for meditation.

What could meditation and drumming possibly have in common? I’ve been asking myself this question ever since I heard world-famous sound healing expert Jill Purce say “The purpose of sound is silence.”

First, both meditation and drumming help us get out of our heads and into our hearts. They just go about it in different ways. In meditation, placing our attention on the breath occupies the mind. In drumming, the rhythm becomes a mantra that captures our attention. You can’t drum while thinking. Both act as mind sweepers; to clear the mental space of worries and negative thought patterns.

Second, both meditation and drumming are practices that focus on remembering rather than learning. Meditative states are quite natural and simple, but not easy. Drumming is similar. Within the rhythm, we encounter remembering of heartbeats in the womb and rhythms our bodies long to express.

Third, both meditation and drumming are tools to connect with spiritual realms and the non-physical. We travel along both the silence and rhythm paths as portals into the spiritual space where we breathe deeply, relax and re-connect with the heart and soul.

But there is one difference.

Drumming just may get you there quicker. Drumming just may be better suited for hyper, over-active, ADHD types of people, like me! After a drum circle at the Teton Wellness Festival, a participant came up to me and shared that drumming helped her “drop in” to her meditation practice immediately.

Here are some tips on how to drum your way into silence;

  • Create a sacred space where you can settle in.
  • Prepare to drum by placing your hand over your heart. Take a deep breath. Breath into an intention for your meditation. Place your open hand on the drum and rub the drum in a circular fashion, infusing your intention into the drum.
  • Now you are ready to drum. Play a simple pulse, rhythm or whatever feels good to you. Don’t think. Don’t think. Don’t think. You may use a play-along CD as well, like The Healing Drum Kit which includes twenty-seven play-along rhythms for specific intentions. The specific rhythm is not as important as releasing all self-criticism and allowing yourself to liberate your creative spirit.
  • Give yourself at least a minimum of four minutes to fall into the beat. Significant biological signs of relaxation typically occur after four minutes of drumming.
  • When you are ready, come to a stop by fading your drumming into silence.
  • Put down your drum and focus on your breath. Feel the rhythm of your breath gently drumming your body. Stay in this meditative state for as long as you desire in a sitting meditation.
  • Complete your practice by gently returning and honoring your drum.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA holds masters degrees in both social work and music therapy. She is author of Music Medicine, The Healing Drum Kit and The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. The founder of UpBeat Drum Circles, she has appeared on NBC, PBS, KTLA, and is a featured speaker in the DVD Discover the Gift. She has trained facilitators from more than twenty-five countries in the evidence-based REMO group drumming HealthRHYTHMS program. Christine has worked with many Fortune 500 companies, survivors of Katrina, students at Ground Zero and most recently, led the first drum circle training in a war-zone in northern Iraq. To learn more, visit

Click here to view the article from Christine Stevens’s website:

Click here to download a pdf copy of the article.

To receive, search for, or post information on topics such as this, visit

Getting Out of the Way: Music for Special Needs

Getting Out of the Way: Music for Special Needs

The creative arts therapies offer nonverbal strategies for motivating engagement in special needs populations.  Board certified music therapist Summer Mencher, offers insights on the use of music and music therapy with special needs children.

The more training I get, the more songs I learn, the more instruments I acquire and the more interventions I put in my box of tools, the more I realize that the most powerful asset I have as a music therapist is being ready to be unready. I’m in no way stating that having a plan and mapping out ideas is not necessary. However, I do feel it is essential to realize the importance of being present enough, brave enough, trusting enough and committed enough to get out of the way and let the child lead.

Working 1:1 with children with special needs, and being inspired by fellow music therapists and other professionals, I have found that change is most authentic when we let go of control and allow the kids to be the leaders. From my experience, I have found that kids don’t tend to think things to death. They instinctively know what they need. When the child has this unique opportunity to be the boss, I have observed that their instinctual knowing takes over and they do exactly as their inner doctor prescribes in order for their greatest growth to occur.

For example, a child might play loudly and chaotically on the drums for 10 weeks straight without even acknowledging the therapist, only to one day feel enough release and support and safety to speak for the first time in years, seemingly “out of nowhere.” Or, a child might not touch any musical instruments at all, and instead wander around the building, while the therapist does what can be referred to as a “holding song.” This might appear as if nothing is being accomplished, but if one looks deeper, it becomes clear that this child is working on gait training, gross motor movement and entrainment to the tempo (or pace) of the song. Further, he is gaining independence, autonomy and empowerment by having the therapist validate engagement in this manner. It becomes apparent that there is much more than meets the eye.

Of course, every child is incredibly unique and some will blossom more fully with a more behaviorist approach. However, what I have found across the board is that the most important piece is motivation. Getting a reward provides temporary motivation for completing a task. But if the task in itself is motivating, that can create real, lasting change. By allowing the child to be in charge, you will invariably discover what they are most excited about, what makes them tick. This is golden. This is what you build the session or the day around.

She loves 70s disco music? GREAT! Let’s work on balance and equilibrium through dancing to their favorite tracks. He loves toy cars? WONDERFUL! Let’s work on our VV and MM sounds by making up a song where the chorus says Vroom Vroom Vroom and sing it together while playing with them. She loves water? PERFECT! Let’s work on concepts of hot and cold, on and off, in and out, by writing songs about opposites and allow her to fill in the blanks of what she is doing while she is doing it. The examples go on and on.

The seed I hope you will plant with the special needs population is to make the plans, but be willing to throw them out the window if they’re not working, or if something richer arises. Learn the skills, but learn them so well that you’re comfortable not knowing which ones you will need in any given moment. Challenge the child to be flexible and willing to enter into new and unfamiliar territory, but also be ready to do the same. Pave the path to success and then get out of the way.


Summer Mencher, MT-BC, is a Board Certified Music Therapist with a degree in music therapy from Berklee College of Music in Boston.  She is the founder of the organization Rhythm & Truth Music Therapy, which is specifically aimed at empowering youth at-risk. As a Music Therapist, Summer uses a wide variety of music modalities (including a diverse selection of instruments, songs, improvisational techniques, relaxation techniques and creative arts) to establish non-musical goals. She has worked with youth at-risk, individuals with special needs, survivors of torture, cancer survivors, and all ages and ranges of individuals in hospitals, hospice, schools, psychiatric hospitals, rehab facilities, nursing homes, and more.  To learn more, visit

Click here to download a pdf file of this treatise

To receive, search for, or post information on topics such as this, visit