Therapeutic Drumming Drop

Silence can be an important part of any musical experience. It gives us time to enjoy the afterglow, to process what happened, and to simply be in the moment with our thought and feelings. How we exit that sacred space is as important as creating it in the first place.

During a recent group drumming experience, I invited my participants to create a theme-based or referential improvisation that represented the journey from a time of challenge to the current day and perhaps beyond, to a time when the particular challenge they had in mind would be resolved. They co-created a soundtrack for a shift from what could be chaotic and stressful to feelings of relief and accomplishment. These types of experiences can be very personal and therefore, emotional and powerful.

I’ve facilitated many of these types of experiences over the past 30 years and each time there is one question to which I have to find an answer: How shall we break the silence?

This is a question that many of us face when designing and facilitating musical experiences for the people we serve. It doesn’t matter if it’s at a retreat center, a school, or in a music therapy session. The way we transition from music into silence, and from that silence into talking (or whatever comes next) is important. It can mean the difference between feeling complete or not, feeling satisfied or not, feeling at ease, or not. It can also affect how we process the experience and set the tone for how we feel about it.

Here are a few ways that you can create a smooth transition out of silence.

1. Make eye contact.

When we make eye contact (or being to look around at each other) we establish a different kind of relationship than we experienced in the music making. Moving from eyes closed to open can feel like a big shift, so simply making eye contact can be enough to create the kind of ‘social container’ to transition. Eye contact usually includes non-verbal communication via facial expressions, so it’s a gentle way of saying, “Welcome back! What now?”

2. Vocalize, but don’t verbalize.

Making a non-verbal vocalization, such as a sigh or a hum, can serve as a musical transition back into the world of words. Simple taking a deep breath, then letting it out slowly, can signal to the group that, “Everything is OK.” Sometimes group members are afraid to break the silence because it seems as if everyone has entered a sacred space (which they very well may have). By creating a gentle vocal sound, you can remove their hesitation and open up the space.

3. Identify a transition sound.

Before you begin an experience that is likely to end in silence, select a sound that will signal the completion of that experience (including the silence at the end). A popular instrument that comes to mind is a singing bowl or chime. Striking a chime can signal the beginning of a different ‘section’ in an experience–and many believe that chimes and bells help to ‘clear the space’ for something new.

4. Move.

There are a couple ways you can introduce gentle movement as a transition from silence. One is to simple model movement by stretching or shifting your body in some way. Begin to move and stretch and others will likely catch on and your transition will be underway. Another approach is to give a verbal cue, like they often do in Yoga classes after a resting pose. Say something like, “When you’re ready, begin to move your fingers and toes, deepen your breath and  slowly come back into the room.” This gentle suggestion helps create a transition without too much direction, leaving lots of options for personal choice.

These are a few options that I hope will help you in leading your groups. There are more ways to break the silence, of course. If you have a favorite techniques or strategy, share it below or write an article and post it.

Group discussion can often follow a period of silence. I’ll talk about some of the many Verbal Discussion Techniques that we use to help create positive shifts in a future article.

Let me know what you think.
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