by Zorina Wolf

Drumming involves pulsation, synchronization or entrainment, complexity and simplicity,   and resonance.  This is especially true if people are actually playing together! Learning rhythms for an  ethnic tradition is secondary to the basics of keeping a rhythm, any rhythm, going. Any and all of this could be deemed therapeutic!

Beginning the Journey

When I first began to drum, I was heady with passion of this art.

My first teacher was Baba Olatunji.  Baba, a master teacher, was a  storyteller as well as a conduit for clear, rhythmic groove. Learning to play in his classes was definitely deeply healing. It was also enlivening, and delicious. Baba knew how to hold a container of a group, and then slowly and gradually add the heat that would take our drumming into the realm of trance and entrainment. He would keep us drumming long enough to get to the place of no thought, endorphins rising, and song. He always included singing with drumming.  (My belief is using two “channels” of information simultaneously is a fast track to a natural  high.) After a workshop with Mr. O,  I would be blissed out for weeks.

There was an inner sacredness in his classes. Baba was consistent in the way he taught. Drum, dance, sing. Dance, sing, drum. Sing.  All the rhythms had a meaning, a purpose. Different rhythms were introduced at certain times in the class exactly when the group needed something: more healing, meaning, magic, or juice.



Everything he taught enlivened the spirit, made strangers into family.

I was lucky enough to be immersed in this teaching style, this village-ness for fourteen years, before Baba died. And his lessons on how to work with groups have definitely influenced my teaching. Always remember the “group body” as you recognize the individuals within it

And now that Baba is gone, and other elders have left our midst, how do we continue to carry this torch? How do we allow the healing power of rhythm to permeate our playing?


Intention is a key  to bringing drumming to another level of awareness.

Playing It Forward

Sometimes our intentions are conscious and awake. We decide to drum for the healing for ourselves or for someone else.

A group or an individual creates an altar, lights candles, burns incense or sage, perhaps writes their wishes on paper and burns the offerings. The drumming has set and setting, and carries our thoughts prayers and intentions–whether or not the music affects the desired change or not isn’t as important as performing the action.

Intention can be as simple as showing up. Every note that we play can have greater resonance by being in the present moment.  It is not only what we are playing but how we listen to others, and (hopefully) to ourselves. What are we bringing to the groove potluck? An ego sandwich or a nice steady bottom stew? Are we inclusive or exclusive?

My husband, Terrance is a long time meditator and teacher. I have experienced that focusing in a rhythmic context can provide a similar state of mindfulness as sitting on a cushion. It´s noisier and more active. But you can also have the opportunity to watch the mirror of your thoughts while you drum. The moment that you “leave”, your rhythms will change. You might play louder, you might feel tired. Spacing out opens the door for hand, wrist and arm injuries.

Focusing is active participation that keeps one grounded in the rhythm, in the group, but also connecting to yourself and your ability to play in the moment.

Becoming a better drummer means tuning the instrument–the body.

Skills Are Key

Although anyone can play a drum, at a certain point it is advisable to bring quality into our sounds, or practice technique. Being aware of your body in time and space adds more power and musicality to playing- as well as limiting injury from hitting the drum too hard, instead of playing it!

Classes that I teach begin with a series of warm-up exercises–to get ready for playing and being in alignment with our drums and selves. Learning basics of how to make each note ergonomically and efficiently improve the consistency and efficacy of our sounds and improves the ease of playing!

Baba used to say: “The spirit of the animal world (the head of the drum), the vegetable world (the body of the drum), and ourselves create and irresistible force for healing and good.” Add our intention, focus, and intelligent playing and you have a package that for me is the essence of therapeutic drumming–something that can heal ourselves and  as importantly the community that we play with!


zorinawolfZorina Wolf is the founder of Village Heartbeat and developer of the Whole Person Drumming® curricula. She is an advanced TaKeTiNa leader and pan-African drum teacher. Through Village Heartbeat, she is offers a variety of workshops in the US, Canada, Malaysia, and elsewhere.

Village Heartbeat