Art has been a crucial aspect of the expression of religion, cultural values, politics and everyday life since the beginning of mankind. In Africa, people expressed their cultural values through different forms of art, but the music was the most prominent. Africans compost songs for different functions where they performed. However, it is said that "Africans do not listen to music, they do it" (Gittleman, 2014, p. 5). As such, music in Africa was not about singing but how it is produced through musical instruments. Singing was closely connected with drumming which involved beating drums with sticks or by hands. In fact, the drums were widely used because they were honored and believed to have souls or spirits. It was thought that gods sent a sacred message through drums (Gittleman, 2014). Hand drumming is an engaging process in which the performer holds on to the drum and beats it using both hands. Whereas many participants in hand drumming take it as fun for entertaining themselves, it has emerged that the practice has health benefits. Hand drumming potentially brings physical and emotional healing, stimulate feelings of well-being and boost the body's immune system.
Prominent African Drums
There are some common drums that involve hand drumming. One of the mostly used drums is the djembe. Djembe has a goblet shape making it look like a small kettledrum with a stem. The stem is held between the performer's legs when beating the drum while standing. Djembe drums are of varying sizes, but the smaller ones produce the highest pitch (Gittleman, 2014). The pitch can also be increased by tightening the ropes stretching the animal skin over the drumhead. To produce enjoyable music, the drummers usually vary the tone quality of the djembe by striking different areas of the drumhead by varying hand shapes.
Sabar is another prominent African drum. It is played both by hand and a stick. The instrument is held between the legs. On the one hand, the performer hits the sabar with a stick to produce high notes while striking the instrument using the other hand empty hand to produce a base sound. Sabar is made from an elongated cylinder with its ends covered by goatskin. Sabars are played in various cultural ceremonies such as childbirth, baby naming, wedding and other holidays. It is also used during wrestling communal wrestling matches.
Apart from djembe and sabar, bougarabou is another famous musical instrument played by hand. It is played by both hands and is associated with vigorous dancing by the dancers. The dancers wear bracelets and also have clapping instruments (wooden chunks) that supplement the musical sound of the bougarabou.
Another African drum played by hand is the talking drum. It is an hour-glass shaped drum used by the villages to communicate with their relatives separated by vast distances. The talking drum produces a sound that can be heard fifteen kilometers away (Gittleman, 2014). Talking drum imitates human speech and can pass the message as would have been passed by word of mouth. Talking drum is beaten by a stick and one hand.
Udu is also a common hand played African drum. Udu is believed to have originated in Nigeria where it was made by women from clay water jug. The udu is played by both hands to vary the tone. The performer is engaged with the drum as it involves striking different sides to produce musical sound.
Hand Drumming and Health Benefits
Physical and Emotional Healing
Drumming plays significant roles in both physical and emotional healing. In 9-5 work-centric conditions, people often experience back pains as a result of extended hours of sitting. Participating in a hand drumming performance after a tiresome job relieves the physical pain. According to Dunbar, Kaskatis, MacDonald, and Barra (2012), the act of performing music, as contrasted to passively listening, dilutes pain by stimulating the release of endorphin. High levels of endorphin in the blood reliefs pain (Sprouse-Blum, Smith, Sugai & Parsa, 2010). As seen earlier, some African musical instruments such as the bougarabou involve vigorous dancing which is related to a high release of endorphins (Dunbar et al., 2012). Thus, engaging in dancing or playing the drum increase the level of endorphins released into the blood which will lead to relief of physical pain.
Also, hand drumming contributes to emotional healing. The power of drumming potentially relaxes the tense, energize the tired and heal the emotional wounds (Friedman, 2000). These effects are attributed to the interaction between drumming, music and the brain. Drumming can synchronize the right and left hemispheres of the brain. It changes the consciousness of individuals. The rhythmic repetition of ritual sounds energizes the nervous system, the brain, and the entire body. As the people engage in rhythmic drumming for an extended period, their brain waves will entrain to the rhythm and result in shared brainwave state (Friedman, 2000).
The outward attention experienced during drumming generates beta waves vibrating from fourteen to forty cycles per second. The awareness will gradually shift inwards, and the brain slows down into rhythmical alpha waves which vibrate at seven to fourteen waves per second. Alpha is characterized by centering and relaxation (Friedman, 2000). As the vibration drop down further to between four and seven cycles per second, the brain goes into theta state characterized by interfacing unconscious and conscious processes producing dream-like imageries that trigger sleep. Theta inflicts mystical insights marked by both emotional and physical healing (Friedman, 2000).
The human brain is divided into two hemispheres; left and right. The left brain is rational, analytical, logical and verbal administrator while the right functions as the visual, aural and emotional center. The right hemisphere may dominate in cycles leading to the production of alpha waves whereas the left is a beta state. However, in states of high influence of rhythmic sound, both hemispheres are entrained to a similar rhythm. This leads to heightened awareness and sense of clarity as one can draw from both hemispheres simultaneously. The brain becomes more lucid, sharp and can synthesize more quickly than usual. Also, the rhythmical waves contribute to an increase in the white matter related to brain sharpness and functioning (Metzler-Baddeley et al., 2014). Consequently, an individual can easily understand and transform emotions in a more realistic manner leading to ease of coping with situations.
Moreover, exposure to repetitive drumming results in physiological and therapeutic effects that extends emotional healing. Rhythmical drumming contributes towards a reduction in levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone (Gingras, Pohler & Fitch, 2014). As a result, individuals participating in hand drumming are reported to experience dreamlike experiences and decreased heart rate.
Drumming and Well-Being
Drumming significantly contributes to positive human development, cultural relevance and good feeling emotions that stimulate well-being. African hand drumming musical art is a recreational activity associated with the growth in the socio-emotional aspect of an individual (Ho, Tsao, Bloch & Zeltzer, 2011). It also improves socio-emotional disorders among the youth who are likely to experience stress especially during their adolescents and adults who experience burnout at the workplace. When drumming is incorporated in therapy, drumming leads to quick improvements among clients suffering from disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety (Ho et al., 2011). This is attribute to the mental effects of drumming that improve brain functioning and its ability to moderate emotions.
When drumming is introduced in workplaces such as healthcare settings, the staff experience low burnout because of the improved mood that leads to well-being (Bittman, Bruhn, Stevens, Westengard & Umbach, 2003). Having drumming sessions after work helps individuals to improve their moods. Moods are determinants of good health, and good health is a predictor of well-being. Therefore, positively impacting on the moods through musical drumming is a strategy towards well-being state.
Also, drumming contributes to deep relaxation, lowered blood pressure and reduces stress all which contributes towards the production of feelings of well-being (Mangoulia & Ouzounidou, 2013). Stress and blood pressure are common problems that are attributed to lifestyle. For example, people consume fatty food and drinks that have high-calorie levels but do not exercise. Drumming and dancing act as a natural exercise where calories can be burnt. Also, stress is laid off and blood pressure regulated. When individuals are free of stress, they experience well-being feelings and live a good life (Mangoulia & Ouzounidou, 2013).
Drumming and Improvement in Immunity
When assessing the impact of musical drumming on a person's immunity, one has to consider the effect of this art on factors that influence human health. One of the most important factors is the stress. As already seen, drumming is a remedy for stress. Stress is known to negatively affect an individual's health and well-being. Stress exposes an individual to various ailments as it interferes with the immunity exposing the body to attack by viruses and bacteria (Glaser & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2014). The fact that drumming reduces stress, therefore, leads to a conclusion that it can also improve immunity. Also, when drumming lead to the production of endorphins, it contributes to body's immunity boosting. This is because endorphins are morphine-like painkillers which act as distracters to chronic pain (Glaser & Kiecolt-Glaser, 2014). Therefore, African musical drumming can potentially contribute to the enhancement of the body's immunity for good health.
African musical hand drumming is a fun activity which, apart from entertaining an individual, leads to physical and emotional well-being, well-being and improved body immunity. African hand drumming involves musical instruments that produce rhythms. These rhythms have a long-lasting impact on an individual's brain. It synchronizes the right and left hemispheres of the brain leading to the energized person who can easily moderate emotions. Another effect of rhythmical music is the production of endorphin, a substance that can relieve physical pain and boost the body's immunity. Also, drumming is an effective remedy for stress mitigation and healing of emotional disorders. Drumming inflicts deep relaxation and moderated blood pressure as well as improved moods all which contribute to personal well-being. Similarly, the reduction of stress levels I an individual's daily life leads to boosted immunity. This is so because stress has been identified as a factor that exposes the body to infections. Thus, African hand drumming is a tool to boost and maintain individual's health and well-being.
Bittman, B., Bruhn, K. T., Stevens, C., Westengard, J., & Umbach, P. O. (2003). Recreational music-making: a cost-effective group interdisciplinary strategy for reducing burnout and improving mood states in long-term care workers. Advances in Mind Body Medicine, 19(3/4), 4-15.
Dunbar, R. I., Kaskatis, K., MacDonald, I., & Barra, V. (2012). Performance of music elevates pain threshold and positive affect: implications for the evolutionary function of music. Evolutionary Psychology, 10(4), 147470491201000403.
Friedman, R. L. (2000). The healing power of the drum. White Cliffs Media, Inc.
Gingras, B., Pohler, G., & Fitch, W. T. (2014). Exploring shamanic journeying: repetitive drumming with shamanic instructions induces specific subjective experiences but no larger cortisol decr...
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