Group Drumming Research – Summary of Six Studies

1. Group Drumming Strengthens Immune System
Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects (2001) Journal of Alternative Therapy. Jan, 2001. p. 38-47. Bittman BB, Berk LS, Felten DL, Westengard J, Simonton OD, Pappas J, Ninehouser M

• N=111 non-drummers. Tested five conditions: Listening Control, Drum circle, Impact Drumming, Shamanic, Composite Drumming
• Natural Killer NK cell activity was boosted in subjects who drummed compared to controls.
• Natural Killer cell activity stimulated by Cytokines (Interleukin II and Gamma Interferon – Helper (Th1) cells) was boosted in subjects who drummed compared to controls.
• Drumming changed cellular biology and reversed the stress response.

2. Group Drumming Reduces Employee Burnout
Recreational Music-Making: A Cost-Effective Group Interdisciplinary Strategy for Reducing Burnout and Improving Mood States in Long-Term Care Workers (2003)
Advances in Mind-Body Medicine. Fall/Winter, 2003. p.4-15. Bittman MD, Karl T. Bruhn, Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, James Westengard, Paul O Umbach, MA

• N=112 employees in Long Term Care. Interdisciplinary teams drumming once a week for one hour for a 6-week series.
• Significantly decreased burnout on Maslac Burnout Scale.
• Improved employee mood states by 46% on POMS Profile of Mood States – sustained effect of 62% six weeks post intervention.
• Economic Impact – saved $89,000 for typical 100-bed medical facility through employee retention and reduced turnover.
• Total annual savings to the industry based on an 18.3% decrease in turnover at every long-term care facility is therefore projected at $1.46 billion.

3. Group Drumming Reduces Nursing Student Burnout
Recreational Music-Making: An Integrative Group Intervention for Reducing Burnout and Improving Mood States in First Year Associate Degree Nursing Students: Insights and Economic Impact. (2004) Bittman et al. International Journal of Nursing Education and Scholarship. Vol. 1 Article 12.

• N = 75 first year associate degree nursing students.
• Improved mood states by 28.1% on POMS Profile of Mood States.
• Economic Impact projections – retention of 2 students annually per a typical 105-student program, resulting in a projected annual savings of $29.1 million to US Nursing Schools.
• Projected cost savings of $322,000 for the typical acute care hospital, and more than 1.5 billion for the US healthcare industry.

4. Group Drumming strengthens Immune System in Japanese employees
Recreational music-making modulates natural killer cell activity, cytokines, and mood states in corporate employees. Wachi, et al. (2007) Medical Science Monitor. 13(2): p. 57-70.

• N = 40 Yamaha employees. The RMM group demonstrated enhanced mood, lower gene expression levels of the stress-induced cytokine interleukin-10, and higher NK cell activity when compared to the control.

5. Group Drumming reduces Instrumental Anger in Adolescents.
Creative Musical Expression as a Catalyst for Quality of life Improvement in Inner-city Adolescents Placed in a Court-referred Residential Treatment Program (Bittman, et al) ADVANCES Spring 2009,VOL. 24, NO. 1 Creative Musical Expression
• Adapted HealthRHYTHMS™ program
• N = 52 ages 12 to 18. Pre/Post test matched controls.
• Measured Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS)
Adolescent Psychopathology Scale (APS), Adolescent Anger Rating Scale (AARS), Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale, 2nd edition (RADS 2)
• Improved scores in school/work role performance, total depression, anhedonia/negative affect, negative self-evaluation, and instrumental anger.
• Extended impact – improvements 6 weeks after completion of the protocol.

6. Keyboard playing Reverses Stress on Genomic Level
Recreational Music-Making Modulates the Human Stress Response. Bittman et al. (2005) Medical Science Monitor.

• Applied Biosystems and Yamaha.
• Reversed 19 of 45 gene markers of stress response versus 6 of 45 in resting control and 0 of 45 in continued stress condition.
• First study to develop an individualized genomic stress-induction signature.

Remo organizes International Symposium featuring music therapy & drumming for wellness


Music therapists Dr. Barbara Reuer, Helen Dolas, MS, MT-BC, and Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC excited an international crowd of Remo distributors from five continents, and countries around the world including: Germany, Israel, Italy, Phillipines, Spain, Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Jamaica, Brazil, Serbia, New Zealand, Panama, Morocco, China, Sri Lanka, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Hong Kong, Bolivia, and Thailand.

The attendees picked their own instrument of choice and blended together in an amazing jam session. The theme of the program was expanding global markets into drumming for wellness, music therapy, and recreational music making. The event was held in North Hollywood at The Remo Recreational Music Center (RMC) with over 60 people in attendance.

Additional presenters included Ping Ho from UCLA Arts and Healing and George Thompson from Teri Inc. Remo employees John Fitzgerald, Alyssa Janney and Mike DeMenno gave presentations and led drumming experiences as well creating a beautiful memory for attendees.

Through Remo Belli’s advocacy of the use of drumming in rehabilitation centers, individuals with autism spectrum, older adults and the use of the HealthRHYTHMS program, distributors learned about the importance of networking with music therapists and music therapy organizations in their respective countries. Through continued efforts, Remo and its supporters hope to inspire a global movement towards using arts for healing.

Remo is considered a visionary with over 25 years experience supporting recreational music making. The award-winning RMC – Recreational Music Center in North Hollywood has been operating for over 15 years, hosting free drum circles on Tuesday nights and kids programs on Saturdays.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC, MA
Helen Dolas, MS, MT-BC
Barbara Reuer, PhD

Drumming with Oncology Patients & Cancer Survivors, by Christine Stevens

On a Saturday morning in Santa Monica, Californiaupbeat photos sedona logo 027, two separate groups joined together for an experience that was unique, powerful and impactful. A group of twelve volunteer drummers from the Remo Percussion Center brought the joy and spirit they found in drumming to a group of cancer patients at The Wellness Community. In the joining of the two groups, there was a common chord of health and wellness, achieved through the experience of recreational music making.

It began with a basket of fruit shakers in the center of a circle. Out of the quiet anxiety of a group of strangers meeting for the first time, first a chuckle and then some laughter began as one by one, people chose a shaker and started making music. But it went deeper than that. Participants commented on the meaning of letting go and giving themselves permission to not be perfect, lessons important for all of us.

Through a series of rhythm activities geared towards putting people at ease with the process of making music, the group became more comfortable and relaxed. In one hour, they were playing their hearts out on the drums, creating moments of expression unrivaled by any words.

The session ended with an experience called guided imagery drumming where participants closed their eyes and drummed to a story. As a meditative activity, the drumming created a distraction from the chatter of the critical and worrying mind. After the drum circle, one patient commented that it was the first time she forgot about her cancer. She began to feel good again.

In the words of Nikki Fiske, a mother, teacher, cancer patient, and a first time drummer?

“It felt so relaxing and freeing to concentrate on the rhythms and be completely in the moment. Without judgment, without pressure? we each drummed to our own internal rhythms, yet we worked together as a group to create a unique and harmonious sound. There was a lot of laughter, sharing and mutual applause. When I left, after two hours of drumming, it was with spirit, heart and courage lifted up!”

Drumming also has important biological effects. According to a study (111 normal subjects) performed at the Mind-Body Wellness Center in Meadville, PA, one hour of group drumming following a protocol entitled, Group Empowerment Drumming™ was shown to significantly increase circulating white blood cells called natural killer (NK) cells that seek out and destroy cancer and virally infected cells. (Bittman et al. Alternative Therapy, January, 2001).

James Gordon, MD of the Mind-Body Center in Washington D.C. states “Oncologists should be open to group drumming if their patients are interested in it. Drumming can put people in a state of relaxation. It was used as a healing technique 1,000 years ago. Why not now?” (MAMM Magazine, July/August, 2001)

Remo drum volunteers agreed that they received more from the experience than they gave. Professional drummer Sam Kestenholtz commented, “Seeing and feeling the spirits of the participants being lifted as the group played together was an experience like no other. It was like a room full of strangers became a community of one.”

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. Website –

What is a drum circle? by Christine Stevens

The drum circle brings people together in a unique rhythmic experience that transcends language and cultural barriers. It is energizing, spontaneous, fun, creative, and synergizing for body, mind, and spirit.

How does a drum circle work?
A drum circle works because of the principle of “entrainment” – when a strong rhythm exists, the other rhythms around it fall in sync. Everyone can feel the pull of a strong beat, and can easily play along, provided they dont try too hard, essentially interfering in what is natural. The result is an experience in collaborative creativity that is accessible, inclusive and sounds really great!

Why do people go to drum circles?
People are drumming for a lot of great reasons. Not to become the next famous rock drummer, but because they want to feel good, reduce stress and reconnect with community. It becomes part of their recreational routine. We now have scientific evidence that group drumming may improve our health through boosting our immune system. (see Should Drums Be Sold in Pharmacies?).

What if I don’t have any musical talent?
It is a law of life that everyone is rhythmical. Beginning with our heartbeat, rhythm is something that all people have inside them. Because of that, everyone can participate in the drum circle. Even if you’ve never played an instrument before, you can contribute to the drum circle and discover the music inside you. (see You ARE Musical!)

What is the role of the drum circle facilitator?
The drum circle facilitator weaves together two main tasks – building the group cohesiveness while bringing out the musical potential. Drum circles are “facilitated” by individuals who have a good knowledge of drumming, rhythm, and music, and can empower a community of people to have fun and be connected. Today, there are training programs for people who want to facilitate drum circles and even a list-serve of e-mail dialogues across the world between drum circle facilitators.

Are there different types of drum circles?
There are many different types of drum circles for specific purposes. · Recreational drum circles – in community parks for playing together. · Corporate drum circles – to build teamwork and morale, using the metaphor to improve corporate functioning. · Diversity drum circles – to educate and demonstrate using music to build unity and appreciate differences. · Conference drum circles – as an general session or keynote. · Health and Wellness drum circles – at medical and wellness centers and senior living facilities, often facilitated by music therapists. · Music Store drum circles -for recreational drumming enthusiasts.

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. Website –

Drum your Prayers – Spirituality and Creativity – by Christine Stevens

“Life can become boring when the spark of creative fire is not lit in the soul of our spirit.”- Music Medicine, the science and spirit of healing yourself with sound

Christine Stevens and the Healing Drum KitWe all listen to music. Many of us dream of playing an instrument, yet most of us don’t. How do we move from being only consumers of music to becoming music creators?
Creativity is our birthright, an organic medicine of healing. No matter where these limiting beliefs originated, you are the one who can remove them and take action! Otherwise, you may never express the song of your soul that wants to be sung. As the old saying goes, don’t die with the music inside you.

The Science of Creativity – Mind & Body

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to look at brain activity, surgeon and jazz pianist CJ Limb compared improvised piano playing to a rendition of a rehearsed piece of music. The results showed that when musicians used their own creativity, a very specific small area of the brain’s frontal cortex — the medial prefrontal cortex — became activated. This part of the brain functions in self-reflection, introspection, personal sharing, and self-expression; it is often thought to be the seat of consciousness. The medial prefrontal cortex area is also activated when we talk about ourselves, telling our personal story. Simultaneously, a deactivation occurred. The two larger areas of the frontal cortex — the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — were deactivated. These areas deal with self-monitoring, judgment, and self-criticism. It’s a paradox; the larger parts of the brain inhibit our self-expression, while the smaller part reveals the greater self. No wonder it’s a challenge to express ourselves creatively in music.
Are you ready to begin to be a creator; not just a consumer? Try these guided practices and awaken your Creative Spirit through rhythm.
This video demonstrates creativity. Done in collaboration with a friend, this shows a nice balance of masculine and feminine. This is improvisational and multi-cultural. Our prayer is for the beauty of dialogue of cultures, in this case of middle east and Native American. Music is the dancing ground in the center that unites people.

Here are a few more ideas to enhance your creativity;
1. Dance to the Beat of your own drum

Drumming is an immediate portal into musical expression. Everyone can be successful immediately. Whether you are more comfortable drumming or dancing; both are great tools for awakening your musical creativity.

Select Rhythm (Chapter 3). Scroll to the bottom and play the last two tracks: Reviving Rhythms and Beauty Groove play-along tracks. Get out a drum, rattle, or homemade percussion sound and play-a-long, improvising the beat that only you can play. Each track is more than seven minutes, giving you time to get out of your head and into your drum. Remember, there is no right or wrong here; simply the joyful feeling of self-expression.

2. Tone your note
Toning comes from “tone,” a single note that is an inner sounding. Give yourself permission to sing your note, whatever it may be, and let it resonate your whole being. Trust yourself. Don’t think about it. Just take a deep belly breath and exhale a note. Now, sing the same note only louder! Repeat. When you complete the toning of your note, allow yourself time to sit with the vibration. Feel the resonance of creativity, of musical freedom reverberating through your body, mind, and spirit.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapy consultant to REMO drums, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles. Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music.

Group Prayer Ceremony at Shambhala Mountain Retreat Center

Group Prayer Ceremony at Shambhala Mountain Retreat Center


Drum Circles for Healing Veterans, by Christine Stevens

Archie slowly wheeled himself over to the drum tent. Despite a large white cast extending a few inches in the direction where his foot used to be, Archie was tapping his good leg to the beat. He pointed to a drum he wanted, and we immediately brought it to him.

What happened next was truly miraculous. We all watched as Archie’s face transformed from a pain-stricken victim to a liberated warrior, powerfully playing his drum with a mallet and slowly beginning to smile. The other veterans cheered him on as Archie played a solo. When the circle closed, Archie exclaimed, “it’s the first time I felt GOOD.”

According to Mr. Sadhu Khalsa, MSW, founder of the Healing the Warrior Program in New Mexico, “true lasting healing must include the body, mind, and spirit.” He states that approximately 30% of the Armed services veterans coming back from Iraq and almost 80% of the National Guard are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. According to Khalsa, “there are 26 million veterans in the United States from all wars. Medicine today focuses primarily on symptom abatement. But we need to get to the core and address the spiritual aspects of the healing process.” Perhaps it’s time to bring mind-body medicine to V.A. treatment, for the recovery of Iraq soldiers returning with wounds both visible and invisible. We face our greatest humanitarian crisis in America as we seek to support the healing and recovery of our veterans. Tapping into all areas of mind, body, and spirit, drumming can play a key role in an integrative program within a patient-centered approach to recovery, healing, and wellness.

Why drumming with Veterans?
There are three evidence-based benefits of group drumming that apply to treating veterans.
• 1. Self-expression
For veterans, the drum becomes a voice of emotions for which words alone cannot express.
• 2. Camaraderie
Soldiers train in groups or platoons, go to war in groups, and then return to their individual lives alone. They miss a sense of camaraderie needed for recovery.
• 3. Empowerment
The drum is the instrument of the warrior. Strong. Percussive. Loud. It harkens to our strength with its tough skin stretched over a circular frame. The drum empowers veterans to transform themselves from disabled to capable.

One Beat at a Time – case in point
On a warm Los Angeles day in August, veterans gathered in an open area of the V.A. Hospital for a program sponsored by Brentwood Presbyterian Church organizer Richard Urrea. The event featured a shared drum circle tent where the sound of the drums amplified the powerful effect on the veterans and volunteers.

“It was beautiful. I loved it. I could hear us making music from the building. Please come back again. We need all the help we can get,” was the response from Robert Ramirez of Monrovia. According to Roy Clark of Las Vegas, “I think its fabulous. It makes you feel rejuvenated and puts you in touch with Nature.”

Volunteers from the Brentwood Church who had never experienced drumming commented, “It was synergistic. It carried what the message of the event was about. Coming together for community.” Volunteer Dick Hilquist commented “It was inspiring to everybody. To me. To the veterans. The drum circle brought everybody into mutual action.”

Drumming volunteers were equally moved by the experience. “The drum circle created a new found willingness and desire to converse and socialize. The veterans shared their personal stories and thanked us,” stated Susan Hall from San Diego, founder of Rhythm Works. According to John Lacques of Ventura, founder of Drum Time, “both the verbal and non-verbal conversations that I personally experienced were profound. It was humbling to be in the presence of men and women that have experienced things that I cannot imagine, and then have this healing experience unite and uplift all of our spirits!”

Director and Founder of Arts & Services for Disabled, Helen Dolas, commented “at one point, veterans in wheelchairs and holding canes formed a line playing shakers and maracas. Nothing stopped the sheer drive to be part of the music and let go of the pain.”

Extra Precautions
PTSD symptoms, according to Dr. John Burt, PhD, MT, can be provoked and triggered by loud drum sounds. Therefore, avoid the sound of loud banging drums. Enhance the drumming with melodic instruments; such an xylophone, flute, guitar, and even reed or brass instrument. As one veteran gun-man commented, “This doesn’t bother me at all. This is MUSIC; not WAR.” Secondly, be mindful of the physical concerns and pace the group to avoid over-excursion that can cause pain. And thirdly, leave a space in the set up of chairs in the circle for individuals with wheelchairs. Make sure to choose appropriate drums and shakers for individuals in wheelchairs experiencing physical limitations. Find ways to ensure that every person, no matter how limited they may appear, participates fully and recognizes that they are an important part of the drum circle.
lead drummer.loresVA Hospital Drum Circle 050man in wheelchair 2

Group Drumming for Public Health

“I have found this protocol to be not only fun, but also instrumental in improving the health of vulnerable, hard to reach populations. ”
- Dr. Jessie Jones, Chair of Cal State Fullerton’s Health Science Department

“Introducing HealthRHYTHMS to our health care partners provides yet another innovative and powerful wellness tool to help our members and community.”
- Sandra Rose, director of Community Relations, CalOptima.

As the health care landscape changes, CalOptima, a public agency that provides health coverage, is exploring drumming as an evidence-based tool to reduce stress and boost well-being in the diverse Orange County, Calif., communities that the agency serves.

“Working together with community organizations and agencies is essential for our members as it provides them with additional resources in our community,” says Sandra Rose, director of Community Relations, CalOptima. CalOptima provides health care coverage to one in seven Orange County residents and a third of Orange County’s children. Health plans include Medi-Cal for low-income families, children, seniors and people with disabilities; OneCare (HMO SNP) for low-income seniors and people with disabilities; and the Healthy Families Program for children of lower-income families who do not qualify for Medi-Cal.

It Takes an Orchestra
A unique symphony of agencies worked in harmony with Cal State Fullerton Department of Health Sciences to create the HealthRHYTHMS™ weekend training program for over 35 health care professionals and community leaders working with diverse populations from delinquent youth to breast cancer survivors to Latinos, Pacific Islanders, and chronic pain. The participating organizations included;
• CalOptima
• Orange County Asian and Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA)
• Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure
Dr. Jessie Jones, Professor and Chair of Cal State Fullerton’s Health Science Department and expert on senior wellness programs, gave a presentation on HealthRHYTHMS for more than four hundred health care providers at a conference in June, 2011 that inspired Cal Optima to collaborate on bringing HealthRHYTHMS to their members.

The Science of Rhythmacology
“Health Rhythms is a true and tested activity that demonstrates that the use of music and drums in particular can add to the well being of the human condition,” stated Remo Belli, founder of Remo Drum Company, the parent organization to HealthRHYTHMS. HealthRHYTHMS™ is an evidence-based approach to whole person care that weaves together proven health strategies with group drumming. In controlled research studies published in peer-reviewed journals, HealthRHYTHMS has been shown to enhance immune function, decrease employee burnout, build a sense of community across diverse populations, and reduce anger in at-risk teens.

The Beat Goes On
Following the training, CalOptima hosted a forum on Creative Strategies for Healthy Living through Movement and Music where over 100 health and social service providers experienced components of the HealthRHYTHMS program. Cal Optima trained facilitators helped lead, uplifting the crowd with their enthusiasm. Inspired by the presentation, Nancy Hendrickson, program manager of the Braille Institute in Orange County, brought HealthRHYTHMS to the annual conference for over one hundred teachers, staff, and volunteers of all five branches of the Braille Institute.

Trained facilitators brought the program to staff, clients, and agencies. DeAnna Carpenter, MS led HealthRHYTHMS at the Orange County Juvenile Hall, middle and high schools throughout Orange County and Girls Inc. of Orange County board of directors meeting. Lola Sablan Santos led HealthRHYTHMS with Chamorro breast cancer survivors, patient navigators and women who are rebuilding their lives due to a divorce, death or other personal tragedies. Youth Development Director Caryn Blanton brought HealthRHYTHMS to Costa Mesa low-income, immigrant families, in an innovative health program; Creating Our Selves, for self-esteem, self expression, self image, and communication style. She also led 8 drumming programs a day at a summer camp in Big Bear, serving kids from San Diego and Compton.

Dr. Jones continues to facilitate HealthRHYTHMS with women veterans. She stated, “When I asked the women to express something on their drum about their experience in the military, the thunder of drums and the release of pent-up emotional filled the room. The release of emotion was cathartic and the healing process clearly began.”

Group drum circle training at Cal Optima

Group drum circle training at Cal Optima