Drummer’s Journey- Healing Grooves the 3rd drumming book

“Drummer’s Journey- Healing Grooves” The 3rd drumming book

This is the third book in the series of drumming books I’ve written over the last ten to fifteen years. The first book was “Drumming the Spirit to Life”(formerly called “Let the Goddess Dance”). The second book is titled, “Way of the Drum”. Both of these books have music CDs in them also. Published by Llewellyn Worldwide.

The third book was longer in coming together because I was touring constantly around the US. So this third book has a combination of healing concepts as well as personal stories of my life and how this drumming thing was evolving while I was traveling, drumming and healing myself as well as witnessing healing in others. Llewellyn  passed on it, (too personal- they said)

If  you wish to purchase a download for $20 hit the button.

Healing Grooves – A Drummer’s Journey


Russell S. Buddy Helm

The Drum heals. It has healed me. I came back to the drum after abandoning it as a musical instrument, a profession, a self-identity. It had been a major part of my life through many different career and personal incarnations ranging from young classical academic percussionist, to military style drummer with many medals, to rock star, to professional studio musician to fine art performance artist, to blues artisan and keeper of the traditions of roots music in America. But then I went away from the drum and joined the ranks of people who lived and worked in a world without a daily influx of rhythmic nourishment.  When I finally returned to the drum it was as a last resort; a desperate but resolute grasp for meaning and wholeness in a life that had grown sour and empty from the challenges of living; murder of two different music partners, business betrayal, friendship fragmentations, psychological disorientation from success as well as near success. All these things and more were of course, focused through the lens of forgotten traumas of childhood.  The drum gave me a tool to move through the swamp of emotions, and reach safe ground on the far side of the pain and distraction.

Rhythm: A Survival Tool

Our sense of rhythm is a survival tool that is as old as the human organism. We feel and listen for rhythm in every moment of our lives- asleep or awake. “Sense of Rhythm” is no linguistic accident- it is like any other sense, yet it is unique, informing us of environmental elements that we need to pay attention to. It is also a healing tool we can use regardless of musical talent or training. Our sense of rhythm is a gift given to us to share with the world. Rhythm is more important than most of us realize. Either we use it or we lose it, or worse, it is used on us.

Certain notes performed in memorized sequence don’t necessarily heal. Specific rhythms from ethnic cultures like Africa, Brazil, or various native Indian cultures do not always engender healing. Specific drums; djembe from Ghana, tar from Morocco, or tablas from India do not guarantee rhythmic healing. Glory that is connected to drumming is not always healing.

A player’s musical talent isn’t always a critical factor in successful healing either. A Curandera in the Amazon may not have musical lessons under her snakeskin belt but she knows what the beat should feel like. She probably learned this from her tribal teacher without reading musical notation.  Healing comes from the body as well as the intellect.

There is one common element that seems to matter very much. Indigenous cultures have many names for this mysterious flow of pulse. We have only one word- the Groove.


Groove is a mysterious ingredient transcending classically correct notes to create an effortless blessing that insists on making our bodies move. It is almost impossible to ignore this imperative. If we are incapable of moving or if we resist this, then we can see this condition as an indicator of trauma history; psychological or physical impairment, which can be addressed with the healing qualities of the groove. Without training or experience, we play a drum and connect to a miraculous wellspring of organic psychological and physical healing. It may result in a subtle personality shift or changes so dramatic that our lives and even our names change.

Any groove has important components- playing steady and relaxed is important. It can be fast and hot, or just a few notes played as quietly as a sleeping baby’s heartbeat, but the continuous, steady, sensuous pulse soothes us in a way that no other treatment can approximate.

Many healing modalities use rhythm. Some treatments could be more effective if the rhythmic elements were taken into consideration. We tend to analyze components and overlook the subtle effects of any process. Drumming can get tense, boring, or aggressive if we don’t respect its existence outside of human definitions. It is a language without words. We don’t master it. Rhythm takes us, but we can still use it.

Is there a way to relieve depression, anger and stress? Can we rewire a traumatized brain, heal an abused life, release distraction, shame, guilt? Can we free our souls from the mundane and feel real inspiration? Can we banish nightmares, learn to love and heal our bodies? Is it possible to alleviate ADD and other medical conditions? Drumming has met these needs and more.

Healing versus Profit

There has emerged a healing versus profit approach in the minds of many health care professionals. We are on the cusp of a major change in the way we treat healing. Our most basic programming language is rhythm and we are often influenced in business, war and religion because of our rhythmic susceptibility. A drum convinces us in advertising, motivates us in war, invokes divine presence, and creates altered states. But the drum itself has no real doctrine or dogma.

We can play stately-a classical musical term meaning slow and important sounding, or Con Brio(quickly). Drumming magnifies whatever emotional state we are in but paradoxically we can also modify compulsive aggressive behavior. Speeding up and hitting too hard are psychological indicators that can rhythmically be reprogrammed using releasing tempos. We can receive a download of nonintellectual wisdom while being transported by the groove.

Relaxed, laid back rhythms improve learning.  Incessant, aggressive rhythms can create a negative state of learning. Martial arts Master Guro Dan Inosanto uses grooves in his teaching. By slowing tempo during a learning session, the student acquires the talent without muscle tension or fear, making it more accessible when needed. This is based on the theory that each of our learning experiences has positive, negative or neutral emotional attributes. If the student learns the lesson with a tense negative emotional charge, then the response is delayed because of the accompanying negative emotional signal. If the lesson is absorbed in a slowing repetition, the tension and fear are diminished and the result is speed, accuracy and power.

Digital Neurosis

We are simple rhythmic animals. We entrain, or lock up to whatever rhythm is around us. A fast computer drum machine can frustrate us because we can’t keep up. It is an unforgiving rhythm. Human rhythms fluctuate. Some people feel like damaged goods; a voice inside telling them that they had better catch up or they’ll fall behind. Trying to lock up to intense technological rhythms creates digital neurosis.

We can choose not to be swayed by rhythmic pollution and create co-operative grooves resulting in a profound improvement in our reality.

Our Sacred Grooves

Our perception of safety is often based on environmental rhythm. If the tempo is fast, we register fear and tension, perhaps from ancient memories of stampeding herds, avalanches, tsunamis or war. If the tempo slows down, we feel calm and confident. A wounded animal looks for a quiet place to heal. We do not always have the luxury of a safe place to heal, but we can create one using slowing rhythms. Drumming groups usually speed up, but playing slower, using releasing tempos changes our brain chemistry. Adrenaline stops pumping, Endorphins kick in, cancer fighting T-cells increase, the brain goes to the alpha wave state. We feel better immediately.

Scientific Rhythm Research

Before the current era of pervasive drumming groups, the laboratory for understanding drumming and brain chemistry was primarily nightclubs; a band, a girl, or a guy may look more attractive or threatening depending on how much coffee or how many the beer holder has had.  Phone numbers, names and faces might be remembered, depending on how much gingko biloba and CoQ10 a brain has to work with.

Musicians often remember things based on grooves. As a drummer, I have played with countless bands when guest players step onto the bandstand to jam. They invariably stand around looking blankly at each other, while the audience waits,

“What do you wanna play?” is the usual query.

“Play Freebird!” Someone might yell from the waiting crowd.

Players avoid the question by taking a swig of beer, pretending to tune, or flirting with the barmaids.  Drummers sometimes have to make the fateful decision of what song to play. Most pop songs are based on either a 4 beat or a 6 beat pattern. Starting a groove in either one of these basic patterns stimulates the other musicians, hopefully, into playing something everyone knows, but more importantly, something the women can dance to. When women dance, guys buy beer, and the band gets paid. If the women aren’t dancing it’s not their fault. The drummer has to find the groove that gets girls to dance. Good drummers learn by watching women move. It’s a tough job.

Scientific rhythmic research

There is a scientific basis for which groove to use. It is partly equated on the amount of alcohol in the crowd as well as in the players. The time of the evening is a component. The proper sequencing of two fast songs then one slow song is for balanced physical exertion. Two slow songs in a row will loose your audience.

The ratio of attractive girls versus aggressive drunks is an important variable in the groove computation. Also the hidden agendas of the pretty girls over whom the bar fights are being fought should also be considered.

Either a blues song or a rock n roll song usually works. More often than not, a Country and Western song wins the crowd. Sometimes a ballad will be perfect if everyone is already sweating from the last jumping tune. Bossa Nova, Cha Cha, or anything with a complicated rhythm structure might get people confused. Polka works if it is a wedding reception.  As soon as the drummer gets a basic groove going, someone starts playing along and everyone kicks in. The singer remembers lyrics, bass players remember foundation patterns, and the lead guitarist…well, they play regardless if they know the tune or not.

I have come to realize that these rhythms are the sacred grooves for our culture.

Rhythmic Learning

We all have a form of memory and learning that is accessed by rhythm. “Kinesthetic learning” is a term used to describe this ability of children in school. They drive the teacher nuts by tapping a pencil while studying, rhythmically encoding their lessons, releasing trauma or just drumming.

Indigenous cultures use rhythm, repetition and ceremony to train children in the ways of their tribe. This has evolved over centuries, they use grooves that have a positive emotional charge. Belief systems are drummed into the initiates. Modern cultures also use rhythm to entrain the members of society, using regimented, often militaristic national anthems. Ritual ceremony using rhythm implants a deep subconscious message of important sacred duty to the community. This goes below the intellect and affects the deepest part of the psyche. Hearing a song that identifies us with a flag, a cause or a historical event is a visceral experience. The mind does not understand why we are so moved by the experience, but the body identifies with the beat. The same is true for our favorite pop songs. The lyrics might be dumb, but the beat is always a rejuvenating experience. Drummers who knew the powerful eternal grooves could listen to a songwriter and craft their ideas into a hit song.

Culture uses rhythm to brainwash us into buying things. We are sensitive to rhythm and should be aware that it is being used to influence our behavior. Advertising has been aware of the selling power of rhythm for decades. It takes only sixty seconds to convince someone to buy something they don’t need. Most likely there is a rhythm in the background of any given commercial.  I might have even played on the soundtrack. Maybe I am now atoning by writing these books on the subliminal effects of rhythm on our lives. When the commercial producers arrived at the recording studio, they knew exactly what they wanted; the requested tempo was specific-maybe 60 beats per minute. I was trained on a metronome from an early age, so I could lock into the tempo they wanted. This was before the invention of drum machines. Back then, the drummers who knew the specific tempos could get the work. Madison Avenue had done the market research, starting in the 1950’s. By the 1970’s it had become a science. By the 1990’s it was as predictable and exacting as a chemical reaction. In fact it was a chemical reaction-in our brains. By using rhythm, as the saying goes, advertisers could sell an air conditioner to an Eskimo.

Meditation Grooves

Comfort and healing are created by meditation grooves. This has been overlooked by the music business and conventional medicine as well. The mindset of a medical student is anything but comforting. By the time a professional doctor finally comes to see rhythm as a healing tool, their world might possibly have come to a crisis where they themselves are in need of healing rhythms. Lots of therapists are now coming into the meditation drumming workshops.

Medical professionals interested in drum healing should learn to feel the qualities of the groove instead of intellectually studying it.  Just hitting a drum is not the answer. The healer needs to learn about feelings instead of notes. They must share rhythms with the patient and let the enlightenment encompass both healer and patient. This is different than the conventional technology where the doctor is separate from the patient. In the Amazon, the Curandera will beat the drum, steady and low, singing softly until patient and doctor are in the same suspension of daily concerns; they are in trance together.

Tribal Drum Doctor

The tribal drum doctor goes into the underworld, gathering information about the bugs, curses, or sickness in the patient. The rhythmic co-mingling of energies brings a fresh flow of life force into the patient. This energy may be called Christ energy, Ashe, Kundalini, Chi, Prana, Orgone, Groove, Clave, Rieiki, Shakti, Mojo, the Funk or something else, depending on which neighborhood you are performing drum doctoring in but it is an undeniable presence.

Drum therapists work with patients with brain trauma, epilepsy, autism, ADD, ADHD, Down’s syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anger, delayed stress, Alzheimer and many other conditions. Gentle drumming, not authoritative pounding, can bring these conditions into joy where creativity blooms like a flower in the desert. The groove is important to take this healing modality to the next level. It is not just playing the notes. Feel is the key and that comes from our heart. The healer mends their own heart and the patient’s condition. The doctor who is intellectually removed has some shortcomings. We are at the threshold of an era where one can heal and all of us will benefit.

Just what are grooves? That is a mystery, really. There are no words to define them in our culture. The drum was created to speak in this rhythmic language without words. Primitive cultures have a vivid vocabulary to describe the effects of different grooves. They name these effects after gods, goddesses, deities and angels. Grooves existed before words. It’s very simple really- our body tells us what a groove is but there are no words that can explain it. The drum was invented to articulate this language without words.

Changing Reality with Rhythm

Set up an easy beat on a drum, a tabletop, your steering wheel, your partner’s bottom, a tin can, a water jug, whatever has a sound. Does the rhythm feel good? Does it feel tense? You can know instinctively how to create the groove you need. You can heal with it as well as dance to it. Trauma can be released with the right groove.

You can change reality with rhythm. Changing feelings, belief system, and reactions changes our own inner reality, which changes the world’s reaction toward us. We have power to change reality in our own lives. Rhythmic programming is one of the simplest ways to affect change, and you can do it yourself.

Drum Therapies

I was fortunate to have had appropriate, non-traumatic musical training at a young age. Many music teachers are traumatized by their music teachers- insisting on correct notes, rigid posture, meticulous attention to detail. I also learned that way and it is fine for certain music requirements but the gentler methods motivate people to play music for the rest of their lives. I can thank Ailleen Trafford for that joy. I studied with her at the age the age of eight and continued for many years under her firm but gentle instruction. I hear her voice today as I teach.

Some drum teachers trained in traditional African djembe drumming often exhort their students, “Louder! Harder! Faster!” because that is the way that they were traumatized. In our modern culture many people are instinctively coming to the drum to heal- not to be actual drummers. They do not want to play hard and aggressively. They need to find a gentle way to release trauma and stress. A mistake that many teachers make is to traumatize their students in the same way they were traumatized by their teachers.

I learned valuable lessons from many teachers. I value these experiences for reasons other than actually playing music. It made me smarter. It gave me a way out of emotional logjams. It helped in creating my self-identity. I developed confidence. Drumming gave me a way to perform ritual in my life as well as a paying gig.

I had to leave a lot of the formal musical training behind to find the real healing qualities of the drum. Sometimes musical training can get in the way of this healing musical evolution because of the emotions, money, and time invested in learning to play. The healing aspects are often outside the realm of musical talent. Training can sometimes get in the way of intuitively finding the healing qualities of our creative gifts. I encourage people who are non-drummers to do drum healing because they don’t have music lesson baggage. People who have never hit a drum in their lives can use it for healing with a minimum of training. It is a phenomenon “below” music. The drum was originally created to articulate an energy that could not be put into words or academic degrees.

The drum speaks of feelings in our bodies. There are many different energy flows available to us for healing, inspiration, love and joy via these different grooves. The two basic grooves I focus on are familiar to us because they have been used in our pop music for decades. They belong to us. They are our sacred grooves. They have come from many other cultures but they have been combined and simplified in our amazing cultural mix. Cooked down into a gumbo that is unique to us. They work and we know them already inside of our bodies and minds. When we use these basic 4 beat patterns or the 6 beat patterns, our mind does not have to focus on correct notes so much. Instead we can go into trance- a non-critical state of relaxation. That is the first step to healing and wisdom.

Music is sold as a distraction in our culture but music is also a profound focusing tool. As a meditative tool it is powerful beyond our imagination. This is different than trying to make a hit record or perform in a symphony.

Learning and Rhythm

One way we learn behavior is by watching behavior. When a baby is born its frontal cortex is still forming in the brain. Any input of words, emotions, questions, or ideas coming from any care giver via their facial expressions and voice creates a patterning that sets up the operating system for the social skills to come. Sometimes adopted babies lay quietly in a crib without getting any input to develop their frontal cortex. This deficiency in their frontal brain patterning can show up later as an inability to handle certain social skills. Drumming affects this area of the cortex. Gentle tone and rhythm can change brain patterning. People rub their heads and remark about feeling energy in the front of their brains when the groove is gentle and safe.


Catharsis is a Greek word that has come to roughly mean, “ a release of emotions”. This is a bedrock concept of the entertainment industry. Television and films have become a source from which we learn how to behave-which is terrifying considering some of the eccentrics I have worked with over decades of making movies, commercials, TV shows and music videos in Los Angeles. Drama sells popcorn. Dramatic catharsis has become a dominant way we model our lives and it’s not even real. Drama was a trick to keep the audiences entertained during Greek tragedies and comedies. Dramatic lessons were played out with a climax of emotions using suffering, anger, love, betrayal, war, guilt, and anything else really grand. That made it drama, as opposed to real life-which can sometimes get pretty mundane.

We have gotten drama confused with reality.

Life just goes on whether there are emotional peaks and releases or not-with or without drama. Life just is. The entertainment industry fashions behavior using rhythmic drama to get our attention, telling us what to feel and what to buy.  Persuasive percussion convinces us to believe dramatic climax leading to emotional release. Catharsis is addictive.  Real life just keeps going on; there are ups and downs often without dramatic climax. Emotional climax isn’t always a good thing either partly because of the emotional crash that follows the addictive peaks of experience.

Steady State of Being

A separate essence from the cathartic drama of emotional roller coaster rides and crashes, is a steady state of being where we still experience deep feelings. Drumming can provide a model of this steady state of being. The tempo needs to stay steady and relaxed for a long time. When our mind and heart finally trust that the beat will stay steady, we shut down the emergency functions and settle into a healing, meditative trance that refreshes and inspires us. This is quite a challenge though, because so many drummers speed up without knowing it.

With desire comes suffering and maybe wisdom. I don’t advocate passionless drumming. Our culture is addicted to a model of drama that is confusing and untrue. The inaccurate assumption that life might be meaningless without the addictive hit of emotional catharsis is obvious in some drumming groups. They bang harder and harder until there is some kind of  climax.

Drumming groups who are addicted to catharsis cannot stay steady. The players compulsively speed up and play louder with more aggression until there is only chaos. This can be seen as obsessive- compulsive behavior. This drumming creates psychosis.

By drumming in a steady state groove, we create a danceable healthy model for our minds and our bodies. Playing the drum at a steady tempo for a long time is a deeply pleasant and safe way to look at the world. This is different than many drumming experiences where the guys bash on the drums until they can’t go any faster or louder, just creating more anxiety, going for the physical and emotional climax that is over all too soon for the dancers.

Fashionable Anger and Dangerous Rhythms

Loud and fast drumming is a dramatic emotional catharsis and it can be fun and I like to do it too.  But many times it also intimidates people. Drums amplify whatever emotional state the drummers are in. Aggression has become fashionable. Anger and violence are sold as commodities on TV, in the movies and video games. Dramatic anger has become a trick to get you to buy something. Aggressive drumming makes people angry. When we get angry, we feel empowered and spend money.

When it gets carried over into reality, from a drumming group, the fashionable habitual anger actually manifests real anger and anxiety. The drummers responsible for creating anxiety are oblivious to their contamination of a healing groove. They are busy starring in their own movies, this leads to more aggression and anxiety. The crash that comes after the climax is tough to handle. Often times it is a psychotic split that is never resolved. People take this split into themselves. The drum energy turned dangerous. The police usually show up.

Habitual anger can be changed. It is compulsive behavior generated by a belief system functioning on inaccurate assumptions. The survival mind is overstimulated by fear. This fear is created by the world we live in, but also by-you guessed it- wait for the drum roll please….! Dangerous Rhythms!

Slowing it Way Down

One valuable lesson I learned when I was 8 years old and a beginning drum student, was how to slow down. Slowing down is an easy way to release energy in a gradual, graceful groove. Compulsive people fear it, but conscious people are interested in experiencing the release of tension, anxiety and aggression in an acceptable way. Slowing down is hard for people when they never considered slowing down in their lives, let alone on the drum. When they feel the sensation of slowing down, there is a big “Ahh Haa!” The body wisdom identifies it as healthy. It is bio- feedback and emotional alchemy that works immediately.

Madison Avenue and our Emotions

Emotions are tools that can turn passion into wisdom. We need emotions, of course, but the steady tricking of our feelings by manipulated catharsis gives us a false model of reality. But this is a reality model that we can change by slowing down the tempo on the drum and telling our belief system that we are ready for a new reality model, then we just gently drum in a new belief system.

Madison Avenue advertising research specialists saw forty years ago that rhythm changes what people believe. As a result, commercials have a beat, and people are driven to buy that item. TV and radio commercial producers are smug knowing that the public is ignorant of rhythm’s power. I have seen it in commercial recording sessions. The residual checks are nice but the long lasting cultural results of rhythmic manipulation are dubious. Rhythm changes people’s minds. It can change the world. It already has. Rock n Roll was invented for that reason.

Helicopter drum

In 1960 a friend was a Peace Corps administrator in Liberia, Africa. She oversaw a group of young, inspired volunteers from the U.S. deep in the mountain jungle. They were far from civilization with no outside radio or transportation.

Our friend’s job was to oversee the young college age volunteers. The culture shock was so overwhelming that some volunteers had occasional nervous breakdowns. It was her job to get the Peace Corp volunteers back to civilization if needed.

A young man was having a hard time of it. He began talking to himself, then losing control entirely. Soon he was having epileptic seizures. The woman supervisor went to the shaman in the village and through an interpreter explained about the young volunteer. The shaman assured her that it was all right for the young man to have his epileptic fits and visions in their village. He was safe. She assured the shaman that the thing to do was to get the young man out of the jungle and back to a hospital some three hundred fifty miles down the mountain through heavy jungle. She explained that they needed a helicopter to get the boy out. This was in 1960 and the jungle people in the mountains of Liberia had very little contact with the outside world. The shaman understood though because he had seen a helicopter passing by in the sky. He had heard the sound it made.

The shaman played his drum and a helicopter appeared within 24 hours to take the young man back to his own world. The shaman must have used the drum to explain what he needed which was then translated down the mountain by other drummers, or maybe he just played the rhythm of a helicopter and the drummers in the lower regions figured out what he needed. However the shaman did it remains a mystery to our friend, the Peace Corps administrator. His only tool for communication and for healing was the drum.  The young man was flown out and he survived.

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