It might have started back in the later nineteen eighties when I left the film/television bizness, because the drum was calling me back. But it could have started earlier than that, since rhythm is the essence of life itself. No rhythm- no life. I was sitting in our little ethnic gift store on shi shi Montana Avenue in Santa Monica, California. We had been importing drums from our friends in Ghana. We conducted three drumming meditation workshops every week. I focused on relaxing grooves because all the folks coming in were pretty wound up. I suggested they “Lay back the Groove” which is a Southernism from New Orleans jazz and soul musicians. It means that the player plays in a relaxed manner; that the metronome steadiness is not the goal. Rather laying it back in the pocket was the way the drummer got the people to dance. It was as if the drummer played “late” to the downbeat.
“This drumming THING is doing pretty good for you.” A woman said strolling into the the shop. This was a warning shot across my bow. I had been learning from total strangers how the drum was supposed to work as a healing tool. This woman, dressed well and looking successful, was sending up a distress signal. She needed help of some sort but did not know what it was. Maybe the drumming THING could help her. She was coy; reluctant but eventually she sat down at a djembe. “Just hit a single note in the middle of the drumhead and let it vibrate.” I said as I set up a relaxing tempo with a simple Downbeat in the center of the drumhead. It is the same vibrating frequency as our chest cavity, our heart tone. When it is played gently the body and the critical mind relax. She settled into the easy groove just hitting the downbeat in the middle of the head. Then she shrugged and gave out a sigh. “My life is a mess.” She said forlornly. I was amazed. She opened up as if the drum itself had unlocked her unconscious. I encouraged her to keep hitting the simple downbeat. She continued to talk as she hit the groove. Tempo was slow but with a nice flow. “I’ve been through four marriages. I can’t hold a job. I was abused as a child -Repeatedly. It affected my body. I don’t have children. She went on and I kept the downbeat steady and forgiving.Honoring this woman’s courage to speak truthfully. The spell was broken when a friend psychotherapist came in unexpectedly. The visiting therapist did not pickup on what was happening with this woman. She got up and left without another word. Several weeks passed before I saw the woman again in Seattle’s Best Coffee next to our shop. She was talking with several locals at a table. She called out quietly to me as I was leaving, “That drumming thing we did was very powerful.” She said with a level of seriousness seldom seen on the trendy street. “If you could explain it to me.” I said, “It might help other people.” She nodded and I left. She came back to the shop in a few days and explained. “When I went to my other therapies I got some closure that I did not have before. I remembered “The Beat”. It helped me.” A light bulb went on above my head. Aha! Rhythm is a tool to get inside the subconscious. The person was not passive. They were playing. It made sense. She felt empowered by remembering the FEELING of the beat. The downbeat. The anchoring note. The tone of the heart played in a nurturing way bringing the person back into their bodies in a safe way. This was not intellectual, it went straight to the intuitive. It was an end run around the psychological blocks without endangering the patient. They were playing the downbeat and it gave them hope. It became her friend.
Russell Buddy Helm excerpt from the book: HelmTone Drumming Therapies