Hand Drumming, Consciousness and the Brain

An overview of a pilot study conducted at St. Pat’s Hospital in Missoula, Montana

By Marianne Spitzform and Matthew Marsolek

Summary of Findings: EEG and heart rate recordings of a beginning, intermediate and advanced hand drummer were studied, across three different rhythm patterns. Alpha wave production was noted in all three subjects while drumming all rhythms, demonstrating that hand drumming is facilitative of relaxed alertness, and has potential therapeutic uses. Assessment of the entrainment of heart rate showed complex inter-relationships between individual physiology, skill level and rhythm.

Who We Are:Marianne Spitzform, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and drummer with an interest in alternative healing methods. She is on the adjunct faculty in Psychology at the University of Montana, and has been in private practice in Missoula, MT since 1985. Her clinical and research interests are in the changes in consciousness which uncover inherent wisdom and creativity. Matthew Marsolek is a musician and teacher who has studied East Indian and West African music for the past 12 years with a variety of teachers, including Mukesh Desai from India and Abdoul Doumbia from Mali, West Africa. Matthew has experience and training in jazz, classical, and Hindustani vocal technique and is also an accomplished jazz and classical guitarist. A dedicated and charismatic educator, Matthew has a passion for rhythm, harmonic relationships, and the healing and community building potentials of music.

New Directions: Given the promising findings in this pilot study, we hope to pursue well designed, controlled studies which explore the beneficial effects of drumming, compared with other meditative methods, such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction.

Measures of stress (e.g. cortisol level), indices of immune system function, and brain imaging, along with measures of psychological characteristics, will permit investigation of 1) specific therapeutic effects 2) the strengths of different methods, and 3) how best to match methods with individuals. Funding is sought for ongoing research.

*We gratefully acknowledge the support of Ethan Russo, M.D. and Janet Kenter, R.EEG/EPT, CNIM, as well as the Neurodiagnostics Laboratory at St. Patrick’s Hospital, Missoula, MT