Some Thoughts on Entrainment

By Matthew Marsolek

The entrainment phenomenon is a primary reason why drummers often feel a sense of unity and well being during a drum circle. Simply put, entrainment (or mode locking) is the tendency for vibrating systems to lock into harmonic relationship when they're in close proximity.

In the course of a drum circle, usually lasting an hour or more, there is a great potential for physiological and psychological entrainment (of biorhythms and consciousness states) for the individual and the group as a whole. The degree of entrainment depends on a number of factors including: setting, desire and intention of the participants, physical and emotional comfort, familiarity with the rhythm, level of difficulty (often relating to tempo as well as pattern complexity), and physical and mental conditioning. As a regular harmonic rhythm is maintained, the group’s biorhythms begin to entrain together (i.e. heart rate, respiration, and brain wave activity).

There is also a psychological sense of unity that develops because of the acceptance and equality within the drum circle, an increase of self esteem for individuals participating as they achieve success with the activity, and a sense of connection and intimacy from the pattern sharing and communication of rhythm. I teach drumming and rhythm as a language activity rather than a mathematical one.

Playing a drum rhythm and hearing a drum language (rather than a series of numbers or counts) opens the door to the emotional and energetic quality within the music. The emotion and intimacy shared through playing a common pattern or polyrhythm together can be very profound.