As someone deeply immersed in drum research for an upcoming book and regularly practicing drumming, I’ve started to make connections between the state of consciousness changes and brain rewiring that occur when taking psychedelic substances and those caused by drumming.

Personal Experiences

  • I’ve noticed that drumming affects my brain profoundly in a positive way. When listening to Jeff Strong’s drumming tracks designed to aid focus, I sometimes feel sensations in my brain similar to when I’ve taken ADHD medication.
  • Recently, I started a practice of drumming for a few minutes at the beginning and end of each day. After a couple of weeks, I began noticing negative, previously unconscious, and unhelpful thought patterns, allowing me to interrupt and replace them with more helpful ones easily. I experienced a similar effect when I started microdosing mushrooms a couple of years ago.

Connections to Other Disciplines

Jeff Strong’s Insights

  • I recently started Jeff Strong‘s course, “Beyond Shamanism.” Jeff is an American drummer with ADHD who has been using the drum in healing and therapeutic ways since the 1990s, developing drumming tracks to change moods and aid focus.
  • Jeff explains that most cultures use percussion to change consciousness and enter trance-like states, while the few that didn’t develop percussion used psychedelic plants instead. Traditionally, only about 10% of cultures used psychedelics, while 90% used percussion.

I want to explain how drumming changes consciousness and why I believe it to be superior to psychedelics. But before I do that I need to briefly explain how our brains oscillate between states of consciousness.

Altered States of Consciousness

Consciousness exists on a spectrum, ranging from ordinary waking state to deep sleep, with various altered states in between. Brain waves oscillate between different states: delta, theta, alpha, beta, and gamma: 

  1. Delta Waves (0.1-4 Hz): The slowest brainwaves, associated with deep, dreamless sleep and unconscious states. They are important for healing and revitalisation
  2. Theta Waves (4-8 Hz): These are Present during light sleep, meditation, and deep relaxation. They are linked to intuition, creativity, and access to the subconscious mind. They can induce a trance-like state
  3. Alpha Waves (8-13 Hz): These occur during relaxed wakefulness and light meditation. They are associated with feeling calm, yet alert and focused. They facilitate mind-body integration and reduce stress
  4. Beta Waves (13-30 Hz): These are dominant during normal waking consciousness and active thinking. High levels of beta waves are linked to anxiety, stress, and restlessness. Low levels are ideal for focused mental activity
  5. Gamma Waves (30+ Hz): The highest frequency brainwaves. They are associated with heightened perception, consciousness, and information processing. They are linked to learning, memory formation, and cognitive functioning

The Neuroscience of Drumming

Parallels Between Drumming and Psychedelics

  • Both drumming and psychedelic substances have the potential to induce altered states of consciousness and facilitate neuroplasticity.
  • Psychedelics work by interacting with specific receptors in the brain, leading to profound shifts in consciousness, introspection, and sensory perceptions.

Differences Between Drumming and Psychedelics

  • Mode of Action: Psychedelics induce effects through direct chemical interactions with brain receptors, while drumming works through rhythmic stimulation of the auditory system and its impact on brain wave patterns.
  • Control and Regulation: Drumming allows for the ability to control and regulate the depth of the altered state by adjusting rhythm, tempo, and volume, or stopping entirely. Psychedelic experiences, once initiated, can be more challenging to control or terminate.
  • Legal Considerations: The use of psychedelic substances is generally illegal, while drumming is a widely accepted and legal practice across cultures.
  • Access and cost: Accessing psychedelics can be complex and expensive due to legal ramifications, while drumming tracks are widely available for free, and drums can be inexpensive.
  • Integration and aftereffects: Psychedelic experiences can be intense and overwhelming, requiring careful integration and processing. Drumming, being a more gradual and controlled process, allows for smoother integration of insights and experiences into daily life.
  • Building new skills: With psychedelics you always need the substance to enter the altered state of consciousness. With drumming, over time you build the skills to be able to enter that state at will, building the skills like you build a muscle, and eventually you can even do it without the help of the drum (in that state, however, the drum usually helps you go deeper)

In conclusion, while drumming and psychedelics share the potential for inducing altered states and facilitating neuroplasticity, drumming offers distinct advantages as a legal, culturally accepted, and more controllable means of accessing altered states. Drumming potentially provides a safer and more accessible avenue for personal growth, therapeutic benefits, and expanded awareness.

If you would like to try for yourself how drumming can alter your state of consciousness, a simple way to start is to do a drum journey, which is a guided meditation with the drum. Many of my students report more success doing this than with meditation, because the sound entrainment requires no effort. There are several drum journeys available on my Youtube Channel.

I would be curious to hear about your experiences, feel free to comment below.

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