We Got the Beat: Part 2

February 8, 2012

For those of you who aren’t music therapists, students/interns or people in a related field…I apologize.  A little.

I try to write about all different aspects of my job, but when I get going on a series like lyric substitution or percussion, I realize some of you may not find this interesting.  That is unfortunate, but alas, this is an MT blog after all.


The next thing I’d like to talk about in my group drumming series is the “check-in.”  I have many instruments I use for percussion groups, as you may have read in the last post, but my favorite is my Djembe.  I love it.  In fact, I just took it out of it’s case to take a picture for you.

So I love my drum.  I got it several years ago at a regional (NER-AMTA) conference from a Berklee alum who had gone to Ghana, had a bunch of djembes made, and came back with drums to sell. Because I love it so much, I tend to be quite protective of it, particularly in the psych unit.  I went in a couple of years ago to find that one of the unit djembes (much smaller and of lesser quality) had been stabbed – right through the hide by something that left a pen-shaped hole.  Poor drum.  From that moment on, I really only let the patients there play my Djembe during check-in (and one other intervention that I will explain later in this series).  Anyway, I lead all of my drumming groups with this drum.  It’s super loud and resonant, and seems to hypnotize people make for easy entrainment.  It’s a special drum, and when patients ask me if they can play it, and I say, “sorry, this is the drum I’m using right now,” they accept my denial and move on.  They must know how much I love it.  Or something.

Anyhoo…I have a couple of adaptations on the drum-based check-in.  Here they are:

1. After I introduce the instruments, I explain that we’re going to wait a couple of minutes to choose instruments (so people don’t get all excitable) and I demonstrate how to use a djembe (off the ground or tilted diagonally while grounded, middle of goat skin makes a deep sound and the rim makes a higher pitched sound).  I then say this: “What I’d like you to do, is say your name and how you’re feeling right now.  Then, play a rhythm or make a sound on the drum that symbolizes that feeling.  I’ll go first.  My name is Foxy Brown and I’m feeling energetic right now (insert frenetic rumble).”

Then I pass the drum to my right or left and prompt the person if they have forgotten what to do.  When they’re finished, I thank them, regardless of what they have said.  If someone wants to “pass” on the check-in, I still ask them how they’re feeling, but don’t force them to play the drum.  The drum makes its way around the circle (we are always in a circle) and when everyone is finished, I have them choose instruments.

2. Sometimes when people do not speak or have very disorganized thought processes, they are not able to participate in the verbal part of the check-in, so I simply ask them to play a rhythm or make a sound on the drum that speaks to how they’re feeling.

3.   Because my drum is heavy and awkward to pass, I sometimes bring the drum to each person and hold it off the ground while they say/play their piece.  This way works best for elders I work with in other settings, but I’ve had to adapt at other times as well, as we all have to.


When I walk into a room and ask a patient how he or she is, the words I hear are “okay,” “good,” “fine,” or “alright” sometimes followed by a “how are you?” – words I say when I pass an acquaintance in the hall on my way to wherever. When someone is in a locked psych unit, chances are pretty good that there is more to that story, so I encourage people to give me intentional and honest answers in place of polite ones, in any check-in – drumming or not.


Any other drumming check-in ideas? 


2 Responses to “We Got the Beat: Part 2”

  1. Anonymous said


    Your blog is very informative. I am writing an article for my journalism class on drumming therapy and I was wondering if I could talk to you about your experiences as a music therapist and how you use drums in your craft.

    Kindly let me know if this is possible.

    Thank you

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