Drumming for the Health of it!


Sponsored by Wesley Community Foundation
Wesley residents take up drumming to improve their well-being.

As one of the world’s oldest musical instruments, drums have a place in every culture. From the ancient drum rhythms of African, Australian Aborigine and Asiatic rituals to keeping the beat for colonial marches, drums have played a major role in history.

Drumming also has a therapeutic effect. It promotes a sense of wellbeing, provides a cardio workout and encourages us to access both hemispheres of our brains. Even today, many Native American ceremonies continue to include a “medicine” drum. That’s why Wesley created “Drum for the Health of It!”, a resident-based drumming group.

“The holistic benefits of group drumming in senior living environments have been well studied and documented,” said Wesley’s Music Therapy Coordinator Leslie Lehnhoff. “Evidence-based research supports music-making in general and specifically group drumming. I did additional research and discovered that drum circles are an excellent complementary music-based activity in senior living.”


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Though we all enjoy music, many people cannot or do not want to engage with other music groups, such as choirs, hand bells or ukulele groups. These all require the reading of musical notation. However, drumming group participants do not need to know how to read music. The drum circle facilitator provides all necessary instruction, demonstration and mentoring so that all participants are able to make rhythms on their drums.

Therapeutic drumming may also help retrain the brains of people after they have experienced some level of damage or impairment, such as a stroke or Parkinson’s disease.

Here’s what drumming does for participants:

  • Utilizes left and right brain hemispheres – When the logical left and the intuitive right hemispheres of our brains begin to pulsate together, our inner guidance system, our intuition, becomes stronger.
  • Synchronizes the brain – Integrating the non-verbal lower areas of the brain with the language and reasoning frontal cortex produces feelings of insight and certainty.
  • Induces a natural high – When our brain changes from Beta waves, used when we concentrate, to Alpha waves, we feel calm and relaxed. Alpha wave activity is associated with feelings of well-being and euphoria, which is why meditation and other integrative modes of consciousness are often recommended for people who are depressed or anxious.

With a grant from the Wesley Community Foundation, the Wesley drum circles were established in 2017 on both the Des Moines and Lea Hill campuses. In creating these resident-based drumming circles, Leslie drew on her previous experiences working with therapeutic music in senior populations. This popular program draws in nearly 65 participants on both campuses and is proving to be a powerful social and physical health tool in Wesley’s therapeutic group of music programs.

Drum circles meet twice a month on each campus. To join one, contact Leslie at 206-870-1404 or email LLehnhoff@wesleyhomes.org.