Therapeutic Drumming Research

Therapeutic Drumming for Reducing Levels of Aggression and Depression in Children Deprived of Parental Care

by Martin Ivanov

“We are born with a need for rhythmic input. It affects how our brainwaves function and may play an important role in normal physical, emotional and intellectual development.”

— D r. K A Y  R O S C A M”


It has been established that children laugh about three hundred times a day, and adults only fifteen. Although this may be explained by the fact that adults are burdened with the serious problems of life, the real conflict lies elsewhere. It is a problem, however, when there are children who smile and laugh less than fifteen times every day, and their number in Bulgaria is not insignificant.

The huge number of children deprived of parental care, and hospitals for disabled children, are filled with sad faces longing for smiles and attention.

How can we help them? How can we be useful? What can we do to make these children smile and help them with the advice and knowledge they need for the life which lies before them?

The “Smile and Make Someone Happy!” initiative which the LIBERA Institute for Contemporary Art and Therapy  (Bulgaria) developed more than five years ago, contains the response to all these questions. As a non-governmental organisation aimed at benefiting society, our intention was focused on the idea of uniting the business and the non-governmental sector to help provide benefits for children with illnesses and also children deprived of parental care.

Our main aim was to create opportunities, events and initiatives with the aim of enhancing the emotional and physical health of children from the above-mentioned groups, by means of rhythm and percussion instruments.

20 km. from Sofia (the capital of Bulgaria), close to Elin Pelin, is the village of Doganovo. In the village school building there is a home for children deprived of parental care. Just over two years ago I met the 50 wonderful children who live in this home. Our relationship and friendship has grown very strong and this is all thanks to rhythm. We began with a single rhythm therapy session as part of the “Smile and Make Someone Happy!” initiative. The sounds, rhythm, drums and other percussion instruments took the children to a new world of feelings and a means of expression and communication.

Over the next year we created a special project for them and we were granted finance to undertake 14 rhythm sessions with 20 children over a period of 7 months. The project was entitled “The Unifying Power of Rhythm for Children Deprived of Parental Care” and the aim was to assist in the social integration of children from the home in Doganovo.

Rhythm was to be the main resource in transforming the negative and aggressive energy of the young people into self-expression and communication with themselves and other people and to achieve positive social results. From a more general point of view our aim was for the children and teenagers in the target group to improve their prospects in life and create opportunities for a more adequate and successful integration in life.

Our more specific aims were to use key themes of active listening, communication, synchronicity and balance to learn the following qualities and skills: cooperation, discipline, participation, sharing and their application in practice.

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Figure 1. The drums and rhythm give the gift of joy and smiles to children of Doganovo

Below I have presented the results of the project summarized by Katya Tomova, the home’s psychologist, based on daily observations and working with the children:

During the project a number of changes in the behaviour of the participants from the specialized institution were observed. Certain negative elements of institutional care were compensated for. When the children perform, they feel free and communicate freely, both in the group and outside it. After several months work, we noticed increased concentration, a desire for independent work, and the children were visibly more conscientious in performing their daily tasks.
During the therapy none of the following negatives caused by long-term institutional care were observed:

• Stereotypical movements – swaying back and forth and to the side;
• Thumb sucking;
• Infant neurosis and facial tics;
• Stammering in two of the children visibly reduced;
• Reduction of aggression – children who were considered to be “hooligans” or “difficult children” managed to find a better way of communicating with the others. They were visibly calmer and no deviations in their behaviour were recorded. The level of understanding and friendly relationships
By systematically working with rhythm the children feel stronger, more capable, and see themselves as equal and independent individuals and this led to an increase in their self-esteem. The therapy has also led to an enhanced feeling of wholeness, it has created intimacy between them and especially towards the leaders of the project – Marty and Sam. The children have created a bond and accepted the leaders in the role of mentors. Giving the children certain tasks to do has been particularly constructive in their work. By fulfilling these tasks, the children feel independent, confident and capable. We observed one particularly interesting phenomena – children who were considered by the group to be outsiders became leaders and managed to foster an interest amongst the whole group.
One of the children who is slightly underdeveloped and has special educational needs and works with a special teacher, accepted the role of leader and formed a group of three children who composed a solo together. They called themselves the “Stars” and they presented a solo performance which is constantly being enhanced. They performed it with pride to all our friends and guests of the institution.

In order to objectively record the results of the project a study was made of the levels of aggression and depression amongst the participants. For this purpose tests were carried out before the beginning of the project and after its completion. I can present the results of the study which was carried out by the psychologist, Vesela Ognyanova:

The first study was carried out at the beginning our joint work, the second at the very end. They demonstrated a reduction in the level of depression: in the beginning the average rate for the group was 28, and at the end – 23 points (fig. 2). This meant that from a level of moderately high depression the therapy led to a level of reduced depression. During the first study nine children were found to have high levels of depression, while in the second study only two children were considered to have high levels of depression
(fig. 3 and 4).

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Fig.2. Level of Depression

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Fig.3. Level of Depression – beginning

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Fig.4. Level of Depression – end


We also observed a reduction when studying levels of aggression. To begin with the average score for the group was 5.0 points and during the second test it was 4.7 (fig. 5). During the first test seven children were classed as having a high level of aggression, and during the second – four (fig. 6 and 7). A qualitative analysis of the tests for depression and aggression showed that there was a reduced sense of loneliness and an increase level of cooperation and tolerance.
There was also a reduction of indirect aggression and oppositional behaviour. This means that in the event of problems and conflicts they are willing to share them and clarify the problem, rather than to keep it to themselves and direct their aggression to a weaker person or other object.

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Fig.5. Level of Aggression

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Fig. 6. Level of Aggression – beginning

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Fig.7. Level of Aggression – end

In addition to the expected and predicted results of the project, a number of children revealed enviable abilities and talent. Further specialized work will be able to guide them in a direction which will determine their professional career. The “Unifying Power of Rhythm for Children Deprived of Parental Care” project has undoubtedly proven the power of rhythm and the positive results related to its use.

Best of all, over this short period of time the children achieved remarkable success in their studies, discipline and overall development, as a result of having fun accompanied with many smiles and much laughter.

This article is an excerpt from the book “Rhythm Alchemy” by Martin Ivanov



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