Why Drumming Helps With My Writing

Feline Drummers at the Watch City Festival in Waltham, MA
5/12/12
photo by Jennifer Wright Owen

Elven Tiger and I are taking a drawing class at our homeschool co-op, based on the book “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain” by Betty Edwards. At this point in my life, I’ve done lots of meditation, yoga, and other practices that enable me to enter the alpha state at will. So I’m finding it relatively easy to slip into that right-brain mode as I draw, even though I’m far from an accomplished artist. I’m having fun sketching, with no expectations about the outcome.

In recent years I’ve become pretty pleased with my writing ability. (It still makes me squirm a bit to even say something like that – but I’ve got a book contract, so I guess I can toot my own horn just a bit). Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and that’s part of the fun of the writing craft. Interestingly, the thing that has had the biggest impact on my writing lately is my drumming.

I started playing the djembe a few years ago. Self-taught (aside from a couple of workshops here and there), sitting round the fire, groovin’ in a hippie drum circle sort of way. Then BlackLion and I got asked to drum for the first Dark Follies street performance in 2008. At first playing with Dark Follies was perfect for our improv-style messing around, but then some of the dancers wanted something a bit more traditional. Other drummers came in, and one excellent drummer, Stephen, became the lead musician. He’s done a lot of training and practice, and it shows. The quality of Dark Follies’ music improved. At that point BlackLion and I almost quit, both because of our lack of experience with the more traditional tunes, and also because we got busy with other things, like writing and creating offerings and wares for our business.

BlackLion had done more drumming than me, so he wasn’t really intimidated. I was frustrated with my seeming inability to remember the various beats by name. “We’ll play a slow maqsum, then transition into masmoodi” sounded Greek to me. My left brain just wasn’t getting it – but if they could show me the riff, I could play along with no problem. With BlackLion’s urging, and being drawn in by the cool folks in the troupe, we got more involved again last year.

This fall, our fearless leader decided that we should form a real band, and add melodic instruments. Thus we became the Dark Follies Not Just Rhythm Orchestra. It’s been a truly incredible learning experience! I love playing with a band. I’ve never considered myself a musician – that was always Quester’s realm, and BlackLion’s. But now I’m feeling it. And the lessons I’ve learned are invaluable in boosting my other creative pursuits – including my biggest passion, writing. How?

Well, what I’ve struggled with most in becoming a “real” drummer is the connection between the left brain and the right brain. Both are needed in this gig. The right brain stuff is easy for me. I can keep the beat and get into the groove (Quester tells me that keeping a steady beat is a fairly rare talent, but I just feel it in my body and go with it). The left brain connection to that has been a challenge – learning the various beats by name, primarily. When I say a challenge, I mean one of those fun brain-bending “I can do this, I know I can!” sort of challenges. And it seems to be working! The connection with writing is that it’s becoming easier for me to move from the idea phase, where I’m imagining a piece and brainstorming its components (right brain), to the actual execution of it (left brain).

I feel like I’m a symphony, sometimes, as I open up and creatively express what’s in my heart. And whether my composition is made up of words or drumbeats, I’m in the moment, awake and aware, yet deeply immersed in the flow. I have a long way to go with my music, but again, that’s part of the fun of the craft. I’m excited about the expansion and discovery – and delighted that all parts of my life are being uplifted in the process.


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