Art as a Survival Tool Series: III

Good Vibrations
Polyrhythms, sound healing and the significance of vibration

This blog is the third in a series of five on Art as a Survival Tool, blogs that examine the crucial role art plays in the fulfillment of the human experience.

tie dye baby at drum circle

Famed scientist Nikola Tesla once revealed “if you want to know the secrets of the universe, think in terms of energy, frequency and vibration.”

Where we come from, this is called music and dance. And what would these art forms be without drums?

Mixing energy, frequency and vibration in different rhythms happening simultaneously results in polyrhythm, a phenomenon that occurs in natural vibrations and sounds which humans captured and mimicked with the invention of the drum.

women drum polyrhythm

African, Indian and shamanic cultures employed polyrhythms to sacred purpose, intuitively applying frequency and vibration to heal physical or psychological wounds and treat illnesses. The drum literally knitted communities together, entwined them with their environments and “talked” across distances, communicating messages from one tribe to another.

So profoundly integral and powerful a tool was the drum that, at the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, European colonizers realized the easiest way to break the culture of Africans was to strip them of their drums—which they did; however, stripping a culture of its rhythm, embedded in its cells for millennia, is impossible. In time, polyrhythms, drumming and the power of beat dominated popular music in every country that utilized African slave labor, especially in the United States, where we witnessed the birth of intricate jazz and hip hop polyrhythms that would define popular culture for several generations.

drum connection tampa bay

Kathryn and Sally Robinson, the mother/daughter team of DrumConnection Tampa Bay, who use traditional African drumming for community building. (Photo: https://drumconnectiontampabay.wordpress.com/)

Today, neuroscientists identify the ability of rhythm and sound to affect neuroplasticity in the brain and their abilities to release chemicals such as the “stress hormone” cortisol, a natural anti-anxiety medication. Certain polyrhythms, as employed in African, Middle Eastern and Indian cultures, induce the brain into a trance state, which researchers now understand allows a person to re-tune her frequency, harmonizing the body’s vibration to well-being, much like tuning a violin or, as it were, tightening a drum head.

Grammy®-nominated recording artist Jonathan Goldman describes this re-tuning as “resonant frequency healing” and, when performed in a group, creates entrainment, a natural phenomenon of synchronizing that can happen without the listeners’ being aware of attuning to others in the group. Goldman’s sound healing, which may strike the more hard-science-minded as wishful thinking, gained scientific support in July when a study from the University of Bristol tracked ultrasound (high frequency sound waves) as having a vibration high enough to speed healing in physical wounds.

Polyrhythms got you intrigued? Then check out this online polyrhythm generator and let us know what you think.

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