Sonic Witchcraft


Shamanic drumming – the percussionist’s perspective

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Sometimes people think that “shamanic” drumming means using only a deep low tuned drum with a steady beat of some 3 to 4 bps or approximately 180 – 240 bpm – but this steady beat and speed definition comes mainly from Michael Harner (the definition was popularized by him) as far as I could explore… No actual shamanistic tradition seems to use a completely steady drumming in those tempos… Maybe powow drumming comes the closest to that definition… But that is not shamanic drumming and has a different purpose…

In reality the real shaman’s drums are of various pitches, also quite high pitched (“metallic”) as some would say and the beat is anything but regularly steady, although the beat can be somewhat steady for some time and predominantly monotonous!

My personal experience in “shamanic-like” drumming (which really is an effective tool for journeys into subconsciousness) is that a bit higher pitched and harmonically rich drum can produce great effects because it enables many different interesting sounds, playing with overtones, reflections, etc. that all help “confuse” the mind. Low pitches are fine, too, but not obligatory! Combinations of low and high pitched instruments are quite “magic”, too.

Steady beat is useful, but variations and change of speed and accent all produce more vivid and diverse journeying experience… The logic behind this can also be explained in simply musical terms (no esoteric bullshit needed for those who can’t digest it) – variations and dynamics simply engage our imagination more…

I would suggest to any “wannabe” shamanic drummer – first keep some average steadiness to lull the participants into a light trance and then do “the dance” – the variations as they come to you by intuition… Also spinning around, moving the drum in different positions, move around with the drum to excite the room or space acoustics in different ways to project sound to participants at different angles, explore the ways you hit the drum – different positions, different angles, different patterns…

Don’t just follow some imaginary “steady beat” rule with a fixed speed… And do it with commitment, passion and power, not like you are bored and awkwardly trying to keep a steady beat…

One example of Siberian high pitched drums:

And here’s one interesting article exploring the effects of contemporary “shamanic-like” drumming:

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