West African Drum Therapy and Educational Empowerment



Strand #1

Academic Achievement & School Leadership

Strand #2

Social & Emotional Skills


The Therapeutic African Drumming Program at Inner Harbour (now Youth Villages at Inner Harbour) was initiated in 1996 by Mr. Tom Harris. Inner Harbour is a residential treatment facility that services youth-at-risk. Used first as a therapy, the drumming program quickly evolved to become an academic enrichment activity as well. Research has shown how drumming helps the brain generate an Alpha wavelength which is ideal for learning. Today, several education standards in each major subject area (and in all grade levels) can be fulfilled during a properly facilitated therapeutic drumming session. This includes professional standards represented in the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) and Common Core Standards (CCGPS).

Initially, the structure and format of each drumming class/session develops and reinforces the group process, along with various social skills and basic academic skills essential to team and community building as well as classroom etiquette. The embedded activities within the drumming session allow students to engage different learning styles. This in turn enhances basic learning strategies such as memorization, concentration and repetition. Properly facilitated drumming sessions can stimulate participants emotionally in a way that maximizes their focused learning potential. Customized or adapted drumming sessions can teach or reinforce Social Skills, Study Skills as well as the relevant standards in Math, Science, Social Studies and Language Arts.

There are numerous ways for educators and mental health professionals to augment drumming session activities to enhance their educational (and therapeutic) programming needs and objectives. Finally, there is a high personal value and entertainment aspect to this activity that keeps the attention and interest of participants (staff and youth). In a short time, regular participants can learn enough music to perform for others. Performing builds confidence among individual students and opens up the potential for groups to share with the larger local community. African drumming gives educational and mental health programs a unique and impactful way to highlight the team spirit of a given community.

Brief Program Description

This presentation is designed to introduce the benefits of a therapeutic West African drumming program to educators and mental health professionals. Participants will engage in a basic drumming class where they will experience the academic and socio-emotional benefits of drumming while practicing an African rhythm. How to relate American School Counselor Association (ASCA) standards as well as Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) and Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) will be explained and demonstrated by the presentation facilitators.


The presentation will begin with a short demonstration of West African Drumming played by the facilitators. Next, there will be brief history of the Therapeutic West African Drumming Program at Inner Harbour. Each facilitator will share how he/she became affiliated with West African Drumming, and why he/she believes it is a worthwhile activity to do with Youth-At-Risk.

Participants will then be taken through a typical beginning drumming class. They open by stating their emotional feelings and setting goals for the session. Facilitators will explain the importance of setting meaningful, obtainable goals that can be beneficial both in and out of drumming class. Participants will then pick out drums and be oriented on how to play them. During this process there will be a brief history of the evolution of the drum and its traditional use in the West African Culture.

The next segment will be spent on drills and learning a basic rhythm. Participants will get to experience a properly facilitated therapeutic drumming class along with the some of the effects of the activities. Facilitators will point out how both practicing drills and learning rhythms enhance and enrich both academic and socio-emotional learning. Participants will be encouraged to share their experiences and dialog on how a drumming program might be used in their professional settings.

The conclusion of the presentation will consist of a closing where participants and facilitators share their post activity feelings and evaluate the progress they made on the goal/s set at the beginning of the presentation. Facilitators will close the presentation by sharing research and how they incorporate GPS, CCGPS & ASCA standards to therapeutic West African drumming lessons. Information will be shared on how to develop similar programs.


In an informal biofeedback study conducted in 1999 with Dr. Robert Dallas, several physiological and neurological effects of a 20 minute drumming session were noted. Alpha brain waves increased dramatically, Galvanic Skin Response showed that participants were significantly calmer and right and left hemisphere brain levels came closer into balance after drumming.

Research Articles:

1. “Composite effects of group drumming music therapy on modulation or neuroendocrineimmune parameters in normal subjects.” Bittman BB, Berk LS, Felton DL, Westengard J, Simonton OC, Pappas J, Ninchouser M.

2. “Creative Musical Expression as a Catalyst for Quality of Life Improvement in Inner-city Adolescents Placed in a Court-referred Residential Treatment Program” Barry Bittman, MD; Larry Dickson, MA; Kim Coddington, Phd. Published in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine, Spring 2009, Vol. 24, NO. 1

3. “A Study of the Results of Drumming on Mental and Emotional States as Measured by Neurofeedback and Biofeedback. Unpublished paper

4. Complimentary Therapy for Addiction: “Drumming Out Drugs” – Micheal Winkelman PhD, MPH

5. Brainwave Entrainment to External Rhythmic Stimuli: Interdisciplinary Research and Clinical Perspective. Melinda Maxfield, PhD



This article describes some of the benefits of drumming with special needs children. Benefits described include emotional learning, increased cognition and enhanced communication.


The article on this site touches on the positive social interaction that is prominent in the group drumming setting.


This colorful site shares information on how drumming benefits Health & Wellness and Education. It provides several links to articles that detail the positive affects drumming and music in general have on learning and living healthy.


A link to a research study linking music, including African drumming, to math as part of a doctoral thesis.


A site that has links to drumming and spirituality, health and psychology.


This link is to an article that describes the benefits of drumming as it relates to stress management.


Individual Presentation

Biographical Sketch

John H Warrington MS.,: A School Counselor at the Inner Harbour School in Douglasville, GA. John began West African drumming in February of 2000. A teacher at the time, he took his first classes along with his students under the instruction of the founder of the Therapeutic West African Drumming Program, Tom Harris. After 18 months of practice, he was able to facilitate his own classes. As a teacher, he built education curriculum around drumming following first Quality Core Curriculum (QCC) standards and later GPS. Now as a School Counselor, he adheres to ASAC standards and has augmented his drumming classes to address the academic, social and career aspects of a student’s education. He uses drumming to enhance math, introduce vocabulary and practice cross curriculum reading. His classes promote teambuilding, classroom etiquette and self-confidence. For students with music career aspirations, John facilitates performance groups where students experience learning musical arrangements, choreography and get the opportunity to travel and play for audiences. John has also played in a professional West African drumming group since 2007.

Danny S. Daniels: Danny has been teaching in this challenging environment for seventeen years at Paulding RYDC and Youth Villages’ Inner Harbour Campus. Danny played drums in local bands most of his life. When he interviewed with Youth Villages, immediately he was very impressed with the therapeutic drumming program. As soon as he was hired, he immediately purchased his personal djembe. Ten years later, he still realizes the value and purpose of our Therapeutic West African Drumming Program. To enhance his abilities and technique, he enrolled in and graduated from the Therapeutic Drumming Instructor Training (TDIT) course offered by Tom Harris at the Youth Villages Inner Harbour Campus. This challenging, eleven month program teaches what is needed and required to become a successful therapeutic drumming instructor. Danny participates in drumming circles and classes to continue his development and fine tune his drumming technique. When needed, he will facilitate a drumming class, and he also assists Mr. Warrington, Mr. Sobhan, and Mr. Harris with the performance group activities.

Johnny Hart is a Special Education Teacher from Atlanta, GA. He has been involved in the Therapeutic Drumming Program at Inner Harbour for three years where he has linked many of the activities in drumming to the Georgia Professional Standards. In 2010 he graduated from the Therapeutic Drumming Instructor’s Training (TDIT), a year-long intensive study of the therapeutic effects of West African drumming on the psychological and physical well-being of students. Every spring, he attends the West African Drum and Dance Camp in Little Switzerland, NC to study with musicians from Guinea and also other professional teachers from the US. Once a week, Mr. Hart teaches a beginning West African drumming class in Carrollton, GA.

Phillip Block M.Ed.: Began his teaching career as a paraprofessional in a Special Ed. Classroom, and then proceeded to earn certification needed to become a lead teacher in both Special Needs and in Gifted classrooms. Throughout the past twenty years of his career Phillip taught in both public and private academies. He primarily enjoys the High School setting, both academically and developmentally. He loves the process of opening up and enriching the “formal thinking” capabilities of at-risk adolescents. Phillip embarked on his inclusion of West African Drumming into his classroom processes back in 2007. He found the experience to be highly rewarding, enriching and a great deal of fun.

Keyword Descriptors

Music, Drumming, Djembe, Education, Stress-reduction, community, social skills, West Africa

Presentation Year


Start Date

3-7-2016 1:15 PM

End Date

3-7-2016 2:30 PM

This document is currently not available here.


Mar 7th, 1:15 PM Mar 7th, 2:30 PM

West African Drum Therapy and Educational Empowerment


This presentation is designed to introduce the benefits of a therapeutic West African drumming program to educators and mental health professionals. Participants will engage in a basic drumming class where they will experience the academic and socio-emotional benefits of drumming while practicing an African rhythm. How to relate American School Counselor Association (ASCA) standards as well as Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) and Common Core Georgia Performance Standards (CCGPS) will be explained and demonstrated by the presentation facilitators.