Drum Circles bring Resilience, Wellness, and Creativity to the Workplace

This Orange County firm wasn’t sure what they were getting into when they asked to have a drum circle workplace wellness program in their firm in March 2015. The twenty or so employees who attended became highly engaged, creative, and experienced a big boost in their energy.

In the above video, staff can be seen exploring creativity and communications with fellow employees. There was also a genuine willingness to follow Dolle’s instructions to bring what began as a rhythm only with bells, into a fully synchronized drum circle rhythm.

In life & work, innovation comes when you trust your instincts in working with one another. This 8-minute rhythm in this drum circle video began with (4) complimentary gongo bell patterns that involved two senior partners of the firm. Next, hand drums, sound shapes, and small percussion were incrementally brought in to support the bells and beat pattern. The result was an improvisational masterpiece. The video only captured the final two minutes.

The truth is, the same health challenges that affect us at home, can affect your productivity, creativity, and problem solving abilities at work. So this Orange County firm experienced how drumming can be one of the best activities for workplace wellness, how it stimulates employee engagement, and activates key productivity centers in the brain.

As founder, drum circle facilitator, and neuroscientist with Dolle Communications, Stephen Dolle has considerable experience with drum circles and related workshops. He can also offer tips on employee engagement and productivity. Dolle has seen a lot of workplace challenges made more manageable thru drumming. What makes drumming unique, is how it affects both the brain and body, where the vibration of the instruments produces a calming effect on the individual. It results in a happier, more engaged, and connected employee ready to deal with the challenges of the workplace.

Stephen Dolle June 2017 TV Interview on Drumming and the Brain

Drum Circles in the Workplace

There are a variety of ways that drum circles are used to bring positive change, increased productivity, and employee resiliency to the workplace. Three of these include:

Drumming for stress reduction/resiliency, where drum circles allow employees to engage and play/share during the middle of the work day in a fun environment. The benefits include increased productivity and employee health. Typical play times are 30 to 60 minutes.

Drumming for team-building, where drum circles are used to help employees better connect and improve working relationships, critical in team concentric operations. This type of drumming is also ideal at ice-breakers and retreats to get participants to come and and engage with others. The benefits include increased expression of thoughts & ideas, improvement in productivity, and fewer errors and mis-understandings thru improved communications. Typical play times are 60-90 minutes.

Drumming for creativity & problem solving in the workplace. This is an issue in the workplace that is not well understood, where strategies range between compartmentalizing challenges to brain storming sessions. Ultimately, there are two primary forms of problem solving: 1) analytical or comparitive reasoning, and 2) free-thinking where methods are employed to free up worker’s minds. The benefits include increased problem solving ability thru retraining of the mind. Typical play times are 60 to 90 minutes.

Now for some remarkable brain science and workplace development. Employees tend to play much better when not instructed as to how or what to play. The reason is, when faced with unfamiliar circumstances and no punative consequences, employees will usually rely on their innate problem solving abilities, in which case here is the ability to play music and rhythm that is innate within all of us. As such, most groups do very well.

Group drumming in the workplace then builds trust and confidence in one’s innate abilities, where typically people have either been discouraged from trusting their judgment, or have been given strict instruction not to act on their initiatives. It is in this latter regards that strict company structure can leave employees never learning to trust their judgment in leadership, problem solving, or managerial duties. Group drumming can be just what the doctor ordered, and help usher in change towards more healthy group dynamics. Not only is this good for productivity, it’s critical for stress-relief and mental health.

Drum circles help to reduce stress and stimulate the brain for optimal function in the workplace
Drum circles help to reduce stress and stimulate the brain for optimal function in the workplace

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) defines “workplace wellness” as a health promotion activity or organization-wide policy designed to support healthy behavior and improve health outcomes while at work. They report that these programs should consist of activities such as health education and coaching, weight management programs, medical screenings, on-site fitness programs, and more.

Notwithstanding living with chronic illness or injury, the biggest challenge to workplace productivity remains employee engagement and maintaining the necessary focus to do your job really well. Dolle says more challenges at work are due to inadequate mental focus. So he says the solutions, then, should be tailored to maintaining mental stamina, flexibility, and executive cognitive skills.

There are a number of organizations today which provide consulting in employee health  as recommended by the CDC. The CDC also offers a free worksite health scorecard and other materials for implementing a health promotion program in your workplace.

Worksite Health ScoreCard

Concentra also offers health program consulting designed to encourage healthier lifestyle behavior in employees, intended to reduce health care spending. A successful wellness program can benefit employers by developing and maintaining a healthier, more productive workforce and community.

Concentra Programs and Services

Drink 6-8 8 oz. glasses of water each day for optimal health, plus it helps ward off migraine headache.
Drink 6-8 8 oz. glasses of water each day for optimal health, plus it helps ward off migraine headache.

Dolle notes that the two most important things you can undertake for wellness and productivity at work is proper hydration with water throughout the day, and moving about physically. You should also follow these practices at home. These two simple steps, he says, help keep blood flowing to deliver oxygen and needed nutrients to your body’s vital organs, including, to your brain.

Drum Circles and Drum Circle Facilitation by Dolle Communications
Drum Circles and Drum Circle Facilitation by Dolle Communications

Dolle Communications

Dolle Communications provides drum circle facilitationtips on employee engagement and productivity, learning and leadership, and mHealth design consulting in the greater Orange County, CA area. Dolle provides all the necessary instruments and materials for a drum circle, and facilitates a variety of drumming workshops at your place of business or desired location. Drum circles aid resilience, leadership, creativity, productivity, and wellness in the workplace. It truly is an organicly inspired staff experience!

Stephen Dolle facilitating a Drum Circle in 2010 at the Hyat Hotel in Irvine, CA.
Stephen Dolle facilitating a Drum Circle on Wellness in 2010 at the Hyatt Hotel in Irvine, CA.

The company puts on a variety of drumming for wellness workshops, which have become recognized today within integrative medicine in offering substantial health benefits to a range of medical conditions.

Dolle also has several startups under his belt, including, DiaCeph Inc., a startup for his 1997 design of an mHealth app (DiaCeph Test) for hydrocephalus. And from 1982 to 1992, he serviced more than 50 hospitals through his medical imaging company, Certified Nuclear Imaging (CNI).

CNI presented Dolle with the opportunity to work with a vast array of medical instrumentation challenges that would be overwhelming for most technologists. He developed workplace methods and discipline that allowed him to excel in complex technical and medical challenges. The result was that he became more productive in performing procedures, while having extra time for sales and marketing to develop new business. He also became astute in client facility workplace challenges and often advised in human resource and medical instrumentation purchase matters, and wrote papers on these topics. Later, he raised money for and helped organize local sports & entertainment events, that could also be very demanding.

Dolle has been involved in the neurosciences since 1992 with his mHealth technology start-up, DiaCeph Inc., and now with Dolle Communications. He describes workplace wellness as being about optimizing one’s energy and mental focus over a period of hours, days, weeks, and months. It is the few, the exception, he says, who truly master these challenges and successfully balance life and work.

5 Sectors make up workplace wellness
5 Sectors make up workplace wellness

Dolle says the keys to workplace productivity is thru employee engagement and staying involved and entrained in what is happening around you. As you ascend in your work to higher positions, you will need to develop methods that exert more control over brain wave states and productivity.

“Engage the Rhythms of your Brain”

The four levels of brain wave states are shown in this illustration
The four levels of brain wave states are shown in this illustration

Dolle has undertaken research with “brain waves” and brain wave entrainment, and employs these methods in his drum circles and facilitation work.

He describes that we change between alpha and beta brain wave states during our normal day, and that certain tasks and activities are best performed while in a particular brain wave state. Naturally, he says, our brain’s tire and we can become stressed and distracted. The experienced individual learns to transition their brain wave states and cognitive focus to overcome these challenges.

If you’re reading a slow moving book or working on a tedious problem at work, for instance, you’ll want to be in a slower more introspective alpha brain wave state. But, if you are tackling a multi-faceted project, or are working with a team of staff people on a project, you may want a faster more attentive beta brain wave state. And one of the best ways to shape your brain waves is either thru “controlled breath” or “rhythmic movement.” This slide below illustrates some of the mechanisms involved in movement.

Illustration on the proprioceptive mechanisms involved in exercise and movement.
Illustration on the proprioceptive mechanisms involved in exercise and movement.

There are a variety of techniques to help you transition between brain wave states. And group drumming, or drum circles, is one of the best. Drum circles utilize auditory driving and spur mindfulness techniques. Drumming also engages body kinesthetics thru rhythmic movement of instrument play. These movements stimulate the body’s proprioceptive memories, which boost cognition. This is why you perform better at cognitive tasks when tapping out patterns or shaking a foot at your desk. Group drumming also enables team brain wave entrainment, helpful in boosting productivity. Kinesthetics come into play in tai chi and yoga, among others.

This music and the brain illustration depicts the areas of the brain involved in listening and playing music
This music and the brain illustration depicts the areas of the brain involved in listening and playing music

Group brain wave entrainment in drumming allows “entrainment” of the group to a rhythm played over 5-10 minutes. When sustained, members entrain to a common brain wave pattern, and thought intent. Rhythms vary from slow to fast, from primal to contemporary, corresponding to activation of hindbrain vs frontal lobe function. This principle is why you should not listen to contemporary music while meditating, as it will help awaken conscious memories and activate the frontal lobe, which will interfere with breath entrainment with your hindbrain.

Drumming for basbetball workshops aid movement, timing, and on court communications
Drumming for basbetball workshops aid movement, timing, and on court communications

Sports play uses entrainment to for connectedness and success on the field or court. My in-depth basketball blog details the brain science and sports science mechanisms involved in play. Entrainment allows you to anticipate your teammate’s actions.

Another example of entrainment is when women work or live together, when they achieve syncopation of their menstrual cycles. Rioting is yet another example of group entrainment, though based on negative thought and intent. Entrainment occurs in animals too, and is widely seen in pack hunting. Entrainment occurs more often in real life than you might think.

There has been quite a bit of recent research with drumming and brain wave entrainment, which has led to drumming being used more often in stress reduction, cancer therapy, and treatment of chronic illness. Dolle undertook earlier research in sensory processing disorder or SPD, with this 2002 Sensory Processing Study. Two years later, he became involved in drumming.

Dolle spoke on brain wave entrainment and trance states in STEM3 education at Wright State University in 2011. Below is his power point via SlideShare.net.

Dolle believea trance heightened states are in fact a functional cognitive state you can achieve each day, and it is reported to occur in playing music, meditation, religious studies, fasting, and several other disciplines. Trance heightened states is mostly likely what athletes achieve when “in the zone” in sports.

Dolle speculates on the role of trance states in this popular blog, Sports Science vs. the Brain Science of Basketball: Where does the Shot come From?

Trance states could bring amazing new expert proficiencies to a variety of occupations. As an individual employee, your workplace goals in productivity should be in learning to better shift between alpha and beta brain wave states, and maintain optimum engagement so to get the most out of your work day.

Stephen Dolle speaks on drumming for the brain at Wright State University
Stephen Dolle speaks on drumming for the brain at Wright State University


Perhaps some of the most exciting research being done today with rhythm and the brain is at the Gazzaley Lab at the University of California San Francisco, in collaboration with the Grateful Dead’s long time drummer, Mickey Hart.

Rhythm and the Brain Project – A Gazzaley – Hart Collaboration

The Gazzaley Project is described as “Unlocking the power of rhythm to understand and enhance brain function.” Rhythm is a fundamental aspect of the universe at every level, and serves as a critical foundation for life on this planet.

They’ve created a new video of some of their music and brain research in an effort to make it more fun and informative.

Gazzaley Project Video on Drumming

The goal of the project is to advance an understanding of rhythm in higher-order brain function and how we influence brain rhythms through interventions like neuro modulation, rhythm training, video games, and neurofeedback. The ultimate goal of the project it says is to improve cognition and mood in the healthy and impaired, and positively impact quality of our life.

Here is a fun related article about rhythm and the brain.

Your Brain on Rhythm: Where Freud, Nas, the Grateful Dead and Neuroscience Meet

This article on drumming by Dave Robertson lists the top ten (10) reasons why you should play in drum circles. No. 5 is perhaps most identifiable with drumming in the workplace.

Ten Reasons to Drum for Your Health

Drum circle shakers come in all sizes and flavors, such as these fruits and vegetables
Drum circle shakers come in all sizes and flavors, such as these fruits and vegetables

As for new trends in workplace wellness, the article below discusses a list of 12 U.S. companies with impressive workplace wellness programs. The list includes IBM, Aetna, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Virgin, Google, American Express, Johnson & Johnson among others. I am unsure on their standing with drum circles though.

12 Companies With Seriously Impressive Corporate Wellness Programs

To learn more about the use of drum circles in the workplace and tips on employee health and workplace learning, contact Stephen Dolle at Dolle Communications. Feel free to also CLICK and SAVE the JPEG contact card below.

Email: contact[at]dollecommunications[dot]com
Web site: Dolle Communications


The Brain Science of Fan Behavior in Football, Basketball and Team Sports

Seattle Seahawks prepared for Super Bowl.
Seattle Seahawks prepared for Super Bowl.

This is that time of year we football fans go into withdrawal. First it was college football ending its season. Now, we await next Sunday’s Super Bowl with the NFL’s final game. I love it too for its brain science, brain wave entrainment, and the inspiration it provides in our modern lives. Team sports can bring the best and worst out of its fans too. Whether it be your child’s little league team, local high school, or favorite college team, many fans act out an alter-ego of their personality and have been found to dress up in team colors, and even commit acts of violence (usually with the help of alcohol). Where group viewing enhances brain wave entrainment, alcohol depresses cognition. And a natural consequence of decreased cognition is frustration, anger, and sometimes violence. However, most fans are very civil and games like the College Championship Game between Ohio State & Oregon two weeks ago, brings the best out of viewers. This game was a super-charged brain wave entrainment experience, and it broke ESPN’s previous viewership record of two years ago. The sub-stories were inspirational too.

Ohio State football fans go crazy during 2015 Championship game.
Ohio State football fans go crazy during 2015 Championship game.

Next Sunday, we finish up NFL football with the Patriots vs. Seahawks Super Bowl. But it won’t mean as much to me. These two teams, it seems, are playing more for bragging rights than community and love of the game. There’s an emptyness in their rhetoric too, severing our entrainment built up over the season. For me, the brain science I find most enjoyable in team sports is the connections you develop with players and teams. I love the personal stories of overcoming odds, and relate it to my adversity with illness and everyday life. I draw upon that inspiration and use it as teaching tools to help better myself and those around me. Still, I yearn for truth.

The brain and sensory system during cognition.
The brain and sensory system during cognition.

Football is perhaps the best brain science sport because it is so team-concentric and detail oriented with instant replay, and affords considerable brain wave entrainment via television, news, and social networking. The resulting connectedness along with enumerable opportunities for discussion via news and local conversation, heightens the connectedness around a common interest. The connectedness, the repetition, the extraordinary use of statistical information – is very healthy for the brain, especially if you suffer from any form of cognitive disfunction. Though the Super Bowl is still to play, I have already turned my attention to NBA basketball, where I am following the league ambassadors. I was watching LaBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers this week, and was reminded that basketball play, the “it,” is not about basketball. It’s about a group of people coming together in pursuit of a common good, a “Pay it Forward” paradym, for team, family, community, nation, and game. Enjoy your emotional roll-a-coaster as we shift our attention from the ending of football, to basketball, hockey, or whatever fires you up.

Combating Corruption and Gang Violence thru Group Drumming and the Psychology of Human Behavior

Gang Violence leaves bullets riddled thru communities
Gang Violence leaves bullets riddled thru communities

With all the needless suffering, corruption, and gang activity today, I am reminded of the psychology of human group behavior, and the mechanisms of corruption and institutional control that is so pervasive today. They are similar mechanisms to group drumming and team building, except they are 180 degree polar opposites. In drumming, the energy and intent of the participants is based on a positive mindset of giving, and free will. No one is intimidated to follow the group. In fact, it boost your self esteem and resolve.

Crum circles serve as Drumming Solutions for community outreach
Crum circles serve as Drumming Solutions for community outreach

In drumming, the group message, or rhythm, often begins with the core leaders, but not always. It’s a dynamic process that welcomes all to initiate, then it spreads throughout the circle, expanding as far as its magic and influence allows.

In circles of corruption, the spread of influence is similar, except that the core leaders ALWAYS set the agenda and rules. And it is sometimes done in a quid pro quo format of favors in return for others cooperation. The agenda and message spreads based on intimidation and calling out favors from participants, opposite to drumming. And in doing so, the group makes unlawful compromises of their free will. It provides an air of momentary brotherhood, for as long as everyone stays signed on, and one step ahead of authorities. It requires that everyone compromise their morals and ethics in order to participate. There can be outer circles too, where participants support the group project, but may not be directly involved.

Brain health and mental health is the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.
Brain health and mental health is the biggest challenge of the 21st Century.

The behavioral and brain mechanisms at work are usually done FREELY, and also are remarkably similar to we find in a group drum circle. However, the image of corruption and gangs is that they have FREE WILL. When in fact, they don’t.

Drum Circles make for great Children's Activity as young as age 3.
Drum Circles make for great Children’s Activity as young as age 3.

In life, we are drawn to people and things that serve our needs and which we find interesting. The concept of being drawn to things is rooted in brain science and human behavior. We make decisions about which groups and activities we join. In a drum circle, participants freely come together and support a “core” rhythm and message. In corruption and gang activity, participants gather together for protection. Different choices. At numerous points along the way, participants have the opportunity to affect and influence the group activity or rhythm. The same also holds true for sports play like football, baseball, and basketball. But in corruption and gang activities, a misconception lies in the belief that participants do not have FREE WILL, which is not true. The truth is that FREE WILL comes from your mind out of the bigger understanding of life. And it is also contagious! Yes, there are pressures & influences to act a certain way. But if you are at peace with yourself, and confident of your choices, others will follow you.

Santa Ana Mayor Pulido joins us at the Carlos de Rosas Memorial at Artist Village in Santa Ana
Santa Ana Mayor Pulido joins us at the Carlos de Rosas Memorial at Artist Village in Santa Ana

The dynamics of group behavior & free will is that it is based on your mindset and moral framework of life. So, when faced with tough choices, you should know automatically what you’ll do, what you’ll play, and what you’ll say. The problem today is that too many people confuse “speaking up” with expressing yourself. You have to speaker with wisdom and authority, connect with your higher power. These practice actually take many years and trial & error. But you have to brave this course to discover your true voice!

Drum Circle helps this man express himself
Drum Circle helps this man express himself

Now I’ve seen many a drummer in a drum circle use free will to beat a drum so loudly and out of sync, it destroys the group rhythm. They expressed themselves. But did they “listen?” When unsure, ask, look around, watch others, then act. And never forget the most powerful voice you have is your FREE WILL.

Your actions actually originate from thoughts, or “thought intent,” first. In gymnastics, we used to say the trick happens in your mind before you ever do it. This same principle of thought intent is true for everything you do everyday of your life. You think, then act. Success comes when you learn to think, listen to the right inner voice. And then act on it. The more you apply this methodology, especially the listening part. The more success you’ll have.

Drum circles aid teens thru outreach activities
Drum circles aid teens thru outreach activities

In my drumming and drum circle facilitation, as Jack Black did in the movie, “School of Rock,” always watch your student’s eyes. This is the window to their soul, and watching the eyes will tell you if and how you’re connecting. The same holds true during the formative stages of corruption. But, if you are at peace with yourself, you will stand you’re ground and act bravely to protect yourself.

Music and drum circles keeps youth in school and out of trouble
Music and drum circles keeps youth in school and out of trouble

I’d like to share a message I often shared with my son when he was in high school during the 1990s, as for drinking and driving after there had been several horrible auto accidents with teen age drivers:

“Never get in an automobile if you’re not comfortable with the driver. If things go bad, all it takes is one member of a group to speak up in the right way and bring clarity at a time when the group is stirred into a wild & crazy hysteria. It only takes one to change the energy, the rhythm, or one’s awareness within a group. When that time comes, trust your instincts. Don’t be afraid to speak up.”

My son was later voted most changed in high school and accepted a baseball scholarship to Pepperdine University. I often spoke to him on lessons in life thru psychology. In high school, I’m told he regularly received calls from friends facing difficult. I suspect he shared some of the intervention methods that I had shared with him.

Never stop being of sound mind. Always pay attention. Be aware. Call upon your higher self. Such principles are at the core of shamanism and most mind/body & religious practices today.

For more on my work, contact http://www.DolleCommunications.com


Treating Ebola is a lot like Playing in a Drum Circle

Team members awaiting instruction in the Ebola care setting
Team members awaiting instruction in the Ebola care setting

Having spent 17 years in nuclear medicine in various medical settings, including, in some of the earliest testing for AIDS, I see remarkable similarities in what medical personnel face in Ebola care, and what drummers must contend with in the group play of a drum circle.

To outsiders, a drum circle may appear more like a bunch of wanna be hippies banging on drums & such around a make shift venue. But to seasoned percussionists and drum circle facilitators such as myself, I view it as much much more. In fact, the group dynamics and adapting to changing conditions in an Ebola care setting, is what makes group play in a drum circle so special.

In group drumming, the team concept in play is of the utmost importance. Each drummer or participant learns to trust in their fellow drummers to play their part that leads to the entire group sound & effectiveness. Each drummer, just as in medical personnel in Ebola care, bring their own expertise to the group setting. But, it is the interpersonal dynamics, communication, and discipline in the art that gives both the drum circle and Ebola care setting its exceptional qualities. Both also rely on a high degree of improvisation to adapt to rapidly changing variables. Communications in these setting are of the utmost importance. Each setting calls for heightened intuitive and interpersonal skills. And it is in these regards that Ebola care and group drumming have so much in common.

Group drumming owes much of its early development to the practice of “shamanism,” and similar mind-body healing arts which have been reported under anthropology. These modalities also form some of the earliest practices in modern medicine. And so it is today, that we find these practices continuing to intertwine as we contend with the complex dynamics in the Ebola care setting, and in trusting oneself and others around you. And in many cases, the biggest obstacle is in interpersonal dynamics.

Facilitating Women's Evening at Chabad Temple
Facilitating Women’s Evening at Chabad Temple

I’ve been in hundreds of different drum circle and medical settings, and I can share that more than any other factor what leads to success, is the willingness of participants to set aside egos, trust in their fellow team members, and work for the good of the whole. Without this trust and willingness to stay in the “now”, mis-steps will most definately occur, and can dramatically effect the group outcome.

In my nuclear medicine work, I routinely worked with radioactive materials and infectious diseases, where protocol was critical, but you adapted to ever-changing conditions. As a result, I was inter-dependent upon my co-workers to make the appropriate decisions at key times in support of my efforts. And this is exactly what happens in a drum circle. The drummer participants are continually listening to and observing the moves of their fellow participants, and adjusting their play to what they see and hear from others in the group. The better you listen, the better the group play. There are over 150 different pieces of world percussion that are played in drum circles. And each participant will have varying exerience with these instruments, much as different medical personnel have in an Ebola care setting.

Because of the group dynamics in group drumming or drum circles, drumming workshops can be well adapted to a wide array of settings, including, team sports like football & basketball, military & police training, high risk operations like oil drilling, and many different business and technical settings.

Contact me at http://www.DolleCommunications.com to learn more.

Stephen Dolle
Drum Circle Facilitator

Drumming Raises the Benefits of Zumba Classes

I put on a drum circle in conjunction with a Zumba class last Saturday in Los Angeles, and it was a hit.

Drumming is a great fit with Zumba because it also allows for creativity, initiative, and leadership. In addition, drumming is great for seniors, and Saturday’s drumming proved to be a fitness and confidence booster for all.

I have been facilitating drum circles for about 8 years now, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s the importance of understanding the specific “needs” of your group. Once you do, you can introduce exercises to touch on these needs and strengthen their role with the group.

My drum circle group last Saturday responded well to team play, to call and response exercises, and to solo play that I rotated during the program. When combined with Zumba and similar fitness activities, drumming affords a unique trust, leadership, and confidence building experience that is hard to match.

I hope to have my new OrangeCountyDrumCircle.org site up and running soon. For now, my http://www.DolleCommunications.com site remains the primary web site for drumming.

Please contact me for any special needs or rate quotes.