J Cardiovasc Med. 2014 Jun;15(6):441-6.

African drumming: a holistic approach to reducing stress and improving health?


Smith C1, Viljoen JT, McGeachie L.
  • 1Department of Physiological Sciences, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa.



AIMS: Very little data are available on the physical requirements for drumming and the potential health benefits of particularly djembe drumming. We hypothesized that djembe drumming constitutes low-to-moderate intensity exercise, and that drumming would simultaneously reduce stress and anxiety levels and benefit cardiovascular health.

METHODS: Two study populations, middle-aged experienced drummers and a younger novice group participated in 40-min djembe drumming sessions. Measurements of blood pressure, blood lactate and stress and anxiety levels were taken before and after sessions. Also, heart rate was monitored at 5-s intervals throughout each session.

RESULTS: Participation in drumming significantly decreased the Stress Anxiety Index scores acutely, both in a middle-aged (P < 0.01) and younger population (P < 0.001). SBP was significantly decreased in the older population postdrumming (141 ± 24 vs. 153 ± 26  mmHg; P < 0.01). Blood lactate levels remained below 4  mmol/l in all individuals and together with heart rate suggest that drumming may be categorized as low-to-moderate intensity exercise.

CONCLUSION: Djembe drumming may improve cardiovascular health, without the cardiovascular risks to unhealthy or older populations that are associated with higher intensity exercise, and at the same time may decrease stress and anxiety levels. Furthermore, participation in drumming did not result in acute hypotension in normotensive individuals.

PMID: 24983262



With today’s busy life, there is a huge increase in not only stress levels due to high demands in the workplace, but also general anxiety. Even school children fall victim to anxiety- and stress-related diseases, testifying to the importance of addressing this “pandemic” as a matter of urgency. We have recently reported that even university students have high incidence of metabolic syndrome – a chronic disease previously only associated with older populations subjected to stressful and/or unhealthy lifestyles (Smith and Essop, 2009). Also, given the pace of modern life, many people simply can’t find the time to exercise. Thus, an exercise regime that can address whole body health by incorporating relaxation and anxiolytic activity with physical exertion, is probably the best way to prevent these chronic illnesses in today’s busy, sedentary, anxious, unhealthy population. We believed that African drumming might be the answer.


Figure 1

The djembe is one of the most popular and widely used of African drums. It is goblet-shaped and traditionally carved from a single piece of African hardwood, with the drumhead covered with animal skin. To play the drum, it is pinched between the knees so that the bottom is slanted and raised from the floor on one end, while resting on the other (Figure 1). (This posture in particular is quite good for improving core muscle strength!)

Generally, a session of djembe lasts between 30-45 minutes. Similar to exercise, one would start with a slow “warm-up” or introduction, followed by the “body” and then a “wind-down” portion. The drum is hit with the fingers only, while holding the hands flat (Figure 2).

Our results have shown that a session of djembe drumming represents similar exercise effort as a brisk walk – although arguably more enjoyable! Perhaps because of this, we have found that it decreased blood pressure in individuals who started playing with somewhat higher than normal blood pressure. It did not lower blood pressure in patients who started with normal blood pressure, so there is no risk that it would decrease blood pressure too low. Because of this great beneficial effect on blood pressure, as well as the fact that the exercise effort was only mildly intense, provides proof that djembe drumming should be safe exercise for individuals with heart problems and/or high blood pressure. Also, a great novel finding was that it decreased the self-reported level of stress in individuals. Self-reported stress, or perceived stress, has been shown to be very similar to more comprehensive assessments of stress via blood tests etc., so this indicates that individuals were indeed less stressed after playing the drum.

Any therapy or modality aimed at increasing health, should not only aim to improve overall physical and mental health and quality of life, but must also be all-encompassing, so as not to add to the already busy schedule of the modern individual, and to improve the compliance of participants in these modalities. Drumming participation seems to be the ideal solution – capable of improving both mental and physical health simultaneously, safely.


Figure 2



Smith C, Essop MF. Gender differences in metabolic risk factor prevalence in a South African student population. Cadiovascular Journal of Africa 20(3):178-182, 2009.


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