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  • Writer's pictureErik Dunton

Reflections of Building Relationships Through HealthRHYTHMS® - TABS 2014 Conference

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of facilitating a HealthRHYTHMS® Group Drumming Empowerment event for the The Tennessee Adult Brothers and Sisters 2014 Conference. The following is an article describing this event. I hope you enjoy this article at least half as much as I enjoyed facilitating the event.


Erik Dunton

Motivational Drummer

REMO Endorsed HealthRHYTHMS Facilitator®

The Tennessee Adult Brothers and Sisters (TABS) ( held their sixth annual conference on Friday, April 4th and Saturday, April 5th, 2014. TABS 2014 Conference was designed to support, educate, and empower adults who have a sibling with a disability. Held at Holiday Inn Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tennessee, this years theme was “Relationships”.

On Saturday, Erik Dunton of Positive RePercussions facilitated “Building Relationships Through HealthRHYTHMS®”. This evidence-based, therapeutic group empowerment program focused on strengthening the relationships between the participants and their siblings.

After introducing the program and getting everyone comfortably seated in a circle, Dunton, a REMO Endorsed HealthRHYTHMS® Facilitator, began with an activity that involved small “egg-shaped” shakers. This activity, designed to break the ice, create bonds between the participants, and teach the participants a little bit about themselves, ended in laughter. Dunton then encouraged the group to join him in a few deep breaths to help everyone relax and focus.

Following the HealthRHYTHMS® evidence-based protocol, the focus turned to playing the brightly colored hand drums provided by Positive RePercussions. These hand drums included: African styled djembes of various sizes, conga-like drums produced by Remo called tubanos, a large 22” “Gathering” drum with a wild jungle-like pattern, and many other Remo drums including tom-toms, bongos, and a special drum that sounded like the surf at the beach called an ocean drum.

After encouraging the participants to select a drum that they wished to play, Dunton provided a "20 second" drum lesson demonstrating how to hit the drum to produce various sounds and how not to hurt their hands. Then while creating a steady low-toned pulse, Dunton invited everyone to join in. Then, to further encourage the participants to play the drums, Dunton invited everyone to “make up their own” rhythms by just playing whatever they felt comfortable playing. Soon the room became filled with a wonderful and gentle rhythm which went on for what must have been 10-15 minutes, yet the time seemed to pass too quickly.

Then as everyone was playing and smiling and laughing, the facilitator encouraged the group to go back to the steady low-toned pulse and then to bring the volume down, creating a soft, supporting atmosphere. Then everyone, in turn, was invited to introduce themselves and to play a little rhythm while the whole group supported them with the soft low-toned pulse.

Even though no one in the group had ever played a hand drum before, everyone was able to play a wonderful, uniquely individual rhythm while the rest of the group welcomed and continued to support them. After everyone had the opportunity to express themselves with their personal improvised rhythm, everyone was invited to adjust their sitting-posture, shake out their hands, to help with blood circulation, and take a few more deep breaths, to help everyone relax and to focus.

Getting to the heart of this years TABS theme, “Relationships”, the facilitator then encouraged the participant, in turn, to play a rhythm in honor of his or her sibling with a disability. The room then shifted to a emotionally nurturing atmosphere as each individual spoke the name of his or her sibling and played a unique rhythm on their drum. As each person spoke his or her sibling's name and played the rhythm, you could feel the emotions and the special bond between them and their sibling. This was a truly an extraordinary experience for both the participants and the facilitator.

Then, the group was encouraged to go even emotionally deeper. To encourage the participants to build a stronger relationship with their siblings, the facilitator selected a few volunteers to play some very soft percussion instruments, including a rain stick, a thunder tube, a single note chime, and the earlier mentioned ocean drum. As the players played these instruments, creating soothing and relaxing ambient music, the facilitator invited everyone to close their eyes, to breath deeply, and to relax. As the soothing music continued to play, the facilitator encouraged everyone to think about their sibling and to reflect on the wonderful things that made them unique and to only focus on the things that made them feel comfortable, safe, content, calm, and relaxed. This continued for what seemed to be a timeless moment as the facilitator spoke softly and encouraged the participants to relax, reflect, and breathe deeply and slowly. Then encouraging everyone to slowly open their eyes and to take few slow deep breaths, the facilitator then initiated an incredibly emotional climax. On the last breath, the facilitator encouraged every to whisper the name of their sibling that they had been focusing on. As this happened the atmosphere of the circle became emotionally and spiritually charged. It felt like, even for the briefest moment, the heavens had opened.

As the session came to a close, the facilitator encouraged the participants to take the renewed emotions for their sibling with them and use it to build a even stronger relationship.

It was obvious from the feedback that everyone would have loved to linger and for this session to continue, but the room needed to get ready for their next “Relationship” presentation.

HealthRHYTHMS® is an evidence-based Recreational Music-Making (RMM) program that leverages the benefits of group drumming as a life-enhancement and empowerment tool.

HealthRHYTHMS® programs provided by Positive RePercussions are designed serve as an catalyst for change that combines proven health-promoting strategies, including self-expression, group-support, nurturing, exercise, stress reduction, and, of course, music making. For more information on Positive RePercussions’ HealthRHYTHMS® programs please visit:

Erik Dunton

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