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Drumming as meditation

Michael McDaniel, a Butte resident who teaches a drum-guided meditation class, is pictured with some of his drumming equipment outside The Yoga Center in the Phoenix Building in Uptown Butte.

One could say that music has been a way of life for Butte resident Michael McDaniel.

Originally from Virginia, McDaniel grew up surrounded by music.

In his neighborhood just about every block had a garage band, McDaniel said, and his grandfather was a drummer in the church ensemble. McDaniel himself took up drumming as an 8-year-old and went on to play in a number of bands over the years.

When McDaniel moved to Butte 16 years ago, he started to feel a nagging sensation.

McDaniel says he struggled with anxiety and depression, but music has always been something to lift him up.

Today McDaniel is helping others work through negative emotions through a drum-guided meditation class he teaches every other week at The Yoga Center in the Phoenix Building.

At first McDaniel wanted to teach drumming lessons, he says, but slowly over time the class evolved into drum-guided meditation.

“When I first started doing this it was called ‘Drumming through Depression,’ … (because) I always knew that drumming made me feel better,” McDaniel said.

“But now it’s pretty much drumming with intention,” he added, noting that he tries to encourage his students to make room for positive change in their lives.

As a musician, McDaniel has played both drum sets and hand drums and has studied West African rhythms. In West African cultures, he said, drumming has traditionally been used for a higher purpose and is more than just beats for entertainment.

“These rhythms that I’m playing are not just made up, they’ve been around for a long time. I recognize and study the meaning of them and apply that to the guided-meditation class,” said McDaniel.

A typical McDaniel class functions similar to a drum circle, incorporating student participation.

McDaniel opens the class with what he calls a grounding rhythm — “shaking off the residue, shaking off the day,” he said — to encourage deep breathing and usher in feelings of calm.

Next, McDaniel uses the West African Kuku rhythm, which was traditionally performed by women returning from fishing, to perform what he calls “gathering medicine.” McDaniel said he uses this rhythm to encourage students to gather, to fish, for positive changes in their lives. That song is followed up with another West African rhythm called Fanga to welcome the new change.

Other elements of the class include visualization, affirmations and more.

An Army veteran, McDaniel also incorporates Morse code phrases into the class.

Like other forms of meditation, McDaniel said drumming helps students stay focused on the present moment instead of letting negative, self-defeating thoughts enter the mind.

“It’s like planting a seed,” said McDaniel reflecting on the notions of affirmation and doubt. “If you’re a farmer and if you plant seeds, you don’t dig them up everyday and say ‘oh shoot, I thought you’d be growing there by now.’ (Instead,) you plant them there with faith and with confidence that it’s going to grow.”

For more info on drumming meditation classes, visit The Yoga Center's Facebook page at

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Business Reporter

Business Reporter for The Montana Standard.

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