Sunday, March 29, 2009

5 Ways to Create A Deeper Connection with Your Music : Part 2

Photo by Kaylyn Oshaben

5 Ways to Create A Deeper Connection with Your Music : Part 2
by Jim Donovan

View Part 1 of this series. It contains Steps 1 and 2...

3rd step: Integrating your breath into your phrases. Learning how to integrate your inhalation and exhalations with your musical phrases.

This process involves lining up your exhalations with the downbeat. Simply breathe in a little before the beginning of the first phrase and exhale at the very beginning of the next phrase on the downbeat (also known as beat "one"). It's not necessary to do this on every phrase, but the key is to get into the habit of connecting your breath as you play as often as possible without hyperventilating. This kind of process not only keeps you relaxed, but it significantly helps you to remain focused and in the moment.

4th step: Aligning your intention with the music you are creating.

Here are a couple of ways to approach this:

1st way: If you are playing a piece of music with lyrics, and you know the meaning of those lyrics, you can hold in your mind the message or idea that the particular song is trying to convey. Bring this idea into your mind every so often as the song progresses. In this process you are aligning your own personal energy with that of the music.

2nd way: If you are not aware of the meaning in the lyrics of a particular song, or if it is an instrumental piece, it is still possible to inject intention into the music.  You can decide to hold a specific emotion or idea inside of yourself as you play.  For example; you can hold the intention of being an instrument of peace and imagine that every note you play resonates with that idea and actually helps to push that idea out into the world.

This step underlines something vital about the responsibility of a musician. Knowing that your instrument serves as an amplifier for the intentions and emotions you hold as you play.

To utilize the gift of music to it's fullest potential, it's important to take a few moments before you play to clear your mind, center yourself and reflect on your intention.  Remember your reason for playing in the first place.  Use whichever techniques you enjoy; stretching, yoga, deep breathing, going for a quick walk, meditation, etc.

Stay tuned for Part 3 coming soon...

Friday, March 27, 2009

5 Ways to Create A Deeper Connection with Your Music : Part 1

Creating a Deeper Connection to the Music You Play
by Jim Donovan

When learning to play the drums (many years ago..) I remember thinking that when I could "execute" and play a piece of music perfectly that I was "finished' with it. I thought that just executing a performance well was all there was to making music. After years of performance and watching the way an audience reacts to music I discovered that ''good execution" is only the beginning.

It was this realization that led me to figure out a way to share these ideas with people regardless of their musical ability so that they too could find ways to make their musical experiences more meaningful. What follows is part 1 in a series of a process that I use to connect with the music I play. I'll post all of the steps in future articles.

1st step: Learn the mechanics. Practice the actual physical movements on the instrument involved in the music you want to play. Continue to work on this until all of your motion is as effortless and relaxed as possible. Relaxation will allow for maximum endurance when playing something that requires a great deal of power or speed.

For example, If you sing while drumming, learn how the words fall in line with the coordination of your hands. This process is all about building muscle memory.

2nd step: Integrating your physical body into the pattern. Many times when we are making movements with our hands, all the motion and a majority of the energy ends up coming from our brains into our hands. This brain-hand coordination is only part of physically integrating a pattern.

The next part of this step is to allowing the rest of your body to participate in the pattern or phrases. Stevie Wonder is good example of someone who does this. Think about how he plays his piano. His whole upper body is moving with the rhythm of the music almost like a dance. If you were to see his feet, they would be moving around as well. His whole body is moving within the patterns he is creating.

A simple way to practice this idea is to allow your upper torso to sway back and forth ever so slightly in time with your pattern. The goal of this step is to really feel whatever your playing throughout your entire physical body. Eventually your motions will become very fluid and these motions will help to direct your musicality. This second step will help you to internalize the music and make it a part of you. Make these motions feel as natural as possible.

Stay tuned for part 2 next time...

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

How to Breathe Consciously : 3 Easy Steps

How to Breathe Consciously
3 Easy Steps
by Jim Donovan

Imagine a pouring water through funnel. Now imagine pouring water through a wide open pipe. The smaller the opening, the longer it takes for the water to reach it's destination.

These visual metaphors describe the relationship between breathing, creativity and openness. The water represents energy and information. The funnel represents restricted breath, and the wide open pipe represents a person who is consciously breathing and relaxed. The more relaxed you become, the more you are able to open yourself to your vitality and creative inspiration.

Try this:
Take the next 30 seconds and dedicate them to yourself.

1. As you read these words, take a slow deep breath into the lowest parts of your lungs so that your belly expands completely. (Just like Santa Claus!). Once your belly is full of air, fill the top of your lungs so that you are completely filled with air.

2. Now exhale slowly and completely. Be sure to push all of the excess air out of your lungs until there is nothing left in there.

3. Now slowly do the same process again. Inhaling into the belly...slowly exhaling.

Notice how different you are feeling even after 2 conscious breaths....
Perhaps you'd like to keep breathing this way for longer than 30 seconds? Feel free!

This breathing style is called a deep abdominal breath. You can use it anytime you have encountered something that has closed you such as fear or stress.
Anytime you have become closed, for whatever reason, it is your job to find a way to reopen yourself. Breath is your ally.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Temptation and Breaking Patterns

Temptation and Breaking Patterns
by Jim Donovan

Temptation is another roadblock to evolution that comes in a million different forms. We can be tempted to overindulge, to wallow in guilt or self-pity, to gamble, or to complain, and it's such a powerful force because it ties in directly with our patterns. When we are actively trying to change a pattern within ourselves, temptation often holds a strong charge until we have been able to successfully transform the pattern in question.

When you are tempted by something, what do you do?

With something that's tempting you, try this simple approach to help you overcome giving in. When you are in the midst of, or in the fire of being tempted, tell yourself, "I'm just going to wait 10 minutes. I'm going to give myself ten minutes and see if I still feel the same way then."

During those 10 minutes, occupy your attention with something completely unrelated. Change your environment, read something inspirational, exercise, or turn on some music
. Just by giving yourself a little extra breathing room, you will often be able to resist giving in. Each time you are able to resist, you give yourself a small victory which helps to build your confidence. Eventually, after resisting the temptation repeatedly, you will break the old pattern and create a newer healthier one.

Give yourself the space to make mistakes. If you fall, get back up and spend your energy on maintaining self-discipline instead of spending it on beating yourself up. Feeling sorry for yourself is a waste of your precious energy, and it keeps you from moving forward and from experiencing growth.

Remember that balance and moderation are the keys to creating sustainable patterns.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Ecstatic Desert Music : Tinariwen

This is a clip from a documentary about the Malian group "Tinariwen". They're music is some of the purest groove I've ever had the pleasure of listening to. They use the djembe in a very unique way...simple yet powerful.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Power of Intention

The Power of Intention
by Jim Donovan

The power of intention is an important ally in learning to direct your energy. Intention means consciously deciding to bring about a specific circumstance. For example, you can hold an intention of creating a peaceful environment around you. In the process of creating this environment, you first have the thought, then as you hold the thought, you take action. Thought without action only moves energy in small ways. Thought coupled with action allows you to manifest. The thought of the desired circumstance followed by action, is intention- which ultimately progresses towards manifestation.

As important as it is to understand your core beliefs, it's equally important to understand your intentions behind why you choose to act in a particular way. It's kind of like seeing the flower but also knowing where the root is and what causes it to grow.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Ecstatic Sufi Music

With all of the generally negative political news coming out of places like Pakistan, I thought it would be good be reminded of some it's the beauty for a change.

This video is one of my all time favorite Pakastani artists named Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The music he played is known as Qawwali, which is a genre of ecstatic devotional music of the Sufis.

Qawwali is a exciting musical tradition that is well over 700 years old. Originally Qawwali was performed mainly at Sufi shrines throughout what is now India and Pakistan, it has also gained popularity throughout the world via the music of artists like Khan.

Often listeners, and even Qawwali musicians themselves, are transported to a trance-like state called “wajad” where they feel at one with the divine. This state is generally considered to be the height of spiritual ecstasy in Sufism, which is the main goal of the practice.

Common lyrical themes in qawwali are love, devotion and longing (of man for the Divine).

Friday, March 13, 2009

Allow me to introduce "Drum the Ecstatic"

Allow me introduce "Drum the Ecstatic" by Jim Donovan

If you like to dance, have fun and listening to intense African infused drumming music. Check out my band "Drum the Ecstatic". We do an exciting combination of West and Central African music as well as many fun covers from Fela Kuti to Bob Marley to Rusted Root. I love playing with these guys, because every night we do something different and they challenge me to become a better musician.

Playing the group are mainstays such as Congolese music master Elie Kihonia on vocals, keys and drums, PJ Roduta & Bryan Fazio on congas and percussion, Brandon King on keys and percussion and myself on drum set & vocals. We often have good friends like Mike Deaton, Harry Pepper, Etse Nyadedzor, Sogbety Diomande, Bill Burke, Paul Berkobin, Bob Corson, Brian Bromka, Stephanie Smith, Moe Jerant, Jim DiSpirito and many others sitting in with us.

The cast of musicians is constantly changing which keeps it fun for us. Most times we play with no set list and just call out songs as they come up. We've been known to play shows where an hour of it are pieces we know, while other pieces we just make up on the spot. We've even been known to play an hour of disco & R&B covers if the mood strikes....

Mostly Drum the Ecstatic is all about just playing good music and enjoying each other.

If you have the urge to get your drum on, join us for our next concert on March 21 in Beaver, PA. Here are the details...

You can also check our schedule for all future dates here...

Watch Lady : Jim Donovan's Drum the Ecstatic International | View More Free Videos Online at

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Rhythm and Drumming Together

Ngoma drum photo by Kaylyn Oshaben

Rhythm exists at the core of everything. Like a note struck on a piano, our bodies and everything around us is constantly vibrating at a specific frequency. At our core, we are both rhythm and music.

Our brainwaves pulse at a specific tempo during certain times of the day. Our heart beats, and we have the ability to speak. Spoken language depends on rhythm to exist. All notions of "I have no rhythm" are a manifestations of fear.

My responsibility as a workshop facilitator is to help create an environment where people can move past this fear and replace it with a positive experience that inspires empowerment. The group drumming experience is the great equalizer. It breaks through man-made barriers such as race, creed, sex, age, beliefs, and socio-economic status. The more people begin to experience drumming and the phenomenal power it has to heal, and bring joy, the more they want it.

Learn more about how to drum here...

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Failure is Completely Necessary for Growth

Jim Donovan drumming with Carlos Santana 1997, you can see my stressed out face over Carlos' shoulder on the drum kit...
Some of you may have heard that story.. If not I'll tell you sometime...


Failure is completely necessary for growth. Not wanting to try new things is often related to fear of failure. If you are unwilling to fail, you are unwilling to progress- to grow past your current path. Failure hurts. It hurts at a profound level at your deepest core, and when it hurts you that deeply, it means that you are experiencing something in a full way- in a way that's real and not peripheral.

For example; when you are fully in love with someone you may feel an all encompassing, even overwhelming, emotion. Feeling like this on even just one occasion, you crave it- the fullness of it, the warmth and joy of it. It makes you feel *alive*. In a similar way, when you fail, even though it is painful experience, if you can consider the failure as a necessary step in growth, the failure can also bring us a fuller feeling of aliveness and eventual growth.

You can free yourself from the fear of failure if you understand that it is vital for your growth. The tricky part, is that experiencing a failure can be painful- and it can cause you to go to great lengths to make sure that the "failure" never happens again. On the other hand, you could also get inspired to overcome the challenge that the failure presents.

Anytime you allow yourself to experience emotion to its fullest extent, you feel truly alive. It's the expression of emotion that is the key to our power.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Evolution and Progression

Photo of Summer Rhythm Renewal : Congolese Dance Workshop

Evolution and Progression by Jim Donovan

The process of uncovering layers of accumulated learned behaviors and finding our true self IS evolution.  We sometimes get tricked into believing that in order to evolve, we need to become someone different than who we really are.  Evolution isn't about reaching outside ourselves, it's about moving inward and evolving through the process of de-layering- of removing bad habits and old patterns that no longer serve us or our higher good. That's how we are able to progress, transform, and ultimately evolve.   

As we move along our own paths- as we evolve, our progression affects everyone around us because these people have no choice but to witness our transformation. By consistently modeling progressive minded behavior, family, friends, and acquaintances will be affected by our actions and our ways of being. For example- when you spend time with people, it's easy to assimilate another's energies.  We can take on a persons mannerisms, their way of speaking, and if we resonate strongly with their ideas, we often assimilate those as well- eventually making those ideas our own.

The process of personal evolution is work.  It's your work.  As you face life's challenges along the path to transformation, stop and think about your last day on this planet. Think about what would be most important to you in your last hours as you reflect on the life you've lived. In times of frustration, try to take yourself to that place - the things you hold most important at the end of it all.  What things created joy in your heart? What things would you regret? Who did you lift up?

The purpose of this reflection is to remind you that you are responsible for giving yourself perspective. You are in charge of making sure that you are living the live that YOU want. We can encourage others, and we ourselves can be inspired over and over again.  But as inspiration fades, we still need to stay strong and continue to move forward.

In your heart, if you feel that there are changes to be made, that there are things to be let go of, that there are parts of you to still be transformed, now is the time to do that. Now is the time.

And now is only the beginning...

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Play a monster drum kit right at your computer

Just what you need, another place to waste 10 minutes..
Well, what are you waiting for?
Go play..

Thursday, March 5, 2009


From Rhythm :: Ecstasy :: Evolution

Drumming has been used for centuries by the world's indigenous peoples, who have always drummed in ceremony at weddings, births, deaths, harvests, and rites of passage. In recent years, major articles describing the healing effects of this ancient practice have appeared in newspapers and magazines such as the New York Times, The Yoga Journal and Newsweek.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Tips on Djembe Technique

This video clip from the Rhythmic Foundation : Interactive African Drumming for Everyone DVD gives you tips on how to start playing your djembe. In it, Jim covers how to sit, how and where to strike the drum so that you make good sound and how to keep your hands healthy.

Good technique is important and allows you to do a few things:

1. It keeps your hands from getting hurt.
2. It helps you learn to differentiate your tones so that you can begin to learn the language of the drum.
3. It gives you "efficiency of motion" so that you end up using as little energy as possible, thereby making it easier for you to play and learn.

As with anything worth doing, give yourself time with your drum and repeat the exercises often to make better gains in your playing. You'll get back whatever you put into it. Most importantly, infuse your approach to practice with the attitude of joy...

Now go grab your drum!