If you’ve ever played in a drum circle, you might remember that, deep into the groove, you realized your heart was pumping, sweat was building, and adrenaline was ﬂowing. You were getting a workout—yet you were having a great time, hardly aware of the exercise until it was all over and you were puffing and patting a damp brow.
If that has happened to you, it will come as no surprise to learn that drumming is making its way into the world of physical ﬁtness. It’s a good match. For one, drumming provides an excellent foundation for a ﬁtness program rooted in dance and movement. Plus, the physical, social, and psychological benefits of drumming persuade those who wouldn’t normally join a health club to get stuck in, and convince others who are dissatisfied with regular ﬁtness programs to stick to their regimen.
FitRhythms is the brainchild of Paulo Mattioli, a California-based percussionist, educator, and instrument designer who has played with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, Sting, and Lenny Kravitz. Mattioli is quick to point out that FitRhythms is designed to appeal to a wide audience, not just aerobics fanatics or serious drummers. “You don’t have to be a great dancer or drummer to enjoy FitRhythms,” says Mattioli. “There are no wrong steps or wrong beats!”
“This program combines two of my great passions in life,” he continues. “Drumming and ﬁtness. Aside from being a professional drummer, I practice cardio boxing, yoga, and weight training.”
Mattioli says that even though health clubs are established in America, there is still a need for a non-intimidating ﬁtness protocol to entice people who aren’t satisfied with exercise programs, such as Pilates or kick boxing, currently in vogue. “The dropout rate is high for health clubs. Fifteen percent of the population will join a health club at some point, but 50% leave after six months,” Mattioli observes.
One reason someone might drop out of a health club or ﬁtness program is they feel intimidated by the atmosphere or even the instructor. Other reasons may be boredom with the routine, lack of enjoyment, or a feeling of isolation even within a group program. What may be needed is a way to combine a physical workout with an activity that promotes camaraderie and communication and that is versatile enough to offer a unique experience every time you go. That’s FitRhythms.
Ordinarily, participants in a ﬁtness program will be asked to grab a mat, or pick up a rope or dumbbell. At the beginning of a FitRhythms program, Mattioli instructs participants to choose an instrument, one of the Remo World Percussion line of frame drums, wood blocks, agogo bells, shakers, and paddle drums. “We then do a 10 minute warm-up, to prepare the body for exercise,” says Mattioli.
The aerobic movement that follows is not choreographed; rather, it is self-paced, facilitated rhythm and movement expression. Participants are gently guided through activities that encourage individual creativity and interaction, such as circle dancing and partnering. Mattioli stresses that it is not a competition and that each person is free to create rhythms and movements based upon their own level of ﬁtness and inspiration. “For success all that is required is a willingness to participate and share your spirit in the circle in a way that supports the experience for all,” he says. “The interactive nature of the program fosters a supportive group environment that is both inspirational and exciting.” Individual rhythms and dances grow out of a “mother rhythm.” The mother rhythm is a solid beat Mattioli plays over speakers, forming the foundation for the group’s drumming and dance improvisation.
The groove and the movement provide a healthy workout. In fact, judged by heart rate and the subjective measurement of perceived exertion, the workout is so intense, that one of Mattioli’s roles as facilitator, aside from providing a safe space for creative expression, is to have participants check and moderate their own rate of exertion. “I want participants to keep from overdoing it, and to have as much fun as possible while still getting fit.”
Another advantage of FitRhythms, says Mattioli, is that the workout is driven by the participation of every member of the group. “Everyone gets to participate and everyone gets the benefits, both of drumming and aerobic movement,” he says. “Each individual is valued because each contributes to the groove and is acknowledged.” Mattioli says to make people aware of how important they are to the group, he invites them to play different instruments throughout the session, “so they can see and hear how what they play changes the value of their participation.”
The rewards of active participation lead to other benefits. One of these is a social benefit. Because of the communicative power of drums, relationships are quickly forged among members of the group—friends are made, as well as promises to “see you next week!” “The relationship building aspect of this program works just like a community drum circle,” explains Mattioli. “Forming relationships with other group members keeps people coming back and helps them reach their ﬁtness goals.”
The social interaction also takes participants’ minds off the fact that they are working hard to get fit. For Mattioli, the more one enjoys a workout the more likely he or she is to keep at it. “A great physical ﬁtness program has to be enjoyable,” he says, “something that the participant looks forward to, and that becomes part of a person’s lifestyle. It can’t feel too much like a chore.”
Ultimately, the success of combining ﬁtness and drumming can be seen, and heard, at the end of a session. That’s when participants, through the laughter and the panting, express a sense of satisfaction and a burst of self-esteem. Says Mattioli, “Inevitably participants say, ‘Wow! I didn’t think I could do that. I didn’t think I had rhythm!’”