Air drumming: not just for the birds


By Paul Roberts

Special to The PREVIEW

Join musician and music therapist Paul Roberts for a free-hand drumming class at the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse on Tuesday, Jan. 30, at noon. The class offers a welcoming environment that encourages fun, creativity, playfulness and connecting with others. Air drumming is a way of playing a drum in the imagination. When drumming is mimed, played with only gesture, expression and movement, we’re free to explore limitless possibilities for a drum’s dimensions, how its shape can transform and many ways it can be played. Although it seems to be a purely expressive, soundless form of percussion that takes place solely in the mind’s eye, one wonders what may be occurring on a physical level when a group of people are stirring up air waves. Perhaps we don’t hear these waves because we only hear sound waves with frequencies between about 20 Hz and 20 kHz. Animals have different hearing ranges from ours, so it would be interesting to try to determine how they experience air drumming. Some would say drumming is for the birds. Woodpeckers, who drum on trees and houses, would agree. So would palm cockatoos, great drummers who perform with drumsticks they make themselves. The male ruffed grouse is a percussionist who takes drumming to a whole new level. Standing on a resonant, fallen log, the grouse thumps the air with his wings. Air rushes to fill the vacuum created under his wings when they are rapidly flapped in front of his body, creating a reverberating drum roll. This happens because the wings reach the same speed as the sound waves generated by their passage through the air, causing the waves to pile up into a penetrating shock wave, a sonic boom. The male ruffed grouse drums mostly in the spring to attract females and ward off other males. Perhaps during a less demanding season, we could hire one to teach our drumming class how to bring air drumming into the spectrum of human audio perception. But even without sonic booms, air drumming can have its benefits. Just be careful not to let anyone outside the class see you doing it because they’ll think you’re out of your tree. For more information about the hand-drumming class, email or call 731-3117. The Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse is located at 230 Port Ave.