Musician on a mission to ‘Just Add Rhythm’

Tierney Harvey
Posted 7/11/17

FLEMING ISLAND – Although using percussion to improve well-being may sound strange to some, Just Add Rhythm founder Alisha Ross said it’s more common than most people realize. Ross said there is …

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Musician on a mission to ‘Just Add Rhythm’


FLEMING ISLAND – Although using percussion to improve well-being may sound strange to some, Just Add Rhythm founder Alisha Ross said it’s more common than most people realize. Ross said there is a large network of drum circle facilitators like her who want to share music with people for wellness and team-building.

Ross, the chief drumming architect, founded the mobile business in 2012 to bring that experience to others. With no office location, Ross drives a hatchback full of drums and other instruments to schools, summer camps, offices – wherever people need a stress-relieving activity.

According to Ross, studies have shown rhythm has a measurable impact on the immune system, mood improvement, stress relief and quality of life.

“There’s research to show that music does some of these things too, but rhythm just has this special thing that seems to be universal,” she said. “I just think there’s something about drumming that’s so accessible to most people, that almost anyone can experience those benefits.”

Drum circle facilitation is distinctly different from music therapy. However, Ross said there is overlap.

“We want people to feel an individual sense of wellness,” she said, adding that she wants people to feel happy and fulfilled by the experience. “The team-building aspect is the second part, and that is, do I feel connected with other people? Did my group achieve its objectives?”

Ross said she hopes that groups learn new communication techniques and ways to verbally and non-verbally show support for each other, inside the drum circle and out. She begins each session with simple exercises designed to get the group excited.

“Depending on who we’re drumming with, the people may be there by their own volition, or they may have been told they have to be there, and maybe they don’t want to be there,” she said. “So, to get the energy up, we do some drum rolls and rumbles and just get people sort of interacting with each other in a way that gets rid of some of the nerves.”

Ross said usually, that means starting small, and using egg shakers, boom whackers – multicolored PVC tubes of varying lengths – and other instruments. She wants people to realize they don’t have to know anything about music to enjoy the experience.

The “meat and potatoes” of the session, she said, is the drum jam. Ross uses a method she learned from another drum circle facilitator and introduces a “rhythm seed” – a tiny repeatable rhythm. She said people are then free to repeat that rhythm, build on it or make up something else to complement it.

“Everything adds together to make that in-the-moment music that is unique and beautiful,” she said, “and nothing else is gonna sound like it.”

Just Add Rhythm works with both children and adults, Ross said, and the main difference in the sessions is the way she explains the program.

“Innately, children are more enthusiastic about drumming and about making noise,” she said. “When I go into kids’ programs, especially with younger kids…the first thing they do when they see the drums, they have to bang on the drum.”

Ross said adults are often hesitant and less eager to start playing. The challenge is to draw everyone in without forcing them, she said. Some people don’t want to play the drums, they just want to observe.

“That’s OK,” she said. “However they show up is fine, and that’s what makes each program so great. You’ve got this wide variety of people and attitudes coming in to every program that it’s going to be different every time.”

She said Just Add Rhythm provides services for corporate clients, community organizations and educational institutions.

“We work with a lot of camps and after-school programs,” Ross said. “We work with senior centers, hospitals – basically anyone who wants to achieve their wellness objectives through interactive rhythm.”

The business originated in South Florida and when Ross decided to move to Northeast Florida with her husband last year, she moved the business with her. A facilitator in South Florida has kept the company running there. Ross said the move was a personal choice, but she knew her business could grow in the community.

“It seemed to have a really eclectic arts community, the kind of community that is sort of small and close-knit, but once you get in there, you realize how much is happening everywhere, all the time,” Ross said. “I really wanted to be a part of that.”

Ross said her interest in African drumming stemmed from her experience at Berklee College of Music. At the time, her focus was singing and piano. She wanted to study rhythm to improve her abilities, and she fell in love with drumming. She traveled to West Africa to study drumming and earned a master’s degree in ethnomusicology, the study of music of different cultures.

The drum circles she facilitates with Just Add Rhythm are not culturally specific, Ross said, and the focus is on the “community-building and self-empowerment aspects of rhythm.” That way, people who don’t have access to learning about West African cultures and complex rhythms can enjoy it. In the field of drum circle facilitation, she said, the music is presented “in a way that is easily hands-on, instantly accessible.”

Many of the organizations Ross works with are nonprofits, she said. Often, nonprofits get funding earmarked for cultural arts programs, and bring in artists like Ross. She said she has also worked with nonprofits as a consultant for grant proposals.

Ross said she runs everything by herself for now, but as the business continues to grow, she would love to hire and train additional drum circle facilitators to help expand in the Jacksonville area and reach more people.

She said rather than feeling a spirit of competition with other facilitators, most share her idea that, “We need more of us in the world to provide this wonderful service to people who maybe don’t know that they need it.”

For more information on Just Add Rhythm, go to, or call (954) 399-7648.


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