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The Washington Tattoo is pleased to announce our new program to serve veterans and underserved communities, Rudiments to Recovery.

What is "Rudiments to Recovery"?

Rudiments to Recovery is a 1:1 and group music wellness program for veterans and first responders with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) that uses the power of music and rhythm through drumming to positively impact mental health and well-being. All participants in the program will learn the rudiments of drumming, build community, and expand their personal and professional networks. Each veteran will receive instruction, a drum pad, drumsticks, a Spotify Playlist, and a workbook to continue their music wellness journey.

The Washington Tattoo partners with George Mason University and its Healing in the Arts program and Veterans in the Art initiative. This partnership provides access to subject matter experts in the field of music and neuroscience to ensure Rudiments to Recovery is beneficial to veterans.


Benefits of drumming for mental health and wellness according to experts:

  • Reduces stress and anxiety

  • Reduces depression

  • Promotes social connection and community. 

  • Provides a creative outlet

Why We Created Rudiments to Recovery
Private William Donohue.jpg

Private William Donohue

Private William Donohue was a WWII Army Veteran who served in the Pacific with the 27th NY Infantry Division seeing action in battle on Saipan and Okinawa. After returning to New York in 1945, William took a job as a constructionworker and started a family in West Nyack, NY. Unknown to his family, friends, and coworkers, William also silently battled the emotional trauma from his wartime experiences. He often felt depressed, alone, disconnected, and hopeless—but he never shared these feelings with those around him. We now know that he was suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 1984, 39 years after returning from WWII, Private William Thomas Donohue, Mark’s closest grandfather, took his own life when Mark was just six years old.

Before joining the Army, William was a snare drummer with the Unionport Post 1065 American Legion Fife and Drum Corps in the Bronx, NY. After returning to New York, he did not return to drumming or music of any kind. Based on his own experiences with miliary colleagues suffering from PTSD, Mark began research into PTSD and the potential benefits of Music Therapy. This study led to a natual question for Mark: “If my grandfather had picked up a pair of sticks after returning from the Army, could it have provided the outlet he needed to find identity, purpose, and hope?” Is it possible that a program like Rudiments to Recovery could have helped William to see options beyond taking his own life and given Mark the chance to play drums with his grandfather?

We know that William Donohue’s experience is not unique. Veteran suicide rates are inexcusably high, and the daily experiences faced by first responders who serve our local communities carry many of the same negative and potentially debilitating emotional effects. This is why The Washington Tattoo created Rudiments to Recovery: to provide an innovative, fun, community-focused, identity-giving, and purpose-driven program for service members, veterans, first responders, and families.

Supporting Research

War leaves indelible imprints on the human psyche, challenging even the most resilient souls. Veterans often return home carrying heavy burdens of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and anxiety.

Traditional therapeutic approaches have long recognized the importance of music as an expressive medium that helps individuals explore and communicate their deepest emotions. Music becomes an unwavering companion, providing a safe haven for veterans to navigate the complex landscapes of their inner worlds.

The effects of music on the brain involve the release of various chemicals and neurotransmitters. Some key chemicals that are involved:
Dopamine: Music can stimulate the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. This can create a sense of enjoyment and motivation while listening to music.

  • Endorphins: Music can trigger the release of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood enhancers. Endorphins contribute to the feelings of pleasure, relaxation, and reduced stress that music can induce.

  • Oxytocin: Music has been found to increase oxytocin levels in the brain. Oxytocin is a hormone and neurotransmitter that promotes bonding, trust, and social connection. It can enhance feelings of empathy and closeness.

  • Serotonin: Listening to music can stimulate the release of serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood regulation and well-being. Increased serotonin levels can contribute to a sense of happiness and contentment.

  • Cortisol: Music has the potential to reduce cortisol levels in the brain. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and when levels are lowered, it can lead to decreased stress and anxiety.


Music plays a huge role in the chemical response in the brain shaping our emotional and cognitive responses to our day-to-day well-being.

Emotional Catharsis and Validation

When words fail to encapsulate the depth of pain or joy, music swoops in, enabling veterans to communicate their experiences without constraints. Music becomes a conduit for emotional catharsis, allowing buried sentiments to be exhumed and processed.

Veterans find solace in lyrics that mirror their experiences, melodies that resonate with their emotions, and harmonies that create a sense of order amidst the chaos they have witnessed. Music validates their struggles, providing a shared language and a profound sense of understanding that can foster a sense of belonging and healing.

This non-verbal communication can be a cathartic and liberating experience, allowing veterans to process and share their feelings. Musical Wellness activities have shown to improve non-verbal communication skills by up to 35%.

Social Connection and Community Building
Music is a bridge that connects individuals, fostering a sense of camaraderie and community among veterans. Group music wellness sessions provide spaces for shared experiences, where veterans can bond, support one another, and cultivate a sense of belonging with people who have similarly stressful and dangerous experiences.

Research has shown that veterans experience a 50% increase in social connectedness and a greater sense of community belonging through musical wellness activities. Playing instruments together, harmonizing in choirs, or creating music ensembles cultivates a spirit of collaboration and teamwork, reinforcing the values instilled during their military service.

In these communal settings, veterans find understanding and acceptance, promoting their mental well-being through the power of shared music-making.

Empowerment and Rebuilding Identity
For veterans grappling with a fractured sense of self, music can play a pivotal role in rebuilding identity and reclaiming a sense of agency. Through musical expression, veterans can redefine themselves beyond their military experiences, forging new narratives of strength, resilience, and creativity.

Learning to play an instrument, composing songs, or engaging in music production empowers veterans by providing avenues for self-expression and personal growth.


As they reclaim their voice through music, they gradually transform into agents of their own healing journey.

Why Drumming?

Research has shown that engaging in rhythmic activities can reduce stress and anxiety levels by a significant percentage. In fact, studies indicate that drumming can lower cortisol levels, the hormone associated with stress, by up to 40%.

Why Drumming.jpg

Music's rhythmic nature acts as a stabilizing force for veterans grappling with the erratic waves of mental health challenges. Its beats synchronize with the body, coaxing deep relaxation, regulating heart rates, and reducing anxiety.

The repetitive patterns of drumming or instrumental compositions can ground veterans in the present moment, offering respite from intrusive memories or hypervigilance. Music's rhythmic embrace brings a sense of order and predictability, counteracting the chaos that often plagues the minds of those who have served in the theater of war.

Further, the accessible nature of drumming—an instinctual act humans learn as babies when we discover clapping and tapping—provides an easy point of entry to the benefits of music therapy and community music compared to more advanced and complicated music therapy vehicles such as song-writing or playing guitar. Using popular recorded music and basic rhythms, we are able to quickly introduce concepts of mindfulness, order, and predictability to promote relaxation and reduced anxiety.

Because we apply basic rhythms with popular recorded music, we also benefit from multi-generational music choices. Rudiments to Recovery can be delivered using all styles of music from World War II era Big Band to Heavy Metal or Hip-hop, engaging music that is personally relevant to participants and thereby increasing the effectiveness of sessions.

This immersive musical experience allows veterans to express themselves creatively, fostering a sense of control and empowerment over their emotions.


The Washington Tattoo is indebted to the plethora of Music Therapy and Veterans Mental wellness publications and research studies, which explore the power of music as a healing tool for our warfighters.

A sampling of the sources we have used to design Rudiments to Recovery include:

  • Dhokai, Niyati (2017), ‘Mediating music and culture in medical rehabilitation settings’, Journal of Folklore Research, 54:1&2, pp. 119–31.

  • Dhokai, Niyati (2020),‘Music workshops as a pathway to community engagement for military veterans’, Journal of Applied Arts & Health, doi: https://doi. org/10.1386/jaah_00039_1

  • Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Defense. (2019). VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Assessment and Management of Patients at Risk for Suicide.

  • Heath, D & Heath C. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact

  • Higgins, L. Community Music: In Theory and In Practice

  • Sacks, O. & Lee, J. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain

  • van der Kolk, Bessel. The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healy of Trauma

  • Multidisciplinary conversations with numerous Music Therapists and professors from:

    • Boston University

    • University of Performing Arts Vienna Austria

    • University of Edinburgh, Scotland

    • West Virginia University

Rudiments to Recovery Sessions

Rudiments to Recovery sessions can be held in either Small Group Sessions or Individually. Whether individual or small group session, all participants receive:

  • Drum Sticks

  • Practice Pad

  • Stick bag

  • In-Person Instruction

  • Take Home Training Aids

    • Training / Method Workbook

    • Rudiment Poster

    • Links to independent study materials

    • Online Education Resources

  • Session relays

  • Rudiments to Recovery Spotify Playlist

  • Each playlist includes stylistic preferences
    and flavors of military music

  • Headphones


Small Group Sessions

  • Cohort of 10 individuals or less

  • Three (3), 45-minute sessions, once a month

  • Hosted at local American Legion, VFW, or community centers

  • 4 cohorts per year

Individual Sessions

  • Meet once a month for 3 months (minimum)

  • Additional sessions as requested

  • In-person or virtually based on individual participant preferences


Over the last 12 months, The Washington Tattoo has developed and tested the curriculum and resources to implement Rudiments to Recovery. The next phase of implementation is to access our existing network of master percussionists across the US to train our first cohort of Rudiments to Recovery facilitators and to market the program to additional potential partners and veterans organizations across the country.

Once trained, each facilitator will be able to lead 4 group session cohorts and 3 individuals per year without the need to travel more than 2 hours from their local area. This network of facilitators will generate an exponential increase in the availability of Rudiments to Recovery sessions across the country.


  • Virtual training sessions taught by Rudiments to Recovery creators/developers

  • Introduction to the Rudiments to Recovery Curriculum and facilitation methodology

  • Overview of PTSD, TBI, and other Mental-wellness contexts

  • Review the foundations of learning outlined in each lesson plan

  • Briefings on the environment, code of conduct, risk mitigation, and emergency protocol

  • Introduce facilitators to Rudiments to Recovery Program Manager and reporting mechanisms

  • Each facilitator will have three buddy/mentorship sessions with the creators of the program and an annual standards refresher session


  • Rudiments to Recovery Sessions incorporated into The Washington Tattoo Event Calendar and posted to The Washington Tattoo Website

  • Marketing for this program will take place through the following channels including: Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, LinkedIn, and X, Wreaths Across America Radio, and The Washington Tattoo Podcast


  • Facilitators will organize and lead 2-4 cohorts per year

  • Facilitators will arrange date, time, and location for Rudiments to Recovery sessions in their local area

  • The Washington Tattoo will provide all Rudiments to Recovery materials

  • Participants will be asked to complete post-event surveys at the end of each session to collect feedback to improve the program

  • Facilitators will complete post-event report (simple form) collecting numbers of participants disaggregated by type (veteran, first responder, family, etc.) as well as the facilitator’s observations and “after-action” comments

Assessment, Evaluation, and Learning:

  • The Rudiments to Recovery Program Manager will hold individual Quarterly virtual meetings with all Rudiments to Recovery Facilitators

  • The Rudiments to Recovery Program Manager will directly observe one session per facilitator each year

  • Based on observed Rudiments to Recovery sessions, virtual meetings, and post-event surveys and reports, the Rudiments to Recovery Program Manager will provide assistance or additional training to facilitators to improve their Rudiments to Recovery delivery and participant experiences

The Washington Tattoo will hold an annual meeting of trained facilitators to gather feedback and lessons-learned from Rudiments to Recovery sessions, share best practices, distribute new tools and techniques for improving Rudiments to Recovery delivery and outcomes, and to thank our facilitators for their service to the Veteran community.

Sponsors and Partners

The Washington Tattoo has already previewed Rudiments to Recovery to a number of potential Sponsors and Partners. We are very grateful for the support of the following corporations, agencies, and individuals who have helped get Rudiments to Recovery off the ground:

  • Association of the United States Army (George Washington Chapter)

  • Department of Veterans Affairs (DCVAMC CLC)

  • George Mason University

  • Purple Heart Foundation

  • Veteran Success Resource Group

  • American Legion Post 176

  • Loyal Drums

  • British Drum Company

  • Prologix Percussion

  • Percussive Arts Society

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