Percussion is an exciting and health boosting activity which is noted by the scientific community for its ability to alleviate modern day stresses. Renowned neurologist Oliver Sacks states in Musicophilia all humans, “can perceive music, perceive tones, timbre, pitch, intervals, melodic contours, harmony, and (perhaps most elementally) rhythm. We integrate all of these and ‘construct’ music in our minds using many different parts of the brain. And to this largely unconscious structural appreciation of music is added an often intense and profound emotional reaction.”
Drumming promotes a rhythm intrinsically acquired from ancient humans. Whilst it’s a primal activity, the health benefits are now understood to be highly beneficial. This is how to tap into the physical and psychology highs of the drumming world.
1. It’s fun!
Playing the drums is great fun. No matter your ability level, it’s a highly enjoyable way of awakening primitive rhythms. As neurologist Dr Barry Bittman (CEO of the Yamaha and Wellness Institute in Pensylvania) has stated, “Drums are accessible and don’t present the challenge of a learning curve – anyone regardless of handicap can sit and beat out a rhythm on a drum.”
Drumming can be a tremendous social experience, enhancing the fun factor. Dr. Bittman has championed group music therapy in a paper titled Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy. In this he claims, “Response to rhythm is basic to human functioning, making these percussion activities and techniques highly motivating to people of all ages and backgrounds.”
2. A boost for the immune system.
A study led by Dr. Bittman suggests drumming is good for the immune system. He acknowledges, “Group drumming tunes our biology, orchestrates our immunity, and enables healing to begin.” His research has demonstrated how a group drumming session (which he has dubbed a HealthRhythm) can create illness-killing cells, which could protect the body.
The research is cited extensively in the drumming community, such as with specialists Remo: “Remo’s Health Rhythms Department is on the forefront of establishing a solid foundation for proving the biological benefits of drumming. Neurologist Barry Bittman, M.D. and his renowned research team discovered that a specific group drumming approach (HealthRHYTHMS protocol) significantly increased the disease fighting activity of circulating white blood cells (Natural Killer cells) that seek out and destroy cancer cells and virally-infected cells.”
3. Intellectual development.
It’s suggested drumming can lead to greater cognitive functioning. This is especially important with younger generations. Stanford University researched the effects of 20 minutes of rhythmic music with middle-school boys struggling with Attention Deficit Disorder. The results led to a boost in IQ scores and improved concentration. Howard Russell, a clinical psychologist involved in the study, said, “For most of us, the brain is locked into a particular level of functioning. If we ultimately speed up or slow down the brainwave activity, then it becomes much easier for the brain to shift its speed as needed.”
Although further research is needed for conclusive evidence, studies to date are encouraging for musical therapy.
4. Social and creative development.
Drumming can be enjoyed by everyone and unites all cultures and ages across the world. Drummers can join bands, meet new people, and contribute to songs, whilst through group therapy sessions people can forge lifelong friendships. It’s a global language everyone could, and should, be a part of.
Drumming makes for a fun way to exercise. The fitter you are the easier it is to play for longer periods of time, which provides an incentive to be healthy.
It’s well noted in the drumming community, with former drummer for The Clash, Nick Headon, pointing out, “Its a physical activity, it stimulates parts of the brain keeping the four limbs doing something different, and it is primeval as well – drums were the first instrument: before music, people were banging things together.”
6. Pain relief.
Research from group drumming sessions suggests it is a sufficient distraction to alleviate pain, even if it’s chronic. The activity promotes endorphin production and endogenous opiates – these are the human body’s natural painkillers. It can also distract attention away from grief.
7. Combat stress, depression, and neurological conditions.
Dr. Barry Bittman’s research indicates drumming relaxes people, which helps lower blood pressure and reduces stress. The latter is a contemporary issue which contributes to many health problems, such as heart attacks and strokes. Modern life demands time for proper relaxation, and drumming offers a stress free activity where people can let themselves go.
Even more encouraging are the results suggesting drumming can alleviate serious neurological conditions. Neurologist Oliver Sacks, in his book Musicophilia, has noted the ability of natural rhythms to assist people with their troubles: “While music can affect all of us – calm us, animate us, comfort us, thrill us, or serve to organize and synchronize us at work or play – it may be especially powerful and have great therapeutic potential for patients with a variety of neurological conditions.” Research is ongoing, but in the coming years we can hope for encouraging news.
Types of Drums
If you’re interested in taking up percussion, there are numerous options available. Whilst a drum kit is arguably the most famous form, there are accessible alternatives: congas, tambourines, wood blocks, xylophones, tablas, and tom-toms. These can be picked up at a cheap price.
To keep expenditures to a minimum, household objects (such as pots, pans, and plastic containers) can be assembled to create a makeshift kit. This is a popular technique for many street drummers across the world. Elsewhere, you could attend group music/therapy sessions in your community – an ideal way to meet new people and get started.
Drum kits can be expensive and won’t be ideal for everyone, although second hand kits can be well priced and are perfect for beginners. If you live in a flat and don’t want to annoy your neighbors, you could consider electronic kits. They’re ideal for silent playing, but vary in affordability.
Useful Drumming Tutorials
For anyone eager to get onto a kit, do note few people have the natural ability to play brilliantly instantaneously. Don’t be put off by this – it takes time to develop the required skills. There are simple rudiments you can learn to get started, which you can find on free tutorial sites such as Drum Lessons, Free Drum Lessons, or Drum Channel (which offers a free trial).
YouTube has thousands of free guides for budding drummers; there are channels dedicated to techniques and tips (such as Drum Channel or Drumeo). YouTube is also a source of historical footage of legendary drummers in action – watching them play is vital for tips. Notable drummers for inspiration include: Ginger Baker, Reni, Jaki Liebezeit, Levon Helm, Art Blakey, Joe Morello, John Bonham, Buddy Rich, and Gene Krupa.
Even at the most fundamental level you can purchase some drum sticks and practice on a cushion at home. From here you can enjoy the full benefits of a wonderfully productive, ancient activity.
Featured photo credit: House on the Rock/Joseph Kranak via flickr.com