Τhe benefits of drumming – by Vagelis Moulakakis
In recent years, more and more Pediatricians recommend that young children learn to play musical instruments in order to enhance gross motor skills, fine motor skills and socialisation. As a professional musician who has been teaching drums for over fifteen years, I would like to explain how learning to play the drums benefits children and adults of both sexes alike.
Before I continue, let me answer the four questions potential students or their parents often ask:
1) Are the drums a gender specific instrument?
Absolutely not. While rock bands in the past traditionally featured male drummers, modern music is quickly embracing the role of the female drummer. I have an equal number of female and male students (ranging from age 6 – age 65) and see no discrepancy in their ability to play the drums.
Luckily, the electronics industry has found a solution to this problem with the development of the Electronic Drum Set. The Electronic Drum Set is identical to a standard drum set in structure with the added benefit of volume control. A student can play on this set at a minimum volume or with headphones so that no one in close proximity can hear them.
3) Too young or too old to start learning to play the drums?
Children younger than the age of 6 are encouraged to familiarise themselves with music and musical instruments in a friendly and natural environment using the Orff approach. In my experience, formal music lessons that require more structure and discipline should begin after the age of 6.
As for being too old, there is no such thing in the world of music and drums! 30% of my students begin learning the drums over the age of 45.
No matter what the age group, all that is required to learn to play the drums is passion for music and commitment.
4) Does learning the drums mean playing a specific style of music?
Most drummers chose to gravitate towards a specific style of music, however a good drum teacher will apply all-around drumming foundations to their lessons so that the student has the ability to play all genres of music and develop the styles they enjoy most.
Now that we have the basics out of the way, let’s look at the true benefits of drumming.
I’m sure that every one of you remembers banging on a saucepan as a child and how much fun it was to generate loud noise! The same concept of fun applies to learning to play the drums and making music rather than just noise. In the beginning, until you learn the basics, you will need some time to familiarise yourself with the instrument and practice introductory techniques but in 6-10 weeks you will be able to play a simple rock beat. The dedication and work required in learning a musical instrument never ends but now is when the real fun begins – before you know it you are playing along to your favourite tunes and soon enough you are ready to play with a band. What greater thrill than being able to perform in front of a live audience?!
2) Learning drums from a young age is therapeutic and beneficial for children.
Music therapists believe that there are many reasons why drumming can be useful as a therapeutic tool. Drums and percussion instruments are progressively accessible, physical, sensory, portable, socially interactive, expressive, cultural, and offer a unique aesthetic experience. Someone who has never played a musical instrument in his/her life can pick up a shaker and participate in a drumming experience.
Drumming can be a powerful tool to help children and children with special needs address:
- Social Needs. Drumming often occurs as a collaborative, interactive process. If facilitated correctly, participating in drumming experiences can help a child work on skills such as turn-taking and sharing, as well as help them feel they are part of a group contributing towards a group process.
- Communication Needs. Playing a drum or percussion instrument can be a useful way to communicate nonverbally and to “listen” to another person’s nonverbal communication.
- Fine and Gross Motor Skills. This may almost seem self-evident, but different playing techniques can be used to help work on different fine and gross motor skills. This is also true for developing upper and lower extremity strength.
- Emotional Needs. Participating in a drumming activity can help a child feel safe enough to express his/her feelings and encourages confidence and a sense of achievement. Additionally, speaking from experience, there’s nothing more therapeutic for releasing frustration and tension than banging on a drum!
- Cognitive Needs. By participating in a drumming experience, children can be working on attention, impulse control, and decision-making skills.
A few years ago I read a really interesting article on the BBC’s website, called “Rock drummers are top athletes”.
The article talked about how Dr Marcus Smith, from Chichester University, as part of an eight year project that hoped to develop an outreach program for children who were overweight and not interested in sports, studied the extraordinary fitness and stamina required to be a drummer. Part of the study involved hooking up a rock drummer to equipment that would monitor his heart rate, oxygen uptakes and the levels of lactic acid in his blood at the time he was playing his favourite tunes.
The results were amazing – the research indicated that playing the drums for a rock band requires the stamina of a Premiership footballer. He found that 90 minutes of drumming could raise the drummer’s heartbeat to a maximum of 190 beats per minute and an hour in concert could burn between 400 and 600 calories – levels comparable to other top athletes.
There is no doubt that the drum kit is one of the most physically demanding instruments to play. Both arms and legs are virtually constantly in motion. Of course, this does depend on the style of music being played. A fast, loud and heavy rock band is going to require a drummer of extreme fitness levels to sustain the intensity of the performance. A gentle band with quiet and sparse drumming might not require such a feat of athleticism. That’s not to say that gentle/quiet drumming doesn’t keep you fit – even moving gracefully and slowly around the kit enhances blood flow around the body.
In short, music consists of the melody and the rhythm. The melody is expressed by the notes and the rhythm is expressed by the system of ‘values’. The values are used to count the duration of a given note in a composition.
Drums are a percussive instrument and therefore melodic notes are not necessary. However, the drummer provides the rhythm for a band which means values based on a system of mathematics – sometimes very advanced and often very challenging due to polyrhythm and polymetric drum patterns in music composition.
When you first start learning the drums, the part of the body that is exercised most is not perhaps what you would expect. Arms? Legs? No – it’s the brain. The brain acts as the “mission control” of the body when it comes to playing the drums. The brain of a drummer has to constantly adapt to new coordination challenges. Just like learning to ride a bike or driving a car, it takes a bit of time to get your head around the introduction of a new set of movements. This process can be fun and challenging. When you first begin to learn how to play the drums, things need to be played through slowly and methodically. As the movements become naturalised, there is room to develop speed and fluidity around the drum kit.
For younger children (in particular children and teenagers with ADD or ADHD), learning to play the drums not only helps reduce hyperactivity and release physical energy, it also helps improve focus and memory and develop faculties required for planning, sequencing and decision-making. For adults and seniors, in addition to a great cardio workout, drumming is a wonderful way to keep the synapses firing and keep the brain sharp and alert.
5) Discipline and time management.
Music is a journey and along the way you learn valuable life lessons. I often tell my students/parents, that the person I am today has a lot to do with my involvement with music from an early age.
Learning every skill needs a certain amount of discipline, but learning to play the drums took the word discipline to a whole new level for me.
I realised early on that I wanted to be a professional drummer and that in order to be able to make my dreams come true, I would have to be extremely disciplined and manage my time effectively so as to accommodate the countless hours of study I dedicated to the instrument along with my schoolwork, and other commitments and responsibilities.
As a teenager, the attention, focus and stamina required to play the drums taught me that it was not only my body that had to be treated as a temple, but also my mind. It was imperative that I looked after my physical and mental health and stay away from ‘bad habits’ my peers were involved with – not an easy task for a 16 year old growing up in a big city, so I’m very grateful to have had the drums in my life from such an early age.
In conclusion, as well as the benefits outlined above, research has provided support for the positive effect of drumming experiences on social behaviours, grief, self-expression, self-esteem, group cohesion, depression, behavioural issues, bimanual coordination, and learning for children, teenagers, adults, seniors and special needs students.
Whether you are male or female, young, old, or middle aged, learning to play the drums will be a rewarding experience. It will keep you active, it will keep you thinking, it will fuel your creativity and it will help you understand and appreciate the magic of music.
Vagelis Moulakakis is a professional drummer and drum teacher in Athens, Greece. He has been a musician for over 25yrs and has been teaching drums to students of all ages and levels for the last 15 years at Conservatoriums, Private schools, at homes and at his private studio. His personal site is: www.drumslessons.gr
Useful links and references:
Drummers as fit as athletes (BBC article) – http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/7518888.stm
The Clem Burke Drumming Project – www.clemburkedrummingproject.com
Gyms using drumming – http://www.virginactive.co.uk/VA/Content/PressRoom/DrumsAlive.aspx
Weight loss and drumming – http://www.weightlossresources.co.uk/exercise/activities/drumming-for-exercise.htm