How Playing The Drums Changes Your Brain – New Research
Drummers are often the most underestimated members of a band. May it be the fact they don’t have to deal with melodies and harmonies, or just the simple occurrence they end up performing at the very back of the stage?
Being overshadowed by all the other performers, they often have to fight with the prejudice according to which being a drummer is “easy” or, at least, it doesn’t involve any specific intellectual skill.
Needless to say, these stereotypes are wrong, as science has finally proven.
In this article, we will briefly go through the different ways drumming can shape our brains, making us more intelligent, self-confident, and happy.
Dr. Schlaffke’s team tested twenty experienced drummers, who practice for more than ten hours per week. The method used involved MRI scans, which were compared to the ones done on twenty-four non-musicians.
While it is commonly accepted that playing a musical instrument affects the brain by building new neuroplastic processes, scientists rarely studied drummers specifically.
Earlier studies had revealed some advantages for musicians in general in terms of memory, speech, perception, and decision making, as practicing a musical instrument for years seems to thicken the cortical gray matter. This is true also for drummers who, on top, can also experience additional benefits from their playing.
However, Dr. Lara Schlaffke, from Ruhr-Universität in Bochum, recently conducted a study investigating the effects of drumming on a person’s brain, focusing, in particular on the complex motor processes involved in the task. The researchers, in particular, wondered how training changed the brain from a structural point of view.
To find the desired answers, Dr. Schlaffke’s team tested twenty experienced drummers, who practice for more than ten hours per week. The method used involved MRI scans, which were compared to the ones done on twenty-four non-musicians.
The results were quite exciting, as the team discovered that drummers have “fewer, but thicker fibers in the main connecting tract between the two halves of the brain”. In drummers, the corpus callosum, the thick layer of white matter that connects the two sides of our brains, has higher rates of diffusion, but the fibers are thicker, so they transfer impulses more quickly.
On top of that, “their motor brain areas are organized more efficiently”.
These two advantages probably derive from the ability to operate fine motor tasks with four limbs at the same time. After conducting her research, Dr. Schlaffke concluded that “drummers can do things that are impossible for untrained people.”
A study published by PLOS ONE experimented and showed that drumming can beat depression and anxiety symptoms, overall, it’s beneficial for all mental health issues. The study also showed how drumming had an anti-inflammatory reaction.
Are Drummers Smarter?
“drummers with a better sense of rhythm also got higher scores on an intelligence test”.
Can we conclude that drummers are smarter, basing our hypothesis on Dr. Schlaffke’s research?
Since drumming can strengthen the link between our two hemispheres, it can surely boost our intuition, problem-solving, and many other intellectual skills. Of course, intelligence is a complex matter, influenced by so many factors, including genetics. However, the recent research conducted at Bochum surely supports the hypothesis that drum lessons can help us improve the functionalities of our brains.
Earlier studies also supported this idea.
For example, research from Stockholm’s Karolinska Institutet resulted in an eye-opening discovery: drummers with a better sense of rhythm also got higher scores on an intelligence test.
Positive side effects
Drumming could also boost Alpha brain waves, inducing a pleasant sensation that can beat the symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Drummers may also feel more self-confident about their choices, as drumming could even improve the synchronization of the lower areas of the brain, which are non-verbal and related to more instinctive behaviors, with the frontal cortex, connected to language and more advanced intellectual activities.
Drumming could also boost Alpha brain waves, inducing a pleasant sensation that can beat the symptoms of depression and anxiety. This discovery was primarily led by the University of Oxford, where researchers found out that, since playing drums could make people happier, this activity was probably extremely important at the beginning of civilization, as it helped to create communities.
Are Drummers Better at Math?
drummers can use high-level mathematics in their drum patterns
Drummers are responsible for keeping the tempo and counting the beat, so it just makes sense to hypothesize they are pretty talented with numbers. But there’s more to that.
Scientists agree that great drummers can use high-level mathematics in their drum patterns, instinctively using figures known as fractals. Fractals are math-derived images where any small part of their structure looks exactly like their entirety. This characteristic is known as self-similarity.
Music is full of self-similar patterns and this is particularly true for drum parts.
Researchers came to this conclusion at Harvard, by studying one song in particular, I Keep Forgettin’ by Michael McDonald, featuring the legendary Jeff Porcaro at the drumkit. In this song, they found fractals especially in the hi-hat parts, for both rhythm and loudness.
In conclusion, all the studies involving the effects of drumming on our brains concluded that these are positive on our intelligence and our mind in general. It is fair to say drummers might be smarter than the average person because of their ability to coordinate their limbs independently, as well as for their instinctive use of complex mathematical patterns and schemes.
They may not know much about harmony or music scales, but, like many other musicians, drummers can develop incredible benefits in terms of memory, speech, and coordination.
You better not question your drummer’s musicality and problem-solving abilities next time you meet him or her in the rehearsing room: science got its back!