20 Reasons To Start Playing the Drums (This Is Your Brain On Music)
Did you know....
That playing, listening to, reading, and composing music engages every part of the brain?
According to neurophysicist Dr. Daniel J. Levitin, one of the world's leading experts on music and cognitive functions, the following parts of the brain are activated during different musical experiences:
1. Motor Cortex (playing music)
- Coordination and Timing: Drumming requires precise timing and rhythm, challenging the motor cortex to coordinate complex movements across multiple limbs simultaneously.
- Bilateral Movement: Drumming is often a bilateral activity that requires both sides of the body to work independently yet in harmony. This cross-lateralization strengthens neural pathways across the two hemispheres of the brain, enhancing the motor cortex's functionality.
- Skill Progression: As drummers become more advanced, they encounter increasingly complex patterns and rhythms, demanding greater fine motor skills and control. This constant progression pushes the motor cortex to adapt and refine its control over muscle movements.
- Muscle Memory: Drumming involves repetitive motion, helping to build muscle memory. This type of memory formation is linked to the motor cortex, which aids in the storage and retrieval of motor skills.
- Rapid Decision-Making: Drummers often improvise, requiring the motor cortex to make quick decisions regarding timing, limb coordination, and technique. This develops the capacity for rapid motor responses and quick reflexes.
- Sensory Feedback: The motor cortex doesn't operate in isolation; it integrates sensory feedback to make adjustments to motor actions. Drumming provides rich tactile, auditory, and visual stimuli, fine-tuning the interaction between sensory and motor systems.
2. Sensory Cortex (tactile feedback from playing a musical instrument)
- Auditory Processing: Drumming relies heavily on a keen sense of rhythm and timing, honing the sensory cortex's ability to process auditory signals. The act of listening to the drum's sound and adjusting strokes accordingly fine-tunes auditory perception.
- Tactile Feedback: The physical contact between drumsticks and drum heads or hands and percussion instruments delivers tactile sensations. The sensory cortex processes these feelings to inform grip strength, stick rebound, and the overall quality of the drumming sound.
- Visual Stimulation: Reading sheet music or watching a conductor engages the visual aspects of the sensory cortex. Additionally, watching one's own movements and coordinating them with others in a band or ensemble enhances visual-motor integration.
- Proprioception: Drumming requires an awareness of limb positioning, which is partly processed in the sensory cortex. This helps drummers to know where each limb is and how it's moving without necessarily having to look.
- Temporal Awareness: The sensory cortex helps in interpreting the timing between each beat and rhythm, enhancing a drummer's temporal awareness and ability to sync with external cues.
- Sensory Integration: Drumming integrates auditory, tactile, and visual stimuli into a single coordinated activity. This multi-sensory experience strengthens the sensory cortex's ability to synthesize information from various sources for more effective responses.
- Adaptive Learning: Drummers often adjust their technique based on the feedback from the sound they produce and the feel of the drumsticks or drum heads. This cycle of action, sensation, and adaptation engages the sensory cortex in a loop of constant refinement.
3. Auditory Cortex (listening to music / the perception & analysis of tones)
Drumming offers a robust exercise for the auditory cortex, the part of the brain responsible for processing auditory information. Here's how drumming benefits this brain region:
- Rhythmic Recognition: Drumming requires recognizing, interpreting, and producing intricate rhythms. This strengthens the auditory cortex's ability to identify temporal patterns in sounds, improving one's sense of timing and rhythm.
- Pitch Discrimination: While drums are generally considered non-melodic instruments, subtle pitch variations can occur based on how and where the drum is struck. Tuning into these variations sharpens the auditory cortex's sensitivity to pitch changes.
- Volume Control: Drummers adjust their striking force to produce varying dynamics (loudness or softness). The auditory cortex helps to monitor these variations, honing the brain's ability to perceive changes in volume.
- Sound Localization: In a drum kit or a percussion setup, different drums and cymbals are located in different positions around the drummer. The auditory cortex helps the drummer localize these sound sources, improving spatial awareness in the auditory field.
- Auditory-Motor Coordination: The auditory cortex is crucial in coordinating the timing of motor actions with the sounds produced. This is particularly important in ensemble settings, where a drummer must synchronize with other musicians.
- Multi-layered Processing: Drumming often involves creating complex layers of rhythms and sounds. This engages the auditory cortex in higher-order processing tasks, like parsing multiple auditory streams simultaneously.
- Feedback Loop: As drummers play, they continuously listen to their output to make real-time adjustments. This forms a feedback loop that engages the auditory cortex in dynamic processing and adaptation.
- Auditory Attention: Drummers have to focus on their own rhythms while also being aware of the musical context provided by other instruments. This enhances the auditory cortex's ability to selectively attend to specific sounds while filtering out others.
- Improvisation and Prediction: Skilled drumming, particularly in genres like jazz, involves improvisation that relies on predicting where a musical piece is headed. This engages the auditory cortex in complex, anticipatory processing.
4. Prefrontal Cortex (positive or negative feelings about musical expectations)
Playing drums is a complex activity that significantly engages the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive functions. Here’s how drumming activates and benefits this crucial brain region:
Decision Making: Choosing which drum or cymbal to strike, how hard to hit, and in what sequence involves rapid decision-making skills. These choices are formulated and executed in the prefrontal cortex.
Motor Planning and Coordination: The prefrontal cortex helps plan and coordinate the precise movements required to produce specific rhythms and tempos, working in tandem with motor areas of the brain.
Working Memory: Drummers often have to hold multiple rhythms or sequences in mind simultaneously. The prefrontal cortex is essential for this working memory function.
Attentional Control: Playing drums requires focused attention and the ability to filter out distractions. The prefrontal cortex helps maintain this focus and manage multiple attentional resources.
Emotional Regulation: Music inherently evokes emotional responses. The prefrontal cortex helps modulate these emotions, enabling the drummer to maintain performance quality regardless of emotional state.
Impulse Control: The urge to speed up, add unnecessary fills, or stray from the rhythm can be strong. The prefrontal cortex helps inhibit these impulses, ensuring the drummer stays in time and serves the music.
Complex Problem-Solving: Adapting to changes in the music, synchronizing with other musicians, and improvising solutions to unexpected challenges all engage complex problem-solving skills orchestrated by the prefrontal cortex.
Social Interaction: In ensemble settings, drummers need to pick up on social and musical cues from other musicians. The prefrontal cortex is key for this level of social cognition.
Time Perception: Accurate timing is vital for drumming. The prefrontal cortex plays a role in our perception of time, helping drummers maintain accurate tempos over extended periods.
Creativity: The prefrontal cortex is thought to be a principal brain region responsible for creativity. During improvisational drumming, it enables the spontaneous generation of new rhythmic patterns and fills.
Meta-Cognition: Advanced drummers may engage in self-reflective practices to evaluate and refine their technique, another function governed by the prefrontal cortex.
By stimulating these cognitive functions, drumming serves as a holistic exercise for the prefrontal cortex, sharpening both its analytical and creative capacities.
5. Cerebellum (movement such as foot tapping, dancing, playing an instrument / emotional reactions to music)
The cerebellum is a critical part of the brain involved in motor control, coordination, precision, and timing—all essential elements in drumming. Here’s how drumming activates and benefits the cerebellum:
- Motor Coordination: Drumming involves simultaneous use of both hands and feet in a coordinated manner. The cerebellum helps integrate these multiple motor actions so they are smooth and precise.
- Timing and Rhythm: The cerebellum is essential for timing accuracy, allowing drummers to maintain a steady tempo and produce intricate rhythmic patterns. It helps in synchronizing actions with external cues like a metronome or other musicians.
- Spatial Awareness: Drummers have to be aware of the location of various drums and cymbals around them. The cerebellum contributes to this spatial awareness, enabling precise and targeted strikes.
- Muscle Tone and Posture: Maintaining the correct posture and muscle tension is crucial for effective drumming and avoiding injury. The cerebellum plays a role in regulating muscle tone and posture.
- Balance: Drumming often involves rapid shifts in body weight and position. The cerebellum helps maintain balance during these quick, sometimes complex movements.
- Error Correction: As drummers play, minor errors in timing or technique are inevitable. The cerebellum is involved in real-time error detection and correction, allowing for immediate adjustments.
- Sequencing: Drumming involves playing complex sequences of movements. The cerebellum helps in storing these sequences and executing them in the right order, aiding in both learning and performance.
- Adaptability: When improvising or reacting to changes in the music, the cerebellum helps the motor system adapt quickly, enabling a fluid and responsive playing style.
- Fine Motor Skills: Drumming requires nuanced wrist and finger movements for techniques like rolls or ghost notes. The cerebellum helps refine these fine motor skills.
- Speed and Reaction Time: Quick tempos and complex fills demand rapid reaction times. The cerebellum helps optimize the speed of motor responses to meet these demands.
- Multi-Limb Coordination: Drumming often involves polyrhythms and other complex forms of multi-limb coordination. The cerebellum is vital in synchronizing these actions.
By facilitating these functions, the cerebellum plays a crucial role in making drumming a coordinated, rhythmic, and expressive activity. Through regular practice, drummers may even enhance the cerebellum's functionality, contributing to better overall motor skills and coordination.
6. Visual Cortex (reading music, physical movements by performer)
The visual cortex is the part of the brain responsible for processing visual information. While drumming might seem predominantly auditory and motoric, the visual cortex plays a vital role in several ways:
- Reading Sheet Music: For drummers who read music, the visual cortex processes the symbols, lines, and notations, translating them into information that guides motor actions.
- Spatial Orientation: Drummers need to know the layout of their drum kit—where each drum, cymbal, or other percussive instrument is located. This spatial awareness is facilitated by the visual cortex.
- Hand-Eye Coordination: Striking a drum or cymbal involves a finely-tuned relationship between what the eyes see and how the hands move. This hand-eye coordination is mediated by the visual cortex.
- Visual Cues: When playing with a band or orchestra, drummers rely on visual signals from other musicians or a conductor. The visual cortex helps interpret these cues to synchronize with the ensemble.
- Dynamic Adjustments: Drummers often need to make quick adjustments based on what they see, such as the bounce of a drumstick or the movement of a pedal. The visual cortex processes this information in real-time.
- Tracking: Especially in complex performances or recording sessions, drummers may have to keep an eye on metronomes, digital interfaces, or other visual aids while playing. The visual cortex aids in tracking these elements.
- Instrument Monitoring: Whether it's checking the tension of drum heads, the angle of cymbals, or the setup of pedals, the visual cortex is engaged in monitoring the state of the instruments.
- Aesthetic Aspects: Beyond pure function, drummers also contribute to the visual aesthetic of a performance through their movements and showmanship, activities which engage the visual cortex both in planning and real-time adjustment.
- Pattern Recognition: Some drummers use visual patterns or shapes to remember complex drumming sequences. The visual cortex is crucial for forming and recalling these patterns.
- Color Coding: Some educational systems and drum machines use colours to denote different drums or types of hits. The visual cortex helps interpret this colour coding.
- Visual Timing: In some cases, drummers may use visual timing cues such as a flashing light to keep time, further engaging the visual cortex.
By being activated in these ways, the visual cortex is an integral part of the multi-sensory, motoric, and cognitive experience that is drumming.
7. Corpus Callosum (connects the left & right hemispheres)
The corpus callosum is the bundle of neural fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres of the brain, facilitating inter-hemispheric communication. Drumming is an activity that often involves coordinated, rhythmic movements that engage both hands, feet, and sometimes even vocalizations. This simultaneous use of different limbs and senses can activate and strengthen the corpus callosum for several reasons:
- Bilateral Coordination: Drumming requires the coordinated use of both hands and often both feet, meaning both hemispheres of the brain are active and must communicate efficiently. The corpus callosum facilitates this inter-hemispheric exchange.
- Rhythmic Complexity: Drum patterns can be complex and may require the left and right hands to perform different rhythms. This complexity demands a high level of communication between the two hemispheres.
- Motor Planning: Drumming often involves intricate sequences of movements that are planned in advance but executed almost automatically. The planning and execution stages involve multiple regions of the brain that must work in harmony, necessitating efficient communication via the corpus callosum.
- Pattern Recognition: Recognizing and reproducing rhythmic patterns involves both analytical and creative thinking. The corpus callosum helps integrate these different types of cognition, which are often associated with different hemispheres.
- Auditory-Visual Integration: Drummers often read sheet music, watch conductors, or follow visual cues while listening to other musicians. Integrating these different types of sensory information involves communication between the hemispheres.
- Timing and Prediction: Accurate timing is essential in drumming, and it often involves predicting future beats or changes in tempo. This predictive capacity may require integration of information across hemispheres.
- Emotional Expression: Music is often deeply tied to emotion, and emotional processing can involve multiple regions of the brain across both hemispheres. The corpus callosum plays a role in integrating these emotional aspects with the technical aspects of drumming.
- Learning and Adaptation: As a drummer gains more experience or tackles more complicated pieces, their brain undergoes changes to adapt to the increased demands. This learning process may involve changes in the strength and efficiency of connections, including those in the corpus callosum.
- Feedback Loop: Drumming often involves real-time adjustment based on auditory or even tactile feedback. These feedback loops can engage multiple senses and cognitive processes, which may involve rapid communication between hemispheres.
- Social Coordination: When drumming in a group or band, social and auditory cues must be integrated to maintain rhythm and harmony, requiring seamless communication between different brain regions.
Through these mechanisms, drumming can be a comprehensive workout for the corpus callosum, potentially improving various forms of cognitive function, motor skills, and sensory integration.
8. Hippocampus (memory of music, musical experiences, and contexts)
The hippocampus is a critical brain region involved in memory formation, spatial navigation, and emotional regulation. Drumming can have various effects on the activation and functionality of the hippocampus:
- Memory Formation: Learning drum patterns and sequences requires memorization, engaging the hippocampus. Over time, this could enhance memory retention and retrieval skills.
- Emotional Regulation: Music is often linked to emotional expression and processing. The hippocampus has a role in mood and emotional regulation, and drumming could stimulate this aspect.
- Stress Reduction: Drumming has been shown to release endorphins and reduce cortisol levels, potentially providing a neuroprotective effect on the hippocampus, which is sensitive to stress hormones.
- Rhythmic Timing: Keeping a consistent rhythm involves the timing circuits of the brain, in which the hippocampus plays a role, particularly regarding how time is encoded and sequenced.
- Spatial Awareness: The hippocampus is integral for spatial memory and navigation. Though drumming is not a 'locomotive' activity, the spatial orientation required for hitting different drums in a set might engage this aspect of hippocampal function.
- Auditory Processing: The hippocampus is also involved in processing certain aspects of auditory information, relevant for comprehending complex rhythms and sequences in drumming.
- Coordination and Planning: Drumming often involves complex sequences that require planning and execution. The hippocampus has been implicated in planning and decision-making tasks.
- Multi-sensory Integration: Drummers often read music, listen to other instruments, and watch for visual cues from a conductor or audience. This integration may engage the hippocampus as it is involved in the binding of multi-sensory information to form a coherent memory.
- Skill Mastery and Confidence: Achieving mastery in drumming can boost self-confidence and emotional well-being. Positive emotions and self-efficacy may relate to hippocampal functioning through its role in emotional regulation.
- Social Interaction: Group drumming or playing in a band is a social activity that can be emotionally rewarding and mentally stimulating. The hippocampus plays a role in social memory, helping us recognize and remember social cues and contexts.
- Neuroplasticity: Long-term practice of any skill, including drumming, can lead to neuroplastic changes in the brain. Given the hippocampus' role in learning and memory, it is likely to be a part of this adaptive process.
Engaging in drumming could, therefore, be beneficial for the hippocampus, contributing to improvements in a variety of cognitive and emotional functions.
9. Nucleus Accumbens (emotional reactions to music)
The nucleus accumbens is a region in the brain's reward circuitry, primarily associated with pleasure, reinforcement learning, reward-seeking behavior, and the so-called "feel good" hormones like dopamine and endorphins. Here's how drumming could stimulate this brain region:
- Pleasure and Reward: Successfully keeping a rhythm or mastering a new drumming technique can trigger the release of dopamine, the "feel-good hormone," which directly activates the nucleus accumbens.
- Reinforcement Learning: The nucleus accumbens is critical for understanding which actions are rewarding and reinforcing this behavior. Drummers get immediate feedback—musical sound—when they perform an action, like hitting a drum. This could serve as a reward signal that promotes learning.
- Stress Relief and Emotional Well-being: The act of drumming can be cathartic, helping to relieve stress or emotional tension. The nucleus accumbens plays a role in this emotional regulation by reinforcing pleasurable experiences.
- Social Cohesion: Group drumming or playing in a band can be a social experience, often accompanied by a feeling of connection and shared purpose. Social rewards are also processed by the nucleus accumbens.
- Musical Enjoyment: Simply the enjoyment of creating music can activate this pleasure center in the brain.
- Goal-Directed Behavior: The pursuit of mastering a skill or achieving a performance milestone can be motivating. The nucleus accumbens can help reinforce this goal-directed behavior by registering the accomplishment as a rewarding experience.
- Sensory Experience: The sounds, tactile sensations, and even the visual aspects of drumming can be stimulating and enjoyable, contributing to activation of the nucleus accumbens.
- Creative Expression: Many find the creative aspect of drumming, whether it's creating new rhythms or contributing to a musical piece, to be highly rewarding and pleasurable.
- Flow State: Advanced drummers can enter a "flow state," where they are completely immersed in the activity, losing a sense of time and self, which is a highly pleasurable experience often mediated by the nucleus accumbens.
- Physical Exercise: Drumming can be physically demanding, and physical exercise is known to release endorphins, another class of "feel-good" hormones that can activate the nucleus accumbens.
- Risk and Reward: For drummers who perform live, there's an element of risk and excitement, from the anticipation before going on stage to the applause of an audience. These can be potent triggers for the reward centers of the brain.
Understanding the role of the nucleus accumbens in these various aspects of drumming could offer insights into why many find drumming to be a rewarding and even addictive activity.
10. Amygdala (emotional reactions to music)
The amygdala is a complex structure involved in processing emotions such as fear, anger, and pleasure. It also plays a role in emotional learning and memory. Here's how drumming might engage and stimulate the amygdala:
- Emotional Processing: Drumming can evoke a wide range of emotions, from joy to frustration. The amygdala helps process these emotions, enabling you to react appropriately.
- Stress Reduction: Drumming has been found to reduce stress and tension. The amygdala is heavily involved in the stress response, and drumming may help modulate its activity.
- Memory and Learning: When you experience strong emotions while drumming, the amygdala helps encode those experiences into memories. This can make your drumming practice more memorable and emotionally impactful.
- Emotional Expression: Drumming allows for emotional expression, which can be therapeutic. The amygdala can facilitate this by processing and regulating emotional output.
- Sensory Processing: The amygdala also plays a role in how we process sensory information. The sound, tactile sensation, and visual aspects of drumming can all engage the amygdala.
- Social Interaction: Group drumming or band participation has a social component, and the amygdala plays a part in social and emotional learning. Positive interactions can foster emotional well-being, while negative ones can serve as learning experiences.
- Fight or Flight: Performing in front of an audience can trigger the "fight or flight" response. The amygdala is central in this mechanism, and drumming can serve as a controlled environment to manage these stress reactions.
- Emotional Conditioning: If you associate drumming with positive experiences and emotions, the amygdala helps in forming and retaining this positive emotional conditioning.
- Anxiety Management: Drumming can serve as an outlet for managing anxiety or emotional tension. Since the amygdala plays a key role in anxiety, drumming could potentially help in regulating its activity.
- Rhythmic Synchronization: The act of synchronizing rhythms may have a calming effect on the mind, potentially involving the amygdala in moderating emotional responses.
- Emotional Resilience: Mastering a difficult piece or technique can build emotional resilience. The amygdala could play a role in enhancing this resilience by integrating emotional experiences with learning processes.
- Creativity and Inspiration: When you feel inspired or emotionally moved while drumming, the amygdala can be involved in processing these powerful emotional experiences.
Understanding the amygdala's role can provide valuable insights into the emotional and psychological benefits of drumming.
11. Improves coordination
Drumming involves the simultaneous use of both hands and feet, often performing different rhythms and patterns. This helps improve coordination by requiring the brain to communicate quickly and efficiently with various parts of the body. Drumming also engages multiple senses like sight, sound, and touch, further enhancing your ability to coordinate complex movements. It's like a full-body workout for your brain and motor skills!
12. Improves rhythmic skills
Drumming is fundamentally about keeping time and establishing rhythm. Regular practice helps you internalize various rhythmic patterns, making you more proficient at synchronizing with external cues, such as other instruments or a metronome. This skill not only makes you a better drummer but also enhances your ability to understand and appreciate rhythm in all forms of music.
It's basically like learning a new language.
13. Boosts confidence & self-esteem
Mastering the complexities of drumming provides a tangible sense of accomplishment, boosting confidence and self-esteem. Successfully learning new rhythms, patterns, or even an entire song provides positive reinforcement. This success can translate into a greater belief in one's abilities, not just in music but also in other aspects of life.
Plus, the act of performing, whether alone or with a group, can be incredibly empowering.
14. Improves discipline
Drumming demands regular practice, attention to detail, and commitment to mastering new techniques. This helps instill a sense of discipline as you set goals and work systematically to achieve them.
Sticking to a practice routine helps cultivate habits of focus and perseverance, which are transferable to other areas of life.
15. Improves concentration skills
Drumming requires acute focus on rhythm, timing, and bodily coordination. By practicing regularly, you train your brain to concentrate more effectively, filtering out distractions.
The act of reading music sheets or memorizing patterns also enhances your attention span. In essence, drumming is like a gym session for your cognitive faculties, making your concentration skills more robust and resilient.
16. Helps you achieve your musical goals
Drumming equips you with essential musical skills like timing, rhythm, and dynamic control, which are crucial for any musical endeavour. As you progress, you'll find it easier to collaborate with other musicians, interpret music sheets, or even compose your own rhythms.
Achieving these milestones takes you closer to your broader musical goals, whether that's joining a band, recording an album, or just becoming a more proficient musician.
17. Prepares you for playing in a band
Drumming serves as the backbone of most musical ensembles, requiring you to keep time and provide rhythmic foundation.
Learning to drum prepares you for the dynamics of playing in a band by teaching you how to listen, adapt, and synchronize with other instruments. You'll also gain experience in setting tempos, initiating songs, and providing dynamic shifts, which are essential skills for ensemble playing.
18. Improves fine motor skills
Re-read points 1-10 again to see why...
19. Avoids the regret of missing out on an incredible experience
Taking up drumming allows you to tap into a rich and fulfilling musical journey that many might wish they'd explored. From the sheer joy of making music to the community you become a part of, drumming offers a unique set of experiences that are hard to replicate.
By diving in, you avoid the regret of missing out on something that could not only develop your skills but also enrich your life in countless ways.
20. Gets you started on your drumming journey TODAY
Starting your drumming journey today eliminates procrastination and puts you on a direct path to skill development and self-discovery. There's a unique sense of urgency and excitement when you begin something new without delay.
You're not just planning for a future endeavor; you're actively engaging in it now.
Ready to kickstart your drumming journey today? We're here to help!
Call us at 4388376428, or visit our Contact Page to leave your details. We'll promptly send you information about our drumming lessons.
The information about the brain, in the first 10 points that were given, comes from the book This Is Your Brain On Music (hence the title of the blog post!).
Check out the book on amazon.ca
There you go, 20 reasons to start playing the drums.