Dr. Marcus Smith PhD Reader in Sport and Exercise Physiology University of Chichester Co-founder, Clem Burke Drumming Project

Children with Emotional and Behavioral Issues May Benefit From Drumming Lessons

MedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Marcus Smith PhD Reader in Sport and Exercise Physiology University of Chichester Co-founder, Clem Burke Drumming ProjectDr. Marcus Smith PhD

Reader in Sport and Exercise Physiology
University of Chichester
Co-founder, Clem Burke Drumming Project

MedicalResearch.com: What is the background for this study?

Response: The research group first started to examine rock drumming from a scientific perspective in 1999 through collaboration with Clem Burke, drummer with the iconic band ‘Blondie’. In 2008 the Clem Burke Drumming Project (CBDP) was formed (visit clemburkedrummingproject.org for further information) where academics from different disciplines came together to not only explore the physiological demands of rock drumming but also the potential use of rock drumming as an intervention in research studies. Rock drumming is attractive to the scientist in that it is a unique activity that requires the coordination of multiple limbs to produce the required drumming pattern. Inherent demands relating to timing, tempo and volume must also be met. Therefore, the ability to manipulate these facets of drumming performance in a research setting is very appealing. In relation to potential research populations drumming has a universal fascination regardless of age, gender, culture, language competency and ethnicity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that drumming is a ‘cool’ activity that has a unique ‘language currency’ in terms of stimulating communication within and between those who can and cannot play the drums.

The impetus for our research study came from parents of autistic children contacting us to express their belief that drumming was having a positive effect on their child’s physical and psychological behaviour. A review of the literature showed a range of anecdotal evidence in support of such statements (Freidman 2000) and an increase in empirical drumming based research being undertaken (Bungay 2010). More recent studies have reported psychosocial benefits such as enhanced communication (Maschi et al. 2010; 2012), emotional processing and tension reduction (Flores et al. 2016; Maschi et al. 2010; 2012), group cohesion and connectedness (Blackett et al. 2005), concentration, psychomotor coordination and posture (Chen et al. 2017). The majority of this work was undertaken with adolescents with very little work focused on younger age groups.

Since the 1981 Education Act, a range of children with different emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBDs) are educated within mainstream schools in the United Kingdom. Kern (2015) reported that those children with behavioural and emotional difficulties underachieve academically compared to those with other disabilities. The formal process of being diagnosed with an intellectual or behavioural disorder (such as Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD], Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD] or Pervasive Developmental Disorder not Otherwise Specified [PDD-NOS]) is complex and time consuming. Consequently, there exist a number of children who are known by class teachers to require support but do not receive this because they do not fully meet either the diagnostic criteria or are having to wait their turn for assessment. In our study we referred to these individuals as having ‘Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties [EBD]’, which captured children with a range of such difficulties but without a formal diagnosis.

The majority of work so far undertaken in this area has concentrated on adolescents. In our study we chose to address this limitation by collaborating with a Primary school in West Sussex with a pupil age demographic of 5-11 years. As researchers we were attracted to this specific Primary School because it contained a specialist unit that catered for pupils with a profile that was of interest to us. We were able to match volunteers across experimental groups based on gender, age and regularity of school attendance. The decision to select participant’s age 7-8 years was taken as this was felt appropriate for the experimental design and protocol.

MedicalResearch.com: What are the main findings?

Response: That a drumming intervention comprising 2, 30 minute drumming lessons per week for 5 weeks had a positive effect for the children involved and enriched the learning environment of the school.

After the drumming lessons had finished, teachers rated and reported that the EBD pupils who received drumming narrowed the gap in terms of motor skills when compared to their matched peers in the control group due to being less timid and prepared to make mistakes.

Post drumming lessons teachers reported EBD pupils were less hyperactive, improved attentional control, more confident, increased enthusiasm and enhanced social engagement with peers and adults. 

MedicalResearch.com: What should readers take away from your report?

Response: Collaboration between academics and educationists is fundamental to developing a greater understanding of the challenges facing pupils with a range of behavioural and emotional difficulties in mainstream education. We were fortunate to work with an ‘open minded’ head teacher who was prepared to think creatively about the holistic care and development of pupils.

The value and meaningfulness of work focussed on pupil development is greatly enhanced by undertaking such research in a working school environment. Our experiences have shown that by undertaking research within a school setting there are often important observations that occur which sit outside the original experimental design. Unexpected observations not only help contextualise current findings but also stimulate future research.

Include parents/carers in your research design. The qualitative comments received about improved pupil behaviour in the home environment post drumming were very rewarding. For example, homework was always stressful for one particular pupil and parent. However, the parent noticed that on a week by week basis, the confrontation became less. The parent attributed this to the enhanced strength in her daughters hand and fingers as a consequence of playing the drums. She was able to grip the pen better, for longer and therefore more able to complete the tasks set. 

MedicalResearch.com: What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Like any study, the completion of one project opens up many possible next steps. As academics we are challenged to develop new ways at looking at old problems. This study offers a glimpse into what can be achieved through collaboration and adopting a ‘can do’ attitude. We are currently in the process of undertaking more research in this area and would like to hear from any individuals and organisations who would like to collaborate in the future. Please visit clemburkedrummingproject.org. 

MedicalResearch.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: There is nothing better than hearing James Brown ‘I feel good’ emanating down the corridors of a Primary School, accompanied by the sight of a group of enthusiastic 7-8 year old drummers. Close your eyes and picture the scene.

Any disclosures? 

Funding for this research was provided by the University of Chichester.
Electronic drum kits were provided by Roland Instruments UK.
Supported by Clem Burke Drumming Project.


Rock drumming enhances motor and psychosocial skills of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.

Authors: Ruth G. Lowry, Beverley J. Hale, Stephen B. Draper & Marcus S. Smith.Journal: International Journal Development Disabilities. 

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Last Updated on September 26, 2018 by Marie Benz MD FAAD