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The Physiology of Drumming

Drummers gather in rhythm
Drummers gather in rhythm
Photo taken by Zamzam Ausar

Are you stressed out? Do you find it hard to stay away from the doctor? Are you struggling with cancer? Do you find it hard to relax? Drumming has been found to have a variety of therapeutic applications that may be able to address these questions. (See previous article for more on these)

A recent study from japan recorded the body's physiological response by looking for changes in mood as well as changes in the blood.

Tension/Anxiety, depression/dejection, anger/hostility, fatigue/inertia, and confusion/bewilderment were all measured before and after a drumming session. All were shown to lower within both the younger (below 65 years old) and older groups (above 65 years old).

As far as the biological parameters that were measured from the blood, the following changes were reported: Both noradrenaline and dopamine levels increased in both groups (some antidepressant medication stimulates noradrenaline, ADHD medication stimulates dopamine); white blood cell counts, neutrophils, lymphocytes, T cells and B Cells; all increased in both groups showing an increase in the activity of the immune system.

A similar study was conducted by Barry Bittman, MD. He measured increase of Natural Killer (one of the methods the body uses to combat cancer and viral illnesses) and Lymphokine-Activated Killer cell activity. This correlates to a strengthening of the body's natural immune response. This also illustrates a direct connection between the external senses and the natural immune system.

Stress is the leading cause of physiological and psychological disease. Many of us are unable to find time in our busy lives to experience even a taste of quality relaxation. Even when we lie in bed with our loved ones, our mind has a tendency to race, complaining about an angry boss or useless coworker, worrying about the presentation or board meeting of the following day, wondering if our children will find happiness and success in this world that is continually growing with chaos. Thus, even relaxing activities are no longer relaxing.

Drumming is one method that can reverse the effects of stress. Keep an eye out for future posts drumming groups in Huntsville. A group on Saturdays is currently on hiatus, and the Sunday community drum circle is currently looking for an indoor location for the winter. Stay tuned, as more opportunities to drum are just around the corner.


  • Drummer, MT-BC 4 years ago

    It's important to note that the Bittman study focused on a composite activity that included humor and guided imagery, both of which have been shown to have health benefits on their own. The question remains: "Would the same benefits be measured without the additions of humor and guided imagery?" Another factor to consider is who led the study. The text indicates that it was a music therapist, which is someone with skills and qualifications in a allied health field. It's difficult to tell if drumming without a music therapist would produce similar results. More studies are likely needed to show predictable benefits from basic group drumming, but these are both good starting points.

  • Profile picture of Scott Robertson
    Scott Robertson 4 years ago

    Very true, thank you for pointing that out. I considered adding such details, but I only have a 400 word limit. So I included the articles so that readers have access to the full-text. I can see how my wording may have been unclear, and that people may assume that this research is saying that drumming will cure cancer.

    Bittman touches on that specifically: "Bittman cautions against oversimplification or exaggeration of the study results. “If someone asked me right now, ‘Is this treatment valuable for cancer patients?’ I would say we have only the first step to say there’s promise, and we need more research,” he says. “Future investigations will study the effects of group drumming on subjects who already have cancer and other diseases. We also need to determine how long the beneficial changes last and the frequency of sessions required to maintain the benefits. Ultimately we will explore the applicability of the therapy outside a controlled clinical environment,” Bittman explains."

    I, however, was not suggesting that drumming can cure cancer. I edited the article to try to make more clear, that drumming reduces stress. There IS substantial research that shows that group drumming has positive effects on individuals: nursing students, management students, inner city kids, psychiatric patients, substance abuse patients, and now, potentially cancer patients are on the list of groups of people that drumming has helped. I can't see a study that involves the examination of blood contents even being thought of, if there was not previous research to suggest a physiological response to drumming.

  • Scott Robertson 4 years ago
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