There is growing evidence that music and musical training is useful as a therapeutic tool and to support learning (see for example, Habib’s, 2016, and Rautenberg’s, 2013, research). However, as a classroom or specialist teacher you don’t have time to teach students a musical instrument. Fortunately, there is also a growing body of research showing the therapeutic effectiveness of drumming (see for example Ho et al., 2011).
Drumming can be an effective strategy for:
- Refocusing students.
- Defusing a stressful situation.
- Providing a non-verbal means of expression and exploring emotional issues.
- Engaging the student.
- Practising or emphasising a particular skill.
- Breaking a session into smaller units.
I would strongly advise against using drumming as part of an overt reward system.
Suggestions for using drumming in your teaching sessions:
You can purchase a drum, make a drum or even use the table top as the drum. Begin by teaching your student three basic drum techniques. As students practise each technique have them observe the different sounds that are produced. They don’t need to vocalise this in any way. The most important element of drumming is to be relaxed. Therefore, before you even start, have students loosen their shoulders and shake their arms and hands.
- Strong: Hit the middle of the drum.
- Soft: Hit the side of the drum.
- Rumble: Rapidly hit the side of the drum.
- Asymmetrical bilateral movement.
- One hand drums the other hand makes a circle, scratches head, waves, rubs stomach, chin, nose, ear, etc.
- After a short time, change hands so the alternate hand is drumming.
- Rumble to answer ‘yes’ to questions. Don’t drum if the answer is ‘no’.
- Ask obvious questions such as: Are you a boy/girl? Are your eyes blue/brown? Are you in Year 1/5/10?
- Intersperse with feeling/emotional questions: Are you angry/happy/sad? Are you finding the work easy/difficult/boring?
Copy my pattern.
- Produce a short rhythm for students to copy. This might include claps, clicks and silence (rests).
- Always give the student an opportunity to produce a rhythm for you to copy.
Find the student’s heart beat and have him/her beat in time. Very gradually slow the drum beat.
- This is a useful activity to use when students are angry or stressed as it helps them become aware of their physical response to their feeling and gives them an external way of reducing that physical response.
Ask the student to play the drum in a way that represents different feelings.
- Then ask them to play the drum to show how they are currently feeling.
- Always finish by asking them to play in a way that shows they are happy or motivated.
Say an affirmation in time to a drum rhythm.
- Practise the rhythm first before adding in the affirmation.
- Keep it short, positive and relevant to the student (e.g., I am good at persevering. When the going gets tough, I get going. I try and try and try and try. I’m going to be the best I can be.) Only use one at a time. It is probably best to choose the one phrase relevant to that particular student and always use.
- Each time the phrase is repeated, you should say: “Yes you are” or “Yes you can” to your own drum beat.
- Starting beating slowly on the edge of the drum (rain falling lightly).
- Gradually increase the speed and strength of the beat moving to the middle of the drum (storm building).
- At the ‘height of the storm’ include crashing thunder and zipping lighting (scratch across surface with fingernails).
- Gradually return to slow beating on the edge of the drum.
- Stop and appreciate the silence.
Repeat a rule of a phoneme story picture to a drum beat.
- ‘e’ goes away when ‘ing’ comes to stay or any other suffix beginning with a vowel.
- There is a church. Outside the church is a little girl holding a flower.
- Drum a short rhythm. To introduce this idea, you might even say something like “Hello Tom. How are you?” as you are beating to convey the idea of a conversation.
- The student then responds with their short rhythm.
- Continue for a few turns.
- Have the student move in time to your drum beat.
- Start with a simple, constant beat.
- As the student’s confidence and ability grow, you can increase the complexity of the rhythm.
Habib, M., Lardy, C., Desiles, T., Commerias, C., Chobert, J., & Besson, M. (2016). Music and Dyslexia: A New Musical Training Method to Improve Reading and Related Disorders, Frontiers in Psychology, 7(26). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2016.00026.
Habibi, A., Cahn, B., Damasio, A., & Damasio, H. (2016). Neural Correlates of Accelerated Auditory Processing in Children Engaged in Music Training. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience. doi.org/10.1016/j.dcn.2016.04.003
Ho, P., Tsao, J., Bloch, L., & Zeltzer, L. (2011). The Impact of Group Drumming on Social-Emotional Behavior in Low-Income Children, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. doi.org/10.1093/ecam/neq072
Overy, K., Nicolsona, R., Fawcett, A., & Clarkeb, E. (2003). Dyslexia and Music: Measuring Musical Timing Skills, Dyslexia, 9, 18–36
Rautenberg I. (2013). The effects of musical training on the decoding skills of German-speaking primary school children. Journal of Research in Reading, 38 (1), 1-17.