The power of the drum: 10 unexpected health benefits from the world’s ancient instrument

Since their invention, percussive instruments have appeared in almost every genre of music. Drums transcend cultures. Continents. Centuries. Uncovered Chinese artefacts from 5500 B.C show percussionists utilised alligator skins to make their own drums. Iconography from ancient Greek, Egyptian and Mesopotamian cultures display drums being incorporated into important social gatherings and religious ceremonies. Idiophones made from mammoth bones dating back to a whopping 70,000 B.C were found in Belgium. In short, drumming is the world’s oldest instrument.

As well as being ancient, drums use the power of music to spark artistic creativity, enhance societal development and foster social inclusion. Regardless of age, ability or aptitude, anyone can learn the drums. If music is a house, drums make the foundations. And everyone knows what happens to a house with faulty foundations. Puns aside, drumming does so much more than teach you music. Although playing the instrument is a barrel of laughs, the long-term benefits of drumming are no joke. Drumming is actually linked to several health benefits that show one can enhance their whole life through drumming. Don’t believe us? Here are 10 unexpected health benefits of drumming:

1. Reduces Stress & Anxiety

Sadly, anxiety and stress have been a part of the human condition longer than playing the drums has. In a 2022 study, research from Champion Health displays 8 million people in the UK alone suffer with anxiety. In the US a staggering 40 million people have reported they struggle with anxiety and stress. Whilst both are absolutely treatable, less than 50% of people from the UK and US seek ‘conventional’ treatments. A common concern is being wary of relying on prescription medicine to feel better. But people tend to forget about the musical medicine drumming dispenses. Studies have shown that drumming improves your overall well-being by boosting your mood. Published in the National Library of Medicine, a study by Newman et al in 2015 saw that drumming alleviates anxiety whilst enhancing well-being and social resilience among adults. “How does drumming do this?” you ask. Because like a long cycle ride, drumming is a full workout. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins. And it does the same thing whilst you drum. When you’re using all 4 limbs to learn a tune, your brain’s chugging out those feel good chemicals like they’re on a conveyor belt.

2. Mitigates Depression

Anyone who’s suffered from depression knows the difficulty of trying to quiet that negative mental chatter. That voice that looms like a dark cloud and never seems to dissipate. Drumming alleviates this by counteracting the depressed mind’s tendency to ruminate. Rhythmic drumming anchors you to the present moment. Communal drum circles have been proven to mitigate depression and increase mindfulness, too. A 10-week study by Terence Quinn in 2015 followed a group of drum circle participants that provided saliva samples to test for cortisol (the stress hormone). Scientists found that there was a shift away from a pro-inflammatory towards an anti-inflammatory immune profile amongst the participants. In short, it strengthened their immune system! So whilst nothing is a complete ‘antidote’ for depression, drumming certainly helps.

3. Lowers Blood Pressure

Regular exercise, clean diets and plenty of sunlight are the most common suggestions when it comes to lowering blood pressure. But next to no one tells you that you need to add drumming into your fitness regime. It gets the heart pumping, the blood flowing and makes for some highly enjoyable cardio. Fun fact: 30 minutes of drumming uses as many calories as a 20 km bike ride! The best part? Time flies when you’re drumming. Playing for as little as an hour a day heeds a noticeable difference in your blood pressure. So you’ll barely notice you’re working out when you’re jamming to “In the Air Tonight”.

4. Helps Ease Chronic Pain

Drumming tethors you to the present moment by distracting you from those bothersome creaks, cracks and chronic pain. When you play, the brain releases endogenous opiates and endorphins. A.k.a: the body’s natural painkillers. This is a vital help to overall health because untreated stress can manifest into strokes and even heart disease in the long run. So it’s true what they say – a “play” a day keeps the doctor away! When those endorphins hit, you’ll feel like Popeye after getting his spinach.

5. Boosts Overall Brain Power

Drumming stands alone from its instrumental counterparts. What do we mean? It’s the only instrument that uses both arms and legs. What does this do? It demands engagement from your non-dominant limbs. When you’re shredding those sticks, you’re forced to work your brain harder to make your non-dominant side keep up with the rhythm. This boosts your brain power because you’re quite literally tapping into parts of your brain left dormant. After all, drummers have a higher function in the corpus callosum. For those of you who aren’t neuroscientists, drumming connects the left and right brain hemispheres and strengthens the brain’s motor planning. A study at University of Toronto shows playing an instrument has a direct impact on IQ levels. In this study, music lessons significantly improved IQ test scores of 6-year-old children. The children showed not only improved intelligence but also enhanced social skills. See why we say that drumming is much more than just making you look cool?

6. Develops Confidence

Contrary to popular belief, confidence is not innate. Confidence is learned. Travelling, taking risks and acquiring new skills are part of this magical sauce. And guess what? So is playing the drums. Drumming shows that if you show up for yourself, dedicate hard work and practice, you will achieve results. This fosters a growth mindset and builds confidence. Sometimes we need to be reminded of this. But if you can learn the drums, you can handle anything life throws at you!

7. Burns Calories

We probably sound like a broken record by now. But the health benefits that drumming heeds need to be shouted from the rooftops. As we’ve mentioned, playing the drums helps you lose weight by burning calories. When you’re flailing those limbs to “Billie Jean” your body comes alive as if you’re jogging. Believe it or not, the average drum session burns between 200 to 500 calories. See? You don’t have to bore yourself to tears on the treadmill to lose weight.

8. Improves Coordination

If they could, Keith Moon, Phill Collins and Travis Barker would all tell you the same thing. With great drumming comes even greater coordination. The simultaneous engagement of all 4 limbs grows the motor function of the corpus callosum which is the part of the brain that sends signals left to right. Those little nerve fibres light up like a Christmas tree during drumming and improves your coordination ten fold. Whilst difficult at first, anything can be learned. And you’ll start to notice a difference in coordination a mere few weeks after starting to drum.

9. Enhances Social Life

Look – drum circles get a bad rep. Ignore the whispers of “hippie-dippie” reputation, there’s hard evidence that proves drum circles aid one’s social life. In her 1994 think piece, Barbara Crowe discovered 3 important things. One: percussion activities are highly motivating for people of all ages because response to rhythm is an ingrained human function (drums have been around since 70,000 B.C remember?) Two: drum circles have physical benefits like relaxation and refined motor skills. Three: A steady drum beat brings people together physically, emotionally, and mentally through rhythmic entrainment. So, why not try a drum circle or even start a band with your friends? These offer great ways to spark conversations with other budding percussionists who share your passion. You know what they say – music is the world’ universal language!

10. Improves Happiness

Last but not least! When you consider all of the mental and physical benefits drumming brings, all signs point to a healthier lifestyle. All this aside, the journey of learning a new skill is enough to make you smile in itself. By now you should realise that drumming releases emotional trauma, alleviates anxiety, mitigates depression and strengthens your sense of self. Drumming is more than an art, it’s medicine. And if you still don’t believe us? Pick up the sticks and see what happens. Happy drumming folks!