Parkinson’s Awareness Day 2018

Parkinson's Awareness Week 2017 -

Parkinson’s Awareness Day this year is the 11th April 2018.  Over the last two and a half years I have taught a few students diagnosed with different stages of Parkinson’s and wanted to highlight the benefits these students have seen, from learning to play drums.

One student with Parkinson’s found me after her specialist told her to seek out drum lessons, as they believed it would be of benefit to slowing down the process of Parkinson’s.  I am not a Doctor or a Neuroscientist, and at first wasn’t sure what I could do to help. However, I was more than willing to give it a try.  This is what started my fascination and research into drum therapy, neuroscience plus the desire to help my students in any way I can.

My students are in the early stages of Parkinson’s and suffer with tremors, slow movement and fatigue. I have been teaching these pupils for over a year now and they have noticed a marked improvement in their symptoms, since learning to play drums.


I find there is no better way to explain the power of listening to music than through this short video of Henry.

Inspiring to watch indeed. If you have the time I recommend you watch the full documentary of Alive Inside here.

So, we now all know that listening to music is a very powerful thing, but what about learning to play an instrument and why is it that playing drums can help?


Well, unlike just listening to music, playing music actually increases serotonin and dopamine production in the brain, which through Parkinson’s, decreases with the progression of the disease. Particularly with drumming, playing an instrument helps maintain and improve muscle movement, coordination and smooth out motor control. With my pupils and from research carried out, students have noticed improvement in symptoms for hours afterwards.

Researchers believe most of the symptoms of Parkinson’s occur when the brain cells that produce the neurotransmitter dopamine degenerate. Not having enough dopamine means the brain has difficulty coordinating the body’s muscle function.

So what can we do to increase Dopamine levels in our brains? You may have been told to change your diet, reduce your sugar intake, caffeine intake, get exercise, decrease stress levels, take vitamins.  But what if we could learn a new skill that is fun but will help increase dopamine levels, reduce stress, help you relax, greatly improve your coordination and mobility, give your brain a full body work out and increase your happiness?  Learn to play Drums.


Benefits of learning the drums.

  • Playing a musical instrument relieves stress 

Researchers studying the benefits of music have reported that playing a musical instrument on a regular basis can help bring down stress. Studies show that playing an instrument helps in lowering the heart rate and blood pressure, which in turn lowers the stress hormone cortisol, thus making us feel relaxed. While just listening to music also helps, learning to play an instrument brings with it a comforting routine of daily practice that helps in keeping the stress hormones away. Michael Jolkovski, a psychologist who specializes in musicians, feels that music also helps in bringing down stress by helping people connect with others.  “Music can satisfy the need to unwind from the worries of life, but unlike the other things people often use for this purpose, such as excessive eating, drinking, or TV or aimless web browsing, it makes people more alive and connected with one another.”

  • Develop Confidence

Drumming is powerful. To be successful, drummers must learn to play dynamically: loud and soft. The act of playing a loud beat takes guts and confidence. In addition, drummers must possess a growth mindset. That is, you must believe that you can learn challenging parts by starting slow and breaking them down.

Learning drums challenges you to break complex tasks into manageable parts. Then, after persistent practice, you’re able to play something quite challenging. This is a skill that carries over in many areas of life. Believing you’re able to learn difficult material is crucial to overcome obstacles, both in music and in life.

  • Get Fit

A hardy session of drumming is a great way to get your sweat on while having fun. According to one study, “Just by using hand drums and moving to the beat, people burned an average of 270.4 calories in a half hour.”

In addition to the calorie burn, rhythmic performance can significantly impact stress reduction and wellness.

  • Lifelong Learning

You can be a drummer at any age. Once you start, you can keep drumming as long as you want. Learning drums will enhance your life well beyond your first few lessons, and as long as you never stop learning, you will have endless opportunities to improve, perform, and be the best musician you can be.

  • Playing a musical instrument fosters creativity

Stuck in everyday routine lives, many of us lose touch with our creative side. Learning to play a musical instrument, especially when you reach advanced levels, can foster that lost creativity. Since music education plays on your mental, emotional and cognitive abilities, the brain is stimulated to think out of the ordinary, which results in improved creativity.

  • Playing a musical instrument improves memory

Music and memory go hand in hand. Learning to play a musical instrument makes you use both parts of your brain and this in turn boosts memory power. Maestro Eduardo Marturet, reiterates this point when he says, “Further research has shown that participation in music at an early age can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating different patterns of brain development.” Music education is also linked to higher IQ levels and the physical development of certain parts of the brain.

  • Boost Brain Power

When you play drums, you have to coordinate all four limbs to work together at the same time. If you’re right handed, chances are you don’t do much with your left hand. Your brain has to work your non-dominant side to strengthen and coordinate your non-dominant limbs.

In a recent study, researchers found that playing drums can boost brain power in a measurable way, specifically when it comes to IQ. “Playing the drums makes the brain think in a way that very few activities can,” said Pat Brown, International Drum Month chairman and Percussion Marketing Council co-executive director. “Being able to understand musical notes and dissect how rhythms work and go together is a very complicated thought process. The most recent study shows that being constantly exposed to this type of brain activity can actually improve one’s IQ level.”

Drum Therapy

Playing drums creates an endorphin rush which can only be stimulated by playing music rather than just listening to it.  Within the UK, the research is still fairly new, however, in the USA, it is becoming commonplace to use drumming as a therapeutic strategy.

Check out the short video below that helps to further explain the massive health benefits of learning an instrument.

Studies have shown an improvement in psychological health with lower stress levels, higher energy levels, decrease anxiety and depression, stimulate the brain and even reduce fatigue.

Dr. Daniel Tarsy, Director of the Parkinson’s Disease Programme in Boston, sees meaningful change in a lot of patients who go to drum programmes “Patients look a lot different walking out an hour later than they did walking in. They literally have a bounce in their step. Their movements become more fluid – the opposite of the rigid, jerky movements typical of Parkinson’s.”

My hope is for people with Parkinson’s, to start the day sitting down at the drums and practicing, putting on their favourite music and playing along to it.  With an improved motor function and reduction in tremors, I hope people are then able for a few hours to get on with their daily tasks of shopping, seeing friends and just getting on with life without the same dependancy on drugs.

One of the reasons, and one of the exciting reasons, why music therapy has so much promise for people with neurological conditions is that music accesses the networks in the brain in a complementary fashion or differently than the function that a person has lost.  What I mean by that is we can stimulate the timing mechanisms, we can stimulate word finding ability, we can stimulate recognition memory, even short-term memory function through using music in a specific way that makes available the function in the brain that’s still there, but maybe can’t be accessed independently because of the inhibition that has taken place.

One of the leading researchers into drumming therapy is the fantastic Dr. Connie Tomaino.

Dr. Connie Tomaino, shares some of her work with Parkinson’s patients and rhythm.

“I once worked with a young person with Parkinson’s disease who had trouble initiating movement. I explored different rhythm patterns with him. We then made a cassette of different kinds of African drumming that he seemed to find very stimulating and helped him get moving. Anytime he had to walk across a street, whereas in the past he may freeze, he would put on his headphones and listen to African rhythms to get to the other side without freezing in the middle of rush hour traffic. We know that rhythmic cueing works because we have seen it clinically. The underlying mechanisms of how it works is what we are trying to understand better. Freezing in Parkinson’s disease is when the person can’t initiate movement and literally stops in his or her place. No matter how much he or she tries, he or she can’t move. It seems as if the person’s will has been removed. Even though the anticipation and desire is there, the patient’s body doesn’t respond to the signal.

In Summary

We have seen of how learning the drums for people with neurological conditions has been of massive benefit, but we don’t understand fully why that is.  Dr Connie Tomaino and her team are doing their very best to answer these questions and I hope that in the near future we can see drum therapy become a recognised alternative to slowing down the advancement of Parkinson’s.

I encourage you all to read and get involved in anyway you can for Parkinson’s Awareness Week.  If you are interested in lessons or would like to know more information regarding learning the drums, please get in touch using the contact form here.

Keep on drumming!