Healthy Drumming, Healthy Life
Many people consider the drumming lifestyle to be one of rebellion and impulsive life choices. Drummers of any band have a bad reputation of being the crazy, risk taking animal that the Muppets have declared them to be. However drummers seem to know something that most others don’t: the key to a healthy elongated existence. Drumming can have benefits equal to that of extreme sports, while simultaneously refining the mind, body, and spirit. With people like Charlie Watts from the Rolling Stones still drumming at the lively age of 79, and an orchestral drummer by the name of Viola Smith living and rocking out until her passing at the age of 107, there must be something that non drummers are simply missing out on. Of all the ways to extend and increase the quality of one’s life, few would’ve guessed that drumming would help in doing just that. However, compared to other members of a band such as guitar players and vocalists, the drummer is the healthiest of all. Comparable to the likes of cycling and swimming, drumming is a great means of physical exercise. It is also a great mental workout when it comes to coordination, and a perfect social amplifier and medium when it comes to the community of performing music. Assisting in all aspects of health, drumming is a great choice to lead a healthy, long lasting life.
To first understand drumming’s physical benefits as a means of exercise, it’s important to look first at the benefits of exercising alone. Everyone understands that exercise is healthy and good for the body, but to understand more clearly, Frank J. Penedo goes into extreme detail in his study “Exercise and Well Being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity.” Through examining multiple subjects and data, Penedo concludes, along with Jason Dahn, that “physical inactivity doubles health risks,” and “such inactivity during middle age appears to shorten the lifespan.” It has a clear benefit and association with extended life expectancy and health. Exercise on its own is able to keep one’s body at peak performance, or at least in better shape than no activity. It can, as Penedo states, reduce risks for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and arthritis in later years, and these are merely the physical benefits associated with exercise.
Physical activity in later years also assists in preserving the mind and mental state of individuals. A lack of activity or exercise can cause slower reactions and response times as well as lead to decreased motor coordination. In a study performed by Marika Berchicci et al titled “Benefits of Physical Exercise on the Aging Brain,” it was found that physical exercise is particularly important from middle age onwards when it comes to this metal preservation aspect. Berchicci states that “in middle-aged and older individuals, moderate-to-high levels of physical exercise has beneficial effects on the planning and execution of a response.” It is clear that continued and consistent activity can result in prolonged mental alertness and proficiency in addition to preserving motor skills by activating the prefrontal cortex, as Berchicci has concluded. Now that the benefits of exercise have been explored, it’s easier to understand how physical activity, especially in those of older ages, can help to facilitate a healthier and in some cases elongated lifestyle. Now it is possible to look onto drumming and become aware of just how physically and mentally demanding it truly is.
Everyone knows that to be healthy, you must exercise regularly. So it would make sense that being healthy enough to live longer can be attributed to exercise or vigorous physical activity. Through a study performed by the University of Gloucestershire, De La Rue et al. conclude that drumming- specifically of the rock and pop genres- has been found to have the same physical demands as activities such as “running, cycling, ice and field hockey, and competitive volleyball.” The study took several drummers and gave them a specific beat to play while measuring their heart rates. They found that the peak heart rate of the drummers was around 186bpm, which qualifies drumming as a vigorous physical activity and therefore exercise. “The time spent engaged in vigorous activity is sufficient that there are likely to be long-term health benefits from prolonged participation,” and while the life span of drummers specifically has never been researched, it’s clear that this abundant amount of exercise is only helping their health. Exercise through drumming provides enough METs, which is a measurement of the amount of energy it requires to sit- otherwise known as a metabolic equivalent- to where these individuals that were studied “have a significantly reduced risk of mortality from cardiovascular diseases,” states De La Rue. From this study it’s clear as to what the physical benefits of drumming are, but physical health isn’t all that attributes to a long lasting life.
Emotional health is just as important, and being immersed in the musical experience of drumming has been proven to assist in this aspect as well. Of course it’s clear to everyone how drumming can be a form of anger management, however it is also a means of meditation. Drumming presents a way for people struggling emotionally to increase the quality of their mood as well as alleviate anxiety. The act of drumming requires immense concentration, “which can prevent worrying,” and as Perkins, author of “Making Music for Better Health,” describes, it causes “deep breathing, which can counteract anxiety, social support which can reduce feelings of isolation, learning which keeps the mind active, and regular commitment that motivates people to remain active.” Perkins goes on to say that for mental health to flourish, it’s understood that five elements are required to do so; positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and a sense of accomplishment, and drumming- even the world of music as a whole- satisfies all aspects. The drumming community alone provides immense support and a sensation of belonging, and the act of creating music through rhythmic drumming is perfect training for the mind. This sense of belonging and meaning through creating music is ideal for those who feel as though they don’t have a place or purpose- emotions that can lead to and cause a variety of mental health issues as well as the possibility of taking one’s own life. Of course there’s not a direct correlation stating that drumming prevents suicide, however those who have outlets and a means of dealing with stress ultimately have more positive thoughts and healthier lives.
Mentally, the drums are heavily reliant on coordination and focus, which are a must have for drummers. This vast amount of cognitive refinement that accompanies drumming is perfect for people who suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD, you name it. Focusing and committing to the drums requires a great deal of concentration and commitment as well, which for many aides in alleviating these irritating and sometimes maddening mental disorders. According to Maria S. Kopp’s article, “Where Psychology Meets Physiology,” high amounts of stress as well as mental turmoil, such as a sense of hopelessness, affect the lifespan of those who suffer, even affecting cardiovascular health. With drumming helping to reduce this stress and help mentally, it can act as a medium in reaching an extended life. Patients suffering from depression and other disorders are often introduced to a drum circle, and following the circle according to Perkins, one patient said that “I would go away and I had them [rhythms] in my head… the sound we produced was amazing. I focus on a sort of driving, repetitive thing that I just liked,” which provided an escape. It allows the busy and crowded minds of these individuals to fixate on one task, a task that requires so much concentration that the negatives are drowned out- like meditation.
To live a long healthy life, all aspects of health must reach a high level of adequacy- physical, mental, and emotional. Drumming, as a medium, assists in all of these aspects. Having an outlet and activity as mentally demanding as drumming assists in cognitive strength and mental health, and being a part of it’s community and having a sense of purpose through the instrument provides emotional support. The physical benefits are clear as well, comparable to several high intensive activities. Overall, drumming satisfies all necessary subcategories of health, and can lead to a longer, healthier life.
With all good things, there are ultimately negatives that accompany the positives, and drumming is no exception. Even though there may seem to be a clear abundance of great health benefits from the act of drumming, there are physical and mental attributes that may seem to outway the good. Social inhibitors of drumming can be seen mainly through famous drummers of the twentieth century, where the pressure has gotten to them. Physically, there are all kinds of injuries that can be caused from this activity, some of which are irreversible such as hearing damage. However with all these negatives, it must seem like a claim that drummers live longer healthier lives couldn’t possibly be true.
The physical results that come from drumming are the most obvious, as they are the ones that can typically be the most dangerous and threatening to the drummer’s well being and career. Hearing damage is almost heavily associated with drumming, and is the most obvious negative outcome from the activity. In addition to simply hearing loss, Dana Halevi-Katz describes in her article “Exposure to music and noise-induced hearing loss,” that the “most frequent hearing disorders that affect musicians are tinnitus, a sporadic, acute phenomenon of phantom noise… and hyperacusis, an increased auditory sensitivity to loudness.” However this irreversible impairment is easily avoidable as long as the drummer properly protects their ears. Overuse injuries of tendons and joints are almost as common, with injuries such as tendonitis and “tennis elbow,” or lateral epicondylitis seriously affecting the ability and health of the drummer. All drummers from professional to casual are required to hit hundreds if not thousands of notes constantly, and when those notes come from constant bombardment from a stick of wood hitting several types of surfaces, injuries are bound to occur. With all these notes, as explained by Alberto Selvaettis, a Sports Medicine physician, “a cumulative microtrauma can result, leading to the mechanical fatigue of a tendon, that becomes unable to withstand further stress.” While these injuries can be clear reasons to steer clear of drumming, with proper technique it is possible to avoid these injuries, and the positive physical attributes such as the vigorous exercise counteract this negative.
The art and act of drumming, while it does help to refine the mind, can also seem to lead to some seriously detrimental mental effects. Primarily seen in performing and professional drummers, the constant stress, pressure, and responsibility that comes with being the drummer can easily overwhelm anyone. Drummers have the responsibility to hold the band together and provide structure and stability to any song being played, which can be extremely stressful for those who don’t know how to handle it. They must learn to be good leaders, as they are the heart of the band and can change the overall feel of any song just by changing the groove. As musicians that specialize in rhythm, there is constant pressure to attain rhythmic perfection, speed, and accuracy in everything that is played, and as Joachim Stoeber describes in her study, “Perfectionism in School Teachers,” “perfectionism has been associated with higher levels of stress and burnout.” Many drummers that stop playing drums quit for this exact reason. When their hobby is made into a career, many drummers feel a sense of burnout, which is also caused by this fear of not achieving rhythmic and musical perfection. Stoeber continues by explaining “it is not striving for perfection that is associated with burnout, but negative reactions to failure to achieve perfection,” and the pressure of not being perfect and not being good enough gets the better of them so it can become appealing to abandon the activity all together. Although overwhelming, these demands help force leadership skills and self discipline to be obtained, ultimately bettering them as individuals and making them stronger mentally.
The pursuit of rhythmic and musical perfection demands a lot of time and dedication, and those countless hours required can easily sweep drummers as well as other musicians away from having a healthy social life outside of music. For drummers looking to make it big or even just college drummers and musicians in general, these countless hours of practicing , when taken to the extremes, lead to social isolation to accommodate these demands. In Holt Lunstad’s study, “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality,” this isolation has been proven to host several “psychological, behavioral, and biological pathways by which social isolation and loneliness leads to poorer health and decreased longevity.” Stepping away from college level, the travel that is required for touring drummers and the performance times required for studio drummers can also lead to this feeling of isolation. Of course, this only takes place if drummers shut themselves down to focus on achieving perfection, but for most musicians this rarely occurs and the social benefits of being a part of the community overcome this isolation. For touring musicians, many are away from home for months at a time or even a year. This time away can, as described by Luke Britton in “Musicians on the dark side of touring,” can cause “a breakdown of personal relationships, with many musicians feeling alienated from loved ones back home.” Outside of the music world, it is difficult for drummers to balance their social life. Although for many drummers, the music world is their only world and they wouldn’t have it any other way. This social cut off also allows musicians to meet hundreds of other people, that all love the same thing that they do. There is nothing comparable to the sense of community that comes with being a musician, and when it comes to drumming specifically, it’s like a universal family.
Like most things, drumming has its potential risks and negatives. With the physical, mental, and social benefits comes another side of the coin. To some it may seem as though the physical risks and mental demands of drumming are not worth it, and for many this may be a clear sign to avoid drumming either professionally or casually. But in the end, the benefits far outweigh the negatives and through the activity it is possible to become the healthiest version of one’s self. All negatives, whether physical injuries, mental stress, or social hindrances are easily avoidable and if approached properly can result in refinement and growth.
Berchicci, Marika. “Benefits of Physical Exercise on the Aging Brain: The Role of the Prefrontal Cortex.” 2013. https://bit.ly/3vLcyyH
Britton, Luke Morgan. “Insomnia, Anxiety, Break-ups… Musicians on the dark side of touring.” The Guardian. 2015. https://bit.ly/3wGzYGy
De La Rue, S. E. “Energy Expenditure in Rock/ Pop Drumming.” 2013. https://bit.ly/39qRuVl
Halevi-Katz, Dana N. “Exposure to music and noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) among professional pop/rock/jazz musicians.” 2015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4918652/
Holt-Lunstad. “Loneliness and Social Isolation as Risk Factors for Mortality: A Meta- Analytic Review.” 2015. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691614568352
Penedo, Frank J. “Exercise and well-being: a review of mental and physical health benefits associated with physical activity.” 2005. https://bit.ly/2QUyQir
Kopp S., Maria. “Where psychology meets physiology: chronic stress and premature mortality.” 2003. https://bit.ly/3szmFp1
Perkins, Rosie. “Making music for mental health: how group drumming mediates recovery.” 2016. https://bit.ly/3sBRysO
Selvanetti, Alberto. “Overuse tendon injuries: Basic science and classification.” 1997. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1060-1872(97)80031-7.
Stoeber, Joachim, and Dirk Rennert. 2008. “Perfectionism in School Teachers: Relations with Stress Appraisals, Coping Styles, and Burnout.” Anxiety, Stress & Coping 21 (1): 37–53. https://search-ebscohost-com.ezproxy.rowan.edu/login.aspx?direct=true&db=s3h&AN=27528905&site=ehost-live.
Vardonikolaki, Aikaterini. “Musicians’ Hearing Handicap Index: A New Questionnaire to Assess the Impact of Hearing Impairment in Musicians and Other Music Professionals.” 2020. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_JSLHR-19-00165