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Find Your Rhythm: How Drumming Can Help Manage Sensory Differences

Many people experience the world a little differently, and sometimes our brains can struggle to integrate the information we receive through our senses. This can be referred to as having sensory processing challenges, and many occupational therapists have some innovative tools and suggestions to help, like – drum lessons!

How Drumming Can Help Manage Sensory Differences

While it might seem unexpected, drumming offers a surprisingly effective way to support individuals with sensory differences. Here’s how:

The Power of Two-Sided Beats – Bilateral stimulation refers to stimulating both sides of the body in a rhythmic way. Drumming excels at this!

  • Double Duty: The basic act of drumming involves hitting the drums with alternating hands and feet, creating a constant back-and-forth motion that stimulates both sides of the body.
  • Double Trouble: This refers to drumming techniques where you hit both drumsticks together or in quick succession. This creates an even stronger bilateral effect, stimulating both sides of the body at the same time.

This rhythmic, bilateral activity is believed to:

  • Bridge the Gap: Stimulating both brain hemispheres simultaneously is thought to enhance communication between them, allowing for more efficient processing of sensory information.
  • Boost the Feel-Good Chemicals: Studies suggest drumming may increase levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters associated with well-being and focus. This improved mood can further enhance sensory processing.
The Power of Two-Sided Beats

A Symphony for All Senses

The benefits of drumming for sensory processing go beyond bilateral stimulation and engage multiple senses

Auditory: Fine-Tuning Your Listening

The rhythmic sounds of the drums provide auditory stimulation, but drumming goes beyond simply hearing sounds. It helps with auditory processing in a few key ways:

  • Discrimination: Being able to distinguish between different sounds is crucial for auditory processing. Drumming requires focusing on specific sounds – the difference between a soft tap and a hard hit, the high pitch of a cymbal and the low boom of a bass drum. This focus helps train your brain to better differentiate between sounds in everyday life.
  • Filtering: Our environment bombards us with sounds. Auditory processing allows us to filter out background noise and focus on the sounds that matter. Drumming requires concentrating on the beat you’re creating amidst the sounds of the sticks hitting the drums and your own movements. This practice strengthens the brain’s ability to filter out irrelevant auditory information.
  • Sequencing: Following a rhythmic pattern is a core aspect of drumming. This requires the brain to process the sequence of sounds and translate it into coordinated movements. This practice improves overall auditory processing by strengthening the brain’s ability to sequence auditory information.

So, drumming isn’t just about hearing sounds; it’s about actively engaging with them and training your brain to process them more effectively.

Auditory_ Fine-Tuning Your Listening

Tactile: Finding Comfort in the Rhythm

The act of hitting the drums creates tactile feedback through the hands and arms.  This goes beyond simply feeling the drumsticks and drumheads. Here’s how drumming can benefit tactile processing:

  • Modulation:  For those who are hypersensitive to touch, everyday sensations can feel overwhelming.  The predictable and rhythmic nature of the vibrations created by drumming can be calming and provide a sense of control. This allows individuals to explore tactile input in a safe and controlled environment, potentially reducing overall tactile sensitivities.
  • Discrimination: Tactile processing also involves distinguishing between different textures and pressures.  The varying textures of drumsticks and drumheads, along with the different sensations created by hitting the drums softly versus forcefully, provide opportunities to explore and discriminate between tactile inputs.  This practice can help individuals with sensory processing challenges become more comfortable with a wider range of tactile sensations.

So, drumming isn’t just about feeling the drums; it’s about using those sensations to improve overall tactile processing. 

Tactile: Finding Comfort in the Rhythm

Proprioceptive: The Body in Motion

Drumming also engages the proprioceptive sense. This sense helps us understand the position and movement of our body in space.  As you learn to drum, the coordinated movements of your hands, feet, and core stimulate the proprioceptors in your muscles and joints. This constant feedback loop helps your brain refine its understanding of your body’s position and movement, potentially improving coordination and overall body awareness. 

Vestibular Advantage: Balancing Your World

The vestibular system, located in the inner ear, plays a crucial role in balance and spatial awareness. While drumming engages multiple senses for improved integration, it also provides a unique benefit for the vestibular system. The rhythmic movements and changes in position experienced while drumming stimulate the vestibular system, which can:

  • Enhance Balance: Regular drumming practice can improve the communication between the vestibular system and the brain, leading to better balance and coordination. This can be particularly helpful for individuals who struggle with dizziness or coordination.
  • Sharpen Spatial Awareness: A well-stimulated vestibular system can enhance spatial awareness, allowing us to better understand our position in relation to our surroundings. This can improve activities like navigating crowded spaces or judging distances accurately.
Vestibular Advantage: Balancing Your World

What is Sensory Integration?

Sensory integration is the process by which our brain receives information through our senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, body awareness, and balance), organises it, and uses it to respond to the environment around us. When this process works efficiently, we can effectively interact with the world. Why is this so important? Sensory integration is the foundation for how we interact with the world. When our senses work together seamlessly, we can:

  • Learn and explore effectively: Proper sensory integration allows us to take in information from our environment through our senses, organise it in our brains, and use it to learn and explore. This is crucial for activities like reading, writing, playing, and participating in new experiences.
  • Navigate our surroundings safely: Sensory integration helps us understand our body’s position in space and respond appropriately to our environment. This allows us to avoid dangers, judge distances accurately, and maintain good posture.
  • Develop strong social skills: Sensory integration plays a role in social interaction. It helps us understand nonverbal cues, regulate our emotions, and engage in activities that require turn-taking and cooperation.
  • Feel comfortable and regulated: When our senses are integrated effectively, we can process sensory information in a way that feels comfortable and manageable. This helps us regulate our emotions, avoid sensory overload, and experience the world in a calm and focused way.

In short, sensory integration is the glue that binds our senses together, allowing us to experience and interact with the world in a meaningful and fulfilling way.

Drumming and Sensory Integration

Drumming and Sensory Integration

Drumming’s unique blend of activities – engaging multiple senses, requiring physical coordination, and fostering rhythmic expression – makes it a powerful tool for learners of all abilities. This is particularly true for those who experience sensory processing challenges, including Autistic individuals, people with ADHD, and those who are otherwise Neurodivergent.

Here’s how drumming helps with sensory integration:

  • Improved Sensory Processing: By incorporating auditory (hearing the drum sounds), tactile (feeling the drumsticks and drumheads), and proprioceptive (body awareness through movement) information, drumming provides opportunities to explore and integrate these senses. This can be especially helpful for individuals who struggle to process sensory information in a typical way.
  • Focus and Attention: The act of drumming requires concentration and coordination, keeping the mind focused on the present moment. This focus can translate to improvements in attention regulation, which can be a challenge for some with sensory processing issues.
Drumming and Sensory Processing

Additional Benefits Beyond Sensory Integration:

While sensory integration is a key benefit, drumming offers other advantages:

  • Creative Expression: Drumming allows for exploration of rhythm, dynamics, and self-expression. It provides a creative outlet that can be both stimulating and calming, fostering a sense of accomplishment and boosting overall well-being.
  • Social Connection: While drumming can be enjoyed solo, it can also be a social activity when participating in group lessons or ensembles. This can be a great way to develop social skills, teamwork, and a sense of belonging.

 

Give it a Beat!

Drum lessons offer a fun and affirming way to support sensory differences. With its focus on bilateral stimulation and multi-sensory engagement, drumming can be a powerful tool for improving overall sensory integration. Here at Pro Music, our experienced and passionate drum instructors create a welcoming and supportive environment where students of all ages and abilities can thrive.

So, why not give it a try? You might be surprised at the positive impact it can have on your ability to manage sensory input and experience the world in a way that feels comfortable and joyful. Contact Pro Music today to learn more about our drum lessons and find your rhythm!