Blondie Drummer Clem Burke and Scientific Researchers Show That Drumming Can Help Kids with Autism Learn More Effectively in School

Pho­to via the Clem Burke Drum­ming Project

Musi­cians from clas­sic bands take all sorts of unex­pect­ed paths in their late careers. We’ve seen Grate­ful Dead drum­mer Mick­ey Hart col­lab­o­rate with NASA, Talk­ing Heads front­man David Byrne take on—among a dozen oth­er roles—the man­tle of librar­i­an, and Bruce Spring­steen gui­tarist Steven Van Zandt become a cur­ricu­lum devel­op­er. Turn­ing musi­cal expe­ri­ence to con­scious­ness-expand­ing avo­ca­tion has pro­duced very admirable results—perhaps no more so than in the case of two musi­cians who have used the lat­est research on music ther­a­py to help kids with autism.

We’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson’s “Rock Your Speech” project, inspired by his autis­tic son Liam’s pos­i­tive response to music. Now reports from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chich­ester describes how drum­mer Clem Burke of Blondie fame has invest­ed his celebri­ty into research on how drum­ming can help kids on the spec­trum improve learn­ing and enhance social inter­ac­tions. It must be not­ed that Burke has not come late­ly to the sci­ence. His Clem Burke Drum­ming Project (CBDP), an asso­ci­a­tion of aca­d­e­mics, drum­mers, uni­ver­si­ty part­ners, and hon­orary “Doc­tor of Rock” Burke, just cel­e­brat­ed its 10-year anniver­sary.

The project has pre­vi­ous­ly researched “the phys­i­cal demands of drum­ming; enhanced health and well­be­ing of drum­ming; enhanced brain struc­ture and func­tion fol­low­ing drum­ming prac­tice,” and oth­er drum­ming-relat­ed sub­jects, includ­ing a drum­ming video game for stress relief. The lat­est find­ings, from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chich­ester and Uni­ver­si­ty Cen­tre Hart­pury, show that “drum­ming for 60 min­utes a week can ben­e­fit chil­dren diag­nosed with autism.” The Uni­ver­si­ty of Chich­ester notes that pre­lim­i­nary results of a ten-week drum­ming inter­ven­tion com­pris­ing two 30-minute drum­ming ses­sions per week showed:

  • A vast improve­ment in move­ment con­trol while play­ing the drums, includ­ing dex­ter­i­ty, rhythm, tim­ing.
  • Move­ment con­trol was also enhanced while per­form­ing dai­ly tasks out­side the school envi­ron­ment, includ­ing an improved abil­i­ty to con­cen­trate dur­ing home­work.
  • A range of pos­i­tive changes in behav­iour with­in school envi­ron­ment, which were observed and report­ed by teach­ers, such as improved con­cen­tra­tion and enhanced com­mu­ni­ca­tion with peers and adults

These sig­nif­i­cant ben­e­fits do not apply only to stu­dents with autism; “Rock drum­ming,” says lead researcher and CBDP co-founder Mar­cus Smith, can be “a potent inter­ven­tion for indi­vid­u­als expe­ri­enc­ing brain dis­or­ders” of all kinds, and can also improve dex­ter­i­ty, rhythm, and tim­ing (nat­u­ral­ly).

Although a num­ber of stud­ies over the years have made head­lines with sim­i­lar claims, the Clem Burke Project’s ten years of research into the effects of drum­ming on brain health and behav­ior give this study par­tic­u­lar weight. Still, as always in sci­en­tif­ic research, more evi­dence can help refine the appli­ca­tions. Anoth­er researcher in the study, Dr. Ruth Lowry, sounds both excit­ed and cau­tious­ly opti­mistic in her assess­ment of the find­ings, express­ing hopes that more research will “pro­vide fur­ther evi­dence that not only does rock drum­ming have pos­i­tive ben­e­fits in terms of changes in dex­ter­i­ty and con­cen­tra­tion but that wider social and behav­iour­al con­duct ben­e­fits can be observed.”

Maybe Dr. Clem Burke and his team should start a side project with Tom Peters­son, whose musi­cal inter­ven­tions in the lives of kids with autism seem to be find­ing exact­ly such wider ben­e­fits.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Cheap Trick’s Bassist Tom Peters­son Helps Kids With Autism Learn Lan­guage With Rock ‘n’ Roll: Dis­cov­er “Rock Your Speech”

The Neu­ro­science of Drum­ming: Researchers Dis­cov­er the Secrets of Drum­ming & The Human Brain

Steven Van Zandt Cre­ates a Free School of Rock: 100+ Free Les­son Plans That Edu­cate Kids Through Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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