There’s nothing new in the idea that playing a musical instrument can have a positive effect on your brain. But what if you’re tone deaf or not particularly musical?
Here’s a suggestion: why not take up the drums? Why? Because according to researchers from the University of Bochum in Germany, people who play the drums regularly for years have more efficient brains than those who play no instruments at all.
Published in the journal Brain and Behavior, the study concludes that drummers have fewer but thicker fibres in the main tract that connects the two halves of the brain. It also shows that their motor brain areas are organised more efficiently. It makes sense when you think about it, since drummers have to play different rhythms with both hands at the same time, not to mention use their feet too – which the rest of us may struggle with, to say the least.
“It has long been understood that playing a musical instrument can change the brain via neuroplastic processes,” says Sarah Friedrich, one of the study’s authors. “But no one had previously looked specifically into drummers, who can do things that are impossible for untrained people.”
The study tested 20 professional drummers who’d been playing for an average of 17 years and who at the time practiced for more than 10 hours a week. After a drumming session, the musicians had their brains scanned and compared with those of 24 people with no musical skills.
The researchers found clear differences in the two groups in the area of the the corpus callosum, the part of the brain that governs motor planning and connects the left and right side. The fact that the drummers had fewer but thicker fibres connecting the two hemispheres than the non-drummers suggests there’s a faster exchange of information between the two sides of the brain, they suggest. Not just that, but the drummers’ brains were less active during motor tasks than the non-drummers’ brains. This, say the researchers, shows the drummers’ brains had more efficient organisation.
Fancy learning how to play? You don’t need to splash out on a full drum kit, just start with something smaller and go from there. Also ask Google if there’s a drum group/class/workshop where you live, as playing with other people will help you learn faster.