Got Rhythm? Drumming Changes Brain Wiring

Science Fields

A team of researchers led by Dr. Lara Schlaffke and Associate Professor Dr. Sebastian Ocklenburg at Ruhr-University Bochum recently published a study about professional drummers in Brain and Behavior. Their work suggests that drummers are at an advantage in terms of the way their brains are wired.

There is robust evidence that playing musical instruments creates change in the motor networks of the brain. This is called neuroplasticity or the ability of the brain to change and adapt to its environment.   

Over the past couple of decades, researchers have focused on investigating the neuroplastic effects of professionally playing instruments like the violin and piano. However, what is special about drumming is that both hands and legs have to be coordinated to play different rhythms at the same time. As such, drummers’ ability to gracefully coordinate the different parts of their bodies to play beautifully complex rhythms put them in the spotlight for neuroscientific investigation. 

A total of 20 drummers with approximately 17 years of experience participated in the study. These drummers practiced for an average of 10 hours per week. 

The participants had to perform a drumming test using a Playstation 3 drum set which offered them a realistic simulation of playing drums. The participants were instructed to play six different rhythms with 120 bpm (note that a beginner drummer plays at around 60 bpm). Then, an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scan was performed to investigate the neural correlates of drumming. 

Unsurprisingly the pros performed significantly better than controls. Moreover, their corpus callosum had fewer but thicker fibers. The corpus callosum connects the two hemispheres of the brain as it allows for information to pass through the left and right sides. Therefore, thicker fibers in drummers allowed for a faster exchange of information between the two halves of the brain. In fact, drumming performance was positively correlated with the thickness of corpus callosum fibers. 

According to the researchers, “long‐term learning of complex motor tasks could lead to substantial restructuring in cortical motor networks.” In other words, practicing complex motor behaviors helps the brain become more efficient at organizing information over time. 

This study is a prime example of our brains’ ability to change when it is introduced to novel stimuli. If you have been looking for a sign to start playing a musical instrument, this is it!


  • 1. https://news.rub.de/english/press-releases/2019-12-09-neuroscience-how-playing-drums-changes-brain
  • 2. Lara Schlaffke, Sarah Friedrich, Martin Tegenthoff, Onur Güntürkün, Erhan Genç, Sebastian Ocklenburg: Boom Chack Boom – A multimethod investigation of motor inhibition in professional drummers, in: Brain and Behavior, 2019, DOI: 10.1002/brb3.1490
  • 3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/318065.php