Drumming For Children & Youth

by Christine Stevens, MT-BC, MSW, MA; Heather MacTavish, © Copyright 2008.

Drumming Has Helped Kids With

  • ADD
  • Attachment Disorder
  • Autism
  • Cerebral Palsy
  • RETT (female autism)
  • Group drumming can be used as a preventative to increase multicultural awareness in school children and decrease prejudice and violence in school.

Drumming Can Help In The Following Areas

Spirit: Yes

Body: Yes

Mind: Yes

Emotions: Yes

Social: Yes

Brief Description Of Drumming

  • Trained therapists or facilitators use drums and rhythm, in groups or individually, to help children and youth overcome the challenges they face.
  • Drumming gives all children & youth a voice.
  • Drumming is accessible and allows non-verbal communication.

Success With Drumming

  • An autistic child, age 6, who was non-verbal, used the drum while the therapist played piano and saxophone. They played “call and response” to increase attention and communications and decrease emotional outbursts.
  • Two sisters, ages 15 and 17, were suffering from attachment disorder as a result of being removed from the home. The therapist worked with both the biological and foster families to increase bonding, listening, boundary/rule setting, and emotional expression.
  • A 13 year-old child, who was severely impaired, suffered from RETT (female autism) syndrome, was wheelchair bound and appeared to look only about 5 years old. She was constantly wringing her hands, which impaired her ability to communicate and perform other tasks. After placing her hands on a remo ocean drum, there was a decrease in the occurrence of hand wringing.

Drumming Is Appropriate For Ages

  • All ages, but the earlier the better

Children & Youth’s Reactions To Drumming

  • Children love it because drumming is fun and involves them physically through their senses.
  • Children are immediate and natural drummers. They find it to be fun and immediately rewarding.
  • They enjoy being in control of themselves and feeling powerful. They remind us that there is an innate need to express our human biology in rhythm and sound. They experience an increase in self-esteem, confidence and ability to focus.
  • Some children can be shy at first, however this does not usually last long.

Extra Care Is Needed

  • Some children require adaptive mallets or drums due to movement impairment.
  • With severely traumatized children, group drumming can re-traumatize. Use one-on-one.

Contraindications: When Drumming Should Be Avoided

  • Some practitioners feel that children and teens with autism should work one-on-one but not in groups.
  • Drumming is not recommended for those with sound sensitivity.


  • Drumming began in ancient times. For as old as drumming is, it is still pretty new as a youth empowerment and therapeutic modality.
  • In 1991 the senate had a hearing on the effects of music therapy on older Americans. It is included in the Older Americans Act.
  • The Association On Aging (AOA) funded research on the effects of drumming all over America. The Rhythm for Life organization was born (now defunct), to train people to use drumming with older populations. That project produced more research and acknowledgment of the need for drumming with kids with special needs.
  • Today there are several organizations training people in how to use rhythm therapeutically.

Basic Concepts And Components Of Drumming

  • Rhythm is innate.
  • Drumming gives all children a voice.
  • It’s an intelligence that exists without any impairment, regardless of the disability.
  • Drumming provides successful experience, enhancing self-esteem of even the most “disabled children.”
  • Drumming increases attention span and creates a non-verbal modality to feel human connection.

Description Of A Typical Session

  • Work one-to-one or in groups to accomplish non-musical goals through non-verbal interaction:
  • One-to-one: rhythm games and activities are created which are improvisational and goal directed, such as copying sound if the goal is to create auditory attention.
  • Groups: children are empowered towards creative expression, listening skills, motor skills, thinking skills, social connection and psychologically boosting self-esteem.

Major Differences Of Opinion Between Practitioners

  • There is disagreement about the use of drumming with groups of autistic children.

Fees/Costs In 2007 (Averages in California)

  • Costs are similar to mental health workers fees: ranging from music therapists, psychologists, etc.
  • Cost depends upon geography and experience.
  • Free drum circles often exist in your community.

Average Time Per Session

  • Sessions are 30 to 60 minutes - depending upon attention span of child.

Recommended Length Of Time Between Drumming Sessions

  • Sessions are typically once to twice a week.
  • Frequency is determined by need. Some children benefit by drumming daily.

Estimated Length Of Time Before Improvements Can Be Expected

  • Immediate

Suggestions To Make Drumming More Effective

  • Directly participate in the sessions.
  • Encourage continued music work.
  • Work with your therapist on how to continue the work at home.

Other Methods That Are Similar To Drumming

  • None

Other Methods That Complement Drumming

  • Movement/dance therapy
  • Art
  • Poetry
  • Drama
  • Singing

Nature And Length Of Training To Be A Drumming Practitioner

Special Training Needed To Work With Children & Youth

  • Clinical internship or specialized training
  • There are two ways:
  • A music therapist who uses drumming
  • A drummer or drum circle facilitator who is trained in clinical application

Certification/Licenses Held By Practitioners

Board Certification by American Music Therapy Association (AMTA): 8455 Colesville Road; Suite 1000; Silver Spring, MD 20910; 301-589-3300; Fax: 301-589-5175; Website: www.musictherapy.org; Email: info@musictherapy.org

Professional Associations To Contact For Names Of Local Practitioners

  • American Music Therapy Association (AMTA): See above.
  • HealthRHYTHMS: See above.
  • NAMM Recreational Music Making database; rmm.namm.org, Facilitator Corner

What To Look For When Choosing The Best Practitioner

  • Make sure the person is qualified - has had proper training.
  • Make sure the person is experienced.
  • Check references.
  • Make sure that a therapy protocol is set: assessment, make plan, set goals, and evaluate the progress.

Leading Clinics, Centers, Practitioners

Research Papers And Articles Pertaining To Drumming

Note: Most of the research has been done on adults so papers pertaining to children specifically are not available.

  • Lang (1990).Supplementary Motor Area Activation While Tapping Bimanually Different Rhythms in Musicians. Experimental Brain Research, 79, 504-514.
  • “Central timing system” found in bimanual motor sequences. Central mesial cortex prevails, including parietal cortex, cerebellum and basal ganglia.
  • Mark Anshel and D.Q. Marsi (1978). “Effect of Music and Rhythm on Physical Performance”. Research Quarterly, 49, 109-113.
  • Bittman et al, Composite Effects of Group Drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neuroendocrine-Immune Parameters in Normal Subjects (2001) Journal of Alternative Therapy. Jan, 2001. p. 38-47.
  • Stevens, Christine. “Rainbows of Rhythm: Rebuilding After the Storm of Columbine.” Accessed through the UpBeat Drum Circles website: www.ubdrumcircles.com/article_rainbow.html.


  • Stevens, Christine. The Art and Heart of Drum Circles. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Co., 2003.
  • Stevens, Christine. The Healing Drum Kit. Louisville, CO: Sounds True, 2005.
  • Tomaino, Concetta. (1998). “Clinical Applications of Music in Neurologic Rehabilitation.” St. Louis. MMB Music, Inc.
  • Friedman, Robert. The Healing Power of the Drum. Gilsum, NH: Whitecliffs Media, 2000.
  • Bradway, Deborah. Website: www.remo.com; “Music Therapy as a treatment with at-risk children and adolescents”; 661-294-5600.

Helpful Tips For Parents

  • Sit down, across from your child with a frame drum and two mallets. Start a beat and have them join you. Let improvisation happen.
  • Follow the ame instructions as above. This time play a “call and response” game.
  • Drum your name or your child’s name. Take turns and have a drum conversation. Drum along with your favorite CD.

Biography of Christine Stevens, Co-Author

  • Founder, UpBeat Drum Circles
  • Consultant, Remo Inc, HealthRHYTHMS™
  • 20 Years Experience
  • Approximate total number of clients who are infants, children, or teens: 2,000
  • Degrees: BA and MA in Music Therapy, MSW, Board Certified in Music Therapy

To Contact Christine Stevens, Who Co-Contributed This Chapter

Christine Stevens; P.O. Box 55245; Valencia, CA 91385-0245; Ph: 661-799-1636; Website:www.ubdrumcircles.com and www.remo.com/health; E-mail:info@ubdrumcircles.com

Biography of Heather MacTavish, Co-Author

  • Executive Director, New Rhythms Foundation
  • Has worked with thousands of infants, children and youth

To Contact Heather MacTavish, Who Co-Contributed This Chapter

Heather MacTavish of New Rhythms Foundation; P.O. Box 1070; Tiburon, CA 94920; Ph: 415-435-4870; Website: www.NewRhythms.org; email: rhythms@rcn.comrhythms@rcn.com

Marie Mulligan’s Comment About Drumming: Drumming is now also used by licensed psychotherapists. Benefits can come from the joy of taking drumming lessons and just drumming.

Rick Geggie’s Comment About Drumming: Throughout time, many native people around the world have considered drumming and music in general to be healing. I think children respond to drumming with enthusiasm because they feel good when they drum. Drumming is easy and helps children communicate. It energizes and relaxes children, taking them out of their thoughts of the past and of the future. I use drumming whenever I get tired or tense.

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