Drummers, very unfairly, can be the target of some pretty mean jokes and stereotypes. For example, What do you call a drummer with half a brain? Gifted!
However, neuromusical research might just be putting an end to all of these unfair jokes. Drummers, specifically drumkit players have fascinating brains. They are an excellent group to study because the nature of the drumkit requires a command of all four limbs both individually and in a synchronised fashion. This is unusual for humans as we have a tendency to favour one side of our body more than the other. Have you ever tried cleaning your teeth with your non-dominant hand?
Drummers have also been found to process musical rhythms individually at the same time as the entire pattern they are playing. This means they can process the whole musical sound as well as its parts at the same time. Then, say, for example, they want to adjust their ride cymbal pattern, they can put the rest of their limbs on autopilot and just listen and change one out of their four limbs.
Drummers might be interested to know that their brain signatures are very similar to pipe organists who also use all four limbs at once to create melody and harmony simultaneously.
In this article, drummers have been found to have thicker fibers connecting the front half of their corpus callosum, the brain bridge that connects the two brain hemispheres. But the most mind-bending finding in this research is that drummers have less activity in their motor cortices. Yes, less! All that crazy, synchronised movement, and they have less activity in the region of their brain which controls their movement.
This phenomenon is referred to as sparse sampling: a more efficient brain organisation in the areas leads to less activation in professionals. So next time you see a professional drummer in action, take the time to appreciate their thick fibers and well-organised brains. And if you are teaching a young drummer or listening to your young drummer practice, think about how effectively they are wiring their brain with every hit!