Drumming should be included in national curriculum to help autistic children, says Blondie drummer

04 July 2023

Blondie drummer, Clem Burke is calling for drumming to be included in the national curriculum after the latest research carried out by his foundation showed positive effects on brain function and behaviour among adolescents with autism.

Results of an initial study by the Clem Burke Drumming Project – involving experts from the universities of Essex, Chichester, King’s College London, and Hartpury – showed, through MRI scans, that participants who improved their drumming skills showed fewer signs of hyperactivity, inattention and repetitive behaviours and demonstrated better control of their emotions. The research clearly identified regions of the brain that respond to the stimulus of combining multiple limbs.

The study is being conducted in further schools around the UK to back up the initial findings with qualitative real-time data.

A team of scientists led by the University of Essex will be showcasing their research at this year’s Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition.

There are more than 160,000 autistic pupils in schools across England, with 70% of them in mainstream schools. But, three quarters of parents say their child’s school place does not fully meet their needs. A fifth of children with autism have been excluded from school at least once.

Clem Burke said: “This landmark study is the first of its kind to show how the brain responds positively to drumming and how it can help children with autism and other social and emotional difficulties.

“Given the pressure schools are currently facing trying to deal with a huge rise in the number of children experiencing social and emotional problems and learning difficulties, adding short drumming sessions to the curriculum could be a game-changer at minimal cost and effort. We at the Clem Burke Drumming Project would like to see further research and trials into the use of drum-based interventions and their potential benefit to children with inhibition-related disorders and emotional and behavioural difficulties.”

As part of initial research, adolescents received two individual drumming lessons per week for eight weeks and were compared to a group of adolescents who received no lessons. Each session included a drumming assessment, an MRI scan and a parent completing a questionnaire related to the participant’s behavioural difficulties.

The study, funded by the Waterloo Foundation charity, was published in neuroscience journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year.

Dr Ruth Lowry, Reader in Exercise Psychology at the University of Essex and co-author of the study, said it provided the first evidence of neurological adaptations from learning to play the drums, specifically for adolescents with ASD.

The follow-up study in schools involves children taking part in regular drumming sessions. A series of behavioural measures is being analysed and the study has piloted measures used the MIDI signal from the drums. Results show a positive impact on the behaviour of pupils taking part in the study.

Owain Wyn Evans, Drummer, BBC Radio DJ and presenter, said: “I am thrilled to offer my support to the 'Drumming for Health' exhibit at the Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition. Drumming is a huge part of my life, and I know only too well the benefits it brings.

“I first heard of the amazing work of the Clem Burke Drumming Project whilst preparing for the BBC Breakfast Drumathon for Children in Need. I worked closely with Professor Marcus Smith during the run up, and during the Drumathon itself.

“I was amazed to learn through the CBDP that different regions of the brain become ‘fine-tuned’, through enhanced connectivity, following learning to drum.

“Head on over to the exhibition, meet the team, have a go on the drums and who knows, you may be the next Clem Burke!”

The Summer Science Exhibition takes place at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London, SW1Y 5AG from Tuesday 4 July 2023 to Sunday 9 July 2023. The event is free and open to the public.

Download the full programme for the Summer Science Exhibition (PDF). Twitter hashtag: #summerscience