The musical instrument that can help rebuild your brain

The power of rhythm and drumming is something I’ve been passionate about for most of my life. And I’ve been sharing it with others since the late 80’s—first as a performer in the band Rusted Root…

And then as an educator—leading over 3,000 rhythm-based events and classes since 1999…

Early on, I knew that drumming helped clear my mind.

And it turns out, science backs up my experience.

Research has confirmed drumming has numerous health benefits, including improving brain health.

In fact, recent studies show drumming can help keep your brain young for years to come…And the more often you do it, the more benefits you get.

Today, I’ll tell you how to “tap into” the brain-boosting power of drumming—even if you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. More on that in just a minute. But first, let’s take a look at what research has to say about this simple, pill-free technique…

Building brain connections

A 2019 study conducted in Germany analyzed the brains of professional drummers to those of non-drummers. Upon examining the drummer’s MRI scans, they found that fibers in their corpus callosum—which is the part of the brain that connects the two hemispheres—were significantly thicker than those who didn’t play music.

This allows nerve impulses to travel from one side of the brain to the other more quickly.

In other words, repeating rhythms—like with drumming—gets the different parts of your brain “talking” with each other. It encourages your brain to literally “grow” new connections that weren’t previously there—thus improving mental cognition.

Like practicing any new skill, these pathways are strengthened through regular repetition. The more you repeat the pattern the “deeper” the pathway gets and the easier it becomes for you to remember it.

But that’s not all. A second way rhythmic drumming helps keep your brain strong is with something called the “Hebbian theory.” It states that “neurons that fire together, wire together.”

For instance, drumming uses one part of the brain—and listening to music uses another part. But when you drum along to the beat of a song as you listen, you cause neurons to fire in both areas simultaneously. This helps to strengthen connectivity and leads to faster and more-permanent changes in your brain.

But you don’t have to be a professional drummer to reap these benefits.

Anyone can use rhythm to sharpen their brain. No musical ability—or even a drum— required. All you need is a willingness to try something new…

Practice makes perfect

Anyone who has attempted to learn a new instrument knows that doing so involves lots of repetition.

Though it can seem tedious at first, this repetitive brain training is exactly what creates those new brain pathways and connections to develop.

That’s why I created a series of exercises I call Neuro Rhythm Brain Builders. (You can see an example here.) And the best part is, you can do these brain-boosting exercises right from the comfort of your chair!

Like practicing any new skill, using rhythm to fortify your brain becomes more likely through regular repetition.

The more you repeat these patterns, the “deeper” the coordination pathway gets—and the sharper your brain.

You can find more rhythm-based brain-building activities in my Sound Mind Protocol. To learn more about it or enroll today, click here.


Hötting K, Röder B. 2013. Beneficial effects of physical exercise on neuroplasticity and cognition. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 37:2243–2257.

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About the author

Jim Donovan M.Ed., is a professional musician and educator. He's an Assistant Professor at Saint Francis University where he teaches music and how the power of sound can help you experience a healthier life.