Health drumming is catching on as a powerful therapy to both soothe and stimulate children with special needs. According to Daryl Van Hale, Principal of Melbourne Specialist International School (MSIS), the idea to launch a drumming therapy programme came about during a visit of Jayne Nadarajoo, the school’s owner and director, to Washington DC. While attending a conference there, Jayne watched a drumming performance by a group of students with autism. She called Daryl – even though it was 3am in Singapore – and excitedly explained what she’d seen. “It was amazing!” she told him over the line. “We need something like this at MSIS. Can you look into it?” Daryl’s response? “Of course!”
The programme kicked off at the school last year. Here we chat with Daryl about how it works and the many benefits it brings.
How popular is drumming therapy on a global scale?
Drumming therapy is becoming more and more popular worldwide. I found a couple of options in Singapore, but the centre I was most impressed with was Drum Prodigy. What therapeutic effects does drumming have on your students?
Drumming helps with communication needs. It’s a useful way to “talk” nonverbally and to “listen” to another person’s nonverbal communication. Plus, it’s a fun way for children to practice taking turns, share and feel like they are part of a group. Different techniques improve fine and gross motor skills and develop core and lower extremity strength, too. Playing a drum or percussion instrument also helps regulate emotions. It’s a safe way for children to express their feelings. There’s nothing better for releasing anger than banging on a drum! Finally, drumming helps their cognitive development, too. Drumming sessions allow them to work on things like focus, attention, impulse control and decision-making skills.
Is there any research on drumming as it relates to special needs children?
There are several studies that show drumming has a positive outcome on social behaviour, self-expression, self-esteem, coordination and learning. This is for children and adults, both with and without disabilities. When did you introduce drumming into your curriculum? We began drumming sessions last November. Our students get a weekly lesson from Drum Prodigy, and our teachers follow up with two to three more sessions during the week. Describe a typical session. Sessions begin with a “tuning in” period with singing and rhythmic work to focus the students’ attention. Then they work with the drums, breaking down routines into easily managed sections, following directions and, of course, having fun. At the end, they put the smaller pieces together to create a larger, more complex performance. The teachers and the students are often pleasantly surprised by what they accomplish.
A Word with A Drum Prodigy
“We believe in the power of drumming to transform lives. When words fail, beats do the talking for at-risk or special needs children. Our sessions adopt discipline, but with a playful approach. We find children with mixed abilities learn better in a playful, happier and less demanding environment.” – Shamroz Khan, Programmes Head and Principal Drum Instructor
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