ADHD & Drumming

Short for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. A condition characterized by symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. But not all of these need to be present for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD. The terms ADD, and ADHD are often used interchangeably; however, one incorporates the hyperactivity factor along with inattentiveness, while the other predominantly has struggles to focus and keep concentration/attention. Short attention spans are noted across both of these.

ADHD & Drumming

What do we know?

The drums are one of the few instruments that access the entire brain… Active engagement and practically playing rhythms helps to sync the left and right hemispheres of our brain, leaving us feeling more connected with ourselves.

There is still an enormous amount of knowledge needed to be uncovered for us to better and more comprehensively understand the cognitive and psychological reasons behind the disorder. This in fact, rings true across most learning and behavioural disorders. However, positive ADHD diagnosis is becoming more and more prevalent across the world, encouragingly leading to a major increase in information about the disorder over the past decade.


This rise in awareness is beating a stigma that is well on its way to no longer scaring us; helping this cause is the increasing number of celebrities that are speaking out about having not only ADHD/ADD, but a variety of learning and behavioural disorders such as Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).

Among these celebs with ADHD/ADD are:

Justin Timberlake (NSync, solo artist) ADHD and OCD – he’s known for beat boxing (highly rhythmic and based on drum patterns) especially in his earlier records.

Adam Levine (Maroon 5) – started as a drummer and still occasionally takes a seat a behind the drums.

Will.I.Am (Black Eyed Peas, solo artist, producer) – his rapping, hip-hop/techno/dance music is all heavily rooted in rhythm and groove.

Florence Welch (Florence and the Machine)

Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (Aerosmith)


Ozzy (Black Sabbath, solo artist) – has both ADHD and Dyslexia


Well known celebs who have spoken out about having Dyslexia:

Carly Simon (solo artist)

Jewel (solo artist)

Joss Stone (solo artist)

Lou Reed (solo artist)

Noel Gallagher (Oasis, solo artist)

Stuart Copeland (The Police)

Tony Bennett (solo artist)


A few world-renowned drummers noted for having ADHD are:

Buddy Rich

Kieth Moon (The Who)

Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac)

Aaron Gillespie

Dave Lombardo

But not all people with ADHD necessarily become accomplished musicians, some notable celebrities from outside the music world with ADHD/ADD include: Will Smith (actor), Michael Phelps (olympic gold medalist), Jamie Oliver (chef), Jim Carrey (actor), and Richard Branson (entrepreneur; who proved the Psychology Today’s statistic that someone with ADHD is 300% more likely to own their own [successful] business).

What about Medicating?

A variety of medication is available on the market, however these have a tendency to not last very long (causing some significant behavioural problems when the medicine wears off in some cases), or last too long (too high a dosage), as well as the high risk to carrying a large array of side-effects. Furthermore, the long-term effects of continued prolonged use have not been effectively studied, although, unfortunately signs and instances of addiction have already been reported.

Having said that, in very recent years a small group of GP’s are reported as becoming more aware of how easily slight changes in dosage can affect the users. And as such are approaching the medicating process more incrementally, allowing themselves time to find the correct measure.

Historically (as with a lack of awareness), people simply just dealt with the pitfalls of inattentiveness and the complaints from teachers deeming them disruptive in class, until adulthood approached - by which time they had typically found their personal and more beneficial manners of managing the lack of focus themselves... although, this does not necessarily mean they have reached their potential. This leads us to alternative approaches.

Music therapy is a well-known alternative measure to combating the disorders. “Nothing activates the brain so extensively as music,” says Oliver Sacks, M.D., professor of neurology at Columbia University and author of Musicophilia.

Among a variety of concepts that may work, this is where music is being proven as an aid; whether it was a by chance occurrence by a sufferer that seemed to work when studying or trying to relax and switch off; or as in more recent times where studies are purposefully being carried out to empirically display the beneficial properties music plays on so many of our major cognitive functions, coordinative functions, emotional responses, and psychological functions.

“For children with ADHD, music therapy bolsters attention and focus, reduces hyperactivity, and strengthens social skills. Music is rhythm, rhythm is structure, and structure is soothing to an ADHD brain struggling to regulate itself to stay on a linear path. Music exists in time, with a clear beginning, middle and end,” says Kirsten Hutchison, a music therapist at Music Works Northwest. "That structure helps an ADHD child plan, anticipate, and react.” Take this notion of how rhythm is so highly effective, and combine it with the physical, primal, interactive innateness of banging the drums… and the results speak for themselves.

A pilot study carried out by the Go Mad Music founder showed positive results that even after one 30 minute drum class, there were overall increased levels of cognitive performance across all participants.

Research shows that pleasurable music increases dopamine levels in the brain. This neurotransmitter responsible for regulating attention, working memory, and motivation is in low supply in ADHD brains. “Music shares neural networks with other cognitive processes,” according to Patti Catalano, a neurologic music therapist at Music Works Northwest. “Through brain imaging, we can see how music lights up the left and right lobes. The goal of music therapy is to build up those activated brain muscles over time to help overall function.”

Unfortunately, alternative measures do not always work for everyone, even if the person attempting the intervention is thoroughly enjoying the activity. A combination of medication and alternative therapies may be the option in this case… It was shown in the Go Mad founders 2013 research study that a combination of the Go Mad Drumming course and medication could over time feasibly lead to a decrease in dosage.

Many of these concepts of using music are not only being applied to ADHD/ADD children and young adults, but also for “at-risk” youths, and Alzheimer and Dementia patients. The intention with younger people being, that with early development of managerial skills (self managing the disorders) people can begin to excel from much younger ages, combine this with the increase in awareness, where teachers are no longer simply labelling the children as disruptive or worse, greatness can be achieved much earlier on… There will always (of course) be the exceptional few that reach greatness early on regardless. But for most, some help and guidance along the way can unlock great amounts of hidden potential.