Drumming offers many educational benefits, and researchers are now finding that playing drums can accelerate physical healing, boost the immune system and provide calming, focusing effects.
Music teacher Valerie Vinnard did.
Vinnard and her fellow music teachers have been using grants from the Rumba Foundation of Long Beach since fall 2017 to introduce “drum circles” to students in their classrooms. Vinnard chronicles the drumming project in the latest edition of an international magazine for educators. She reports that participating students are showing academic gains and improved wellbeing.
“The Classroom Drum Circle Project: Creating Innovative Differentiation in Music Education,” appears in Delta Kappa Gamma International's Collegial Exchange Magazine. DKG promotes professional growth of women educators and excellence in education.
“Teachers and administrators have noticed a positive shift in some key students,” Vinnard writes. “A documented increase in student achievement scores has also been noted at several of the sites in which the program has been implemented,” including increased percentages of students meeting or exceeding state standards in English and math.
The drumming program takes place at four elementary schools in the Long Beach Unified School District – Los Cerritos, McKinley, Prisk and Webster – where general and special education students alike benefit in grades K-5.
Each class may participate in its own classroom drum circle. The grants provide one drum for each student in a class of 35, one drum for the music teacher, and one for the classroom teacher. Students learn basic hand-drumming techniques and explore musical elements such as steady beat, tempo, dynamics, tone, improvisation, and note reading and writing. These elements correlate with California Visual and Performing Arts/Music Standards for each grade level. Music teachers collaborate with other teachers to integrate other classroom subjects.
Throughout the program, students are invited to come up and become drum circle leaders. The children improvise rhythm patterns that their classmates must accurately echo.
“Students become attuned to one another through the program, and the camaraderie, mutual respect and teamwork acquired during the lessons have aided pupils in all areas of the school, including in their regular classrooms, on the playground and in the cafeteria,” Vinnard wrote.
Students also experience a boost in self confidence. A participating special education student volunteered and was called up from the audience during a field trip to the city’s symphony. The conductor handed the baton to the student, who directed the William Tell Overture by Rossini “in front of an audience of 3,000 people with confidence, accuracy and poise,” Vinnard said. The experience made the student feel happy and independent as he stepped out of his shyness.
“The Classroom Drum Circle Project provides healing benefits and gives students an enhanced role in their own music education,” Vinnard said. “Music teacher colleagues in the district and in other states (through social media) have recognized the value of the program and have asked me to aid them in writing grants for their schools.”
Vinnard has taught K-5 general music in LBUSD schools since 1999. She also serves as a choir director, cantor and pianist at St. Mark Catholic Church in Venice, CA.