The effect of learning to drum on behavior and brain function in autistic adolescents

Marie-Stephanie Cahart, Ali Amad, Stephen B. Draper, Ruth G. Lowry, Luigi Marino, Cornelia Carey, Cedric E. Ginestet, Marcus S. Smith, Steve C. R. Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal Articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
40 Downloads (Pure)


This current study aimed to investigate the impact of drum training on behavior and brain function in autistic adolescents with no prior drumming experience. Thirty-six autistic adolescents were recruited and randomly assigned to one of two groups. The drum group received individual drum tuition (two lessons per week over an 8-wk period), while the control group did not. All participants attended a testing session before and after the 8-wk period. Each session included a drumming assessment, an MRI scan, and a parent completing questionnaires relating to the participants’ behavioral difficulties. Results showed that improvements in drumming performance were associated with a significant reduction in hyperactivity and inattention difficulties in drummers compared to controls. The fMRI results demonstrated increased functional connectivity in brain areas responsible for inhibitory control, action outcomes monitoring, and self-regulation. In particular, seed-to-voxel analyses revealed an increased functional connectivity in the right inferior frontal gyrus and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. A multivariate pattern analysis demonstrated significant changes in the medial frontal cortex, the left and right paracingulate cortex, the subcallosal cortex, the left frontal pole, the caudate, and the left nucleus accumbens. In conclusion, this study investigates the impact of a drum-based intervention on neural and behavioral outcomes in autistic adolescents. We hope that these findings will inform further research and trials into the potential use of drum-based interventions in benefitting clinical populations with inhibition-related disorders and emotional and behavioral difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2106244119
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - 7 Jun 2022


  • Adolescent
  • Autistic Disorder/therapy
  • Brain
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Music
  • Music Therapy
  • Nervous System Physiological Phenomena
  • Psychomotor Agitation


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