STEM education is everywhere right now, creating what is hoped to be a path toward better living and excellence for all students. STEM is “Science, Technology, Engineering and Math,” all concepts that are important for everyone to learn. Unfortunately, there are plenty of times when STEM education goals take away from music programs, literature studies and the arts in general. As adults, plenty of us made it through school learning STEM principles, and once we were done with school, we started learning what WE wanted to learn. Drums. Rhythm. Percussion. Maybe we were lucky enough to have music classes or private lessons, but, very few of us spent as much time as we wanted following the beat of our own drum, so to speak. Music wasn’t as important as math, science or technology, and as we all know, once we got out of the “system” we started beating our drum to the tune of… well, STEM education.
What we mean is that despite a calling to play drums and use rhythm to give us life, drumming is still STEM education. It’s just a more fun way of learning about science, technology, engineering and math. Plus, drumming enhances HOW we learn about those concepts. It’s a little crazy, cats, that we can run screaming from the halls of our schools right to our djembes and drum sets and still be learning the same stuff. Here’s why:
Science: The action of hitting a drum with your hands, mallets, sticks or brushes produces different sounds at different volumes. There are sound waves involved, energy studies, simple machines, physics force, vibration and a ton of other scientific concepts that go into drumming. We all use a “scientific method” when drumming, too, discovering what does and does not work when we try out a new drum, rhythm or hand/stick technique.
Technology: Drums are technology in plenty of ways, but they are perhaps one of the best ways to study how technology has developed similarly in unrelated areas (think Africa and Japan) and how it has developed over time (from frame drums to electronic drums). Today’s synthetic drum shells and heads, as well as implements like drum sticks, bass pedals and snares are all studies in technology.
Engineering: The first person who ever stretched an animal skin over a hollow log engineered a drum. From there, we see how different indigenous materials led to the engineering of different kinds of drums, even the “simple” cajon drum or today’s hand pan drums.
Math: You need math to make music, and to make drums. The rhythm of music and drumming is based in time, a concept of math. There are numbers in playing the drum or music, and numbers in the science, technology and engineering of drums, drumming and rhythm. Plus, music and drumming help open up the “math” part of the brain in a perfect polyrhythm of STEM excellence.
Outside of the STEM principles, drumming and rhythm is art and creativity. There is a visual beauty to appreciate in each drum, not to mention the pleasure of listening to a favorite groove or, better yet, playing it. When you put STEM and Art together, you get STEAM – and that’s, dare we say it, hot! Drumming and rhythm allows STEM education and arts integration to blend together joyfully for lessons, and it increases the brain’s capacity to learn, to relate to others, to solve problems and a thousand other benefits.
So, the lesson here is that even though we thought we were done with those basics in school, and now turn to our drums in the “school of life,” we’re still learning the same STEM education principles that our kids are learning. We’re just doing it our way, without report cards and standardized tests to keep us from following that beat.