Equipment - Overview & Aesthetics

Empowerment, portability, affordability, and adaptability are key when choosing musical equipment. The following designs and applications have proven to be effective and assistive toward these goals.


Drums mounted on adjustable stands accommodate individuals with restricted arm movements.

Linked Cognition, Emotions and Movement 6-1
....The parallel handling of motor and cognitive functions also helps us when we have trouble mastering one or the other. For example, when we have trouble with a cognitive act, we can invoke a physical one to help out. How many times have you, or someone you know, been unable to solve a problem until you take a walk or go for a drive….The basal ganglia and cerebellum ... provide basic movement control and store many of our primitive reactions, as well as many of the learned programs that have become automatic. Right alongside is the limbic system, hence the close relationship between emotions and movement, and the feeling of emotional consequences of our actions. This explains why emotional changes may accompany certain movement disorders; for example, it is not uncommon for depression to accompany Parkinson’s disease.... A User’s Guide to the Brain, John J. Ratey, p158, p162

Beating a drum with a downward movement utilizes a larger group of muscles than those used when swinging in a lateral manner.

Drums on stands also encourage experimentation with two beaters, thereby enlisting greater muscle movement, cognitive function, and hand-eye coordination. 6-1


Double-headed beaters are also ideal for participants with behavioural or cognitive challenges. With no sharp end, there is no wrong way to use a double-headed beater—hence no need to understand or remember, which end of the mallet strikes the drum. There are no “no’s” needed during program sessions.

The padding on fingers is reduced as we age. Consideration of this factor should be weighed when selecting appropriate instruments for specific populations. Comfortable mallets help arthritic and troublesome hands. Handles or grips on beaters should be soft, yet sturdy. When wrapped in soft leather such as suede, they afford a surer and softer grip.

Bags of leather scraps are available at craft stores for minimal cost. Better yet, create a wish list and ask for donations of old or damaged suede-clothing items. A suede jacket, cut into strips, is an ideal way to wrap beaters. White glue is all that is needed to secure the leather. Small drums, held in the palm of the hand and played with “bouncy ball” beaters are useful for those sitting in wheelchairs that have trays which may limit arm movement.


Brain Development and Sensory Stimulation 6-2
Brain development is dependent upon sensory stimulation and the greater the sensory environment, the greater the brain development. (Gaston, 1964) Biomedical Foundations of Music as Therapy , Dale Taylor, p23

Colourful and aesthetically pleasing drums and equipment encourage participation.6-2 Turquoise coloured mallets are almost universally preferred.

Facilitator’s Chair

Selecting a good rolling chair to scoot around the circle encourages face-to-face communication.

If you are standing above those who are seated, they must make an effort to look up at you. This gives rise to physical discomfort and can contribute to reduced involvement.

Engagement Rings

Simple Choices ~ Sample Beats

Individuals dealing with neurological challenges are, as the label points out, dealing with some event that makes processing of tasks or information difficult. When presented with an over-abundance of menu items in restaurants, I often cannot decide what to order. There are, indeed, too many choices. I become overwhelmed with the enormity of the task and often lose my appetite.

When passing out instruments or deciding on rhythms, keep it simple and limit choice. It is not necessary for participants to experience every instrument. When told to pass their instruments to their neighbour, individuals with diagnoses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s may not understand the perceived taking away of that which was given. A battle to regain instruments can cast a shadow on an otherwise successful program.

Caution is advised when retrieving beaters at the end of a session. When faced with someone who refuses to give up their instrument, offer choices, not ultimatums. I have adopted a bait-and-switch tactic, handing an unwilling participant an empty Styrofoam cup and slipping away their beater while their attention is on the cup.

Be careful not to overwhelm participants. For those with cognitive challenges, placing percussion instruments in a pile for them to choose may not represent choice, but rather an agony of decisions. When working at care facilities, I prefer to arrive with enough lead-time to approach individual participants, offering a small selection of instruments.

Better yet, develop a system of identifying each person’s demonstrated preferences and present their special instrument to them, thereby enhancing feelings of belonging and ownership. Likes and dislikes have been noted, remembered, and honoured.

Orchestration Techniques
Audio Visual
Enforcement vs. Invitation