How Paddle Drums Can Significantly Improve Quality of Life

By Lindsay Zehren (MT-BC), Director of Resounding Joy Indiana
Edited by Theresa Kwong, Communications Consultant

I walked into a music therapy session a couple of weeks ago for an eight-year-old boy, Bill, who was non-verbal, diagnosed with severe developmental delay, had respiratory diagnoses, neurological diagnoses, and who had undergone surgery last year to remove both of his arms (from elbow down) and legs (from knees down) due to an infection.

His parents were skeptical that music therapy could be a safe, effective, and beneficial therapy for him beyond listening to music for relaxation, and I understood their concerns. Their goal for Bill was to increase purposeful arm movement with the intention that one day he would be able to communicate choices by pressing a button or pointing an arm. Bill’s parents’ safety concerns were very valid. Although Bill’s surgery happened months ago, his risk for infection was still high; and his parents were not keen on me bringing instruments into the home. 

Without hesitation, I knew that the best instruments for the job were Remo’s paddle drums. I assured Bill’s parents that the drums would be thoroughly sanitized before entering the home, and having used paddle drums with multiple populations in the past, including hospital settings with strict sanitation policies, I knew that this would be possible. 


➡️ Learn more about the Remo Paddle Drum by clicking here.

I used two paddle drums with Bill. Using singing to cue movement, Bill explored the four different tones of the paddle drums with his arms and legs. At first, his movement was sporadic; however, as I began to slowly move the paddle drums to new positions around him, he was able to continue to find the drumhead and make a connection.

Not only was Bill directing his movement to a specified target, he was smiling and laughing while doing it. His eyes tracked every movement, his head turned toward the sound, and he laughed every time he heard the “boom.”

Bill followed and successfully made connection with the paddle drums as I moved them up, down, and side to side of his line of vision. It didn’t take long for Bill’s four-year-old sister, Abby, to take notice of her brother and the fun he was having. Bill’s mother had explained to me prior to the session that Abby had not engaged much with her brother since his surgery and that she hoped that music could be a fun activity that would bring them together again.

I observed Abby as she crept closer and closer to her brother. When she was within arms length, I handed her a paddle drum. At first she explored sounds on the drum on her own, following along with the beat of the song I was singing as I continued to hold the paddle drums out for Bill to play. After a few moments, I tucked the handle of the paddle drum underneath Bill’s leg, and demonstrated for him that he could hold the drum and play on his own. By the end of the song, Abby had stepped right next to her brother and was holding out the paddle drum for him to play. I was able to take a step back and grab my guitar to provide music while the siblings laughed and enjoyed drumming together. 


At the end of the session, Bill and Abby’s parents were happy to invite me back for more sessions. We plan on using the Remo paddle drums to encourage Bill to make choices and to answer “yes,” “no” questions. I will adapt the paddle drums to have different colors for yes and no, and I will use a light adhesive to attach images on different drums for Bill to make choices for himself. 

Remo’s paddle drums are helping Bill make progress towards his goals in several ways:

  • Paddle drums are easy to clean and sanitize, which made it possible for me to use them with Bill, even though he is medically fragile and prone to infection.
  • Playing paddle drums are an easy and effective way to get families involved in music therapy sessions. They are simple to play and accessible for people with any musical background, and they encourage bonding and communication.
  • Paddle drums provide an alternative to vocal communication. For Bill, playing the paddle drums immediately allowed for him to communicate with his sister again and allowed for him to have a voice.
  • Paddle drums are convenient, light-weight, and easy to maneuver around. Abby was able to hold and move them easily, and Bill was empowered when he was able to tuck the handle underneath his leg to hold the drum himself while he played. 
  • Paddle drums are easily adaptable. Their drumheads make it easy to attach pictures, textiles, textures, and other items to them so that clients can explore and communicate. 
  • Paddle drums are durable. Even when dropped, they continue to have a great sound. This allows freedom for me to let children play with the instruments and not be concerned that they will break.
  • Paddle drums provide targets that encourage focused and deliberate movement of the arms and legs, and their tone quality and sound motivate people to move, reach, and play.
  • Paddle drums come in multiple sizes and tones, which allow for clients to have a variety of options and can encourage movement in various directions based on tone and sound (i.e., the high toned drums can encourage a client to reach up while the lower toned drums can encourage a client to reach down).

  • Paddle drums are easily adaptable and accessible for ALL populations! At MusicWorx and Resounding Joy we use paddle drums with:
    • Older adult groups
    • People with Parkinson’s
    • Youth and adults with developmental disabilities
    • Children and adults in medical settings
    • Community drum circles
    • Health, wellness, and meditation classes
    • Adults and teens with drug and alcohol addiction
    • And many more!

Find out more about how you can use Remo paddle drums to enhance the lives of your clients by contacting us today!

➡️Want to purchase your own paddle drum? We’ve got you covered! Click here to grab yours today.




Further Reading

Music Therapy in Special Education

Improving Communication with Parkinson’s Disease


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