Neuroscientist and percussionist Stephen Dolle says drums & drum beats can be used in practice drills to help NFL football teams with timing, on-field communications, and snap count, and overcome some of the effects of crowd noise at NFL football stadiums, like the Seattle Seahawks, New Orleans Saints, Kansas City Chiefs, and Denver Broncos. Today, many stadiums help create a scientific home field advantage, or 12th Man, design and amplification of fan noise in their stadiums.
Humans (and animals to varying degrees) are effected by sound through the brain’s sensory processing. Sound affects in both positive and negative ways, depending on the type, loudness, and patterning of the sound. As music, sound was shown to create favorable health effects in the earlier reported study of the “Mozart Effect,” where cognitive function improved after listening to classical music. It’s effect is largely based upon entrainment of the listener’s brain waves to the waveform of classical music.
But on the opposite end of the spectrum, sound can create disruptive and harmful effects upon the brain when it becomes too loud and disordered and interferes with healthy cognitive processing. And in sports stadiums for football, fan noise is used to both disrupt on-field communications, and interfere in the cognitive focus of the visiting team. Given the right mix and decibel of sound, you can essentially incapacitate players on the field. Or at the very least, make it very difficult for them to communicate and focus.
On a team level, players must be able to execute a certain amount of verbal or audible calls and dialogue. And it is more than just communications, it helps the team get into a tempo of plays and team connectedness, termed brain wave entrainment, or BWE. Groups typically rely upon audible communications to establish BWE. In many cases music is used , i.e. fitness classes, team practices. When participants are able to play an instrument, such as a drum, their engagement tends to have a more dramatic effect in the entrainment process. Of course, any intervening sounds or lights different from the communal BWE pulse or sound, becomes disruptive to the group connection and BWE.
However, this BWE disruption can be offset by training/playing to rhythmic pulses or rhythms, while engaging the body in rhythmic movement. In this way, “movement” is used rather than sound to establish the BWE and tempo. If a football team can establish their BWE during a game without the need for sound, they become much less dependent on audible sound.
The U.S. military for many years has used chants, drums, and recorded sounds during training to help syncopate on-field operations and communications. Football play is similar in that on-field timing, syncopation, and communication is critical to proper execution of play. In football, the physiology of play and movement is also described in terms of “proprioception,” or memory of muscle movement. And there are cognitive factors too to consider in play execution, where crowd noise can interfere with communications and cognitive reasoning. But rhythmic cues can be used in place of audible sound for communications. And once a team has established its BWE and tempo, rhythmic cues as communications would be much easier to utilize.
There are also “brain wave states” to consider during on field play. Typically, a player’s brain wave state would be at a faster “Beta” rate as can be seen in the image below. However, the offset to this would be to remain more calm and focused, and this type of mental or cognitive reasoning is more commonly seen during the “Alpha” wave state of meditation. In this state, an individual’s memory and recall is more enhanced, and it would be safe to say that athletes who get into a zone are undoubtedly more in a Beta wave state than their player counter-parts. A great deal of research has gone into being able to moderate one’s brain wave state for optimal cognitive performance. I’ve also written quite a bit about this in my blog on Drumming for Employee Engagement.
In 2014, the NFL fined the Atlanta Falcons for their role in piping in stadium noise. Today, stadiums are designed to redirect crowd noise toward the playing field, that create adverse conditions for the visiting team. This has since been named the “12th man.” Visiting teams have found the noise levels so loud as to interfere with on-field communications, snap count, syncopation of play, and cognitive focus.
In military combat, sound is regularly used to break the will of prisoners to obtain sensitive information. Is it torture? Depends who you ask. In ordinary life, individuals who suffer from neurological disorders, post concussion syndrome, PTSD, hydrocephalus, and related sensory processing disorder are uniquely susceptible to the ill-effects of high decibel, repetitive, and white noise type of sound. For me, it was a 1992 brain injury that left me with hydrocephalus, that led me to undertake brain and music research. For me and many others, sensory dysfunction occurs at lower sound levels.
My earlier research with sound and sensory processing disorders involved a Metronome sensory processing study I published on my web site in 2002. I discovered how rhythmic patterns in sound determined largely how we process and assimilate it, and that repetitive and unstructured sound could trigger neurologic sequela, referred to today as sensory processing disorder, or SPD. Conversely, I showed how “melodic patterns” in sound such as in music or drum beats, could improve one’s intolerance to sound. These SPD neurological sequela are said to be quite common in post concussion disorder, and accordingly, I would speculate also in the developing stages of CTE. In fact, I’d go so far as to state that SPD with sound is likely the No. 1 trigger of mental health behavioral meltdowns in persons suffering from post concussion and CTE disorders, with stress due to PTSD induced health challenges, as No. 2. I published my blog below detailing my findings and solutions for managing sensory processing disorder in 2014. And continue to update it with new developments in SPD and brain health.
The U.S. military has been training special forces by subjecting them to high levels of disorganized and repetitive sound, and instructing them how to find a syncopating pattern within the mix of the noise, to maintain their cognitive focus. They probably use electronic & recorded audio, but this could be done with drum beats and musical instruments as well. The brain science behind this compensatory mechanism is, if you can connect with a pattern or rhythm in the sound, you’ll better withstand its ill-effects, drop in cognitive function, mental focus, and breakage of your will and psyche. The same mechanism is applicable in pain management, where the role of the psyche is critical.
Read my study at:
There is considerable supporting research for how our brains & bodies are well adapted for rhythmic patterning as seen in all movement, athletic skill, verbal & non-verbal communications, and cognitive reasoning (analytical & relational reasoning). Researchers established the benefits of listening to melodic music in the Mozart Effect.
We’ve noted that drumming and playing percussion instruments (drum circles) can help offset the ill-effects of loud repetitive sound and white noise in persons who are sensitive to sound. NFL teams could use these methods to help players suffering from sensory processing disorder & PTSD complaints associated with repeat concussions. From our research and experience with neurological disorders and sensory processing sequela, we created the slogan, “ENGAGE THE RHYTHMS OF YOUR BRAIN.” Why engage the rhythms of your brain? How does is it all work?
Drum play during football practice would help teams with timing, sensory processing, communications, brain wave entrainment, and noise challenges during actual games.
SEE also my fundraising blog below with a lookalike photo collage with Houston Texans defensive end JJ Watt, entitled:
I’ve used drumming in a variety of ways to improve movement, balance, coordination, cognitive focus, sound sensitivity, non-verbal communications, confidence, and overcoming adversity. I write about mobile sound apps in another blog.
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Neuroscientist, mHealth Inventor & Drum Circle Facilitator