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Beat Matching with Drums (Heartbeats, that is)

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Music brings people together, but it’s on a whole other level than we were previously aware.  When drummers synchronize keeping on beats with other drummers, their hearts were in it together—literally.

               A recent study from the Bar-Ilan University in Israel investigated timing between the beats of drummers’ hearts (called the IBI for interval between individual beats) while drumming with others.  The musicians were first asked to match the beat tempo of a piece played over a speaker.  The researchers divided the 51 participants into groups which were either asked to match the beat of a steady composition or match the beat of a composition in which the tempo changed frequently.  The result was that one group was successful in matching the beats and being synchronized with the overhead tempo, while the other group produced asynchronous beats.

               After this first phase of the study, the drummers were asked to try drumming together with no overhead instruction to match.  The space between the beats of their own hearts synchronized, and the groups which had the highest rate of synchrony during the instructed portion of the study were better matched with one another’s heart beats.

               Beyond the physiological reaction of the synchronization of the participants’ hearts, there is a psychological and behavioral group aspect which was demonstrated by this research.  The groups which were able to perform well with one another before they were asked to drum on their own terms were already experiencing a type of unity from sharing an experience with each other.  The formation of a team occurred as they were asked to simply perform individually–but in the presence of others—which gave them a chance to unite in a shared task.

               The groups that could not perform well because the beat was purposely impossible to match for the asynchronous groups did not share a successful experience together before being asked to drum on their own.  When it was time for them to work together, they weren’t nearly as physiologically synchronized.

               This study brings up some interesting team-building implications, as it could be used to help workplace teams find more unity with one another at workshops.  It also answers explains why there’s something so magical about a group of people drumming together, and the hypnotic energy between drummers locked in beat together.


Ilanit Gordon, Avi Gilboa, Shai Cohen, Nir Milstein, Nir Haimovich, Shay Pinhasi, Shahar Siegman. Physiological and Behavioral Synchrony Predict Group Cohesion and PerformanceScientific Reports, 2020; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-65670-1


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