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Rose-Hulman, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Students Develop Innovative Interactive Drum Table for Therapeutic Settings

June 9, 2014

Drum Project 400Px

Musical Collaboration: Recent mechanical engineering graduates Matthew Stephens (middle) and Anthony Shevchenko (right) helped Sherry Bube of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College to create an interactive percussive drum table for persons participating in music therapy sessions at the college. (Photo by Dale Long)

When you hear a song, you tap your foot, maybe even bob your head a little, or play a drum solo with your hands. We carry out these actions without even thinking about it, because we are so in tune with the beat of the music. Rhythm is an essential element in music and is at the core of many of the methods used in music therapy.

So when Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) 2014 music therapy graduate Sherry Bube saw a drum table at the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum in Seattle, Washington, the idea for her senior-year capstone project was born—with help from two Rose-Hulman students.

A drum table is electronic percussive instrument with a projection sound system that allows for different instruments to be played, depending on where the drumhead is struck. There is currently no known drum table of this style or use for the therapeutic setting. But Bube’s project, B.E.A.T.! (Bring Everyone Around the Table), is about to change that—thanks to a $11,000 grant from the Independent Colleges of Indiana’s Ball Venture Fund.

Recent mechanical engineering graduates Anthony Shevchenko and Matthew Stephens provided valuable technical assistance for the project and used available work space in the Branam Innovation Center. They estimate combining to work nearly 20 hours on the project as part of an independent creative design class activity.

“It was nice taking someone’s ideas and using your engineering skills to make a creative product that’s going to help others,” says Stephens.    

The interactive percussive drum table utilizes electronic and technological components, such as sensors and computer programming, to allow the drum to be adapted for a variety of uses within the therapeutic setting. An adjustable base allows for the drum to be made more accessible for individuals with physical disabilities, such as those with wheelchairs.

This is believed to be the first known drum table of this style with specific programming and technological capabilities toward a therapeutic use.

“It became apparent to me that branching out into this area of collaboration with individuals who are from other professions, and delving into merging technology and musical instruments together, as well as looking for future research opportunities would be beneficial not only for the experience, but also for the clients that music therapy students engage with at various practicum sites in the community,” says Bube. “It has been one of the best experiences I've had in terms of learning more about a topic area outside my typical subjects of study, collaborating with other professions, as well as the entire process of applying for grants and project development.”

Percussive instruments are easily interactive and provide tonal and rhythmic elements to the music. For example, individuals with Alzheimer’s disease have been found to respond to rhythm into the late stages of the disease, despite decreased mobility, coordination, and social and communicative abilities. Rhythm is also basic to gait, speech, and other physiological functions, and is valuable in addressing the various needs of clients in both group and individual therapeutic settings.

“The interactive percussive drum table will increase the ability of the students in the growing music therapy programs at SMWC to become better equipped in working with instruments that utilize technology, and expand opportunity to address goal areas of clients who would benefit from the use of percussive instruments in music therapy sessions,” states Bube. “It will also serve as a model for electronic instrument development for a growing range of therapeutic uses.”

The drum table project will remain at SMWC for use by music therapy students in clinical and classroom trainings, at practicum sites for music therapy sessions, and in research of the effectiveness of percussive instruments with technological components.