Tools of the Trade: Ocean Drum


I am always looking for musical materials and methods that will capture the attention of my older adult clients with moderate to late stage dementia. Because of where they are in the disease process, these folks often have a harder time engaging in singing, sharing in discussion, and instrument playing. Some clients also have more severe physical impairments that make it harder to participate in music-making experiences, such as worsening muscle contractures, declining trunk control, and weakening motor skills. Enter the ocean drum.

The ocean drum is one instrument that I think every facility specializing in dementia care should own. Even people with severe motor impairment and very low cognitive functioning can play this instrument with some physical assistance. The reward is a pleasant tactile and visual experience, and a soothing white noise, which is an extra bonus for people who are living with greater levels of anxiety.

Here’s a short video demonstrating how to use the ocean drum and spelling out just why I think it’s so useful for people who have dementia:

You can buy an ocean drum like the one I showed in the video here, or you can buy one with a fish pattern that is visible underneath the beads here.

I definitely prefer the manufactured drums for use with older adults for their quality, durability and more adult feel, but if you are looking for a craft project or are working with children or an intergenerational group, you should check out this tutorial for making your own ocean drum from my fellow music therapist Meryl Brown. Even more ideas on how to use the ocean drum and why it works so well are also available from fellow music therapist Davida Price – just click here.

Have you played an ocean drum before? Why do you think it works so well with older adults? Please leave a comment below!

P.S. For a video on another great instrument for music-making with older adults, check out my previous Tools of the Trade post.

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7 thoughts on “Tools of the Trade: Ocean Drum

  1. Lori Lotz says:

    I have used the ocean drum with older adults in various stages of Alzheimer’s. I like to play a recording of a slow Hawaiian song in the background (with steel guitar). I sometimes hold the drum up over their head and slowly play it side to side. They like to look at the bright colors on the fish. My ocean drum is fairly large. I’m realizing that a smaller one would be better for those who would be able to maniuplate one on their own. It is definitely an instrument that gets their attention – those with higher functioning sometimes say they are amazed at how much it sounds like the ocean. You could also tie this in with reminiscing by suggesting that they think of a trip they took to the ocean. Ask questions, i.e., do you remember the smell of the salty air? The feeling of the ocean breeze through your hair? What did you see at the ocean? Was there a pier or a boardwalk? Did you see any sailboats? Or you could make up a vacation scenario and read it to them, telling them to imagine they are at the ocean on a beautiful summer day…

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      Great ideas, Lori! I love the imagery possibilities for the ocean drum and have made it a centerpiece of ocean-themed sessions before. Thanks for sharing!

    • Lisa Swanson says:

      This is the first information I have seen on an ocean drum. To be able to have the sound of the ocean reproduced is a significant tool in music therapy. I can see how the ocean drum sound would help to relax the older adults with Alzheimers. The sound of the ocean is familiar to most people and everyone has memories from going to the ocean. The relaxing soothing familiar sound could help to trigger memory. The idea of asking questions to trigger the patients memory and to remind the person of positive healthy memories . Thanks for the insight on the ocean drum, I will have to check this out.

    • soundscapemusictherapy says:

      You’re right. Technology is amazing! It’s also awesome to be able to use acoustic instruments like the ocean drum to make beautiful music in real time. Thank you for your comment!

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