All posts by jeffstrong

Improving Language and Communication with REI Drumming

DD-Front-cover-25This excerpt explores how listening to REI drumming can facilitate language and improve communication skills.

You can learn  more and order the book here

You can learn more about the REI Custom Program here


I was about ten minutes into my session with Noah when he started humming, softly at first. I thought I was hearing things, so I looked over to his mom, wondering if she was hearing it too. She was smiling and mouthed to me, “did you hear that?”

I nodded as I focused on what I was hearing – unmistakable utterances of a humming passage that seemed to roll through the vowels.

I took note of the rhythm I had been playing for the last couple of minutes. It was a stimulating double tempo thing based on a Swiss drumming rudiment (core techniques based in military drumming) that I learned from a fellow student when I was studying at the Musician’s Institute. This rudiment, nicknamed a flirta, was a quick three beat passage using 32nd notes. I had incorporated this into a shuffling rhythm in the time signature of 41/16. The flirta happened every nine beats and was punctuated by a bass tone.

Using the flirta and bass punches as a motif, I built some other patterns and created an eight bar variation, totaling 328 beats. Then I repeated it and added a sixteen beat flirta crescendo. This passage took 84 seconds to complete at my eight-beat-per-second pace. By the end of it, Noah was making quite a racket. His humming had become a more song-like pattern of vowels at varying pitches and durations. It wasn’t terribly musical, but it had a rhythm and a discernible form to it.

I tried to mimic his pattern by creating a somewhat melodic rhythm using combinations of bass tones, slaps and flirtas. He looked my way and continued vocalizing, adding in some consonant type sounds. None of his vocalizations formed, or even approximated, words, but it was the first sustained series of sounds that Noah had ever uttered. He was six, a non-verbal child who had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years earlier.

Noah and I “sang” together for a few more minutes and then he suddenly went silent again. I took the cue and unwound my rhythms into some basic calming patterns, while slowing my tempo and dropping my volume.

I ended with a slow bass pulsation that faded into nothingness. Noah sat spinning a toy soldier in front of his face, a familiar pastime for him.

“Wow, so did you hear that?” His mother said, crying. “He’s never made so many sounds. Do you think he’ll start talking?”

“I don’t know, but it sure was fun playing with him. I’ll come back next week and see if we can do this again.”

Vocalizing to REI rhythms is not uncommon. Because I rarely play live anymore I don’t get to interact with my clients in the way that I did with Noah, but I often hear from parents whose children] talk more with their recording. 

One client, Jason, goes through spurts of language activity whenever he gets a new REI drumming recording. As part of his extended REI Program, he receives a new track every four weeks; but I usually get a call from his mom after 2 1/2 or 3 weeks asking for a new set of rhythms because his language development has stalled. For two or three weeks at a time, Jason develops more skills, increased vocabulary, longer sentence structure, and more meaningful content. 

When Jason began the REI Custom Program, he was 5-years-old and had limited language abilities. He could say his name and ask for things using one or two word phrases. Over the course of the first two months, his language blossomed to two or three sentence phrases and he was beginning to describe events in sequence.

Sequencing, by the way, is something that shows a higher level of communication skills and awareness. This was something I saw in my first client with autism, Stacey.

Stacey had a prodigious vocabulary and talked constantly. But if you were to ask her what she did at school, she wouldn’t be able to describe it to you in a cohesive manner. She may cover some of the events, but they didn’t fit into a timeline or logical progression.

As I described in Chapter 1, when I was working with Stacey, after she had become much calmer, I received a call from her mother describing two milestones.

“Stacey slept over at a friends house last night,” Sheri said to me. “She was able to stay the entire night, which was a first for her.”

“That’s great,” I said. “That’s a major change from last month when you couldn’t leave her side.”

“Yes, she has been much calmer since beginning the drumming. But the exciting part is that this morning I asked Stacey how her night was and she was able to tell me what she did, from start to finish. She related it in a clear and logical fashion. It was amazing.”

“Is the first time she has been able to describe things this way?”

“Yes, and Anna’s mother told me that Stacey displayed a similar level of clarity last night when Stacey was over there.”

With my experience with Stacey in my mind, I went to see Noah again a week after he sang as I played.

This session was not as dramatic, however. I played for Noah, but he was agitated when I got there. He had had a melt down before I arrived, so I spent my session calming him down.

He rocked and pushed away from his mother when I started playing. I had started with some rhythms that I like to think of as “round” rhythms (a nebulous descriptor kind of like Eddie Van Halen’s famous “brown” guitar tone). These round rhythms are soft patterns (still played at eight beats per second) that have a four beat pulse with five and seven beat transitions to keep them from getting repetitive.

Noah settled down after about five minutes and let his mother hold him as he twisted his toy soldier in his hands. I played for another fifteen minutes and by the end he was playing quietly on the floor with a set of Legos. He made no sound. 

This was a big difference from my previous session with him. Yet, not all live drumming sessions produced obvious, dramatic effects like Noah’s first utterances. Still, his mother and I were glad to see him calm.

Trying to capitalize on my first session with Noah, I gave his mother a tape of the session from the previous week when he sang. You could actually hear him in parts of it. She played this recording for the next four weeks since I was unable to come visit him during that time.

At the end of the four weeks, I came back and played for Noah again. 

“Noah has been humming and singing to the tape you made for him,” his mother told me. “He’s also been carrying the tape around with him and he hands it to me to put in the tape player. When I turn it on, he gets excited. I think he likes it a lot.”

“I’m glad he likes it.” I said, as I got ready to play for him again. Noah stood at my side and pawed at the drum as I set it on my lap.

“Would you like to play the drum with me, Noah?” I asked.

He nodded as he tapped away at the head. I joined him and we played together. He started getting excited, though, and began pulling on the drum, so I had to stop, lest he wrestle it from my hands and it fell to the floor. His mom rushed over and tried to guide Noah away from the drum. He pulled away and began running around the room, with his mom chasing after him.

I started playing a calming rhythm but it didn’t seem to have any effect. After a few minutes, I decided to turn on the tape he’d been listening to for the past month. I hoped that the familiarity of the drumming and his singing would help calm him.

I stopped playing, put the tape in the player and turned it on. Noah almost immediately stopped in his tracks. He turned his head and walked toward the tape player.

I was here with my drum, but he was drawn to the tape. I’d never seen this before. My live drumming had no impact for calm, but a few seconds of a recording and Noah was mesmerized. I looked at his mom in surprise while she was shifting her gaze between Noah and I.

Noah stood in place in front of the tape player for almost ten solid minutes, listening to his tape, smiling when he could hear himself singing.

Why Headphones Are Not Necessary When Listening to REI Music

In this video, I describe why we don’t recommend using headphones to listen to my programs and CDs.

Learn about the REI Custom Program at: https://www.stronginstitute.com/rei-custom-program/

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Explore more calming music on Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

Case Study: 11 Year Old Male with Autism, Verbal Apraxia, and Sensory Processing Disorder

James was diagnosed with ASD (specifically, PDD NOS) with complicating diagnoses of verbal apraxia and sensory processing disorder. His most significant issues were:

  • Anxiety. Generalized anxiety as well as fear of changes in routine and unfamiliar places.
  • Sleep Problems.
  • Self-stimmulatory behaviors such as vocal noise-making, pinching, hand-flapping.
  • Poor social engagement.
  • Apraxia and lack of verbal communication.

James began listening to his custom REI recording in the evening while he engaged in quiet play. He was initially resistant to listening (sometimes he would say “no music!”) when the music was turned on. This resistance lasted less than two weeks while, during this time, he made significants gains.

During the first two weeks,  James began sleeping through the night, something that he had not been able to do for the previous few years. His anxiety also reduced profoundly, most notably he stopped compulsively asking about the the day’s schedule and worrying about his next activities.

During the third week, his mom related, “For the first time James started asking the ABA therapists to keep playing when the session was done. He also, on his own volition, chose to start playing with his trains and Rescue Heroes. Usually he only wants to draw all day.”

After four weeks on the REI Custom Program, his mom and therapists noted that James’s vocabulary was increasing, as was the length of his sentences.

After 6 weeks James was reported to show the first signs of pretend play. His mother wrote, ”The other day he said ‘elephant’ and used his arm as a trunk and stomped around the room! Also did a similar thing with ‘giant.’ Very exciting!”

At eight weeks, James’s mom reported more behavioral gains. He was doing less drawing and the drawings that he did create were of broader subjects. She noted that he was able, with prompts, to sit through his brother’s baseball game, a first. While the family was out sightseeing they got caught in the pouring rain. “James did not like it, but was okay”. To his family’s surprise he did not have the customary meltdown.

After 16 weeks of listening to his REI recordings, his mother requested a revision to his program that focused more on his issues with inflexibility and difficulty with transition. He started listening to the revised CD in mid October.

After 20 weeks, it was noted that James was continuing to make behavioral gains. His brother was having a bar mitzvah and the whole family was worried about how James would tolerate the very stimulating day. He handled the day surprisingly well, his mother reported, sitting through the entire religious ceremony and staying calm among all the guests. Most surprisingly, James allowed himself to be photographed. Until that day James would get very agitated when a camera was pointed at him and always refused to stand for a photograph. On this day, not only would he allow many photos to be taken, but even smiled on command!

Over the next month, his mother reported that James was using more spontaneous language and appeared “more connected” with his feelings. For instance, she related that when his teacher asked him what was wrong, James replied,  “I feel angy”. When asked why he was upset when he had to go to a mainstream class that he did not like (because the sound of the classroom music hurt his ears,) he replied “because there was music.”  On another occasion, he told his mother that he felt “nervous” when his school bus took another route home one day.

Fifteen months after completing the REI Custom Program, in an interview with his mother, James was reported to be doing well, with continued growth in his ability to verbally communicate his needs and to socialize more appropriately. He has maintained all of the gains he made while on the REI Custom program, including decreased anxiety, especially about his schedule, increased spontaneous play, and use of verbal communication to express his feelings.

Learn more about the REI Custom Program here

Check Out My Podcast Interview with Tami Simon of Sounds True

I’ve  been honored to work with Sounds True over the last 10 years – one of my favorite publishers – where I created 8 CDs and 2 audio programs. That honor continues as I talk about drum healing and REI with founder Tami Simon on her podcast, Insights at the Edge.

From Sounds True:

ST-podcastIn this episode of Insights at the Edge, Sounds True founder Tami Simon speaks with Jeff about the concept of brain entrainment through rhythm and how it has deep roots in tribal ceremony. They talk about the therapeutic application of this music for anxiety, ADHD, autism, and mood disorders, and explain the difference between rhythmic entrainment and “neuro beat” recordings. Finally, Jeff offers two excerpts of his music for calming and the exploration of deep meditative states.

Listen to or download the podcast here

Learn more about Sounds True here

Try my music for free here

Learn to play the drum for healing here

Check out the REI Custom Program here

Complex Drumming for Pain Relief? I describe how calming the nervous system reduces pain

Using complex drumming to calm the brain for pain reduction requires more stimulation than simply calming the brain in general. In this video, I show you how this counter-intuitive approach works.

Learn about the REI Custom Program at: https://www.stronginstitute.com/rei-custom-program/

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Explore more calming music on Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

How Specific Rhythms Influence Behavior: Dissecting a REI Rhythm in 21/16 time

Here is a throwback to my first blog video. I show how I create REI rhythms that directly impact a listener’s behavior. I dissect a rhythm in 21/16 time that I use to stop a hand-flapping behavior in individuals with autism.

Learn about the REI Custom Program at: https://www.stronginstitute.com/rei-custom-program/

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Explore more variable tempo tracks on Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

How Slight Variations in Drumming Tempo Impact Your Experience

In this video, I show how varying the tempo of a drumming pattern can impact your listening experience. I compare a steady 8-beat-per-second rhythm to the same basic rhythm that varies between 8-beats-per-second and 9-beats-per-second.

Get the Steady Tempo meditation here

Get the Variable Tempo meditation here

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Explore more variable tempo tracks on Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

Exploring Problem-solving with Rhythmic Drumming Variations

In this video, I demonstrate how a slight change in a rhythm can provide a different meditative experience. I play a 4/4 groove that blends a mambo and a samba. Then I play a 7/8 version that removes 2 beats from the middle of the pattern. Notice how the 7/8 rhythm impacts your problem-solving abilities.

Get the 4/4 drumming meditation here

Get the 7/8 drumming meditation here

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Explore more problem-solving and creativity music with Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

Exploring How Slight Variations in Drumming Tempos Produce Very Different Calming Experiences

In this video, I talk about the approach I take to create neurological calm in the REI Custom Program versus the approach I use in Brain Shift Radio. I demonstrate how slight variations in tempo can produce significant differences in how a listener experiences calm. I play at 7.4 beats-per-second for a deep, centered calm and 8.6 beats-per second for a focused calm.

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Find calm with Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

I Play Rhythms to Help You Transition to Sleep

In this video, I talk about the the perfect tempo and style of music that will drive your brain into a pre-sleep state. I then perform musically-variable rhythms at 7.4 BPS for about ten minutes to help you transition to sleep.

Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com

Fall asleep with Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

If you are having trouble staying asleep or are not feeling rested in the morning, please check out our REI Custom Sleep Program. This program is currently 50% off. Get the six-week program, including unlimited revisions, for just $147. Check out the program here and save 50%.