“Are you talking about spirits here?” A woman asked incredulously from the back of the room.
I was in New Orleans giving a talk at the Autism Society of Louisiana’s annual conference. My session was standing room only. Several hundred people were waiting for me to answer this challenging question.
“Historically, yes,” I said, pausing to let my audience take this in. “But the language used then was very different than what we use now. We know so much more about human behavior and today we have an entire lexicon of terms for these conditions. We have no need to view aberrant behavior as having a spiritual cause.”
Here I was in the heart of the bible belt, in the largest American city where vestiges of the African religious diaspora mingle with the conservative values and deep religiosity of the south. To top it off, New Orleans is a music town, lying at the crossroads of spiritual and secular music.
Blues, gospel and jazz, music that New Orleans is know for, each developed out of African spiritual traditions that blended with Catholicism to form musical styles that would eventually change the way we experience music in the West. Rock, pop, soul, R&B, hip-hop, rap, all owe a debt to the spirituals sung by the slaves as they toiled on the fields of a new America.
The Africans that were brought to the new world had long and deep spiritual traditions that consisted of an intricate musical landscape. Like with many cultures around the world, music was tied closely with spiritual and religious practices. Most every religion and spiritual practice around the world has employed music to express and deepen one’s faith.
For example, early Christian carvings, sculptures and paintings regularly show angels playing harps or drums, hymns are sung at nearly every service, and music has become an important addition to a church’s identity. Even my Midwestern, conservative Lutheran church had a band that played contemporary Christian music to praise and honor God. Other Christian faiths such as Baptist and Evangelical, often put more emphasis on praise with music than my highly conservative Lutheran upbringing. In fact, today the super-churches often spend enormous sums of money on their musical stages, equipment, and musicians.
Music touches us deeply and allows us to express ourselves, so it makes sense that it would be part of our connection with the sacred. However, many of us in the West are suspicious of music that feels too tribal. And nothing sounds as tribal as a beating drum. And it’s this association with tribalism and drumming that this woman spoke to. Her visceral response was that of fear.
Given the Hollywood images of tribal drumming associated with voodoo and the prevalence of voodoo in the consciousness of most New Orleanians, it made perfect sense. And because of this I came prepared to answer her question.
I should say that this woman’s question also spoke directly to my own concerns when I studied the traditions and developed my techniques. And it wasn’t the first time I was confronted with others’ suspicions of the drumming, especially when it was also connected to the sacred and spirits.
Several years before, when I was first exploring using drumming for calm, I worked with a 4-year-old girl with a condition called, agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC). This rare condition, occurring in roughly one out of thousand people, is where the bridge between the left and right hemispheres of the brain doesn’t develop.
This child, Lily, had developmental delays, anxiety, and sleep problems, not unlike other kids that I played for on the autism spectrum. Due to my success with Stacey, I was asked if I could help Lily. She was a very anxious child, tantrumming often, especially when asked to transition from one environment or activity to another. She also had a very difficult time getting to sleep and woke often at night. I had seen that I could help calm and also suspected that, by extension, may be able to help with her sleep.
I played live for Lily in the same manner I had with Stacey and, like with Stacey, observed Lily calm down as I played. Her parents and I were encouraged so I made a tape of rhythms that they could play when she was anxious and when she went to bed. Lily fell asleep while the drumming tape played the first night and by the end of the second week she was sleeping through the night most nights.
But then I ran into a glitch.
After nearly a year of development we finally have a full-function BSR Player for Android mobile devices.
This app is built on the same platform as our new V.2 web player
I love this new player for many reasons but the main one is that it the interface is intuitive and uncluttered. Here are some screen shots:
Brain Shift Radio offers a free 30 trial. If you haven’t tried it yet, I highly recommend it.
I’m just finishing my new book, which was supposed to be my first book. The one I talk about here. This book is about my research and work with drumming and the brain, the stuff that informs my music and day job. This book could have been written earlier, but each year that goes by adds to the story. So, it’s okay that it isn’t finished yet.
However, now is the perfect time for me to finish it. The impetus for doing it now are two-fold:
First, I have time. The programs and CDs for my day job are automated, Brain Shift Radio is fully stocked with great music, and the BSR mobile App for Android is live.
Second, I agreed to start teaching drumming again. And this time it’s going to be therapeutic drumming or drum-healing, whatever you want to call it. I’ll be putting up video lessons for the basics soon and am in the process of creating a full certification program. Because my path is a key to the way I’m building the training program, it makes sense for me to finish this book in the process.
So, the time is now, and given the role of technology on my work in general, I thought I’d start posting bits and pieces of it here before it’s all rolled into one manuscript (and fully edited – read the excerpts at your own risk).
This book, titled Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD and Autism, Anxiety and Attention, will be published in February 2015.
In my last blog post I talked about my goal of gathering a large amount of objective data showing that certain types of music (mine, in this case) can have a beneficial effect on attention.
Well, we’re roughly a month into our ongoing Continuous Performance Tests and so far the results are good.
When we built our attention tests, we were focused on trying to make the most accurate, objective test possible. We hoped that we’d see some good results, but lurking in the shadows during the build was the concern that we didn’t really know what the data would present.
I can’t tell you how nervous I was as the first hundred or so tests were taken. I looked at each person’s results and nearly panicked in the few times when someone’s music-stimulated results weren’t as good as their silence score. Thankfully, only a minority of test-takers had this experience, so at least I’m able to sleep at night (as well as I do anyway).
Following is a breakdown of what we’ve seen in the first 24 days of the test. So far, the number of tests taken is greater than the number of subjects in any other study exploring the effects of music on attention or cognition. This alone is a milestone.
65.8% of the BSR attention test-takers have taken our Symbols test. Because this is our largest sample, I thought this would be a good test to examine first. Here are the details of the results for the period 9/3/13-9/27/13:
Detection errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was 13.15. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of 9.48. This is a 3.67 or 29.7% reduction of errors.
Commission errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was .71. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of .48. This is a .23 or 32.3% reduction of errors.
Omission errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was 6.96. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of 4.77. This is a 2.19 or 31.5% reduction of errors.
Fastest click: For the silence (control) condition the fastest click speed was 334 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 351 ms (milliseconds). This is a 17 ms or 5.1% slower click-time.
Slowest click: For the silence (control) condition the slowest click speed was 964 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 929 ms. This is a 35ms or 3.6% faster click-time.
Average click: Of the three click speeds the average offers us the best data. For the silence (control) condition the average click speed was 599 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 582 ms. This is a 17 ms or 2.8% faster click-time.
Across the board, we saw reductions in error rates with the BSR music (stimulated) condition compared to the silence (control) condition. The average error-rate reduction was 31.17% with improvements falling fairly consistently across the three error types. This is a significant change and suggests that BSR music provides increased focusing/attention abilities when played quietly in the background while working.
We’ll keep collecting data. And we’ll continue to increase our samples by telling as many people as we can about both the test and the results (please share it with everyone you know).
I’ll keep tweaking the music. As part of my goal to keep the music customized, we choose what you hear in the music-stimulated portion of the test based your silence test result and intake form. This means that there are dozens of different tracks used for the test. Our internal A/B test method tracks what works and what doesn’t work as well for you. This will allow us to see patterns in the music’s effectiveness. Making sense of this data requires a large number of tests, so you need to take the test so that we can up the ante on BSR’s customization.
We’ll keep improving your BSR music experience. We tied the test into the music selection algorithms, so your results help determine the type of Focus and Brain Boost tracks you receive when you let us choose the music (in Auto-Select Mode). This satisfies my emphasis on real-world effects rather than pure research. I want you to get the best possible effects from my music. Immediately integrating your test results with the music selection makes this happen. It also provides an incentive for you to take the test.
At some point we plan to test other types of music, including classical and contemporary selections. It will be interesting to compare BSR to the types of music other studies have examined, including that used in the much-publicized Mozart Effect.
We need a lot more data to do all this. So if you haven’t yet taken the test (or taken it today), please jump in.
Not only will you help us learn more about the impact of BSR on focusing ability, you’ll also be able to see for yourself if Brain Shift Radio’s music can help you focus better.
These are two questions I’ve been exploring for the last three decades. Initially because I had a hard time staying focused and ultimately because I saw such huge changes in my (and others’) focusing abilities listening to certain types of music.
How do you validate it, though?
This became the persistent question I confronted these last few years, especially after accumulating tons of data and thousands of positive user experiences.
After the launch of my streaming music site, Brain Shift Radio where we noticed that almost half of the listening done was for focus, I began exploring quantitative measures that we could use to see unequivocally whether music can contribute to enhanced focusing abilities.
As it turns, out two independent studies recently conducted in the Netherlands on REI (the core technique behind my music) used Continuous Performance Tests (CPTs) to test attention. Both studies showed significant improvements while listening to my music versus either a placebo recording or silence.
So we looked closely at CPTs and they seemed like a good option. I was drawn to these types of tests for several reasons:
Continuous Performance Tests come in a few varieties. You have auditory and visual, and you have different types of triggers. The auditory tests were off the table since we would be examining the effect of music on attention and the music would compete with the auditory trigger. This left us with choosing different visual trigger options.
Like all our software, we built the framework first, leaving ourselves open when it came to choosing trigger options. We tested a ton of different triggers and decided to offer two types: symbols or numbers. Both use the same timing, variability, and duration. Where they differ is in how quickly people are able to process the stimulus. Symbols – in our case various colored squares – are easier/quicker to process, whereas a series of six numbers takes more cognitive resources.
This makes the symbol test a little easier and also makes it a good place to start. The numeric test will result in higher error rates than the symbol test but, as we’re seeing after a few hundred tests, the relative changes between the silence and music portions of the tests are virtually the same.
Here’s a quick breakdown of our two tests types:
Symbol test (left, top image): This test displays a series of 6 randomly colored squares. When a white square appears in the group, tap the left button or the left arrow key on a keyboard. When a black square appears in the group, tap the right button or arrow key. If neither white nor black appear (pictured) you do nothing.
Numeric test (left, bottom image): This test presents a series of 6 numbers. If a 0 appears in the group (pictured), you tap the left button or left arrow key on a keyboard. If a 1 appears, you tap the right button or arrow key. If neither a 0 or a 1 appear, you do nothing.
Pretty simple. The trick is that speed is important. You need to act quickly because the stimulus only shows for a short time.
Our attention tests are divided in four sections: An intake questionnaire, a test with silence, an intermission, and a test with music. Here is a breakdown of each of these sections:
Once you’re finished with the entire test, we tally your scores. You will find two graphs, each presenting different data sets.
Raw Scores (left). The first are your raw scores. Here you will see each error type – detection, commission, and omission – and your response times – fastest, slowest, and average. Here’s what each error type means:
This data can give you insights into your performance and whether you trend toward being inattentive or impulsive.
Weighted Scores (below). The second score is your weighted score. This balances your various errors against one another and factors in your response times.
Weighted Scores show you how you focus with and without BSR music. Lower numbers mean better focus.
The difference between these scores shows your performance, or more accurately, the music’s ability to help you perform.
In most cases, you should see a lower score for the music portion of the test, showing fewer errors and faster response times (as shown at right).
We’re finding that there are instances when a test-taker has not heard the BSR music before that his scores are not better on the music portion of the test. Past research has suggested that it can take up to 17 minutes for people with no experience with REI to see benefits.
To test this theory we are asking people who scored as well or better in the silence condition their first time that they either take the test again or listen to Brain Sift Radio for a couple of days before taking the test a second time.
Based on people’s responses to these two approaches so far, we’re seeing that the second test usually falls inline with the results we see from people who do respond positively to their first test.
We worked very hard to make the tests accurate by addressing the deficits and limitations that many attention tests have. Here is a look at the major areas we had to address:
Because of the databases and framework we have set up, we have the ability to parse the data in a variety of ways and hopefully see some patterns that we may not even consider at this time.
We have also built this test with the ability to rotate different music, even (gasp!) someone else’s.
The Brain Shift Radio CPTs are for more than just showing you how our music can help you focus. We are also using the data to help us understand how you focus so we can better choose great mixes for you. This data can be stored in your profile if you wish and we will draw from it whenever you choose the Focus or Brain Boost categories in Auto Select mode.
If you log into your account (trial or subscription) when you take the test, we’ll keep track of all your results and you can periodically take the test again to track your progress and make sure you’re getting all you can from BSR.
The Brain Shift Radio attention tests are compatible with both web and mobile devices.
A new article about Brain Shift Radio was just published by theSOP.org. SOP stands for Student Operated Press and this organization is a place where a lot of cutting edge student journalism happens. Check it out.
Here’s a short excerpt:
Web App Helps College Students Enhance Academic Performance
ADHD prescription drug abuse among college students is a known concern among campus officials. The percentages vary, yet studies show that illicit ADHD drug abuse rates may be as high as 34% of a campus student body. Students use these `smart` drugs to improve their concentration, help them cram for exams, and enhance their overall academic performance. The Strong Institute, a leader of auditory brain stimulation programs for individuals with neurobiological disorders, has a solution: Brain Shift Radio offers students the ability to improve their focus without the use of drugs.
The core technique used in Brain Shift Radio was developed from the Strong Institute`s 30-plus years of research exploring how auditory brain stimulation can enhance cognitive function. Called Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI), their technique has been proven to be nearly twice as effective as 20mg of Ritalin for focusing. Other studies show improvements in anxiety, sleep, and cognition, among other areas. For nearly two decades, REI has been successfully used for longterm improvement in stress reduction and increased focus.
“Simply put, you can take control of your brain without the use of drugs,” said Jeff Strong, cofounder of Brain Shift Radio.
You can read the entire article here: