My book about the development and practice of REI, Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism, was recently reviewed by Autism Daily Newscast.
Here is an excerpt:
For anyone with an interest in the therapeutic aspect of music this is a gem of a book. For parents wanting to explore different approaches to help their children it will make interesting reading. As a lay person who just enjoys playing the odd CD I found myself a little overloaded with music and technology theory and was more interested in reading about how following a lifelong passion such as drumming can lead to the most unexpected places and discoveries.
Every year I offer some free audio downloads of my music. These downloads are from Brain Shift Radio based on mixes created by the BSR member community. Click the image to download.
I hope you enjoy them.
Warm Calmed Focus. This track uses a warm ambient pad mixed with an Udu drum accelerating from 8 to 10 beats-per-second to calm your brain then dial in focus.
Download Documents by Readdle from the Apple App store (it’s free).
Once you download the app, please follow these steps:
Go to Google play and download ES File Explorer: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.estrongs.android.pop
To download the audio files:
“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.
Chapter 1, Part 2
“Where are we going?” I asked, as I climbed into the waiting car.
“To meet a little boy”, Lloyd said. We were on one of our many “field trips” where Lloyd would show me a side to drumming that I was unfamiliar with as a player of popular music.
Over the previous six months Lloyd had taught me the traditional rhythms he and his ancestors had used for centuries. He taught me their origins and was beginning to initiate me into the healing aspects of drumming. These healing powers, he described, were based on a connection to the sacred and tied to behavior. I’d learned to trust Lloyd and, though I was uncomfortable with some of the spiritual connections he talked about, I was traveling a path that many drummers had followed before me and I was enthralled by all I was experiencing. This field trip was my first glimpse into a world where drumming was used to affect behavior.
We drove along for about fifteen minutes before Lloyd said, “Remember during the healing ritual last week when the young woman starting acting out, throwing her body and flailing around?” He asked.
I nodded. Thinking back on my first real initiation into age-old drum-healing ceremonies. In this ceremony we drummed while a priestess (Manbo) invoked Orishas (spirits) to facilitate the healing of a woman with an illness (a process I describe in Chapter 3).
“In our world when someone is acting outside of the community’s norms they are said to be possessed. It’s our job as drummers to help people keep clear of possession. We do this by using the power of the group, through celebration and ritual, to keep the community cohesive and to see the signs that someone is not acting right. Then if we observe this or a community member alerts us to inappropriate behavior, we intervene. That’s what we’ll be doing today.”
We drove along for another fifteen minutes before Lloyd said, “We’re going to meet a boy who is aggressive, often violent, doesn’t follow directions, doesn’t communicate, won’t be touched and screams when asked to come out of his shell.”
“So, how are we going to help?” I asked. “I know we can influence behavior by drumming, but this sounds like a mental disorder, not some spirit thing.”
“Well, it is.” He answered. “In Shango we frame any acting out or non-conforming behavior as having a spiritual cause. This is a holdover from a time when we didn’t have the language to describe these things in the way we do today. This is just another way a viewing what is now considered psychological or mental health issues.
Think if it this way, when you’re feeling down sometimes you may say: ‘I don’t feel like myself’. In village culture your loved ones may say that you are suffering from a illness of spirit. It’s the same thing. And it doesn’t matter from our perspective. We do the same work either way.”
“What’s that,” I asked.
“We play the drum,” he said. And that was the last he said until we arrived at our destination.
We were in an affluent part of town in west LA. The house was large and imposing and was entered through a locked gate. There were 2 beautiful foreign luxury cars parked out front and the views of the LA basin and Pacific Ocean were astounding. This was in large contrast to the run-down church we played at just a week earlier in San Pedro’s shipping district.
We were met by a familiar looking, stunning black woman. She gave Lloyd a hug and said, “Nice to see you again, Jeff. Are you ready for another initiation?” Hearing her voice I finally recognized her. She was the manbo!
“Um, yeah”, I mumbled, not sure how to respond.
She guided us into the house where a young family was seated in the sunroom. There was a boy of about 6 sitting on his knees on the floor pushing a Lego truck back and forth while rocking and humming to himself. The man and woman stood and we all said hello. The boy continued to sit, absorbed in his ritual.
“Ty”, the woman’s said to the child. “Say hello to master Lloyd. You remember him, don’t you?”
Lloyd leaned down and touched the boys shoulder. “Hello, Ty. It’s nice to see you again. Do you mind if I play my drum for you?” he said.
Again, no response. No one seemed surprised by this and no one forced the boy to engage. Lloyd simply asked me to get the drums and set them up by two chairs. I did as he asked, while he quietly chatted with the parents.
Once set up, Lloyd sat behind two drums (barrel-shaped drums that originate from Cuba, a conga and a tumba) and began playing. Slowly, quietly he centered on muted tones seemingly being careful not to startle the child. I sat and watched.
Lloyd played quietly for a while then slowly he increased the volume and intensity, adding some slap tones and bass punches to the mix. I noticed that once in a while the boy looked over toward Lloyd. Then after 10 minutes or so the boy got up.
He moved around somewhat aimlessly for a few minutes until he went over and sat on his mother’s lap. Lloyd continued playing but toned down the rhythms a bit. The child sat rocking and humming against his mother while she held him. She began to cry.
I sat looking at Stacey as she sat contentedly on the floor still playing with a toy. Her mother returned from the kitchen, her phone call over, settled onto the couch next to me, and smiled as she watched Stacey.
“I’ve not seen her this calm in a long time,” she whispered in my ear after a while.
I noddod and took it as a sign that I should call this an end to our first session. I slowed my rhythms and progressively dropped the volume until my drumming faded away.
I’ve come full circle, I thought. Just a decade earlier I was in a similar situation when Lloyd showed me for the first time what it meant to calm an anxious disconnected child with fast, complex drumming rhythms when he played for Ty.
“Hello, Ty,” Lloyd said as we entered the house. Ty was spinning around the entry eyes at the ceiling two stories above. Ty offered no response. Lloyd motioned for me to go to the sunroom and to set up the drums where we had the day before.
“Ty seems a little more settled every day,” I heard his mother tell Lloyd. “Last night he went to bed without a meltdown. After his bath he climbed into bed and sat quietly while a read to him. Two books and I turned out the light. He slept until 5:30 this morning. We actually got some rest, too.”
She was excited and Lloyd seemed pleased. I heard him mention something about the purpose of the drumming but I was essentially out of earshot and needed to focus on setting up the drums and preparing the space, so I didn’t catch most of what he said to her. I could tell she was focused on what he was saying, often nodding in agreement and appreciation for what he was describing.
This is our fifth visit to Ty in as many days. This time I came prepared with a pocket tape recorder. I wanted to document what Lloyd played. For the last four days I sat and watched as Lloyd engaged with Ty in a way that made little sense to me.
I noticed some interesting connections, though. First were the focusing effects I felt when I played certain exercises for my classes at MI and second was the similarity to some of the odd patterns Ralph Humphrey had in his book, Even in the Odds.
This book, along with Joe Porcaro’s Drumset Method and Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation For the Modern Drummer, had become my main references in school. These books energized me and helped me stretch my rhythm muscles in a way that playing common rhythms in traditional time signatures didn’t.
Most music, especially forms of popular music such as rock, blues, folk, jazz, and hip hop, follow common time structures. You essentially have two basic feels: Straight and swing.
So you can either count a measure in music as 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &, giving a straight two pulse, or you can count it as 1tu tu 2 tu tu 3 tu tu 4 tu tu, giving it a swing.
From these two basic underlying structures you can cover nearly every song played today.
When I was working as a gigging drummer, I played a lot of pick up gigs, where I showed up at a gig and played with people I often never played with before. As a drummer even if I didn’t know the song, if I knew the feel, I could make my way through the song. If the song swung, I’d swing, if it was straight, I’d played straight. If you can do this and if you focused on the rest of the rhythm section and supported the melody, you’d be golden and more than likely be called back.
This is all to say that the rhythms I was hearing Lloyd play, and found myself playing, were not typical, which was fine with me.
So, as I was playing for people like Stacey and recording and analyzing what I played for them, I was looking at the rhythms and their responses I was remembering what Lloyd said to me one time early on in my studies with him.
“Each rhythm has a purpose”, he said. “You have to find the right rhythm to draw the spirit out. You play the wrong rhythm, or even the right rhythm at the wrong time, and you won’t be able to hear your patient. Know your rhythms and you find your power.”
So, as I was making tapes for people I was looking for pattern in the rhythm and listener response. This was a monumental task and one that was without a roadmap.
I’ve always been really good at seeing patterns and with the two that I had seen so far I wanted to begin looking at them in a more focused and structured way. This led me down the path I’ve been following for over two decades.
“Stacey slept in her own room last night,” reported her mother when I showed up at her house two days after first playing for her. I tried to explore this with her, but Stacey, accosted me at the door.
“Hi Jeff,” Stacey said looking past me and grabbing my drum from my hand. She struggled with the forty-pound case and nearly tripped over me. Unfazed, she continued talking. “Belle likes books. I like reading books too. Do you like reading books? I like books, Belle likes books.” She said in a flurry.
Stumbling with my drums and recording equipment I said, “umm, yeah, I like to read. Who’s Belle?” I asked.
“Belle likes reading books just like me” she responded, not answering my question, while dropping my drum and grabbing a picture book. I disappeared from her awareness as she was drawn into the pictures and her own world.
I shrugged and continued setting up.
Belle, I later found out, is the main character in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, one of Stacey’s favorite movies, one that she watched over and over and would talk about endlessly if you let her. She created an entire inner world with Belle as her friend.
Stacey was much calmer this day. She was not clinging to her mom, though I could see that she was acutely aware of where her mother was and at one point I saw her tense up when her mother walked toward the kitchen.
I decided this was a good time to start playing so I tapped a tentative rhythm with my fingertips, making sure not to startle her. Her sister, who is two years older and typical, came into the living room and sat down near Stacey to read a book.
They both sat quietly as I played a large variety of rhythms, tempos, and volumes. I played for about twenty minutes and really didn’t see much of a response from Stacey at all. I noted that her mother wasn’t in the room the entire time I played and Stacey didn’t seem to care.
This was fine with me as it wasn’t always about getting a reaction. In this instance I was testing out a bunch of rhythms that I would put on a tape for her to listen to everyday with the goal of helping calm her down when she got anxious and to, hopefully, provide a longer term impact on her anxiety.
This long-term change concept came directly from my studies with Lloyd and was something I was beginning to explore in a more formalized way. Typically I would meet with someone and play for them while recording the session and having someone take notes about responses to the different rhythms. Then I would come back two or three days later and play again taking notes and recording my session. Then it was back to my studio to analyze the recording and notes and to make a recording of the rhythms that offered the most positive response.
“Goodbye, Stacey” I said as I grabbed my gear and headed out the door. Just like last time she was engrossed in a toy and didn’t answer me or even acknowledge my exit.
Two days later I returned to Stacey’s house to drop off the tape.
“Are you going to play your drum today?” asked Stacey.
“Not today” I said. “I’m only here to give your mom a tape for you to listen to. Would you like to listen to a tape of my drumming?”
“Mommy turn it on now!” She replied.
She grabbed my hand and led me to the couch. “Turn on the tape mommy and we’ll listen.”
Stacey was insistent and excited and she listened intently for about 35 seconds before she was back on the floor with a toy. I moved to the floor with her to see if we could play together but she wasn’t interested, pushing me away when I tried to interfere with her play. She spun a toy on a book over and over again.
I got up and said goodbye to her mother, leaving them with the tape and instructions to play it at bedtime or any other time Stacey got anxious. I also left a tracking form for her mother to complete to see if there were any patterns to Stacey’s anxiety or reactions to the tape.
Obviously tapes were not possible in the days that this technique originally developed but in Lloyd’s tradition he would often either move in with his patient or the patient would move in with him for a while and he would play everyday for the person until the spirit possessing the patient would move on. This was impractical for me and, given that I also worked in a recording studio, I had the equipment to be able to make a tape for the person to listen to so I wouldn’t have to be available for her everyday.
Stephanie’s mother called me after 7 weeks, excited by an event that occurred the night before. She reported that Stephanie had a sleep-over at a new friend’s house, a first for her on several levels: First, Stephanie had never been invited to a sleep-over before, second, she was able to separate from her mother to actually to on the sleep-over, and third, the next morning she was able to describe in proper sequence what she did at the sleep-over. These were major milestones for her.
Stephanie was also perseverating less and engaging in more appropriate conversation. She was also making eye contact more often. After roughly 10 weeks, she was observed in class by the school psychologist who noted that, based on her behaviors, Stephanie was “indistinguishable” from the typical children in the classroom. As a result she was mainstreamed into the regular (non-special education) classroom.
As was typical, when I analyzed the recording and listened to the rhythms I played for Stacey I was surprised at the complexity of the rhythms I was playing. Many times I had to slow down the playback to figure out what I had played.
This was something that continually surprised me. Even the first time I heard Lloyd play for a patient.
This is the first excerpt of my upcoming book, Different Drummer. You can read about my reasons for posting this here
Chapter 1, Part 1
Stacey took my case from me as I walked into the house. She was excited and talked non-stop as we went into the living room. She and I unpacked my gear and she talked on and on about nothing in particular. Did I see the latest Disney movie? What was that cord I was plugging in? What type of drum was I going to play?
At this point I was beginning to wonder why I was there. This child seemed so typical. She was curious, communicative, excited to meet someone new. She helped when I asked her to uncurl the mic cable and watched intently as I tuned the drum.
Then the phone rang. Stacey’s mother left the room to answer it and Stacey panicked. She dropped my mic and ran screaming after her mother. She hugged her mother pleading, “don’t leave me, don’t leave me”.
Her mother ignored the phone and tried to calm her, to no avail because Stacey was inconsolable. She screamed and squeezed. Squeezed and screamed.
This was the behavior I was told to expect.
So, I did what I came to do. I played my drum. Quietly and slowly at first, then with more urgency, gradually building in tempo and volume until Stacey turned to look. Her mother guided her over to the couch near where I was playing and encouraged Stacey to watch me play. Stacey was uninterested at first but as I played on she began to calm and occasionally glanced over at me as I drummed away.
I played for almost twenty minutes, the last half during which Stacey sat quietly on the floor next to her sister, who was thumbing through a book. Stacey spun a toy in her hands in rhythm to my drumming. She was calm and seemingly content. At one point, about fifteen minutes into my playing, the phone rang again and her mother left the room to answer it. Stacey didn’t flinch. She continued spinning her toy while I played.
I was engaged in a tradition with a long history. In many places around the world drummers were employed to moderate behavior, to calm or excite, to soothe or provoke. They were the therapists, the psychologists, the psychiatrists. Drummers were the bridge to the unconscious and the unknown where the root of behavior resides.
I was called to play for Stacey because she was experiencing extreme anxiety that wasn’t responding to more typical treatments. She also had autism. Hers was a mild case that is also referred to as Asperger’s Syndrome. In this form of autism, language is present but communication is lacking, social interactions are one-sided and awkward, eye contact is fleeting or even non-existent. There are also other common attributes such as anxiety and ritualistic behaviors, both of which Stacey had in spades.
I met Stacey ten years into my search to understand the role of drumming techniques in therapeutic practice. I had begun exploring the traditional use of therapeutic drumming around the world while attending the Musician’s Institute (MI) in Los Angeles. Interestingly, I didn’t discover these ancient techniques at MI. Rather it was through a chance encounter with a hand-drumming teacher I met in a park not far from my apartment in Hollywood that led me down the path that I would spend the next thirty years walking, oftentimes blindly.
The Musician’s Institute was a new school when I attended it. My class in the percussion program consisted of 16 graduating students. The program was arduous and demanding, but because of its intimate size, each student was encouraged to follow his passions. In class I focused on progressive jazz, Brazilian and Afro-Cuban styles. Outside of class I explored hand-drumming originating from West Africa.
Both my school and my apartment were in Hollywood. This was a great place to live while attending a music-based school. In the early 1980’s this part of town was a bit rough. There were lots of underground clubs and many artsy people hanging around. There were also quite a few homeless people and vagrants. Oh, and few tourists on the main drag.
My apartment was just a few blocks from school but the most straightforward, not to mention safest, route was past the Chinese theater. The Chinese theater, if you’re not aware, was built during the height of the glamor years of Hollywood and contained the handprints of some of Hollywood’s most enduring stars. In the courtyard you’ll find the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg (not at that time, though), and many others. This site was the most popular tourist stop in Hollywood and drew hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors each day. And it was in my path to and from school. Needless to say, I quickly got tired of wrestling the crowd. So, it didn’t take me long to find another, more interesting route.
My trail-blazing took me off Hollywood Blvd and onto Franklin Avenue, one block to the north. It was still a busy street for traffic, but few people walked (few people walked anywhere in LA in the 80’s, probably don’t today either). This way only added a block or so to my commute and became my route of choice.
I should probably back up and describe why I chose MI as opposed to other much more established percussion programs. I could have gone to Berklee College of Music in Boston, a very good music school for traditional jazz, or perhaps the University of Miami for big band. I chose MI because my goal was to be a studio drummer and MI’s curriculum was geared toward this goal.
I aspired to by like my heroes, Steve Gadd, Vinnie Calioutta, and my personal favorite Jeff Porcaro. Well, as it turned out Jeff’s dad, Joe Porcaro, was one of the founders and directors of the percussion program at the Musician’s Institute, called the Percussion Institute of Technology (PIT). Aside from being able to study with him I was also looking forward to their focus on Brazilian and Afro-cuban drumming, collectively referred to as Latin drumming. These represent the roots of all popular music, especially the progressive jazz and rock that I loved. Unfortunately, I quickly found out upon beginning my classes at MI that, though the Latin drumming existed, it was only on the drumset. I wouldn’t be learning to play hand drums.
Initially it wasn’t a big deal because I had my hands full, so to speak, with the drumset work I was doing, but I longed to expand my horizons and learn these other instruments. It wasn’t because of any sense of history or tradition, however. My reasons for learning hand drums were entirely practical: I felt that the more instruments I could master, the better chance I had of being able to make a living playing music.
As fate would have it, my route to and from school took me past a small park where a drummer often sat and played his congas (these are barrel-shaped hand drums that originate from Cuba based on drums played for centuries in West Africa). Many days I idled by and listened as he played, intrigued by the variety of sounds and rhythms he was playing. I could sometimes pick up bits and pieces of rhythms similar to what I was learning on the drumset but many times what he played went way over my head.
After a month or so of hearing him play, I approached him and asked if he’d teach me. He said no, he wasn’t interesting teaching anyone, especially a drumset player, saying that I would corrupt the drumming and wouldn’t appreciate its roots. I assured him that I would be respectful, but he demurred.
Undeterred, I kept showing up and pestering him. I often resorted to hiding behind a nearby tree in the hopes that I could pick up some of his cool rhythms and techniques.
Finally, after a few weeks of this he got sick of me stalking him so he relented and agreed to teach me. On the condition that I would take seriously the foundations he would share with me and follow his rules for how I was to use the information he would pass on.
I agreed, but I didn’t really know what he meant by any of this. By this point, though, I wanted to learn to play hand drums like him so badly that I would have agreed to almost anything.
So, we set a schedule and I met with him a couple of times a week before my first classes of the morning. This began an intense period of study that involved me playing the drums or attending classes nearly every waking moment. I was so absorbed by my studies that I often forgot to eat. Over the course of about eight months I unintentionally lost close to 50 pounds. I wasn’t big to begin with and I ended up barely over 130 pounds (at 5’9″, I was thin). This, however, was the early eighties so my emaciated state was pretty on par for the young people hanging around Hollywood. I fit right in.
I have to say that the instruction at the Musician’s Institute was top-notch. My teachers were first-tier drummers. Joe Porcaro could be heard on countless TV and movie soundtracks and almost all the live awards shows, including the Academy Awards. Ralph Humphrey, the other percussion program director, and his band, Free Flight, often played with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and he had played with the likes of Frank Zappa and on TV show soundtracks too numerous to count. My Latin drumming teachers (teaching drumset) were Alex Acuna and Efrain Toro, two of the most in-demand players in the genre, ironically both of whom played hand drums for their gigs.
But none of them held a candle to the understanding of rhythm and it’s effects that I gained from this unknown drummer I met in a dirty city park. My teacher, Lloyd, came from a long line of drummers in his native Trinidad (and before that, West Africa). His was a tradition that dove deep into the roots of society, carrying with it much power. Where I studied reading and rudiments at school, I was learning history and responsibility from Lloyd.
He spent as much time schooling me on traditions as he did with techniques. I was learning the origins of my chosen instrument. I discovered that the drumset that I had spent the previous decade trying to master was a new invention, less than 100 years old.
This instrument that I revered was a cobbled together grouping of mismatched instruments used when there were too few people to play the drums individually. I was learning that the rhythms I was playing on my drumset were originally played by 3 or more drummers on separate drums, bells, gourds, rattles, or shakers. I was learning that the rhythms were an abbreviation of their original forms to accommodate the limitation inherent in using only one limb for each instrument or group of instruments.
Each of the traditional rhythm parts were much more complex than those that ended up on the drumset. For example, the kick (bass) drum part for the Brazilian Samba on the drumset utilized only the accented notes played by the big bass drum, called a surdo. The surdo’s rhythms involve loud and soft notes and rim shots played with a mallet in one hand along with hand mutes and slaps to embellish, alter the pitch and sustain with the other. The overall feel of a surdo’s groove was much more driving and dynamic than anything that can be played with the kick of a foot pedal.
By learning the subtleties of the surdo’s rhythms, I became a better drumset player and developed my own interpretations of the Samba that drumset players explored. So, from a musical perspective studying the hand drums enhanced my abilities. But from a personal perspective my hand drumming studies with Lloyd open an entirely new world for me, one in which I got to see the power of drumming and music to have profound effects on those listening.
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.
The last couple of months, in the height of our busiest season, I’ve managed to record a ton of music. I also wrote a 40-page book proposal and two research journal articles.
For my music, I increased our database of track combinations on Brain Shift Radio from about 100,000 to over 140,000. No, I didn’t record 40,000 tracks – these are combos, so I actually created somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 new tracks, a little over 50 hours of new music. No matter how you slice it, though, this a lot of music to record and requires a significant level of sustained focus.
For a typcial person this is pretty prolific, but for someone with ADHD it’s astounding.
Or is it?
To many people, having ADHD (ADD, AD/HD) makes getting stuff done nearly impossible. ADHD’ers often have so much trouble with their attention, motivation, and follow-through that ideas whither and die before anything gets done. Forget writing and recording a couple of songs, much less creating this much material. This must be from magic or at least some really high doses of stimulant medications, right?
Not for me. No magic. No meds (I tried them once – what a nightmare. Someday I’ll post something about that). So, what’s my secret?
I’ll get to that, but first I want to mention that Attention Deficit Disorder (with or without hyperactivity) could be more accurately called “Attention Variability Disorder”. Here’s how it often plays out:
On the other hand, these traits can be used to get stuff done. Lots of it, in my case.
One of the beautiful traits of my ADHD is that I’m highly creative. I never run out of ideas and new ways of doing things. I’m also not afraid of my ideas or of putting them out into the world.
I’ve watched other artists struggle with their “demons” – you know, the inner critic that says anything you create sucks. History is filled with tons of very smart, creative artists who either didn’t do their work or who self-destructed because of these demons. I have nothing but compassion for my fellow artists who live this way.
But here’s the thing: I don’t have any demons. None. Instead I have an inner cheerleader. So, I have no idea what these people go through. And I’m sorry I can’t help you if you have your demons (I’ve tried to suggest the “ignore the demons and work through it” thing only to get slammed in the proces, so I won’t go there).
Anyway, this blog post is not about inner demons and how to deal with them (an exorcism, perhaps?). This about getting stuff done in spite of an unruly brain.
My brain, like a lot of people with ADHD, can be tamed and the traits that often stifle focus in many can be harnessed to get lot of stuff done. This section will cover my process.
I hate preparation. All the little things that have to be done before I can actually work can stop me in my tracks. Working through the preparation is always uncomfortable. Physically. I feel feverish and nauseous. And I get angry at having to do these things. As you may guess, these feelings are not conducive to getting stuff done. So, the only way I can be productive and deal with these feelings is to separate the prep from the work.
This part of the process, by the way, is highly connected to the essentials I talk about in another post. If I’m doing my daily essentials this process gets easier; whereas if I’m not doing them, then preparation really, really sucks.
For me the prep looks like this: I dedicate one day or part of a day to setting up everything – session parameters, instruments, mics, and preamp levels. I can then go in later after a break and do the work I need to do.
I don’t let myself get distracted by things outside this prep. For example, if my desk is cluttered I won’t spend an hour (or day or week) trying to organize it. It’s not a priority so I just move the pile somewhere else to deal with later (yes, sometimes later never comes. This is where help comes in – I ask someone else to do it).
As an aside, this is important: If you have the means one of the best things you can do as a person with ADHD is to delegate tasks you know you can’t or won’t do. There is no shame in letting other people do what you hate to do. In fact, as hard as it may be to believe some people like to organize, some are actually very good at it. And enjoy it (I know, weird, isn’t it?). Wouldn’t it be better to let them do what gives them joy so you can focus on what you do best?
There is a time for details and a time for working on the big picture. People with ADHD tend to be big picture people. Minor details either stop us or suck us in and distract us from finishing the important stuff. When I work, I start from the outside with the big picture and work my way into the details as I go.
For example, when I work on the rhythm tracks for Brain Shift Radio I start by laying out a map of the rhythms and the tempo changes for a bunch of tracks, usually around 10. This is after the prep of creating sessions and setting up my drums and mics. This process can go quickly, usually just a couple of hours.
Then I record all the tracks I want to record. This can take many hours and it gets pretty exhausting, but I often get into a groove (in more ways than one) and can cruise through a lot in a little time. I don’t stop to fix mistakes. I leave them in. In fact, if you listen closely to the tracks on Brain Shift Radio you can hear some instances where I tripped over myself. But the thing is, these mistakes and inconsistencies are important for my music to have the effects that it does.
That said, because I’ve been playing so long none of these mistakes are big. You’d have to listen really carefully to hear them. In the rare occasion where I make a big mistake, I don’t stop recording. Instead I simply replay that section and cut out the messed up section later. The important thing is that I don’t stop recording.
After I have a ton of recorded tracks, I start the editing and mixing process. At this point I’m into the details and this is where I can get stuck again. So, to keep this from happening I…
Let go of perfection
The tendency to hyper-focus is fed by the need for perfection. Forget perfection. Perfection is an illusion and not attainable anyway, so why bother even trying. Close enough is good enough.
Of course, there is a huge difference between doing “good enough” and doing shoddy work. And you don’t want to do shoddy work.
You need to set a standard for yourself and your work and live up to it. But what you don’t want is to be paralyzed by the need for perfection. If your “good enough” is truly not good enough then you need to work on your skills so that you can produce high-quality good enough results.
The funny thing about being an artist is that your “good enough” will grow as you gain skills and experience. I’ve been playing drums for 40 years, professionally for 35, so my skills are pretty good. This helps me move quickly and produce consistently good enough results that are of very high quality. If you’re new to any of the skills necessary to play and record your music, you either need to take some more time to woodshed (practice) or allow yourself some room to work on your skills as you go. Just be careful not to get stuck on details that truly don’t matter (such as the rimshot on the snare drum in the 4th beat of the 27th bar).
Stick with it
I’ve written six books and over thirty journal articles, but I’m not a writer. Writers love to sit and write. I hate it.
Hate it, I say.
But I do it anyway. And for me, this requires sticking with it until I’m past my point of resistance (which some days lasts a long time).
I’ve spent days staring at a chapter or a song, putting something in, taking it out, trying something else, erasing it. Or, worse yet, writing something that looked good at the the time but made me wonder what the heck I was thinking upon reviewing it the next day.
Creative blocks are inevitable in any worthy project and require a certain amount of determination and sweat to break through. I often give myself a time-frame to work on the blockage before moving on. The length of time varies depending on the project type. For example, I’ll give myself an entire day or more for a book chapter, but only a couple of hours for a song. Only experience will guide you on how much time to devote to muscling through the tough times, but I recommend forcing yourself to focus (or to try to focus) for at least an hour before giving up and moving on.
This has to be an honest hour, not just watching the clock until the time is up. You have to try.
Note: During this time trying I often force myself to get some physical movement as I’m trying to get going. Some pushups, sun salutations, or, for me, time on one of my drums, gets the blood flowing. And more blood flow to the brain means more cognitive resources.
Shameless plug: I also listen to Brain Shift Radio as I work.
Anyway, if you’ve hit your time limit and feel as though you gave it your best shot, it may be time move on to something else. Which leads to…
Know when to quit
Anytime I’m creating, I’m working on more than one big project at a time. This is important because there are times when things just don’t gel and no amount of sticking with it is going to get me past my blocks. These blocks require the subconscious workings of my spatially-heightened ADHD brain.
So, in these instances I switch to one of my other big projects. I choose a project of significance because it’s easy to get lazy and develop a pattern of not being productive. If I choose some simple or insignificant task, I feel like I’m letting myself off the hook and lowering my expectations for myself. Then it’s just a matter of time before I’m spending hours on the couch watching movies.
For me, it’s important to keep a high level of expectation and drive in my life. This means that I have to know what has to be done on any given project so I spend as little time as possible thinking and as much time as possible doing. This is why it’s important to…
Keep Your Goals In Mind
There are days that the process sucks so badly I want to stop (especially when that dusty keyboard is staring me in the face and I just need to get out the Q-tip and spend an hour excavating every particle…).
I’m back. What was I saying?…
Oh yeah, keep the goal in mind. Don’t get sidetracked by distractions…
Seriously, big projects (you know, the kind of grand visions that us ADHD’ers get all the time) take a commitment that having ADHD often doesn’t play with well.
To stay on track, I keep a list of my goals along with whatever steps I need to be taking to get the project done. When I write these goals and their associated steps I put in as much detail as I can think of so that I don’t get sidetracked by unnecessary tasks or, worse yet, get hit with a lack of clarity which can send me back to the beginning and sabotage any progress I’ve made so far. So, the more detailed each action plan is for my project, the easier it is for me to stay on track.
Note: Try not to worry about putting all the details in your action plan to begin with. This can keep you from even building a list. Instead write down the tasks you can think of and add to it as you get clearer. The goal is to keep things moving.
The process of brainstorming and creating the big picture and the process of accomplishing goals are very different. Most times, the creative process involves the kind of thinking where an unfettered ADHD brain excels. This is the time of brainstorming, making connections, and thinking spatially. On the other hand, it’s the step-by-step grind that most ADHD people struggle with, but it’s these steps that make the project work.
With a detailed action plan containing small steps, doing these tasks actually becomes easier. And, because my attention span is shortened significantly whenever I encounter a mundane task, the trick I use is to make each task as small as possible so that none of them become mundane. This means that you need to…
Know your limits
One of the most important things that you can learn is what your threshold is for the mundane and how certain types of tasks fit in relation to this limit. For me, placing mics and setting levels are activities where I have little patience. And where I quickly lose interest. This is why I set them aside for preparation and why I use a Jecklin disc to record with.
Not to get too far afield, but a Jecklin disc is a mic stand that positions two matched microphones in perfect alignment with one another so I consistently get proper phase coherence without fussing around with this alignment as I move the mics to find the best location in the room for the instrument I’m recording.
Because I only have to think about where the instruments sound best in a room I can move quickly and not get bored or distracted my the minutia of phase alignment.
Other tasks, such as creating cool synth sounds, fill me with wonder and joy. I can spend a very long time tweaking oscillators or effects to dial in just the right sound for a particular ambient track without getting bored. So, my threshold for tweaking synth sounds is much higher than for positioning microphones. The flip-side is that, because I love this process and it never gets boring, it’s easy for me to hyper-focus on creating awesome synth sounds. So, I am careful to save this task for times when hyper-focusing is okay.
Knowing the difference between my threshold for various task types makes it easier for me to choose the task that fits my mood and attentional reserves. Choosing the right task for where I’m at keeps me moving forward on my goals and allows me to…
Nothing breeds success better than success. Little victories along the way to a big goal keep me motivated and on track. So, it’s important to me to feel like I accomplished something everytime I sit down to work. I doesn’t have to be much, but it does need to be something.
This means that no matter how hard the day is, I don’t quit until I’ve accomplished one task related to one of my big goals. I scour my action plans and look for whatever I can find that I can do successfully.
On my worst days, this may simply mean setting up for a task that I’ll tackle the next day. In other instances, it’s editing a paper or song (both tasks that don’t require deep attentional reserves for me). And on other occasions, it may be time for my synth-sound-symphony (if hyper-focusing is a concern, then I set a timer or alarm to make sure I stop before I miss an important appointment).
You need to find a group of tasks that you keep in your back pocket. So that even on your worst focusing days, you can not only find good work to do; but you can walk away from your work feeling good about the day.
Oh, and the last, and probably most important, thing to do to feel successful is to treat yourself right and be consistent in following a daily routine that fosters success. Here’s mine.