Percussionist and researcher Jeff Strong embarks on a three-decade journey into the power of musical rhythm. Different Drummer chronicles his path as he navigates ancient drumming practices, conducts clinical research, and develops the music that establishes him as a pioneer in the world of auditory brain stimulation.
Beginning with his own struggles with ADHD, Jeff abandons a successful music career and doggedly searches for ways to use musical rhythm to positively impact brain function and behavior. Jeff meticulously documents the development of his therapy and it’s supporting technology as he drums for people with a variety of challenges including:
• Aggressive behavior
• Behavioral issues
• Cognitive issues
• Mood issues
• Self-stimulatory behaviors
• Sensory processing
• Sleep problems
• Social interaction
• Tic behavior
Jeff’s inquisitive mind and careful research reveal how fast, complex drumming can offer long-term benefits for children and adults with neurological disorders. If you have ever wondered why the drum holds a prominent role in cultures around the world or why music can influence the brain and behavior, Different Drummer offers a compelling look at the life-changing and therapeutic tool of music.
Jeff Strong is the creator of Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention™ (REI) and the Director of the Strong Institute, a research center and provider of custom auditory stimulation programs for individuals with neurological disorders. He is also the co-founder of Brain Shift Radio, a streaming music site containing personalized music to enhance brain function.
I offer a few excerpts from the book on this blog to give you a taste of it. These excerpts are listed to the right.
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:
Chapter 2, Part 2
Four weeks later, I arrived at the school nervous. I hadn’t talked to the psychologist or the teachers since I dropped off the tapes so I had no idea how the kids were doing or whether these recordings were having any impact.
Karl wasn’t able to be at the school when I conducted my four-week check-in, so we talked briefly on the phone before I interviewed the teachers and aids and met with each of the kids. Karl told me that he felt the autism classrooms were much calmer than before the kids started listening to their tapes. He also said he thought the tapes were having an overall positive effect on the kids. There were, however, some issues with teacher compliance.
“Very few of the children listened with the frequency that we planned,” he said, preparing me for what I would soon discover from the teachers.
“What do you mean? How often did the kids listen? What a mess,” I replied, clearly bothered, felling my study was ruined.
“Everyone listened a different number of times over the last four weeks.” He replied. After a short pause, “I know this seems like a problem, but we’re still going to learn a lot from this study. It’s rare that a study of this sort goes exactly to plan. And it’s often in the unforeseen that we learn the most.”
I’m silent. I’m trying to process this new information and thinking I should have been at the school everyday to make sure the tapes were played the way I wanted them to be played.
“You couldn’t have been there everyday, you know that. It would have been too disruptive to the classrooms,” Karl said, reading my mind. “Just go in, talk to the staff, check in on the kids, and try not to worry. We’ll make sense of the data when it’s all collected.”
“I guess,” I said still trying to come to terms with how my study got sidetracked. I had never done a study before so I didn’t know if Karl was telling the truth or whether he was just trying to make me feel better.
I stopped worrying about this when I arrived at the school for my check-in, surprised and gratified by the enthusiasm of the teachers and aids when I talked with them about their experiences the first month. They all felt that the tapes were having a positive effect and they described many instances where the music had made a big impact.
From a cursory glance at the tracking forms it was clear that most kids were calmed when their recordings were turned on. I was encouraged by what I was hearing, but I was deeply touched when I met with the kids.
Nina was my first stop. She was sitting quietly in a private study room with her aid, listening to her REI recording. I observed her for several minutes while she worked and she stayed on task. I talked with her teacher and she mentioned that Nina was more compliant and less anxious than before starting REI. She did mention that Nina still got anxious and became disruptive and sometimes aggressive during the day, most often right after lunch.
The teacher said she felt that the transition from the unstructured lunchtime to the more structured afternoon class time seemed to be particularly problematic for Nina. Because of this observation, the staff developed the practice of playing Nina’s REI recording a second time after lunch to help with this transition.
According to the tracking notes from her teacher and aid, Nina was calmed every time the recording was played. This calming effect generally appeared within 4-5 minutes of turning on the recording, though it was often sooner. They reported that many times Nina stopped her disruptive or anxious behavior almost immediately upon hearing the recording begin. It seemed that Nina often fell asleep during the recording, speaking to the toll that the anxiety was having on her.
It also appeared that listening to her tape twice a day was having an overall positive effect on Nina’s behavior. She was less aggressive, more compliant to requests and directions, and was able to attend to tasks better.
My next stop was Lucas. This morning Lucas was uncharacteristically quiet, hardly talking to me at all. He sat in his chair and ringed his hands together while staring into space. His teacher told me that he had been having a hard time since his father moved out of the house two weeks into the study. She described that he had been arriving at school agitated, so they started playing his REI recording as soon as he got to school in the morning.
The tracking form showed that Lucas was calming down to the recording as it played nearly all the time (92%). This calming effect generally lasted through lunchtime. The teacher also noted that Lucas seemed to like listening to his recording and often commented on it.
Because Lucas was so quiet and was engaging in this hand ringing self-stimulatory behavior, I decided to grab a drum and play for him a bit. I started with a rhythm that I often use for people who are stimming. This rhythm contains complex accent patterns in a time signature of 21/16.
Lucas glanced at me as I started playing, and over the course of 3 minutes he stopped ringing his hands and came over to me as I played. I switched rhythms to a loping Brazilian Samba-type pattern (this REI version consists of a 4 bar phrase of a pattern played in a 15/16 time signature). Lucas put his hands on the side of the drum and held it as I played.
As I progressed through several other rhythms, he sat down next to his teacher and quietly listened. This continued for about 4 minutes until I stopped. At that point Lucas came over to me and started talking. He was telling me about a game he liked – what it was and how it was played. This monologue continued as I walked with him back to his classroom.
When I arrived with Lucas to his classroom, Sammy came up to me and gave me a hug. She stood next to me and smiled as her teacher told me that Sammy “loved” her recording and asked to listen to it a couple of times a day.
I noticed that Sammy was holding her tape and said as much to her teacher. Her teacher nodded and remarked that Sammy often carried her tape around with her during the day.
Sammy’s tracking log showed that she was always calmed by the recording and often seemed “lighter” or “happier” after listening to it. The staff reported that Sammy seemed to be coming out of her shell and was beginning to engage more with the staff. She still had no interest in the other children, though.
I played for Sammy a little and she again smiled when I began playing. At one point I played really quietly and asked her if she would like to join me. The teacher led her over to the drum and she stood quietly in front of it for a minute or so, then put her hands on the edge of the rim as I played.
I played for several minutes while she stood holding the instrument. Even with very complex, intense rhythms and, at one point, an especially loud passage, Sammy stood and smiled. I should note that drums such as the Gonga I play can exceed 140 decibels at this close range – a volume that can match a loud rock concert, so it’s important to be very careful and to keep passages such as these very short.
Sammy also looked me straight in the eyes for quite a while as I played, eye contact that I was told was very unusual for her. Once I stopped, she averted her gaze and let go of the drum. She continued to smile, though, as she left the room.
Tom showed up as Sammy was leaving, so I had the chance to play for him again. His response to my playing was similar to his first session – he wasn’t bothered by the rhythms, tones, or volume of the drum, even with his sensitivities to sound. In fact, he seemed more engaged than the first live session, evidenced by his sitting quietly and watching me the entire time rather than his stopping me playing.
His teacher reported that Tom had fewer aggressive incidents since starting his recording and the incidents he had were significantly less severe. His tracking log showed that he was calmed 98% of the time as it played. His tape was damaged by another student the day before my visit, so I had to make him a new one. Because of this, he missed three days in a row and listened to another subject’s recording for these past three days. He was still being calmed by the other student’s recording.
Next, I went to see Marcus. He was in the middle of working with his aid so I didn’t get a chance to play for him. His teacher and I talked as I watched him work.
“Marcus doesn’t really like his tape. It rarely calms him,” said Therese, his teacher.
“Hmm,” I said, thinking.
Before I can say anything Therese said “But there something that we noticed. I’m not sure what it means, but he seems to calm whenever we play Tom’s tape. Do you think one tape could be calming another not?” she asked.
“I don’t know, I suppose,’ I said. “Let’s test this. I’ll make a copy of Tom’s tape that you can play for Marcus and we’ll see if there is a difference in his response.”
“Okay, I’ll have Angela play Tom’s tape until then.”
“Actually, let’s not. Has Angela been the person playing his tape and tracking his response?”
“Yes. Marcus does well with her.”
“I think it would be interesting if Angela doesn’t know that we changed the tape. Let’s tell her that the tape was damaged and that I’ll bring a copy in tomorrow. This way she won’t expect a different response than she’s been getting. If Marcus is calmed more or less this upcoming four weeks, we might learn something interesting.”
So, that’s what we did. After meeting with more kinds in the study I ended my day with Steven, the first child I played for at the start of the study.
When I entered his classroom, Steven was in a corner with his aid rocking and covering his ears.
“Could you turn on Steven’s tape?” I asked his teacher.
“Sure,” she said as she put it in the tape player and moved the player to a table near Steven.
She stepped back and we stood and watched. So far Steven had not noticed me because he was facing his aid with hands on ears and rocking back and forth. His teacher and I watched as Steven shifted his gaze to the tape player. Stilling holding his ears, his rocking became less chaotic, seeming to synchronize slightly to the pulse of the rhythms filling the room. Other kids in the room gravitated toward to tape player, some looking that way and others moving in its direction.
Steven’s rocking subsided after about a minute and his hands came away from his ears. Less than a minute later he was settled into a chair in front of the tape player listening intently.
“He almost always gets like this when his tape is played’, his aid said.
His teacher handed me his tracking forms and, sure enough, Steven was calmed most of the time by his tape. Seeing firsthand how the tape calmed Steven put this study into perspective, a perspective I hadn’t imagined before. I was used to seeing people calm as I played, but I had not seen firsthand what a recording of my music would do for such a diverse group of kids, especially as I looked around the room and saw that nearly everyone had calmed. Many children were also tuned into the music, either looking at the tape player or moving in time with the drumming.
This was a great way to end my day so I left and stayed out of everyone’s way for four weeks, trusting that whatever data we collected would be enough to show me something about how my drumming may help these types of kids.
At my next check-in eight weeks into the study, I was gratified by the enthusiasm of the students and staff. As I did at my four-week evaluation, I wanted to see each kid and talk to each teacher and aid to get a more complete picture of their experiences than I would by simply looking over the various forms that Karl and I would collect.
I met Nina first since she was my star student at the four-week point. Nina was alone, calmly working on her schoolwork with her aid when I arrived. They were in a separate room from the other students like they had been at the four-week point. The aid reported that Nina had listened to the REI recording approximately 2 hours previously and that Nina had been calm since then. Her aid mentioned that she came to school agitated and was immediately brought to this room to listen to her REI recording. She was calm after about 10 minutes of listening to her recording.
Nina’s tracking notes related that she was still calming to the REI recording every time it was played. Overall, Nina responded very well to her tape. Besides being calmed as it played, she showed some obvious changes in her behavior in general. Her teacher and aid both described that Nina was less aggressive toward staff and other students, she was more able to control her impulses, and was easier to direct and redirect if she was acting out than before starting REI.
Of all the children in this study, Nina showed the most significant change. She also heard the recording more frequently than the other participants, averaging 10 listening times per week.
Lucas was my second stop. His teacher described that Lucas “has been able to better express a variety of feelings as well as use quiet times to calm himself during anxiety. We also noticed an increase in group participation.”
His rate of immediate calming for the second part of the study was still above 90% and his overall change was significant in several areas: his anxiety dropped 25%, aggressive behavior dropped 30%, his memory increased 35%, and his ability to listen and follow directions increased 60%.
I was looking forward to seeing Sammy again, especially after getting a nice hug from her last time I saw her (it’s nice to be appreciated). As I expected, Sammy was consistently calmed by her tape.
Her teacher told me that, “she loves listening to her tape. Aside from being calm, we have seen increased eye contact, less refusals and shorter latency to respond to requests.”
According to the exit assessment, Sammy also showed improvements in motor control (coordination), eye contact, and social engagement. These were all good things to hear, but the best part was that Sammy approached me and asked if she could keep her tape.
I said she could. And she smiled and gave me another hug.
Next I checked in on Tom. His teacher and Karl, the psychologist, reported that Tom was noticeably calmer overall and that he was still calmed nearly all the time when the recording played. He showed significant improvement in several areas including, anxiety reducing by 45%, sensitivity to sound reduced by 40% both for the intensity and frequency of his reaction to offending sounds, and his frequency and intensity of aggression dropped by 45%.
Of course, this was followed by my meeting with Marcus’ teacher and aid.
“Marcus did better with his new tape,” Therese reported. “Take a look at Angela’s notes.”
“Wow, it looks like he is being calmed by Tom’s tape twice as often as he was by his own.”
Karl over heard this and said, “So, Marcus was calmed more by Tom’s tape than he was his own?” asked Karl.
Yes,” I said. “The drum was the same. The recording process was the same. The tempo and the pitch were the same. The only difference between Marcus’ tape and Tom’s were the particular rhythms.
“This is a pattern I’ve seen over and over again,” I explained. “One rhythm may be calming. Another may stop a stimming behavior. And another may engage and get someone moving.”
From analyzing the two tapes, Tom’s had more odd groupings. “Remember during the initial session when I played that pattern in 13, then Tom sat down after circling the room? I put that and some similar rhythms on his tape. For Marcus, he was calm to begin with so I never played anything like that. Because he was so withdrawn I played a lot of triple feel rhythms. Those ended up on his tape. And he didn’t like them when he was anxious. They weren’t calming for him. Whereas the odd meter rhythms were,” I said thinking out loud. “There seems to some importance to the specific rhythms that matters.”
“My teacher, Lloyd used to talk about this specificity. He said that each rhythm has a purpose and knowing what to play when was the key to having success with the drumming.”
“This actually goes back to the origins of using drumming in ceremony where each rhythm is tied to a specific spirit, or Orisha as they’re called in Africa,” I added. “I saw this years ago when studying ceremonial rhythm-healing techniques. The key to the traditions was the connection to the spirits. And it is through these connections with the spirits that the ceremonies successfully changed a believer’s behaviors.”
My studies with Lloyd included both the ceremonial and the clinical. We played for his church and we played for individuals, like Ty, who had behavioral issues that he felt could be helped by the drumming. I was intrigued by the one-on-one drumming but very uncomfortable with the ceremonies. So, as I was witnessing Lloyd playing for people I tried to filter what I was seeing through my belief system, which didn’t include the concept of spirits having anything to do with behavior.
I needed to find another explanation, which was one of the reasons why I was conducting this study with Karl and working so hard to explore and document the effects of the drumming and rhythms. As it turns out, it was good that I did this because many people I shared this approach with had the same concerns about the spirits as I had.
Chapter 2, Part 1
“What do you think about doing a study on this?” asked Karl.
Karl was attending my African and Latin group drumming classes where I’d been telling the group about my experiences drumming for Stacey and other kids with developmental disabilities. Everyone was intrigued by the idea of using drumming for children with developmental disabilities, especially given the children were not asked to play the drum and only listened as I played. Karl, as it turned out, was the staff psychologist in a school district that contained what was considered one of the most progressive autism programs in the state.
“I think you have something here”, he said, “Maybe we could do the study at my school. It has a great autism program and the director is progressive. I’ll help you write a proposal and submit it. If we’re lucky we can do it this year yet.”
“That sounds exciting, but I don’t know how do write this type of proposal”, I confessed. “What does it need to look like?”
Up until this point, I had written articles about therapeutic rhythm-making, but nothing along the lines of what I would need for a study proposal. Karl went on to describe the key points of a research proposal and I went to work on a first draft.
As I was writing the proposal we hit a snag.
“You need a name,” Karl said.
“A what?” I asked.
“A name. For your therapy” he replied.
“What do you mean? This isn’t really a therapy yet. It’s an idea. An experiment.”
“I know, but the school board will want to it be more concrete. You can’t just call it drum therapy. How about something more clinical?”
“Okay, let’s see… AIT stands for Auditory Integration Training. That’s a mouthful,” I said, thinking out loud. ” And it sounds clinical and serious.”
AIT was an auditory therapy that was popular for autism in the early 1990’s. I was aware of it mainly because my client Stacy had gone through AIT several times. Her mother was well-versed in the process and had explained it in detail to me. Stacy’s mother was also a friend of the researcher conducting what would end up being the largest study done on an auditory intervention for autism.
It was the knowledge of AIT, along with my experiences with my drumming teacher Lloyd, that got me thinking that maybe I could be able to help with the condition.
So with AIT’s name as kind of model, Karl and I brainstormed.
“What is the drumming doing?” asked Karl.
“Well, I think it’s entraining the brain to a calm state,” I answered.
“Entrainment is a fancy word for synchronizing”, I explained. “There has been speculation that repetitive drumming can make the brain pulse in synch with the tempo.” I was referring to a study I had just heard about that documented what researchers had been speculating for a couple of decades. In this study, repetitive drumming at four-beats-per-second induced a corresponding four-beat-per-second theta wave in the listener’s brain. This discovery also fit with a series of studies done where rhythmic pulsations, in the form of binaural beats, were shown to induce a similar effect. This effect is often referred to as brainwave entrainment.
“Okay, you use rhythm to entrain”, surmised Karl. “How about calling it rhythm entrainment therapy? He paused and thought. “Not therapy. Intervention. Yeah, intervention. That’s better.”
“Rhythm Entrainment Intervention,” I pondered. “I like it. But I think it should be Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention, because the other entrainment approaches use beat frequencies. This sounds more precise.”
“Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention… REI. I like it”, Karl said thoughtfully.
So, we had a name. We had a study design and a protocol. Now what we needed was approval to do this in Karl’s school.
Schools are notoriously non-receptive to experimental programs, especially where kids were concerned. First we needed tentative approval from the program director and buy-in from the teachers. Then we would need consent from all the parents. From there, I was told, it would be on to the school board for approval. I was skeptical that we could do it.
“I’ll take this to the director and I let you know what else we need”, Karl said as he took the proposal.
The idea of a study intrigued me. I had been working with a lot of kids like Stacey over the previous year or so and had documented everything: The rhythms, responses and effects of various recordings. This study would be another step into trying to understand whether drumming had a place and whether specific rhythmic structures were useful for autism.
My teacher Lloyd had played for kids with issues similar to the kids I was playing for with autism. And I had watched Lloyd produce some pretty dramatic effects, especially with calming. I, too, had facilitated some great changes in anxiety along with improvements in other symptom areas; so I felt that this study may help me better understand the effects of the drumming, especially by collaborating with other people who had much more experience with this condition than I had.
Documenting case experiences and playing one-on-one were very satisfying for me for my own curiosity, but I really didn’t have much sense of what I should do with my music beyond this. However, I made a conscious effort to follow whatever path formed in front of me. This study could be an interesting one, I thought. One in which, I was sure, I would learn a lot. And I was all about learning more without any real expectation of where it would lead me (a trait that has been my guiding principle throughout my entire career).
After only a week Karl called and said, “We got it.”
“Got what?” I asked.
“Approval. Carrie, the program director, looked over the study proposal and felt it was worth doing. We presented it to the teachers and they’re all behind it. We’re now waiting for the last of the parental consent forms to come back. I figure you can start playing for the kids on Monday.”
“Wow,” I said. I really wasn’t expecting this to happen, and so quickly. “Okay I’ll see you first thing Monday morning.”
Now I was nervous. I had played for quite a few people up to this point, but a study? In a school? I was a drummer, not a researcher, at least not this kind of research. Up until this point research was something I did by myself for my own interest. Now I had a school involved in my weird idea.
I mean, drumming. To help kids with autism. How strange is that?
A quiet suburb outside of St. Paul, Minnesota. 7:30am Monday March 7, 1994.
It was unseasonably warm, which was a good thing because the top on my convertible was leaking and the heat in my old Volkswagen was never very good. Still, after a forty-minute drive I arrived chilled, my hands stiff. This won’t do, I thought. I have to be limber to be able to play for these kids.
This was my first day of a pivotal study that would forever change my life and the nature of my work. I was at the elementary school where we were going to track the calming effects of drumming on 16 children with autism ages 6-12. This school housed one of the most progressive autism programs in the state, and perhaps the country.
“We received 16 parental consent forms back for the kids,” described Karl when I met with him and the autism program director, Carrie. “That’s about half of the kids in the four classrooms. The kids range in age from 6 to 12, though most are between 8 and 11.”
He handed me the forms and gave me a brief overview of each kid’s issues.
“They are all so different,” I said, showing my lack of knowledge of the many manifestations of symptoms, abilities, and behaviors of children on the autism spectrum. “Some can talk, some can’t. Some are anxious, some are withdrawn. Some have seizures, some don’t.” I said, beginning to feel overwhelmed.
Could I actually do this? I wondered. Could my drumming have a noticeable positive impact on the kids? Sure, I had great success with Stacey and some other kids with similar issues, but the range of issues presented in these kids was astounding. I was feeling out of my depth. Who was I to think that my playing on a drum would help with a condition that professionals have been struggling with for decades and that even the multi-billion-dollar-a-year pharmaceutical industry was having limited results in being able to help?
Karl could tell I was freaking out. So he tried to calm me by putting the study back in perspective.
“Just focus on the calming,” advised Karl. “Try not to worry about having any dramatic effects. Just do what you did with Stacey and let whatever happen, happen. I’ll be in the room with you the entire time.”
I took a few breaths and we went to meet the teachers and aids. The introduction to the staff went well. Everyone was interested in seeing if the kids could be calmed. Anxiety and anxiety-based behaviors were the most significant and disruptive events during the day. So much of the teachers’ and aids’ time and energy went to managing these behaviors that very little learning actually happened. Anything that could have a calming effect on their students, I was told, was a welcome addition to their classrooms.
The vast resources that went into managing anxiety and anxiety-based behaviors is the reason that the most accepted therapy for autism centers on managing behaviors. ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and other behavior-related approaches focus on re-directing behaviors through repetition, rote responses to stimulus, and an often arcane system of rewards and (sometimes) punishments. Behavioral therapies are time-consuming and labor-intensive – therefore expensive – and offer limited results unless implemented perfectly. A good behavioral therapist, working one-on-one with a client for 40+ hours a week, has to have the patience of a saint and the stamina of a marathon runner.
If this study could offer any observable improvement in calm, it could make the kids more at ease and receptive, potentially opening a door for learning and internalizing well-implemented behavioral approaches. Of course, thinking this way made me anxious again. It’s a good thing that at this point I was asked to perform a little of the type of drumming I would be doing. The staff wanted to get a sense of what my drumming was about. Up until now, no one but Karl had actually heard me play.
This is always the fun part for me. In instances like this I prefer to jump right into rhythms at my typical eight-beats-per-second pace rather than slowly speed up. This is partly for effect and partly because the sooner I can get the group to shift, the deeper I can take them in the few minutes I’m usually allotted for my demonstration.
Listeners always go through four distinct stages when they first experience me banging my drum. The first stage of listening to my REI drumming is disbelief, especially if listeners are expecting calm. Eight beats per second is fast. And the drum I play is fairly loud (I can make it painfully loud if I want to, though I don’t this day), so uninitiated listeners tend to get a little tense at first. This day was no exception. I actually saw some eyes go wide as I started playing. Several teachers looked over at Carrie, the program director, clearly wondering what this was about. Carrie, in turn, looked toward Karl, who just smiled and nodded in time to my playing.
After an initial shocker rhythm (yes, I can be provocative when I play – it makes people remember their experience), I settled into a calming groove based on the African afuche rhythm. This is a simple two-beat pattern that has a forward-driving feel similar in effect to a Mambo beat. Two-beats, by the way, are a two-quarter-note pulse, with me playing sixteenth notes. This means that there are 8 individual drumbeats in this pattern.
This simple groove brought up the second stage of listening to live REI drumming: Amusement. Some teachers smiled, some began to sway to the rhythm. I kept the two-beat pulse going until I saw most of the staff begin to relax and engage with me. Some of the same teachers who looked at the program director with concern now looked at her with what could be best described as, well, amusement. They were having fun but didn’t see how this was going to be calming for their students (or even themselves).
I began to morph my rhythm, turning this simple two-beat pattern into a complex arrangement of odd-meter variations that had no discernible beginning or end. Instead it appeared to be a stream-of-consciousness improvisation with no real goal. There was a goal, however. And that was to usher in the third stage of dealing with my REI drumming: Bemusement.
Now, nearly five minutes into my performance, I watched the gears in people’s minds clog and jam as they tried to understand what I was playing. This was especially the case with those trained in music. What I was playing could not be understood intellectually in the moment – it was too unpredictable and went by too fast to analyze – so confusion fell across people’s faces. At this point, I saw Carrie look at Karl, questioning her decision to let me be there. Karl nodded reassuringly at her.
I took this as my cue to help drive my bewildered listeners to the final stage of the REI drumming indoctrination: Surrender. Once the analytical mind surrenders and people stop “listening” and allow the drumming to waft over them, they let me take control of their brain. I’m just kidding (sorta). I’m not taking control in classic sense of leaving my listeners without a choice. I’m taking control in the sense they are open to allowing their brains shift.
REI drumming does require the listener’s brain to attempt to decipher the patterns I play. But REI also requires that the listener’s brain entrains (synchronizes) to the pulsations of the underlying patter of my rhythms. This can’t happen when people are trying to intellectually process what I’m playing. Many people will stop listening for understanding pretty quickly because they enjoy the feel of the music. Others, mostly people with musical training, will hold out until the constantly changing nature of my playing goes on long enough that they get tired of trying to count it out and make sense of what I’m doing.
Auditory driving research has shown that it can take a few minutes before the initiated brain synchronizes to the stimulus. This time can be shortened if I am able to break homeostasis. The brain wants to remain in its current state, but novelty and anticipation make the brain easier to influence. This is why I always start off with loud fast drumming – it shakes the listener and allows me to break homeostasis. Then I take my listeners on a journey from simple rhythms to progressively more complex rhythms until I have their brains engaged. This can happen in less than ten minutes.
I saw this shift take place as eyes drifted off of me and started to close or the swaying and tapping to the music stopped. This is my favorite part of my performances, because my listeners are with me, fully engaged with my drumming. And this is where I begin to see the calm. No longer were the staff looking over at Carrie or Karl with concern. Most weren’t really looking anywhere. They were just experiencing the drumming. I kept playing for a few minutes as I watched everyone settle more. Then I slowly faded out and stopped.
I sat quietly and didn’t say anything for a while. Partly because I wanted everyone to be with their experiences for a minute and partly because I was speechless (this often happens to me when I play). I was calm. I sat with a big smile on my face. I tried not to, but I couldn’t suppress it. I felt a deep sense of peace inside. I was finally ready to begin this study.
I went through the usual gauntlet of people thanking me for my playing and telling me their observations of their experiences, but I cut this short because I wanted to get to the testing room as quickly as I could in the hopes that I could remain in my own peaceful state.
I rushed to my room and set up my equipment while the kids arrived at school. Karl began the process of lining up which student will come at which time over the next two days. I would play for eight kids each day, recording the sessions and making notes, after each student leaves, of any thoughts and feelings I had as I played for them. Karl would keep the kids in the room and re-direct any behavior he saw as being disruptive to the process. He would also alert me to any potential problems he may see coming or that I may have unwittingly initiated. He would also take notes of his observations of each child’s reactions to my playing. From these recordings and our collective notes I would go back to my studio and make a custom drumming tape for each kid.
“Steven won’t be able to tolerate the drumming,” his teacher said to me as she brought him to the room. “He is much too sensitive to sounds to be in this tiny room when you play that loud drum,” she added, looking at Karl hoping, I think, for him to agree with her and let her take Steven away. Karl took Steven’s hand without a word and guided him to a chair across the room from me.
“I’ll play quietly and Karl will remove him if he is bothered,” I replied.
She nodded but looked at me and Karl with doubt and concern. Reluctantly, she left, but stood by the door. Karl gave her a reassuring look as he gently closed the door and settled in a chair next to Steven.
Our testing room was small, about eight feet square, with cinder block walls, a suspended acoustical tile ceiling and a linoleum floor. Typical mid-century industrial drab construction. The reflective walls and floor created a booming sound with the bass of the drum and the tiny space made volume a real issue if I wasn’t careful.
I was careful.
“Would you like me to play the drum for you, Steven?” I asked.
No response. He stood, left side facing me while looking at the wall and running his finger along the mortar line.
A scream erupted from outside of the room. Steven grabbed his ears and began to rock. His teacher, seeing this through the window of the door, started to enter but Karl waved her off and signaled me to start playing.
I tapped a slow bass tone, pushing my right palm into the center of the drum at a tempo in time to his rocking. He kept rocking and after a minutes dropped his hands from his ears. I continued this pattern for another minute or so and then added a quiet syncopation with my left hand in time to the bass tone. Simple at first, slowly growing in tempo and complexity. Steven turned my way.
I changed my rhythm to a faster triplet-based feel, one that often excited the children. I was looking to get him engaged with the rhythm, so I added some bass and slap tones and played a odd meter variation on a Brazilian naningo rhythm. This rhythm has a smooth half time triplet feel.
Steven made his way along the wall and toward me and, more importantly, my drum. Next, I added some bouncy fills to vary the rhythm. It took him a few minutes of moving along the wall, but soon he was standing right next to me when he stealthily moved his hand to the drum. He lightly touched the edge of the rim with his palm and let his fingers drape onto the head. He held it there as I kept playing this triple feel rhythm. He had a flat affect, showing no sign on his face of liking or disliking my playing as he stood touching the drum and it’s head.
He stood unmoving for several minutes, so I switched to a calmer rhythm, one that many children have sat or laid down to, in an effort to illicit a response.
Nothing. He continued to stand facing the wall with his hand on the drum. I switched to a bass-heavy rhythm, knowing that he would feel a strong sensation in his fingers.
He smiled and moved his hand further onto the drumhead. With his hands in the way it was getting difficult to play and Karl, noticing this, tried to distract Steven and pull his attention and hand away.
Steven pulled back from Karl, keeping his hand on the drum. He began rocking again. I moved my hands to the edge of the drum and played a light soft rhythm, partly to get my hands away from his so I could keep playing and partly because I wanted to keep him from getting anxious or reacting negatively to Karl’s redirection.
Karl was eventually able to redirect Steven and have him sit quietly next to him as I continued playing. Once Steven was sitting I increased the intensity and volume of my playing. Steven sat and listened. I kept building volume and rhythm speed. Steven sat quietly. Again, I raised the volume. Steven sat. With a volume that was high for the room and despite what I was told he could handle, Steven didn’t seem bothered. I dropped the drumming to a whisper. Steven looked my way.
Encouraged by his response, I lightly tapped the edge of the head at a barely audible volume. Steven watched my hand intently as I fingered some double tempo patterns.
With Steven watching my hands, I stopped and placed my hands on the drumhead. He watched my hands for a minute and then got up and came over to the drum. He put his hands on mine and stood in front of me, looking off into the distance at the wall. We stayed that way for a few minutes until Karl came over and gently guided Steven back to his classroom.
I was feeling pretty peaceful about now and enjoying the silence of the room when a tornado came in. Her name was Nina. She was a highly verbal, highly anxious 9 year-old with Asperger’s syndrome.
Asperger’s syndrome is a subset on the autism spectrum and is the form of autism that Stacey (Chapter 1) had. Nina was a lot like Stacey. She had a large vocabulary that she felt free to use, though most of what she said was not appropriate or sensical. With Karl on her heels, she burst in my room and walked directly to me.
I introduced myself to her, showed her my drum, and asked if she minded if I played for her. She said that she didn’t and then began vigorously beating the drum. So vigorously, in fact, that it was impossible for me to play at the same time. While I held the drum, I let her play for a few minutes until she seemed to settle a bit. She didn’t stop on her own, however, and required Karl to redirect her before I could play.
As I discovered, this experience was a good introduction to Nina’s overall personality and behavior. She, the school staff described, was an intense, uninhibited child. She was verbal and tended to perseverate on whatever came to mind. She talked almost constantly about anything and everything, much of it running together and making little sense. She was also highly anxious and sometimes aggressive to others. Her teachers noted that she was disruptive to the other students and they found it difficult to get her attention and keep her on task. It wasn’t uncommon to need to separate her from the other children and to work with her one-on-one to get her to attend to her schoolwork.
When I began playing, Karl was playing a hand game with her while she continued to talk. She paid no attention to my playing initially, but after a few minutes she focused her attention on me when I began playing a rhythm that I often found helpful for people who were anxious or engaging in self-stimulatory behaviors. This rhythm, one that I had just successfully played for Steven, was based on a Brazilian Naningo. This pattern starts in a 12/8 time signature with accents on the first (bass tone), third (bass tone), sixth (open tone), seventh (slap tone), tenth (open tone) and twelfth (open tone) beats and evolves into a 23/16 rhythm by dropping the last beat of the second measure. This rhythm then drops another 2 beats to repeat a 21/16 time signature pattern.
After settling into this 21/16 portion, Nina sat down in a chair next to Karl and watched me play. I continued this rhythm and some variations on it for several minutes during which time Nina became quiet and attentive to what I was doing. I played for another 6 minutes using a variety of similar rhythms while she stayed quiet and sat in her chair, watching me play.
When I ended, she remained quiet while Karl led her back to her classroom. Her teacher later reported that she was calm the rest of the morning, until lunchtime when she became agitated by the change from the quiet of the classroom to the commotion of the lunchroom. The rest of her day was similar to other days, with her teachers struggling to keep her from acting out and becoming disruptive to the other students.
Nina was followed by her opposite: Marcus. Marcus was a small, quiet 8 year-old. Where Nina was high activity, high anxiety, Marcus was non-verbal, and largely non-responsive. Karl led him in the room and he sat, or more accurately, melted into the chair.
Like with all the kids, I started by playing very quietly for Marcus. He sat motionless for the longest time until, when I was playing a bouncy rhythm in a 19/8 time signature, he got up and walked over to the drum. He put his hands on the side of the drum as I played. I then switched to a simple samba-like pattern consisting of two bass tones followed by two quiet open tones. This rhythm bounced along until I dropped a beat here and there to create a more syncopated samba type feel. With the heavy bass tone pattern, Marcus laid down and crawled under the drum. He positioned his stomach directly under the bottom of the drum.
I dropped the volume a little so as not to hurt Marcus’ ears but kept playing an abundance of bass tones. Marcus stayed on the floor for the rest of the time I played.
When I stopped Karl, picked Marcus up and took him back to his room. He came back with nine-year-old Sammy. She came into the room and didn’t say a word to me as I introduced myself. Karl had her sit next him and nodded at me to begin.
She sat quietly as I started playing the drum. After just a few times through a basic calming rhythm, Sammy looked at me and smiled. Over the next ten minutes, I played a large variety of rhythms, from simple, calming rhythms to complex, intensely focused rhythms. Sammy never stopped smiling. She did seem to prefer open tones on the drum and rhythms with triplet feel (these types of rhythms tend to have an uplifting quality to them).
After I stopped playing and Sammy was taken back to her class, the teacher described that Sammy rarely talked, though she was able to express her needs and desires when prompted. She was also very socially withdrawn and difficult to engage, had poor eye contact, and poor motor control.
Next came Lucas, another eight-year-old. Lucas was similar in some ways to Nina in that he talked a lot, often not making much sense, and he could be aggressive to other children if he got over-stimulated. He differed from Nina in that he rarely initiated contact with other children in his class, preferring interact with his teacher and aid.
Lucas was told I would be playing a drum for him, so when he arrived he immediately approached me and asked me what kind of drum I was holding. I told him as I tapped it, then asked him if he’d like to play it a bit.
He touched the head as he tapped it with his fingers and talked and asked me a series of questions. The questions came fast as he tapped, with no space for me to answer. But he didn’t seem to want any answers. This pace continued for several minutes until Karl redirected him away from the drum. At that point Lucas shifted his one-way conversation to Karl and I started playing.
I played quietly at first with the hope that he’d stop talking and focus his attention on the drum. I began with a simple calming rhythm that is a variation on a 2-beat long Brazilian mambo beat.
As a side note, short rhythms such as the mambo, need to be varied for people on the developmental disability spectrum, otherwise they become annoying to the listener and defeat the purpose of calming.
In this instance, the variation I used created a rhythm in a time signature of 31/16 (the typical rhythm is in 2/4). Lucas shifted his attention to me, but continued talking as I played. After about ten minutes of playing various rhythms, I settled into to a more complex rhythm and Lucas stopped talking almost immediately. I played this rhythm and some variations for a couple of minutes before Lucas came up to me and asked me how long I was going to play. I took this as a cue to stop.
Next came Tom. Tom, like Steven, was extremely sound-sensitive. He was very anxious and often aggressive. He was also non-verbal, which tends to contribute to anxiety and aggressive behavior for many children due to their inability to express their needs. Unfortunately, Tom often hit others without provocation. This was a problem and his teacher was hopeful that the drumming would help calm him down. She was concerned, however, because of his extreme sensitivity to sound, that he wouldn’t do well with the rhythms. After my experience with Steven, I wasn’t so worried.
With Tom’s sound sensitivities in mind, I began by playing very quietly. Tom grabbed my hands and stopped me on several occasions, sometimes tapping the drum himself seemingly to get comfortable with it and its sound. After about 4 minutes, he sat down next to Karl and watched me as I played.
I played a large variety of rhythms over the next 12 minutes and observed that he seemed to prefer rhythms that had a flowing regularity to them. The more complex, chaotic rhythms appeared to make him tense up a bit, though at no point did he cover his ears or indicate in any way that we was bothered by the drumming, even though there where a few times where I played very loudly.
By the time I stopped playing, Tom was sitting next to Karl and vocalizing along with the drumming. I couldn’t hear him as I played, but Karl reported that Tom began vocalizing about 2 minutes before I stopped. In reviewing the session recording, I noticed that at that point in the session I had been playing a rhythm with repeating groupings of 5. Tom stopped vocalizing after a minute or so of when I stopped playing.
He was the last person I played for that day. I left the school feeling pretty satisfied with the childrens’ responses, hopeful that I could have a positive impact with this study. The next day I played for the rest of the children in the study and was again encouraged by their responses to the rhythms.
All the children were calmed and sometimes engaged by my drumming, which was a good start. But our goal was to see if listening to a recording of the drumming would elicit the same calm as my live playing. I spent the next week making each child their own cassette tape by playing rhythms I had mapped out from the live recordings and notes. Each tape would be twenty minutes long. The following Monday I brought everyone their tapes. It was like Christmas, at least for me, to hand out each tape.
Karl and I asked the teachers to play each child’s recording once a day, preferably turning it on at a time when the child was anxious, then track their response. We would do this for four weeks at which time I would come back and see how everyone was doing.
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.
After 6 long months working on a mobile player for my music site Brain Shift Radio, we are finally in the public beta-test stage.
We are starting with a basic player that uses the Auto-Select function. This makes it really easy for you to get results for focusing, calming, falling asleep and 4 other categories.
All you have to do is choose a music category (focus, for example) and then tell us what you want to accomplish (such as, Help me start a project). Brain Shift Radio will choose a rhythm and an ambient track for you to listen to to shift your brain activity to meet your goal.
If you want to manipulate the music – swap tracks and adjust the mix balance – you’ll still need to login to the web app. You can do this directly from the Brain Shift Radio Registration page.
I just created 25 new ambient tracks for Brain Shift Radio. These cover most categories and all of them are awesome-sounding. Check them out in the Track Browser. They are also automatically included in Auto Mode selections.
With the addition of these new tracks, we now have over 150,000 therapeutic combinations on Brain Shift Radio (that’s over 50,000 hours)! This is a milestone that we beat by almost two months.
Since Brain Shift Radio went live last summer we’ve had a lot of requests to offer an affiliate program. Initially resistant, we decided it would be a good idea.
Rather than use some off-the-shelf affiliate software or program provider, we built our own. We created it in a way to give you more control and transparency than you might get somewhere else. We also set our commission level higher than you’ll find in a lot of the cooler services out there.
So, whether you want to build a huge affiliate income or simply want to share BSR with friends to pay for your subscription, check it out:
Our affiliate program is simple. Here are the details:
We constantly study the efficacy of Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI), the core technique of the REI Custom Program, all my CDs, and Brain Shift Radio. And occasionally, I write up our findings in a formal paper. I just finished writing about a gem of a study we did on REI and anxiety reduction in a public school setting.
In this instance, the REI recording reduced anxiety every time it was played, often resulting in a significant decrease in physical aggression. This helped calm not only the child who was anxious, but the entire classroom as well.
Here is an excerpt:
Nancy was a highly verbal, though often inappropriate, extroverted, non-compliant and somewhat physically aggressive 12 year-old. Nancy was quite a force. She entered the room singing a Disney movie song. She engaged with me to the extent that she sang and danced around me, so I just jumped in playing. I started with basic calming rhythms, which had no impact initially as she kept on singing and tried dancing with the psychologist. After about 3 minutes she abruptly stopped singing, turned to me with a serious look and put her hands on the edge of my drum. I stopped playing.
Nancy then began telling me how great I was and how awesome my drumming was. I tried to thank her and start playing again but she kept on, telling me just how amazing I truly was. This exaggerated praise lasted for several minutes until I decided to start playing again. Once I did, she began singing and dancing again until she tripped and fell into the recorder. I kept playing, lowering my volume and rhythmic intensity, as the psychologist held her. She didn’t get hurt when she tripped and did not seemed bothered by the incident. She did, however, sit next to the psychologist when he directed her to the chair next to his.
You can read the entire blog post here: Case Study: Nancy, 12 year-old with Autism, Anxiety and Aggressive behavior
I should note that the recordings used in this study mirror the tracks contained on my REI Calming Rhythms CD and many of the rhythm tracks in the Calm category of Brain Shift Radio. You can achieve results similar to this study with Brain Shift Radio by selecting tracks with intensity levels of 4 or 5 or by answering the intensity (2nd) question as, “I’m agitated”.