Tag Archives for " Focusing music "

Exploring the Connection Between Drumming and Attention

Aside from the stress-reducing effects of drumming (and playing music in general), drumming activates the brain and can increase focused attention.

The following is an excerpt from my book, Different Drummer, which explores my inspiration for using fast, complex drumming to help with sustaining focused attention. I describe how I stumbled upon the core technique that would be the basis for the stimulation in all our programs and CDs.

You can learn more and order the book here

You can learn more about the REI Custom Program here

DD-Front-cover-25

I’m a drummer and a tapper. I drum on everything. All the time. It drives many people crazy. I always thought that my need to drum was just because of my obsession with music and rhythm; but as I was doing some research for an upcoming study on ADHD, I discovered that I’m not alone in my need to tap. 

“Have you ever heard of ‘fidget-to-focus’?” David asked as we were talking about our study. David was a neuropsychologist. He worked at a progressive clinic in San Diego and he was also a drummer. Although ADHD wasn’t his specialty, he was excited about exploring whether my drumming can impact attention. We were planning a study using a Continuous Performance Test (CPT) to collect quantitative data. 

“No, what is it?” I replied.

“It’s based on a study done years ago on coping strategies people with ADHD develop to help them focus. This study was exploring why it was believed that ADHD was considered a childhood disorder that people grow out of as they reach adulthood. It turns out that people don’t necessarily grow out of ADHD. Instead, many people develop strategies to help them function better. The ADHD is still there.”

“So what does fidgeting have to do with it?”

“Well, it seems that fidgeting is one of the most common strategies people with ADHD use to keep their attention. Most are simple things like rocking, shaking a leg, playing with a pen or pencil, anything that uses a motor movement to keep them engaged.”

“Like drumming.”

“Perhaps. Do you suppose there is a higher prevalence of drummers with ADHD than other musicians?”

“I don’t know. That’s an interesting idea, though. Most of the drummers I know are kind of like me. In fact, I don’t know any drummers who are not at least a little distracted, impulsive or hyperactive.”

“That would be an interesting study to do someday. But for now, if we consider fidgeting to help with attention, musical or not, perhaps the rhythm impacts the brain in a positive way.”

“It seems like the case to me, but what does fidgeting mean for our study?”

“Probably nothing, but maybe we can use the concept of fidget-to-focus as a basis for our hypothesis. Didn’t you say that you started developing your therapy from your experiences playing the drums and feeling more focused?”

“Yes. I guess that would be like fidgeting-to-focus. Only I wasn’t doing it solely to help focus. The drumming exercises were homework. And I wasn’t just focusing better while I drummed, I felt more focused afterward. The residual focusing effect was the basis of exploring the drumming for focus. My goal was to see if listening to syncopated drumming rhythms provided the same focusing effect as playing my homework exercises.”

I described to David that one of my challenges while attending the Musician’s Institute was being able to keep up with the pace of my classes. The most difficult for me, and many percussionists, was music theory and composition. I spent a lot of time analyzing music, digging deep into the structures that were being used in rock and jazz music (to this day I can’t listen to the Beatles and enjoy their music for what it is. I always find myself remembering the many hours spent dissecting their songs). As someone with ADHD, focusing on the mundane analysis of music theory and composition was nearly impossible. Contrasted with this was my favorite class, sight-reading, where it was always interesting and, as a result, easy for me to focus on.

Because I wanted to avoid music theory and instead work on sight-reading, I decided that I would reward myself for my theory and composition work by doing my sight-reading exercises before going back to some of the mundane work I was assigned. As someone who was somewhat impulsive and hated delayed gratification, I quickly decided to reverse this plan. Instead of theory first, I would allow myself to spend a half hour or so doing my sight-reading exercises then dig into theory for 30 minutes, followed by another bit of sight-reading. 

The reason I preferred sight-reading was that I was able to play continually unique patterns. One basic exercise consisted of reading rhythm patterns from a book on syncopation, calledProgressive Steps to Syncopation For the Modern Drummer, by Ted Reed. The patterns were random combinations of 8th and 16th notes written across the page, page after page throughout the book.

My assignment was always to choose a page and read it in varying ways. Left to right, top to bottom, bottom to top, right to left, diagonally, whatever. The goal was to always be reading one or two measures ahead of where I was playing. This got me accustomed to reading ahead, therefore when confronted with a new piece of music, I could read, comprehend, and interpret it right away and convincingly perform it the way the composer intended. I loved these exercises. They gave me a rush.

Imagine my surprise when I also discovered that these exercises made doing my theory and composition work easier. After 30 minutes of sight-reading, I’d switch to theory and, to my amazement, could focus. The analysis was easier and the musical structures started making sense. I could even begin to appreciate the simple predictability of the Beatles’ music (especially since I never really liked listening to it – still don’t).

And analyzing more complex music of some of the progressive jazz-fusion bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra or Weather Report became rote. My grades for the semesters after discovering this sight-reading-then-theory pattern confirmed what I felt. I was focusing better and grasping complex concepts better.

Focus Your Brain with this REI Drumming Video

In this video, I play REI drumming rhythms that you can use to focus your brain. Play this video quietly in the background as you work on a task that requires intense focus.

Listen to more focusing music for free here: brainshiftradio.com
Learn more about REI here: reicustomprogram.com
Learn to play the drum for healing here: drumhealing.com

How to Achieve the Flow State with Drumming

In this video, I describe the state of flow and how to use drumming to induce and enhance it. Flow exists in the transition between the alpha and theta states of consciousness. A rhythm at 7.4 beats-per-second is a great tempo to induce flow.

Tempo is only part of the equation. Flow is characterized by a deactivation of the pre-frontal cortex (a phenomenon called “transient hypofrontality”).

To achieve this state of flow, the rhythms need to be variable enough to entrain the brainwaves to the 7.4 Hz  pace, while not so complex or variable that they activate the brain. This video shows examples of rhythms that are too repetitive (not able to entrain), too complex (activating), and musically variable (just right to entrain and induce flow).

Note: You don’t need to play the drum. All you need to do is listen. If you choose to play, the 7.4 bps tempo is achieved by setting your metronome to 1/4 note equals 111 beats-per-minute and playing 1/16th notes (you play four drumming beats for every click of the metronome).

Learn how to play the drum for the brain at: drumhealing.com
To try my music for flow for free: brainshiftradio.com

Free REI / Brain Shift Radio Holiday Audio Downloads

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.


Big Round Calm Audio DownloadBig Round Calm. This track couples a big, round ambient track with a 7.8 beat-per-second Gonga to calm your nervous system.

Warm Calm > Focus Audio Download

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.

Deep Sleep Audio DownloadDeep Sleep. This mix pairs our deepest, richest ambient track with a Gonga, played at 7.6 beats-per-second, to transition you to sleep quickly.

Instructions for downloading to mobile devices:

Apple iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPod)

Download Documents by Readdle from the Apple App store (it’s free).

Once you download the app, please follow these steps:

  1. Open the Documents app
  2. Choose Settings (the little gear icon in the upper left of the app).
  3. Choose Browser from the options.
  4. Under User Agent choose Google Chrome.
  5. Close the settings window (tap Close in the upper left of the window).
  6. Choose Browser from the main menu on the left
  7. Click the download file images above (one at a time). A Save File window will appear.
  8. Tap Done when the Save File window opens. You can monitor the download by tapping on the Documents button to the right of the web address window (this is the down-pointing arrow).
  9. When file is downloaded it will appear in the Documents folder located in Documents option from the main menu. This menu is accessed by tapping the icon with the three horizontal lines in the upper left of the app window.
  10. If you want to put your track on iCloud simply drag the file into the iCloud Menu option. It is now on your iCloud account. Please note: if you want the file to go to iCloud by default choose this option from the Setting menu when you are changing the User Agent in the Browser options menu described in Step 3 above).choose View File. Again, a new browser tab will open and the track will play.

Android devices (phones and tablets)

Go to Google play and download ES File Explorerhttps://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.estrongs.android.pop

To download the audio files:

  1. Click the download file images above (one at a time).
  2. Tap Download. The track may begin playing. If it is Tap Pause to Stop playback.
  3. Let it download.
  4. Once it is downloaded, open the ES File Exporter app.
  5. Choose Search from the menu and type in Download.
  6. Click the Download folder to expand and you’ll see the track.
  7. Click the track and then select the ES media player to play the track. I suggest checking the box that says “Set as default” so you won’t get this screen again.
  8. Open the ES File Exporter app and click the track name each time you want to listen.