Since our first clinical study in 1994, we have focused on how to reduce anxiety and induce calm. For ten years our research examined children and adults on the autism spectrum. This population proved to be an excellent anxiety-based arena for two reasons:
1. People with autism often have a lot of anxiety. And anxiety can rule much of their behavior. A child may tantrum when asked to enter a noisy, stimulating environment like a restaurant or shopping mall (or school lunchroom) or an adult may react aggressively when sharing mealtime with others.
Observing anxiety in people with autism is easy and noticing changes, however small, becomes simple. The cessation of crying in a tantruming child or halting of aggressive behavior in an over-stimulated adult is an obvious measure of a reduction in anxiety.
2. Because autism is characterized by an inability to socially engage in an appropriate manner or an inability to communicate wants or needs, many people with autism have little to no awareness that some music (or other intervention) is going to be calming. And if they have such awareness, many have no idea how to self-regulate to calm on command.
This effectively removes the placebo effect. And because we are not using self-observed changes in anxiety, but instead use behavioral measures, we further remove any effects of the participants’ expectation from the studies. Either a tantrum stopped or it didn’t.
Our first study was conducted in a public school setting with children between 6 and 12 years old. In this study we tracked immediate anxiety reducing effects as well as long term changes in anxiety levels. In other words, we wanted to see if listening to REI Rhythms would reduce anxiety as it happened (ending a tantrum, for example) and whether any residual calming effect would result in changes of overall behavior.
Immediate calming effects were significant. Nearly all the participants were calmed most of the time. The average frequency of time calmed by the recordings was 86.4%.
As far as overall changes in anxiety levels, we also saw significant changes as an average based on the pre and post tests. In the pre-test, average anxiety was listed at 82 on a 100 point scale. Anxiety on average after the study was reduced to 38 on a 100 point scale. This represents a significant reduction in anxiety over this 8-week period when the REI Rhythms were played quietly in the background. (1)
Follow-up studies with autism as well as other conditions such as Anxiety Disorders, Attention Deificit Disorders, and Sleep Disorders, showed similar reductions in anxiety while listening to REI music.
One resident was extremely aggressive before the study began, often injuring other residents or the staff. Before the study, incidents were reported several times per week. Within two weeks of beginning using the REI recording, his agggressive outbursts virtually stopped. And they remained rare for the entire study period and extended follow-up of 6 months. (2)
In another recent study, children within a public school showed significant reduction in anxiety-based behaviors while listening to REI rhythms. This study followed 10 students and showed reductions in behaviors in the following areas:
• Emotional outbursts
• Generalized anxiety
• Self-stimulatory behaviors
• Aggressive behavior
• Sound sensitivity
As the study states: Anxiety reduction can take many forms, especially with the large variation of symptomatic behaviors and characteristics present in children on the autism spectrum. (3)
Everyone’s stress and anxiety are different. Some people struggle with the stress of the day while others experience deep-seated anxiety. Because of this we offer several solutions for your calm needs. These include:
Calming Rhythms CD. This CD provides episodic calm. Just turn it on when you need calm; your brain will respond in a few minutes.
Brain Shift Radio. BSR is our personalized streaming music site. Here, you will find episodic relief for your anxiety. Plus, you can mix and match your music to play across the 7 categories of calm, focus, brain boost, uplift, energy, meditation, and sleep.
REI Custom Calm Program. This program is created just for you and will provide long-term improvement in your anxiety and anxiety-based behaviors. 6 custom-made REI tracks are delivered over 6 weeks; we will get to the root of your anxiety.
REI Custom Program. This is our premier, all-inclusive program for long-term improvement. We will make improvements in any combination of 10 symptoms areas you may struggle with, including anxiety. Over the course of 12 custom-created REI tracks, we can address anxiety, attention, cognition, impulsivity, mood, language and communication, social skills, sensory processing, sleep, and self-stimulatory behaviors.
I was about ten minutes into my session with Noah when he started humming, softly at first. I thought I was hearing things, so I looked over to his mom, wondering if she was hearing it too. She was smiling and mouthed to me, “did you hear that?”
I nodded as I focused on what I was hearing – unmistakable utterances of a humming passage that seemed to roll through the vowels.
I took note of the rhythm I had been playing for the last couple of minutes. It was a stimulating double tempo thing based on a Swiss drumming rudiment (core techniques based in military drumming) that I learned from a fellow student when I was studying at the Musician’s Institute. This rudiment, nicknamed a flirta, was a quick three beat passage using 32nd notes. I had incorporated this into a shuffling rhythm in the time signature of 41/16. The flirta happened every nine beats and was punctuated by a bass tone.
Using the flirta and bass punches as a motif, I built some other patterns and created an eight bar variation, totaling 328 beats. Then I repeated it and added a sixteen beat flirta crescendo. This passage took 84 seconds to complete at my eight-beat-per-second pace. By the end of it, Noah was making quite a racket. His humming had become a more song-like pattern of vowels at varying pitches and durations. It wasn’t terribly musical, but it had a rhythm and a discernible form to it.
I tried to mimic his pattern by creating a somewhat melodic rhythm using combinations of bass tones, slaps and flirtas. He looked my way and continued vocalizing, adding in some consonant type sounds. None of his vocalizations formed, or even approximated, words, but it was the first sustained series of sounds that Noah had ever uttered. He was six, a non-verbal child who had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years earlier.
Noah and I “sang” together for a few more minutes and then he suddenly went silent again. I took the cue and unwound my rhythms into some basic calming patterns, while slowing my tempo and dropping my volume.
I ended with a slow bass pulsation that faded into nothingness. Noah sat spinning a toy soldier in front of his face, a familiar pastime for him.
“Wow, so did you hear that?” His mother said, crying. “He’s never made so many sounds. Do you think he’ll start talking?”
“I don’t know, but it sure was fun playing with him. I’ll come back next week and see if we can do this again.”
Vocalizing to REI rhythms is not uncommon. Because I rarely play live anymore I don’t get to interact with my clients in the way that I did with Noah, but I often hear from parents whose children] talk more with their recording.
One client, Jason, goes through spurts of language activity whenever he gets a new REI drumming recording. As part of his extended REI Program, he receives a new track every four weeks; but I usually get a call from his mom after 2 1/2 or 3 weeks asking for a new set of rhythms because his language development has stalled. For two or three weeks at a time, Jason develops more skills, increased vocabulary, longer sentence structure, and more meaningful content.
When Jason began the REI Custom Program, he was 5-years-old and had limited language abilities. He could say his name and ask for things using one or two word phrases. Over the course of the first two months, his language blossomed to two or three sentence phrases and he was beginning to describe events in sequence.
Sequencing, by the way, is something that shows a higher level of communication skills and awareness. This was something I saw in my first client with autism, Stacey.
Stacey had a prodigious vocabulary and talked constantly. But if you were to ask her what she did at school, she wouldn’t be able to describe it to you in a cohesive manner. She may cover some of the events, but they didn’t fit into a timeline or logical progression.
As I described in Chapter 1, when I was working with Stacey, after she had become much calmer, I received a call from her mother describing two milestones.
“Stacey slept over at a friends house last night,” Sheri said to me. “She was able to stay the entire night, which was a first for her.”
“That’s great,” I said. “That’s a major change from last month when you couldn’t leave her side.”
“Yes, she has been much calmer since beginning the drumming. But the exciting part is that this morning I asked Stacey how her night was and she was able to tell me what she did, from start to finish. She related it in a clear and logical fashion. It was amazing.”
“Is the first time she has been able to describe things this way?”
“Yes, and Anna’s mother told me that Stacey displayed a similar level of clarity last night when Stacey was over there.”
With my experience with Stacey in my mind, I went to see Noah again a week after he sang as I played.
This session was not as dramatic, however. I played for Noah, but he was agitated when I got there. He had had a melt down before I arrived, so I spent my session calming him down.
He rocked and pushed away from his mother when I started playing. I had started with some rhythms that I like to think of as “round” rhythms (a nebulous descriptor kind of like Eddie Van Halen’s famous “brown” guitar tone). These round rhythms are soft patterns (still played at eight beats per second) that have a four beat pulse with five and seven beat transitions to keep them from getting repetitive.
Noah settled down after about five minutes and let his mother hold him as he twisted his toy soldier in his hands. I played for another fifteen minutes and by the end he was playing quietly on the floor with a set of Legos. He made no sound.
This was a big difference from my previous session with him. Yet, not all live drumming sessions produced obvious, dramatic effects like Noah’s first utterances. Still, his mother and I were glad to see him calm.
Trying to capitalize on my first session with Noah, I gave his mother a tape of the session from the previous week when he sang. You could actually hear him in parts of it. She played this recording for the next four weeks since I was unable to come visit him during that time.
At the end of the four weeks, I came back and played for Noah again.
“Noah has been humming and singing to the tape you made for him,” his mother told me. “He’s also been carrying the tape around with him and he hands it to me to put in the tape player. When I turn it on, he gets excited. I think he likes it a lot.”
“I’m glad he likes it.” I said, as I got ready to play for him again. Noah stood at my side and pawed at the drum as I set it on my lap.
“Would you like to play the drum with me, Noah?” I asked.
He nodded as he tapped away at the head. I joined him and we played together. He started getting excited, though, and began pulling on the drum, so I had to stop, lest he wrestle it from my hands and it fell to the floor. His mom rushed over and tried to guide Noah away from the drum. He pulled away and began running around the room, with his mom chasing after him.
I started playing a calming rhythm but it didn’t seem to have any effect. After a few minutes, I decided to turn on the tape he’d been listening to for the past month. I hoped that the familiarity of the drumming and his singing would help calm him.
I stopped playing, put the tape in the player and turned it on. Noah almost immediately stopped in his tracks. He turned his head and walked toward the tape player.
I was here with my drum, but he was drawn to the tape. I’d never seen this before. My live drumming had no impact for calm, but a few seconds of a recording and Noah was mesmerized. I looked at his mom in surprise while she was shifting her gaze between Noah and I.
Noah stood in place in front of the tape player for almost ten solid minutes, listening to his tape, smiling when he could hear himself singing.
Here is a throwback to my first blog video. I show how I create REI rhythms that directly impact a listener’s behavior. I dissect a rhythm in 21/16 time that I use to stop a hand-flapping behavior in individuals with autism.
Learn about the REI Custom Program at: https://www.stronginstitute.com/rei-custom-program/
Learn how to play the drum for healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com
Explore more variable tempo tracks on Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com
In this video, I talk about the relationship between drumming tempos and brainwave states. I share a simple formula to help you choose the exact brain state to achieve your goals.
Learn more about drum healing at: http://www.drumhealing.com
Try my music for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com
In this video, I show you how a create a composite rhythm from a ceremonial rhythm composed of 4 drum parts. I also describe why it is important to vary a rhythm, no matter how complex it is, to influence the brain and behavior within the alpha state of consciousness.
This video shows how I use fast, complex drumming rhythms to reduce sound sensitivities.
Sound sensitivity falls into two categories:
1. General overwhelm. Too much auditory input and competing sounds, such as those at a restaurant or school cafeteria, often result in shutting down or lashing out due to the inability to filter for important sounds.
2. Aversion to specific sounds. Certain sounds, such as that of a vacuum cleaner or blender, often elicit negative responses due to their specific frequency, intensity or volume.
Both require a progressive set of rhythms, tones, and levels of intensity and volume to help the nervous system learn to process and tolerate them.
You can read more about the studies I talk about in this video here:
Child with super-human hearing and aversion to vacuum cleaner sound: https://www.stronginstitute.com/article-resources/dd-book-excerpts/sound-sensitive.html
Jeff Strong plays mid-theta tempos rhythms on a gonga drum to help you access a deep well of gratitude. Do this exercise regularly and watch your overall attitude improve.
Need a lift? Enjoy this meditation with uplifting rhythms played on my Gonga drum.
How do I stop tantrums, anxiety attacks and escalating aggression with a 16 bar phrase?
Novelty, that’s how. Rhythm can do more than just calm the average person.
In this video I play randomly variable rhythms in 5 at four-beats-per-second to entrain active minds and ADD brains to a deep meditative state.
Learn to play the for healing in a free video workshop series: http://www.drumhealing.com