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.
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.”
“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.
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.
In my last blog post I talked about my goal of gathering a large amount of objective data showing that certain types of music (mine, in this case) can have a beneficial effect on attention.
Well, we’re roughly a month into our ongoing Continuous Performance Tests and so far the results are good.
When we built our attention tests, we were focused on trying to make the most accurate, objective test possible. We hoped that we’d see some good results, but lurking in the shadows during the build was the concern that we didn’t really know what the data would present.
I can’t tell you how nervous I was as the first hundred or so tests were taken. I looked at each person’s results and nearly panicked in the few times when someone’s music-stimulated results weren’t as good as their silence score. Thankfully, only a minority of test-takers had this experience, so at least I’m able to sleep at night (as well as I do anyway).
Following is a breakdown of what we’ve seen in the first 24 days of the test. So far, the number of tests taken is greater than the number of subjects in any other study exploring the effects of music on attention or cognition. This alone is a milestone.
65.8% of the BSR attention test-takers have taken our Symbols test. Because this is our largest sample, I thought this would be a good test to examine first. Here are the details of the results for the period 9/3/13-9/27/13:
Detection errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was 13.15. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of 9.48. This is a 3.67 or 29.7% reduction of errors.
Commission errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was .71. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of .48. This is a .23 or 32.3% reduction of errors.
Omission errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was 6.96. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of 4.77. This is a 2.19 or 31.5% reduction of errors.
Fastest click: For the silence (control) condition the fastest click speed was 334 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 351 ms (milliseconds). This is a 17 ms or 5.1% slower click-time.
Slowest click: For the silence (control) condition the slowest click speed was 964 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 929 ms. This is a 35ms or 3.6% faster click-time.
Average click: Of the three click speeds the average offers us the best data. For the silence (control) condition the average click speed was 599 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 582 ms. This is a 17 ms or 2.8% faster click-time.
Across the board, we saw reductions in error rates with the BSR music (stimulated) condition compared to the silence (control) condition. The average error-rate reduction was 31.17% with improvements falling fairly consistently across the three error types. This is a significant change and suggests that BSR music provides increased focusing/attention abilities when played quietly in the background while working.
We’ll keep collecting data. And we’ll continue to increase our samples by telling as many people as we can about both the test and the results (please share it with everyone you know).
I’ll keep tweaking the music. As part of my goal to keep the music customized, we choose what you hear in the music-stimulated portion of the test based your silence test result and intake form. This means that there are dozens of different tracks used for the test. Our internal A/B test method tracks what works and what doesn’t work as well for you. This will allow us to see patterns in the music’s effectiveness. Making sense of this data requires a large number of tests, so you need to take the test so that we can up the ante on BSR’s customization.
We’ll keep improving your BSR music experience. We tied the test into the music selection algorithms, so your results help determine the type of Focus and Brain Boost tracks you receive when you let us choose the music (in Auto-Select Mode). This satisfies my emphasis on real-world effects rather than pure research. I want you to get the best possible effects from my music. Immediately integrating your test results with the music selection makes this happen. It also provides an incentive for you to take the test.
At some point we plan to test other types of music, including classical and contemporary selections. It will be interesting to compare BSR to the types of music other studies have examined, including that used in the much-publicized Mozart Effect.
We need a lot more data to do all this. So if you haven’t yet taken the test (or taken it today), please jump in.
Not only will you help us learn more about the impact of BSR on focusing ability, you’ll also be able to see for yourself if Brain Shift Radio’s music can help you focus better.
These are two questions I’ve been exploring for the last three decades. Initially because I had a hard time staying focused and ultimately because I saw such huge changes in my (and others’) focusing abilities listening to certain types of music.
How do you validate it, though?
This became the persistent question I confronted these last few years, especially after accumulating tons of data and thousands of positive user experiences.
After the launch of my streaming music site, Brain Shift Radio where we noticed that almost half of the listening done was for focus, I began exploring quantitative measures that we could use to see unequivocally whether music can contribute to enhanced focusing abilities.
As it turns, out two independent studies recently conducted in the Netherlands on REI (the core technique behind my music) used Continuous Performance Tests (CPTs) to test attention. Both studies showed significant improvements while listening to my music versus either a placebo recording or silence.
So we looked closely at CPTs and they seemed like a good option. I was drawn to these types of tests for several reasons:
Continuous Performance Tests come in a few varieties. You have auditory and visual, and you have different types of triggers. The auditory tests were off the table since we would be examining the effect of music on attention and the music would compete with the auditory trigger. This left us with choosing different visual trigger options.
Like all our software, we built the framework first, leaving ourselves open when it came to choosing trigger options. We tested a ton of different triggers and decided to offer two types: symbols or numbers. Both use the same timing, variability, and duration. Where they differ is in how quickly people are able to process the stimulus. Symbols – in our case various colored squares – are easier/quicker to process, whereas a series of six numbers takes more cognitive resources.
This makes the symbol test a little easier and also makes it a good place to start. The numeric test will result in higher error rates than the symbol test but, as we’re seeing after a few hundred tests, the relative changes between the silence and music portions of the tests are virtually the same.
Here’s a quick breakdown of our two tests types:
Symbol test (left, top image): This test displays a series of 6 randomly colored squares. When a white square appears in the group, tap the left button or the left arrow key on a keyboard. When a black square appears in the group, tap the right button or arrow key. If neither white nor black appear (pictured) you do nothing.
Numeric test (left, bottom image): This test presents a series of 6 numbers. If a 0 appears in the group (pictured), you tap the left button or left arrow key on a keyboard. If a 1 appears, you tap the right button or arrow key. If neither a 0 or a 1 appear, you do nothing.
Pretty simple. The trick is that speed is important. You need to act quickly because the stimulus only shows for a short time.
Our attention tests are divided in four sections: An intake questionnaire, a test with silence, an intermission, and a test with music. Here is a breakdown of each of these sections:
Once you’re finished with the entire test, we tally your scores. You will find two graphs, each presenting different data sets.
Raw Scores (left). The first are your raw scores. Here you will see each error type – detection, commission, and omission – and your response times – fastest, slowest, and average. Here’s what each error type means:
This data can give you insights into your performance and whether you trend toward being inattentive or impulsive.
Weighted Scores (below). The second score is your weighted score. This balances your various errors against one another and factors in your response times.
Weighted Scores show you how you focus with and without BSR music. Lower numbers mean better focus.
The difference between these scores shows your performance, or more accurately, the music’s ability to help you perform.
In most cases, you should see a lower score for the music portion of the test, showing fewer errors and faster response times (as shown at right).
We’re finding that there are instances when a test-taker has not heard the BSR music before that his scores are not better on the music portion of the test. Past research has suggested that it can take up to 17 minutes for people with no experience with REI to see benefits.
To test this theory we are asking people who scored as well or better in the silence condition their first time that they either take the test again or listen to Brain Sift Radio for a couple of days before taking the test a second time.
Based on people’s responses to these two approaches so far, we’re seeing that the second test usually falls inline with the results we see from people who do respond positively to their first test.
We worked very hard to make the tests accurate by addressing the deficits and limitations that many attention tests have. Here is a look at the major areas we had to address:
Because of the databases and framework we have set up, we have the ability to parse the data in a variety of ways and hopefully see some patterns that we may not even consider at this time.
We have also built this test with the ability to rotate different music, even (gasp!) someone else’s.
The Brain Shift Radio CPTs are for more than just showing you how our music can help you focus. We are also using the data to help us understand how you focus so we can better choose great mixes for you. This data can be stored in your profile if you wish and we will draw from it whenever you choose the Focus or Brain Boost categories in Auto Select mode.
If you log into your account (trial or subscription) when you take the test, we’ll keep track of all your results and you can periodically take the test again to track your progress and make sure you’re getting all you can from BSR.
The Brain Shift Radio attention tests are compatible with both web and mobile devices.
A new article about Brain Shift Radio was just published by theSOP.org. SOP stands for Student Operated Press and this organization is a place where a lot of cutting edge student journalism happens. Check it out.
Here’s a short excerpt:
Web App Helps College Students Enhance Academic Performance
ADHD prescription drug abuse among college students is a known concern among campus officials. The percentages vary, yet studies show that illicit ADHD drug abuse rates may be as high as 34% of a campus student body. Students use these `smart` drugs to improve their concentration, help them cram for exams, and enhance their overall academic performance. The Strong Institute, a leader of auditory brain stimulation programs for individuals with neurobiological disorders, has a solution: Brain Shift Radio offers students the ability to improve their focus without the use of drugs.
The core technique used in Brain Shift Radio was developed from the Strong Institute`s 30-plus years of research exploring how auditory brain stimulation can enhance cognitive function. Called Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI), their technique has been proven to be nearly twice as effective as 20mg of Ritalin for focusing. Other studies show improvements in anxiety, sleep, and cognition, among other areas. For nearly two decades, REI has been successfully used for longterm improvement in stress reduction and increased focus.
“Simply put, you can take control of your brain without the use of drugs,” said Jeff Strong, cofounder of Brain Shift Radio.
You can read the entire article here: