Category Archives: ADHD

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

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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.

Jeff Strong Focuses Your Brain with REI Drumming

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

Jeff Strong Plays a Mindfulness Meditation for Active Minds and ADD Brains

In this video REI creator Jeff Strong plays 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

Video: Mindfulness Meditation Tips for ADD or Active Minds

In this video REI creator Jeff Strong shares a simple technique that people with ADD or active minds can use to get into their deepest meditations. Unlike the age-old 4/4 techniques that work for everyone else, adding rhythmic complexity and novelty helps the active mind successfully reach a deep meditative state.

Start 2016 right with Free REI Audio Downloads

We usually send out free REI music downloads during the holidays, but this year we thought it would be more fun to make these available at the start of the new year.

This year we have three powerful new downloads:

Note: The first link may work better for mobile users

Click the links and enjoy. Please feel free to share these links. There is no email sign up needed.

REI Creator Jeff Strong To be a Guest on Behind The Mind Radio Show 11am on 12/11/15

We are excited to announce that REI creator and Strong Institute Director Jeff Strong will be the guest on the Behind The Mind Radio Show Friday December 11th at 11am Eastern time.

Behind The Mind Radio Show

The Behind The Mind Radio Show is a 1-hour bi-weekly talk show airing LIVE ON Friday 11am (EST) and Tuesday 7pm (EST), showcasing design thinkers, visionaries, game changers and innovators; while shedding light on designers of well-known and upcoming products and services both domestically and internationally. 

Jeff will be talking about REI and his book Different Drummer. He’ll offer a brief overview of the history of therapeutic rhythm-making, discuss the role of drumming in influencing brain activity, describe where REI is best utilized, and explore the artistic process in his work.

You can join Jeff and hosts Karen Baker and Anthony Leonard live at 11am Eastern time on Friday December 11th at http://www.behindthemindradioshow.com/

Case Study: REI for 11 year-old with tics, anxiety, and sleep

Michael is an 11-year-old young man with vocal and motor tics. His vocal tics included grunting and throat-clearing while his motor tics consisted of lip-smacking and picking, neck-rubbing, and finger-bending.

At the beginning of his REI Custom Program, Michael’s tics were present most of time, usually starting just an hour or so after waking in the morning and continuing until bedtime. The degree and intensity of his tics seemed to be related to his anxiety and energy level. If he was tired, he exhibited more tics. Likewise, when he was anxious, his tics were more pronounced.

Aside from his tics, Michael also had difficulty sleeping, both falling asleep and waking at night. Generally it would take him 1 to 2 hours to fall asleep and he would often wake once at night, usually between 3 and 4 am. Most of time he was able to fall back asleep by having a parent lay with him. Other times, approximately 1 or 2 times per week, he would not be able to go back to sleep. Days after this were often times when he his tic behavior was much worse.

Michael also exhibited high levels of anxiety. This was centered around fear of new places, unexpected events, and separation from parents. On a good day he was able to go to school without clinging and displayed only minor trepidation toward new or unexpected situations, such as an unscheduled trip to the store or an event outside his normal routine. His anxiety exhibited itself as clinginess, crying, and tic behavior, most notably vocal tics.

In addition to the tics, anxiety, and sleep issues, Michael also showed classic signs of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD, ADD, ADHD). These symptoms included restlessness, inattention, impulsive behavior, and low frustration tolerance. It is not uncommon for ADHD symptoms and tics to occur at the same time. In fact, many refer to Tourette’s Syndrome (a severe form of tic disorder) as ADHD with tics. In Michael’s case, the tics were very pronounced whereas his ADHD-type symptoms were less significant than is usually the case when tics and ADHD are combined. This was evidenced by the fact that he was not diagnosed with ADHD.

The goal for Michael’s REI Custom Program was to improve his sleep and reduce his tics and anxiety. Additionally, we intended to improve his ADHD symptoms. This was a lot to accomplish with the program, so the key was to prioritize the focus of his program. We decided to focus on his anxiety and sleep first. This is because:

Sleep: Sleep is essential in moderating any of these symptoms, so improving his sleep would likely also improve some of his other symptoms. As well, according to Michael’s intake, his tics were more frequent and intense when he was tired.

Anxiety: Anxiety was a major issue for him in general and also exacerbated his tic behavior. Reducing his anxiety should not only help with the clinginess and crying incidents, but should also help with the tics.

Track #1: Michael began listening to his track at bedtime. The first night he was calmed while the recording played, but he didn’t fall asleep right away. According to his parent’s feedback, he was calm enough that his dad was able to leave room and turn off the light without incident, even though he took a while to fall asleep. This pattern continued for most of his first week. At about day 8 he fell asleep while the recording played and slept through the night.

During this first track Michael exhibited less anxiety over everyday changes, such as going to school or therapy sessions, where he is separated from his mom. His vocal tics were slightly less frequent, while his motor tics remained pretty much the same.

Tracks #2 and #3: These tracks continued to improve his sleep and reduce his anxiety. He was able to consistently fall asleep while the recording played and only woke up two nights. He was able to fall back asleep both nights that he awoke. This was a significant improvement over his historic sleep patterns. His anxiety was better than before the program started, but still manifested as separation anxiety in some situations.

His tic behavior was variable, with some days being better than others. Overall, his vocal tics were less than before the program according to the tracking documents completed by his parents. His motor tics were largely yet unchanged.

Track #4: For most REI Custom Programs there is a significant jump in the stimulation level of Track #4 as we adjust the focus of client’s program. This was the case with Michael. Because he showed improvements in sleep and some changes in anxiety, it was determined that this REI Track would focus more on his tics, particularly the motor tics, which up to this point had only marginally improved.

The first three days went well – his tics, both vocal and motor, decreased significantly in frequency. He had periods during these days when there was no visible tic behavior. Unfortunately on day 4, he began waking up at night again (something he had not done for almost 3 weeks). This trend of improved tic behavior and night-waking continued for the remainder of Track #4 (6 more days).

Track #5: Because of Michael’s change in sleep patterns, we chose to reduce the stimulation level of this track. This was trade-off between his improving tic behavior and his sleep patterns, but it was chosen because good sleep is important not only to functioning well in general but also because his tics often get worse when he is tired. As well, disrupted sleep patterns during the REI Custom Program usually indicate over-stimulation and the best way to counteract this is to reduce the level of the stimulation.

As expected his sleep improved, but also as expected we observed an increase in his motor tics. His vocal tics remained nearly non-existent. His motor tics, though higher than they were toward the end of Track #4, were still below the level that they were at the beginning of the program, so we were encouraged by his overall progress.

Tracks #6 through #8: We continued the dance between uninterrupted sleep and reduced tics during this three-week period. At times his sleep was off (Track #6) while his motor tics abated. And at times his sleep was good but the motor tics increased (Track #7). This was an interesting development because we always felt that good sleep always contributed to fewer tics. The problem was that it appeared that the type of stimulation needed to help with the tic behavior was disrupting his sleep.

By Track #8 we decided to go with the stimulation that would help with the tics and add a track to play at bedtime for sleep. We asked Michael’s parents to play Track #8 (and the rest of his REI Tracks) during the day and a special REI Program Sleep Track at bedtime. After a few days settling into a schedule that worked – they chose to play the Custom REI Track during breakfast – Michael’s sleep returned to where it was after track #3, with him falling asleep with 30 minutes of turning off the light (and turning on the REI Program Sleep Track) and staying asleep most nights.

Based on his parents’ observations, his motor tics remained somewhat variable, but their frequency overall was down from the beginning of the program. Stressful situations, as expected, increased tic activity. Because his anxiety overall was lower than when he began the program, he seemed to be less bothered by situations that used to be stressful for him. There was no observance of vocal tics during Track #8.

Tracks #9 through #12: Michael’s tic behavior was variable but showed steady progress. The vocal tics were essentially absent and there were longer periods of time with few, if any, motor tics. At one point during this period he caught a cold and his tics increased. They reduced again once his cold was over. This demonstrated more overall improvements but also suggested that stress on his system, both physically and psychologically, still had an impact on his tic behavior.

Michael’s anxiety remained low and his sleep was good, with only the occasional bad night’s sleep. Over the last 6 tracks or so he also improved in some of his ADHD symptoms – he seemed less restless and exhibited a greater ability to handle new situations and life’s frustrations.

The end of the 12-Track program: Michael made significant gains in his sleep, anxiety, and tic behavior during the 12-track program, with minor changes in some of his ADHD-type symptoms.

Sleep: Before beginning the REI Custom Program, he often took 1 to 2 hours to fall asleep. He awoke at night several times per week and many times was unable to fall back asleep again. By the 8th day of the Program, his sleep had improved significantly. This made an impact in many ways, including reducing his tics and lowering his anxiety and frustration intolerance.

Anxiety: At the beginning of the Program, Michael’s day was ruled by anxiety. He was clingy with his mother and fearful of new and unexpected situations and events. Within just a few tracks, his anxiety was noticeably lower. He exhibited less clinginess and became more relaxed in general.

Tics: Before REI, Michael’s tics were near-constant and impacted his life significantly. The vocal tics – grunting and throat-clearing – were especially bothersome because they impacted him negatively in social situations. With these gone and the motor tics much reduced, he is now more comfortable interacting with his peers and is receiving less negative peer attention.

ADHD-type symptoms: Even though the focus of Michael’s REI Custom Program was not directed to his ADHD-type symptoms of restlessness, inattention, impulsivity, and frustration intolerance, he did show some improvements in some areas. As his tics decreased, his restlessness also appeared to reduce. This is likely due to the tic behavior appearing as restlessness or fidgeting.

Michael also showed some improvement in frustration tolerance. This coincided with his improved sleep and reduced anxiety, suggesting that this symptom was caused, at least in part, by his poor sleep and high anxiety levels. Likewise, as his sleep, anxiety, and tic behavior improved, so did his attention. There was no observable change in his impulsivity.

Based on his progress it was decided that Michael continue receiving tracks until there was less variability in his tics and anxiety. We also were ready to begin a more direct focus on his attention and impulsivity.

REI Creator Jeff Strong’s book Different Drummer Featured in onlinedrummer.com article

Jeff Strong at onlinedrummer.comOnlinedrummer.com has an excellent review of REI creator Jeff Strong’s book, Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Music performers and educators will of course find the book to be useful and gratifying, but parents of those with developmental disorders, mental health professionals, general practitioners, and educators across the board should also take note. In fact, they would all be wise to run out and pick up a copy of this book and consider Strongʼs other materials. If you yourself happen to have one of the conditions mentioned here, itʼs an absolute no-brainer to give this a try. If you have a friend who suffers one of these issues, your recommendation could help change their lives.

You can read the entire article here

You can also read more reviews and order the book on amazon.com

REI for an Adult with ADHD

A large percentage of our clientele are adults with ADHD. Given that our program was created by an adult with ADHD, we are particularly adept at and excited to help other adults. This client, a 33 year-old male had the classic symptoms for AD/HD (ADD, ADHD) such as difficulty sustaining focused attention, restlessness, trouble getting started on projects, and impulsivity. He also had significant anxiety, addictive behavior and mood issues. According to his REI intake form he described himself as:

laid back personality, good sense of humor, creative, spiritually inclined, can have a hot temper, high energy, symptoms of difficulty falling asleep, restlessness, and problems focusing when reading, distractible, impulsivity, difficulty starting tasks, difficulty stopping activities, procrastination and delay, addictive behavior, and overall anxiety.

Due to his symptom make-up, age and gender Jim’s REI Custom Program consisted of 16 progressively-created REI Audio Tracks with each track scheduled to change every seven days.

Jim did very well on the program, the details of which you can read here

You can also get an in depth look into REI for attention and other issues related to ADHD in Strong Institute Director Jeff Strong’s book, Different Drummer. Learn more here