In this video, I describe how I practice to keep developing my skills, even after over 40 years playing professionally. I show you the rhythms I play and explain how playing slowly is the quickest way to learn to play better (and faster).
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 Showed Significant Anxiety Reduction
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)
Subsequent Studies Support These Results
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.
For example, a study conducted in a residential facility for adults with severe autism showed significant changes in anxiety levels both facility-wide and in individual behavior.
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)
Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) Customizes Your Calm
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.
Several years ago we created a Continuous Performance Test (CPT) to see if listening to complex drumming rhythms can improve focused attention.
We created this test to follow-up on two independent studies showing that REI drumming can increase focused attention. One study compared BSR music to the AD/HD stimulant medication, Ritalin, using a Continuous Performance Test (the T.O.V.A.) for an adult with Attention Deficit Disorder while the other study used a blinded placebo-controlled format for elementary-age children in a classroom setting.
Complex REI Drumming Beats Ritalin for Sustaining Attention in an Adult with ADD
This study (1) compared BSR’s music to two different doses of the ADD stimulant medication, Ritalin (10mg and 20mg). Using quantitative measures of scores from the Test of Variables of Attention (T.O.V.A.), four conditions were examined: Baseline (no meds or music), 10mg of Ritalin taken 90 minutes before the test, 20mg of Ritalin taken 90 minutes before the test, and while listening to REI music rhythms.
The subject’s baseline score was -12.74, putting him squarely in the AD/HD camp (anything below a score of 0.00 suggests attention problems).
His score with 10mg of Ritalin was a slightly improved -6.60 while his 20mg Ritalin score showed a significant improvement with a score of -3.47.
His score when listening to the REI focusing music, the same tracks you will find in the Focus category of Brain Shift Radio, were a near normal score of -1.87.
This improvement was nearly 50% greater than the better of the Ritalin scores.
These results suggest that REI offers a strong alternative to Ritalin (and other stimulant medications used for ADD).
The advantages of BSR music include an absence of side-effects, individual customization to achieve the optimal stimulation level for each person, and improved sustained attention.
REI Drumming Improves Concentration in Elementary School Children
This study (2) examined 100 elementary-aged children in a double-blind, placebo-controlled format. Students performed four separate CPTs (Continuous Performance Tests), consisting of two tests with no music and two tests with either a placebo music recording or REI music tracks. Children were randomly assigned to the placebo or REI test group.
The results showed a significant improvement in attention for those who listened to the REI recording over both the silence and placebo conditions. The silence group produced an average score of 23, the placebo group scored at 31, and the REI Rhythm group scored an average of 68.
These results have been encouraging enough that Brain Shift Radio has invested tremendous time and energy developing a next-level study to further explore the efficacy of REI rhythms and the delivery of BSR music.
BSR’s Attention Tests Move Music Research a Step Forward
With Brain Shift Radio’s Continuous Performance Test we are moving music research forward by conducting the largest study ever done on music for focusing.
Our attention tests were built using standardized, quantitative testing methods on an expanding platform which will allow us to collect and analyze limitless data with a goal of using this data to not only determine whether music can improve focused attention but also which techniques offer the most significant results for each population group.
Thousands of Tests = Some amazing results
Since we launched the BSR CPT initiative thousands of people have taken the test. The results we’ve seen are 3.6 times better than the most popular study on music for cognition (and the number of people who have taken our test is hundreds of times more than this study) (3).
As an overview, the average error-rate reduction was 36.73% with improvements falling fairly consistently across the three error types.
These are significant numbers and suggests that listening to Brain Shift Radio when you need to focus may help you sustain your attention.
We saw reductions in all three error rates – detection, commission and omission – with the BSR music (stimulated) condition compared to the silence (control) condition.
Detection errors (Detect): The silence (control) condition error rate was 12.42. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of 8.69. This is a 3.73 or 30.0% reduction of errors.
Commission errors (Comm): The silence (control) condition error rate was .73. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of .39. This is a .34 or 46.5% reduction of errors.
Omission errors: The silence (control) condition error rate was 11.58. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an error rate of 7.67. This is a 3.91 or 33.7% reduction of errors.
Fastest click: For the silence (control) condition the fastest click speed was 383 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 355 ms (milliseconds). This is a 28 ms or 7.3% slower click-time.
Slowest click: For the silence (control) condition the slowest click speed was 968 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 932 ms. This is a 36ms or 3.7% 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 608 ms. The BSR music (stimulated) condition showed an average click speed of 579 ms. This is a 31 ms or 5.1% faster click-time.
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 show you a traditional ceremonial drumming rhythm used to empower and support courageous action. I then play a meditation using this rhythm as a foundation, illustrating how I learned how to influence the brain and behavior by interacting with my listener.
I could hear the screaming as we pulled into the driveway. I looked with concern at Lloyd, who simply raised an eyebrow.
Knowing they were expecting us, Lloyd and I walked right into the house and were immediately confronted by Ty who was running through the entryway screaming and flailing his arms.
His mother was following behind, trying to catch him.
Lloyd motioned for me to set down the drum and grab a chair for him as he took stock of the situation. Then he sat down behind the drum and began playing.
He started with a loud slap to the head. The drum’s shout filled the huge room and reverberated off the hard surfaces, drowning out Ty’s screams. Lloyd paused then gave the drum another hard slap.
Ty turned to look, but continued screaming, hitting and pushing his mother away as she caught up to him and tried giving him a hug.
Lloyd tapped the head with the tips of his fingers, laying down a soft patter that was barely audible in the midst of the chaos in the room.
Once out of his mother’s arms, Ty made another lap around the room then came running toward Lloyd and grabbed at the drum. Lloyd was unfazed and kept playing, holding the drum between his legs as six-year-old Ty pawed at it.
Ty’s mother took advantage of Ty’s focus on Lloyd and the drum and was able to get a hold of him. Ty squirmed, but didn’t put up much of a fight as Lloyd raised his volume and began playing in earnest.
I was still stunned by the difference in Ty’s behavior from the last couple of sessions with him. This was our third meeting with Ty; and although Lloyd had told me before we met Ty that he was prone to aggressive outbursts, I hadn’t seen one yet. The Ty that I had observed up until that point was a quiet boy who was intent on occupying his own world, generally oblivious to everything around him. The screaming, running, and lashing out where new to me.
These behaviors, however, were something that I became intimately familiar with in the following decades.
I thought of Ty’s screaming and physical aggression as I entered the yard of the residential facility where I was getting ready to conduct a study. Located in a rural area not far from where I was living in Arizona, this home for adults with autism had been profiled in a newspaper article. I called the home, hoping to be able to play for the residents. Only a year before, I had seen the remarkable calming effects of one of my tapes when it was tested at an adult vocational center. (I talk about that research project in Chapter 9). I was told that this facility was having troubles with its residents’ anxiety and aggressive behavior; I hoped to make customized recordings for each resident to see if my drumming could help.
Once through the entry gate, I saw a man coming toward me. He started yelling obscenities as I approached, his pace toward me quicker than my pace toward the administrative office. I started to say hello and ask him where the director was, but he simply continued on in great detail about how he was going to hurt me—punch me in the face, kick me in the groin, elbow me in the chest—if I crossed him.
This was Charlie, one of the residents and one of the reasons I was at this facility.
His threats were directed to me at a high volume and without making eye contact. By my observation and experience with other men with autism, I didn’t feel that he really intended to act on his threats. He had the characteristic monotone, lack of eye contact, and overall flat affect that characterizes many with this condition. He also lacked the usual intensity and in-your-face aggressiveness that typically precedes such an attack.
Nonetheless, given his history of unprovoked aggression, I was careful not to get too close or to upset him if I could avoid it. I did, however, sit down on the bench near the garden and pick up my drum, which he regarded curiously, and begin to play, which prompted him to watch me even more closely. I was pretty confident that he had never encountered anyone entering his space and drumming. The novelty of this situation seemed to disarm him, because he stopped talking and watched me.
I began by quietly playing calming-type rhythms at the characteristic REI eight-beats-per-second pace. Over the next few minutes, I slowly built up the volume of my drumming and before long he sat down next to me. A few minutes later he put his hand on the shell of the drum.
After approximately four minutes, I began a series of more intense rhythms to see if his behavior would change. This is what Lloyd used to do to invoke a response in a listener and to gauge their level of engagement in the rhythms. Within less than 30 seconds, Charlie grabbed the hardware lugs that tension the drum and tried to pull the drum from my lap. Because I have become accustomed to anticipate a reaction of this sort (I’d lost hold of the drum many times before), I pulled back and just barely managed to hang on.
After a short struggle, he let go of the drum and leaned away from it, though he stayed on the bench. Using the calming-type rhythms I started with, I began playing again. He settled back on the bench. I continued playing for another ten minutes or so, careful to not play rhythms that were too intense or chaotic. He noticeably calmed during this time and was sitting still, gazing off in the distance as I stopped playing and walked away.
Charlie’s response was not unlike Ty’s when Lloyd finally got into a groove. With his mother’s arms around him, Ty stood holding the drum as Lloyd played. I stood in awe as Ty was drawn into the pulse and power of Lloyd’s drumming. Lloyd played for almost ten minutes and all the while Ty stood and held the drum. Ty was calm and allowed his mother to hold him by the time Lloyd stopped playing, so we decided to call it a session and leave.
When we got to the car, I asked Lloyd what he did to calm Ty down.
“I hit the drum with intensity to get his attention. The first slap didn’t do anything. So I played another,” he described.
“That’s when Ty looked at you,” I said.
“Yes, but he was still out of control. I needed to do the unexpected, so I played exactly the opposite way next. Instead of yelling, I whispered.”
“I could barely hear what you were playing. What rhythms were you using?”
“Nothing special. The whisper was the important thing. He needed to search for the sound.”
“And he did. He came right over to you. It was amazing.”
“He was still out of control, though.”
“Yeah, I noticed you switched rhythms or something. The sound was so, I don’t know, pleading.”
“I was talking to him. Asking him to join me. To surrender his violence.”
“Then he just stood there. His mom held him and he didn’t move. Why did that happen, and so fast?”
“He surrendered,” was all Lloyd said. I got nothing more out of him.
These experiences with my teacher and mentor Lloyd were exciting, and maddening. I couldn’t understand a lot of what he was talking about at the time. I was only 20, after all, and my life experience was limited. But somehow I learned enough to use as the foundation to grow on my own over the years.
The drum was a curiosity and the soothing patter drew listeners in, shifting their awareness from the anxiety and aggression they were displaying while allowing their brain to entrain to the rhythms and into a calmer state (I talked about entrainment in Chapter 5 and about calm in Chapter 9). In both Ty’s and Charlie’s cases, calm occurred within a few minutes.