Category Archives: REI Custom Program

Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) Improves Sensory Processing: An excerpt from Different Drummer book

DD-Front-cover-25The following is an excerpt from my book, Different Drummer, exploring how the REI Custom Program can improve sensory processing.

Learn more about the REI Custom Program 

Sensory processing issues are common among the people I work with. In fact, sensory challenges are part of nearly everyone who falls into the developmental disability spectrum, including people with ADHD and autism. Sensory processing issues come in three basic forms: sensory-defensive, sensory-seeking, and poor sensory discrimination.

Sensory defensiveness is characterized by being easily overstimulated by sensory input. This is the child who recoils to touch, won’t wear shoes, covers his ears in response to loud noises, gets dizzy easily, or throws up in the car.

Easily overstimulated people constitute most of my clients with sensory issues. I work to reduce their sensitivity to stimulation by giving their brains more stimulation.

“What do you mean by stimulation?” Laurel asked. “Emily is always overstimulated. Why would you add more, and how could it calm her down?” This was one of the first questions she asked me after I began to work with her daughter, Emily.

From her very first track, Emily responded immediately and decisively to the drumming. After just one listening, her emotional outbursts increased and her sleep, already poor before the Program, deteriorated further. Upon her first night on the REI Custom Program, she needed to be held by her mother to calm down.

Laurel and I quickly discovered that Emily needed less stimulation, far less than a Program usually begins with. In fact, I had to step down the level of stimulation on her tracks to a point lower than what was on our ‘stimulation low enough for anyone’ Calming Rhythms CD. Once we determined a stimulation level she could tolerate, we were then able to slowly begin adding more stimulation and progressively build her tolerance to address her sensory issues.

“Stimulation is related to the complexity of the rhythms on the track,” I described to Laurel. “I have built a series of rhythmic structures, varying in their length and complexity, for each symptom.

“By complexity, I mean the difficulty needed to decipher the rhythm’s pattern. Think of the brain as a computer whose central job, when dealing with a sensory stimulus, is to decipher and categorize the stimulation.

“Emily takes in sensory stimulus at a very high level. It’s as if her volume control is turned way up. Everything comes at her with an intensity that is higher than for you or me. And she can’t turn down the volume. A light touch may feel like a hard squeeze, or a normal voice level may sound like a shout. Our goal with the REI tracks is to teach her sensory system to turn the volume down and to learn to distinguish important from unimportant sensory input.

“With each track, we want to increase the level of stimulation we can give her so that she becomes used to it. Over time, she’ll develop the skills to be able to moderate the stimulation she receives.”

Before I made her first Program track, Emily, who was four at the time, wouldn’t wear clothes, preferring to only wear undies. Some- times she would wear shorts or a skirt but she was never okay with a shirt. And don’t even think about a coat. She also slept poorly, often waking at night or early in the morning, unable to get back to sleep. Emily was also anxious, and Laurel needed to be with her at all times lest she has a meltdown.
Laurel was one of my favorite parents. She was engaged and inquisitive. And the two years I spent working with her extremely sensitive daughter was one of the most satisfying—and sometimes perplexing—experiences of my career.

Emily mirrored many challenges exhibited by a six-year-old boy I worked with a few years before. Gerald had both tactile and auditory sensitivities. He wouldn’t wear shoes or socks and would cover his ears, or sometimes cry or scream, when someone turned on music, even if the volume was low.

He also tended to isolate himself from his family, preferring to be in his room alone, playing with toys by himself. If a sibling or cousin came in his room, he’d have a meltdown.

For Gerald, the Program was pretty straightforward. He responded within the first two weeks in all areas.

“Gerald is doing great with the Program,” said Jenna, his REI provider. Jenna, an occupational therapist in south Texas, was our first active provider and this was one of her first clients. We were both excited by Gerald’s progress, especially by his quick response to REI.

“He’s been wearing socks and shoes every day, since the end of the first week. Yesterday he joined his extended family outside and played with his brothers and cousins. He now lets his mom turn music on in the car and he has also been rocking out to his own pop music in the house.”

“That’s pretty quick progress. Is he using CD #2 yet?”

“He just started the other day. So far the transition is going well.” The transition from CD #1 to CD #2, at this time in the history of the REI Custom Program, was sometimes difficult because of the jump in stimulation.

The first CD (and first track with the current Program) generally focuses on reducing anxiety and sets the foundation for improving sleep issues, if there are any. The subsequent tracks progressively build stimulation and broaden their focus to include other areas of concern.

When sensory sensitivities reduce during the first track, it usually means that they are related to anxiety. This was my assumption with Gerald.

I had no such assumption with Emily when she started the Program. This is because, even though she had a similar symptom make- up, she also had sleep issues and a more heightened response to overstimulating environments.

“We’ll start with trying to help Emily’s sleep,” I said to Laurel when we started the Program. “If she can fall asleep more easily and not wake up, we may also see some improvement in her sensitivities. Sometimes being tired, especially chronically, can increase the presence of these symptoms. Her overreaction to things, in general, suggests that this may be the case.”

“So, do I play the track at bedtime, then? Can I play it all night long to help her stay asleep or turn it on again if she wakes up?” asked Laurel.

“Yes, turn it on at bedtime. Just play it once through. If she wakes up, it’s okay to turn it on again, but only once. With any luck, she’ll be able to stay asleep after a couple of weeks of this pattern.”

Many of our clients wake up at night. In fact, falling asleep is often not a problem. It’s the night waking. And this is probably one of the most difficult things for a parent to deal with. Having your night interrupted, night after night, becomes wearing and leads to a host of problems.

The kids who wake up at night often wake up ready to go for the day. Getting them back to sleep can be exhausting. So, the first and most important thing for us to focus on is to help the child sleep so the parents can sleep, too.

“Emily slept all night the fifth night,” Laurel told me at her two-week check-in. “She slept through the night for the next week and started waking up again the last couple of nights. Do you think we need to change tracks?”

“It sounds like it.” I made a new track and waited to hear from Laurel again in another two weeks.

“Emily slept through the night again when we started the new track, but she started waking up again the last couple of days.”

And so a pattern started to emerge for Emily. Sleep was a barometer to how a given track was working for her. Every time I made a new track, Emily would sleep well for a while and then she’d start waking up again.

“How are her anxiety and sensory issues?” I asked after the third track, hoping that we’d now start seeing some changes there.

“Oh, I forgot to mention this because I’ve been so focused on her sleep, but she’s now letting me put on a shirt,” Laurel added, sounding like it’s not a big deal.

“Wow, that’s great! When you started, she’d melt down if you tried that,” I added, trying to help her see what a big change this was. When we first talked, Laurel was much more concerned with Emily’s tactile sensitivities than she was by her sleep, but our focus on the sleep issue seemed to make her not as aware of Emily’s tactile improvements.

“Yeah, I guess it is a big change. And come to think of it, she hasn’t been melting down as much,” she said as we talked about where Emily was before the Program started.

This isn’t uncommon. Many times people are so focused on playing the track and dealing with whatever is up that it’s hard for them to see the big picture unless it’s pointed out to them.

This is one of the most helpful things about our REI providers. Since they can’t make the CDs or even mix-and-match pre-recorded CDs as is common in other auditory programs, many providers feel like they don’t have an important role in REI. The key to their role is their relationship with their clients: It is valuable not only to help me see what the real issues are but also to help the client gain perspective on how much progress they’ve made.

Laurel didn’t always need to be reminded of where Emily started. She became keenly aware. In fact, she was one of the most astute observers of her daughter’s progress with the REI Program.

“Emily has been weepy the last few days in this track,” Laurel told me a few more weeks into her Program. “She did fine for the first week then she started crying for no reason. It’s not like a meltdown. She’s not reacting to anything going on around her. She’ll just stop and cry. Could it be the track?”

“I don’t know. It could be, I suppose. How is she sleeping? How are her sensitivities?”

“She’s sleeping okay. She has been a little fussy about clothes. She’ll only wear one particular shirt and she doesn’t want to wear shoes anymore. Do you think we should try a new track?”

“That’s what I’m thinking. I’d guess that this track is probably too stimulating for her.”

I made a new track. Laurel called a week later.

“She’s not weepy anymore and she wearing shoes again. What did you do with the new track?”

“I went back to rhythms we used in Track #2 and rearranged them. I looked at your current track (#3) and noticed that it had changed databases and drums. The Udu drum is much more stimulating than the Gonga, and I’m guessing that had an impact on her.”

“I noticed it sounded like a different drum. Why would that matter?”

“The Gonga drum has a pretty soft, rounded tone. The Udu is really sharp. As well, on the Gonga I tend to use rhythms that are less complex and carry a longer structural flow than those played on the Udu. The Udu tracks tend to be much more stimulating than the Gonga tracks because the drum’s sound is more pointed and the rhythms more complex. Someone as sensitive as Emily may find the Udu uncomfortable to listen to.”

An REI Custom Program will draw from eight databases and switch back and forth between the Gonga and Udu. Even though the Udu drum rhythms tend to be more stimulating, the stimulation is presented on a scale. So a particular database of Gonga rhythms may be more stimulating than another database of Udu rhythms. In fact, each database used for the Custom Programs are progressively more stimulating;, so even though database two is an Udu, the rhythms are less stimulating than the rhythms played on the Gonga in database three.

We discovered that Emily was never able to handle the Udu tracks. I had to alter her Program so that we never drew from the Udu databases. She could handle fairly high-intensity Gonga rhythms, but not lesser stimulating Udu drums. Fortunately, I was able to accommodate her.

Over the course of almost two years, Emily made significant progress in her anxieties and sensory issues. Then Laurel offered me another opportunity.

“Are you ready to work with my other daughter?” she asked. “Lila is the polar opposite of Emily. She is a sensory sponge. She could spend all day in the swing.”

“Okay, let’s give it try.”

Like Emily, Lila was four-years-old when I started working with her. Unlike Emily, who withdrew from sensory stimulus, Lila was a classic sensory seeker. She was high energy, high activity.

Her response to her Program was also harder to track than Emily’s. For instance, Emily’s sleep would change when she was ready for a new track. She also made steady progress, as long as we changed tracks on her schedule.

Lila, on the other hand, could stick with the same track forever without showing any negative effects. With Lila, we needed to be more vigilant in changing her tracks on time in order to move her forward. She soaked up all the stimulation her Program would offer.

In some ways, a client like Lila is easy because I never have to contend with, or even worry about, overstimulation. Overstimulation generally causes sleeplessness, anxiety, and agitation. Once we see overstimulation in a client, we tread pretty carefully from that point forward to ensure that she doesn’t become overstimulated again.

Someone like Lila, though, doesn’t react as strongly. Because she can handle so much stimulation, it takes more intense rhythms and more frequent changes to the tracks to ensure that she makes progress. If I’m not seeing tangible progress by Track #3, then I step up the stimulation further. If progress doesn’t happen even after adding more stimulating REI tracks, I’ll sometimes also ask that the REI tracks be played more than once a day.

Lila didn’t need these contingencies. Her sensory-seeking became less pronounced during her second track, about three weeks into her Program. She was sleeping better and was less anxious overall. Other than that, Lila was hard to read. She didn’t react strongly to a track as Emily did. She showed a slow, steady pace. Laurel was used to reacting to Emily’s response to a track and felt a little lost when it came to knowing how Lila was responding.

“Lila is different than Emily in many ways, but the curious thing about the REI is that she just goes with the flow.”

“Sensory seekers tend to be more consistent than sensory defensive people,” I described. “I think that someone who is seeking sensory input tends to run at a pace that keeps them stimulated. They may not react to sensory input as much because they are still seeking more.

“A sensory defensive person, on the other hand, has a threshold that may change depending on how they feel. Different types of stimulus have different effects on them. So, unless they experience the same type and level of stimulation, you’re going to see some variability in their response to stimulus and, in turn, in their behavior.”

“That makes sense. I really see that with Emily. There are days when she can handle going to the grocery store, but there are other days when she melts down. Same thing with school. That’s the most difficult thing about Emily’s sensory issues: I can’t predict how she is going to respond to something. Just when I think she’ll be okay with going somewhere, she’ll have a meltdown.

“Lila, on the other hand, is always busy. This consistency, although it’s hard, is easier to handle because I can plan for how she’ll react to something.”

Though I see quite a few people who are sensory-seeking like Lila, more clients are on the sensory defensive side, like Emily. Either way, because I can fine-tune the stimulation for each person, I can accommodate their sensory needs and hopefully help them learn to more efficiently process sensory input.

Learn more about the REI Custom Program 

Lift Your Mood With This 6 1/2 Beat-per-second Gonga Drum Meditation

In this video, I play my Gonga drum 6.5 beats-per-second to lift your mood. I Improvise around triple-based rhythms used for centuries to alleviate depression. Enjoy!

To learn more about how to use drumming for healing go to drumhealing.com

Join me for my next Drum Healing Live workshop go to drumhealinglive.com

To try more of my music for free go to brainshiftradio.com

To learn more about my auditory brain stimulation programs go to reicustomprogram.com

Jeff Strong Shows How He Constructs a REI Rhythm From a Traditional Ceremonial Rhythm

In this video, I show you how to play a traditional ceremonial rhythm used to lift mood and create a sense of empowerment. Then I morph it into an REI rhythm to help with mood issues.

to learn more about how to use drumming for healing go to drumhealing.com or drumhealinglive.com

To try more of my music for free go to brainshiftradio.com

To learn more about my auditory brain stimulation programs go to reicustomprogram.com

REI and Sleep: 3 Great Resources to Help You Understand How Complex REI Drumming Can Improve Your Sleep

Most of our clients come to us with problems sleeping. These sleep issues take one or more of 4 forms:

  • Difficulty falling asleep. Winding down and transitioning to sleep, is the most common sleep issue we see and is one that is easy to improve . REI can address this with with either the Sleep Rhythms CD or choosing the sleep category in Brain Shift Radio. Or check out the second video below for a free transition to sleep drumming performance.
  • Waking frequently at night or too early in the morning. This is a more profound and challenging sleep issue because it requires changing sleep overall patterns rather than simply helping someone transition to sleep. Our REI Custom Sleep Program or all-inclusive REI Custom Program is your best option to accomplish this goal.
  • Having trouble waking up in the morning. Morning grogginess is often a sign that you are not getting enough sleep or you’re not getting quality sleep. If you’re setting your alarm and are only getting a few hours of sleep and you can’t schedule more time, try using either the focus or brain boost categories in Brain Shift Radio to get your brain going in the morning. If you have plenty of time scheduled for sleep and still wake up tired or are slow to get going, your sleep may be disrupted and may require changing sleep overall patterns rather than simply helping you get your brain in gear. Our REI Custom Sleep Program or all-inclusive REI Custom Program is your best option to accomplish this goal.
  • Being tired during the day. Chronic grogginess or fatigue may suggest your sleep is not restorative. In this case, you need to optimize your sleep patterns. As with night-waking, this can be done with our REI Custom Sleep Program or all-inclusive REI Custom Program.

Here are 3 resources to help you understand how complex REI drumming can improve sleep

1. This video describes how we approach sleep issues using complex REI drumming rhythms:

2. Here is a video with me playing rhythms to help you transition to sleep:

3. Here is an article on the science and history behind using complex REI drumming to improve sleep:

Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) and CNS Arousal

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

Stopping Aggressive Behavior with Drumming

I have been exploring how drumming can be used to calm aggressive behavior since 1983. In this week’s blog, I offer two resources sharing what i’ve learned.

A Video Showing How I Use Musical Phrasing to Calm

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.

An Excerpt From My Book, Different Drummer

Different Drummer bookThis excerpt explores how my mentor and I use fast complex drumming to calm aggressive behavior.

You can learn more and order the book here

You can learn more about the REI Custom Program here


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. 

Why Headphones Are Not Necessary When Listening to REI Music

In this video, I describe why we don’t recommend using headphones to listen to our programs and CDs.

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 calming music on Brain Shift Radio. Sign up for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com

How Specific Rhythms Influence Behavior: Dissecting a REI Rhythm in 21/16 time

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

Jeff Strong Talks About the Music of Brain Shift Radio


In this video, I talk about the development of my therapy Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention and the inspiration to create my personalized streaming music site, brainshiftradio.com

You can try BSR for free at: https://brainshiftradio.com/

Sign up for a free Calm audio track.
https://www.stronginstitute.com/blog/custom-calm-opt-in/

You can learn how to play drums for healing at: https://www.stronginstitute.com/blog/drum-healing-opt-in/

Jeff Strong: How I Use REI Drumming for Sensory Processing

In this video Jeff shows how he approaches the three types of sensory processing issues – hyper-sensitivity, hypo-sensitivity, and sensory discrimination.

He plays examples of various drumming rhythms to influence these sensory responses and describes how hyper and hypo sensitivity fits into an REI Custom Program.

Learn more about the REI Custom Sensory Processing Program here: https://www.stronginstitute.com/blog/sensory-processing-program/

Explore my music for free at https://www.brainshiftradio.com