Different Drummer Book

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.

Improving Mood with REI Drumming: An excerpt from Different Drummer Book

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This excerpt follows two clients, one teen and one adult. who listened to drumming to help their mood.

You can learn more and order the book here

You can learn more about the REI Custom Program here


“Logan came home the other day from school, ran straight into his room, and turned on his CD. I asked him what he was doing and he said that listening was his reward for getting an A on his math test,” described Kim, his mother.

“That’s great. It’s always a good thing when teens take the initiative to play their REI music on their own,” I said. “That’s a big change from last month when he wouldn’t listen at all.”

“Absolutely. He has taken ownership of the process. I can see his mood lifting. He cares about his schoolwork now and he’s getting involved again in activities at school. Before he started listening to the drumming, he just wanted to come home and stare at the screen.”

Logan was having difficulty in school, socially more than academically, when he began the REI Custom Program. He was slightly shy, though he had a couple of friends. Having recently turned fifteen, he had become moody and withdrawn. 

Teenagers can be hard to reach. Whenever I run into a clients’ resistance to listening to the drums, it’s usually with teens. Logan was initially resistant, saying that he didn’t want “anyone messing with his head”. 

Because Logan was not interested in the drumming – he often told his mother how weird he thought it was that she attended my drumming classes – we decided that I wouldn’t play for him live. Instead, she and I would talk about Logan’s issues and her goals for him. From that, I would make a recording that Logan would listen to before going to bed.

“He doesn’t want to do anything. He used to be so bubbly and energetic, but now he is so lethargic and down. Getting him up in the morning is impossible and he just drags himself through the day. His grades have slipped and he is distancing himself from his friends,” explained Kim during Logan’s intake interview. “Do you think the drumming can help?”

“I don’t know,” I answered. This was fairly early in the process of developing the REI therapy and I hadn’t yet worked with any teens with mood issues. I knew I could help with anxiety or attention and I told her that, but the mood would be something we’d have to evaluate as we went along.

“If you’re okay with feeling our way through this, I’d love to give it a try,” I said.

“I usually feel so good after the drumming class that I can’t imagine it wouldn’t help Logan,” she replied. Kim had been coming to my drumming classes for a few months. This was the reason she approached me about working with her son, even though he didn’t have autism or ADHD, the conditions I would often talk about during class.

This wasn’t an unusual request. Even from my earliest days of exploring how the drumming may work outside of its cultural context, people approached me and asked if what I was doing could help them or their children. This led me to work at Pathways, a center for people with chronic illnesses where I worked with clients with a large variety of chronic conditions, from pain to HIV, CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) to depression.

One client, Jamie, was recently diagnosed HIV-positive and was feeling pretty hopeless about his life. He was 28 years old, generally healthy and not symptomatic, but he felt that he really had no future. I was worried when I first played for him because the entire time I drummed he sprawled on the couch and cried. These were not quiet tears, rather they were plaintive wails with full-body convulsions.

“Are you okay? Would you like me to stop playing?” I asked, as I stopped, concerned that I was making things worse. 

“No, I’m fine. Please keep playing,” he answered between sobs. “This is the best I’ve felt in a long time.”

I looked at him, not sure what to say or whether to believe him. Jamie, I would learn was a dramatic guy. He did everything in a big way and crying was no exception.

“Really,” he sniffled, “I feel this deep well of grief and sadness purging from my body. Please keep playing.”

“Okay, but tell me if you need me to stop.”

I began playing again, searching for the most uplifting rhythms I could think of, careful not to deepen his mood. I understood catharsis and knew he had a great support system in place so I wasn’t concerned about him in general, but I was a little uncomfortable with such a dramatic show of emotion.

I kept playing until our session time was up. Jamie blew his nose, wiped the streaks from his face, gave me a hug, and left with a smile and a bounce in his step.

I met with him once a week for most of the summer, each session mirroring the others, with Jamie sobbing while I played and then leaving uplifted.

In mid-September he arrived at his last session and handed me an envelope. “This is my new address,” he said. “I’m following my dream and moving to San Francisco. I’m not going to let this disease stop me from living my life. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck,” I said as he bounced out of the room. I never saw him again. I don’t know what impact our drumming sessions had on his overall perspective and life choices, but I learned a lot about how to play for someone who was grieving and how to stay with someone as they moved through their emotions.


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/

Autism Daily Newscast Reviews REI Creator Jeff Strong’s Different Drummer Book

Autism Daily Newscast review

Jeff Strong’s about the development and practice of REI, Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism, was recently reviewed by Autism Daily Newscast.

Here is an excerpt:

For anyone with an interest in the therapeutic aspect of music this is a gem of a book.  For parents wanting to explore different approaches to help their children it will make interesting reading.   As a lay person who just enjoys playing the odd CD I found myself a little overloaded with music and technology theory and was more interested in reading about how following a lifelong passion such as drumming can lead to the most unexpected places and discoveries.

Read the entire review here

You can learn more about the book here

REI Helps Sensory Processing: An Excerpt From Different Drummer Book

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This article is an excerpt from REI creator Jeff Strong’s book, Different Drummer. You can learn more about the book here.

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.

You can read the entire excerpt here

You can order the book and read reviews from amazon.com here

Dallas Morning News Reviews Jeff Strong’s Different Drummer book

Dallas Morning News Different Drummer review

Dallas Morning News wrote a 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 review:

Throughout Different Drummer- “One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism”, Strong gives numerous accounts of how well the fast pace of drumming appeals to the functions of the brain.  Intriguing stories of children with autism being changed by the fast pacing of the drum will teach readers how to assist in changing behaviors damaging to the person with a disability as well as those around him.

People with disabilities are often misunderstood as having a temper, a strong will, when in actuality it is a disorder often times uncontrollable until someone brave and caring, like Strong who finds the way to calm the beast inside.

Since William Congreve, an English playwright and poet wrote, “Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast”, no one has written and understood behaviors as well as Jeff Strong demonstrates in his newest book, A Different Drummer.

You can read the entire article here

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

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

Jeff Strong at onlinedrummer.com

Onlinedrummer.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

Strong Institute Director Jeff Strong Dissects an REI Rhythm in a New Video

In his book, Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety and Autism, Jeff Strong mentions many of the rhythms he uses as the basis of REI. This video explores the development of one rhythm to give you an idea of the intricacy of the patterns he uses as well as the process he goes through to determine the best rhythm to use in a given situation. This rhythm is in the time signature of 21/16 and is one that he finds helpful in reducing a hand-flapping motion often seen in people on the autism spectrum.

You can also watch and comment on this video on YouTube here


Reduce Aggressive Behavior with REI

by Jeff Strong

Strong Institute Director

The following is an excerpt from my book, Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism.

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. 

While I played for Charlie, Kathleen, the home’s director, came out and watched me play. I walked over to her after I finished, and we talked as we meandered through the gardens.

“Charlie, the man you just played for, is the aggressive guy I told you about on the phone,” she described. “He’s a sweet guy at heart, but we’ve been having three or four violent outbursts a week where someone is injured.”

“That’s a lot,” I said. “How badly are people hurt?”

“Not too bad, but we have to report them and we’re getting pressure to find him a different home if we can’t reduce the incidents. We’ve tried different medications and behavioral interventions, but nothing has really helped.”

“Do you know what triggers his aggression?”

“Most of the time it’s when he’s asked to do a chore that he doesn’t want to do. Other times he gets in one of the other guy’s [resident’s] faces. It’s worse during mealtimes. We have to work hard to manage everyone while they eat. Dinner is the most stressful time of day here.” 

Kathleen described that Charlie has lived in a group home situation since he was 14-years-old. He was placed there due to his family’s inability to care for him and manage his anxiety and aggressive outbursts. This facility was his fifth group home.

Due to his non-compliance and severe behavioral reactions, Charlie was not involved in many of the day-to-day activities that the other residents enjoyed. The staff reported that he did enjoy riding and brushing the horses; but they didn’t allow him to do these activities often, due to his tendency to spontaneously hit the horse with a closed fist.

Aside from these aggressive behaviors, Kathleen described that Charlie’s anxiety also manifested in the form of self-stimulatory vocalizations and sleeplessness. The vocalizations were often threatening in nature, but there didn’t seem to be a correlation between his threats and his aggressive actions. 

“His yelling and swearing seems to be a release mechanism for him,” said Kathleen.

“It sure is disconcerting, though,” I added. “When I first heard him, I thought he had Tourette’s.”

“No, he has autism.” 

Tourette syndrome is a condition characterized by involuntary repetitive physical or vocal tics (Chapter 11 has more on Tics). Charlie’s verbal threats weren’t the result of Tourette syndrome, because his vocalizations contained form and more closely resembled perseveration (the repetition of an action, word or phrase in the absence of a related stimulus). Perseveration is a common trait of autism and is an area where I tend to see marked gains; I was eager to see if reducing Charlie’s anxiety would improve this behavior.

Charlie could speak clearly with excellent grammar and vocabulary, but he only talked in an aggressive manner. The fact that he could speak and had a vocabulary, albeit a nasty one, suggested that if I could reduce his anxiety, he may become more conversational in his speech. This wasn’t a primary goal in working with Charlie, but it was one area I intended to keep an eye on as he used his REI recording. As in the case of Jim, who I discussed in Chapter 14, I have seen the spontaneous initiation of speech occur in adults with autism as a result of reducing anxiety.

Kathleen and I talked for a couple of hours, going over the details of the study I would conduct. The plan was to create a custom-made recording for each of the residents. Each recording would focus on areas of concern specific to each resident. I would also attempt to reduce the overall level of aggression and anxiety in the facility. 

You can order the book here

REI Improves Trantrums And Transitions

Note: This article is an excerpt from Strong Institute Director Jeff Strong’s book, Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism.

This case study includes Jeff playing live for a client, Timmy. These results don’t require a live performance, however. Timmy’s improvement in tantrums and transitioning from one activity to another was due to listening everyday to his REI Custom Program.

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Many of the people I work with who experience anxiety manifest it through other types of behaviors. Ten-year-old Timmy tantrummed when he became anxious. This anxiety was most prominent when he was asked to change what he was doing. Transitions always elicited an emotional outburst: He would scream and lash out at whoever was close.

“This is our special needs room,” described Sara as we walked into a classroom ringed by cubicle dividers. Each cubicle area was furnished with a small table and a couple of chairs. Some also contained a beanbag chair or a carpet on the linoleum floor. There was a large table in the center of the room with a dozen small chairs and two couches in the cubicle space directly across from the door.

“Why the cubicles?” I asked.

“We work with each student one-on-one for most of the day,” she explained as she led me to the couches where we sat down.

I unpacked my drum, threw it on my lap and give it a quick tune as Sara explained, “Timmy will be coming back to the classroom any minute. He’s usually pretty agitated.”

She paused, then said, “There, you can hear him now.”

Hearing a commotion coming from the hall, I started playing my drum. I jumped into a series of calming rhythms at a pretty high volume, not feeling a need to start quietly because Timmy wasn’t in the room. Instead, I wanted Timmy to hear it from the hallway.

I was playing loud enough that I could no longer hear what was going on outside the classroom. I watched the door for him, ready to adjust my rhythms based on how he acted as he came into the room.

It took less than two minutes for Timmy to peek into the room. He did this by standing across the hall from the door. He seemed to look everywhere but at me. I ignored him as I played, waiting for him to get the courage to enter the room.

Timmy stayed in the hallway for a while, alternately standing where he could see me and moving out of range. I ran through a series of calming rhythms, hoping that he would come into the room. Eventually he did, slowly migrating from the doorway and around the perimeter of the room until he came to the couch. As he navigated closer to me, I dropped my volume until I was playing at barely a whisper as he stood before me.

I continued playing for another minute or two without looking his way. He remained planted a couple of feet from me.

I stopped.

Timmy surprised me by approaching me and touching the drum. He very gently put one hand on each side and looked past me. I tapped the head with my index fingers, creating a syncopated patter, still not looking at him.

His hands moved to the edge of the drum, then onto my hands while not disturbing my playing. I kept playing with just my index fingers, but edged-up the rhythms a little, increasing in speed and complexity. Timmy’s hands gripped my two last fingers, which were hanging off the sides of drum.

As I morphed my rhythms over the next few minutes, Timmy’s grip changed with each permutation. Harder, then softer. Back and forth in different intensities as the rhythms rose and fell. We were dancing the rhythms. This dance lasted several minutes until he abruptly let go and sat down on the floor. The connection was gone.

I dropped my volume and faded out. Timmy was playing with legos, his back to me. I packed up and left the room.

Sara followed me out and said, “That was cool. He doesn’t like physical contact and here he initiated it with you.”

“Yeah, it was cool,” I replied. This connection, no matter how fleeting, was one of the reasons I loved playing live for kids and was something I never really got tired of. It was also something that didn’t happen that often. However, as gratifying as it was, I didn’t allow myself to spend much time on it. I was focused on what I needed to do in order for Timmy to become less emotionally reactive.

“Did he settle down quicker today than usual?” I asked, trying to get a sense of whether the rhythms I had chosen had contributed to his calming after the change in rooms and activities.

“Yes. He is usually pretty agitated for a while. But he seemed to connect with you. That calmed him.”

“That was fun,” I said as I wondered if this connection could be helpful in reducing his anxiety overall. Other kids I had played with seemed to carry that connection to their relationship with their REI recording. My work with past clients showed that this connection wasn’t necessary, but I felt it always helped.

Sara and I talked more about Timmy’s anxiety and she assured me that his parents were on board with him listening to an REI recording.

Sara felt comfortable using our online system, saying she preferred to play the track through her phone. I entered Timmy’s intake data into our system and Sara was able to begin playing his recording in school the next day. She would enter Timmy’s progress into her account and I would only lightly monitor it, letting our software take the lead in creating the tracks for Timmy.

The goal was for Timmy to become less emotional during the many transitions he experienced throughout the day.

Over the course of sixteen weeks, Timmy listened to eight progressively-created, custom-made REI recordings, each used once a day for two weeks during the school week. Making the recordings one after another, based on Timmy’s responses, was the key to making overall changes to his ability to handle change.

Timmy responded immediately with his first REI recording. Sara chose to play Timmy’s recording first thing in the morning because this was generally one of his most difficult times. The transition to school nearly always caused a meltdown. She also hoped that listening first thing would make the rest of the day easier.

The first day it took about five minutes for Timmy to settle in. Ordinarily he could be agitated for up to an hour. His calm lasted until lunchtime, when he had a meltdown in the cafeteria. I asked that Sara not play Timmy’s recording more than once a day because I wanted to ensure that he didn’t get overstimulated from the drumming.

Timmy’s first two weeks continued with him listening first thing in the morning, calming quickly and remaining calm until lunchtime. At the two-week point, Sara called me to ask whether another time of day would be better from Timmy. She described that he seemed to adjust to the day easier and he was arriving at school less agitated. We decided that playing his recording right before lunch might be worth a try.

Timmy again responded immediately with this new schedule. Sara turned on his recording about ten minutes before it was time to go to the cafeteria and let it play as he got his food and began eating. She described from the first day that he stayed calm as he went through the transition from classroom activities to lunchtime.

It was obvious from the outset that Timmy would calm when the REI recording played. At the beginning of the Program, he would remain calm until another transition took place. Then he would get anxious. This pattern changed over the course of about six weeks. At first Timmy had the occasional time when he handled a change without issues, but after six weeks he would tolerate most transitions without a problem.

“Timmy is now self-regulating,” described Sara at our eight-week check-in. “You can see him begin to get stuck in his pattern and almost have a meltdown, but then he collects himself. He never used to be able to do that.”

Given that he was calmer and beginning to learn to calm himself and tolerate change, we had Timmy return to listening first thing in the morning. This was an easier time for Sara to play his track and we wanted to see how well he could navigate the day’s changes without using the track during a transition.

The goal of reducing anxiety with REI is to get to the point where the listener is able to learn to self-regulate. As with Timmy, it can be helpful to use the REI recording when the anxiety is at its worst, but eventually it can become a crutch. The switch back to listening when a client isn’t having an emotional reaction to change removes this crutch.

Timmy handled this change well. For the first few days, Timmy was agitated when transitioning to lunch; but by the end of the first week he was able to transition as smoothly as he did when he listened during this transition.

The last seven weeks of the Program were designed to integrate his self-regulation skills solidly enough that he would not need to listen to his REI recording everyday. He did this successfully. I talked with Sara a couple of weeks after he stopped listening to his last REI recording.

“Timmy is a new kid. He no longer tantrums when asked to move on to a new activity. His resistance has melted over the last couple of months and now all I need to do is let him know a minute or so before we make a change that he needs to get ready to do something else. You can see him preparing himself. He stops what he’s doing for a few seconds and gets quiet. Then, when we ask him to switch activities, he does it without hesitation. He hasn’t had a meltdown in several weeks.”

Timmy illustrates the REI Custom Program path that many clients struggling with anxiety follow. The first track provides an immediate, temporary calm. Each progressive track extends the amount of time the listener remains calm after listening until we see some level of self-calming in situations that caused anxiety before beginning the Program.