Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention

Drumming Stimulates Gamma Brainwave Activity

In this video, I show how complex, unpredictable drumming rhythms stimulate gamma brainwave activity. I also show that specific rhythms and tones activate the brain.

Learn to play the drum for healing at https://www.stronginstitute.com/blog/drum-healing-course/ Listen to my music for free at brainshiftradio.com

Learn more about my auditory brain stimulation programs at reicustomprogram.com

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

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The 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 

Case Study: 5 year old female with Sensory Processing Disorder and PDD-NOS

Abby was a happy, energetic and friendly five-year-old female with Sensory Processing Disorder and PDD-NOS. She was adopted at 15 months and, according to the limited medical records available, may have had a minor brain injury or been sensorily deprived during her time at the orphanage. Since being adopted Abby received therapy services to address her sensory issues.

When Abby completed the REI Custom Program intake her issues were as follows:

  • Anxiety: Abby was anxious over transitioning from one activity or environment to another and afraid of loud and stimulating public places. She tended to lash out (scratching, hitting) others when over-stimulated or anxious. She would rock her body back and forth and engage in other repetitive behaviors to self-soothe. She was also notably fearful of the dark and of monsters.
  • Inattention: Her mother reported that Abby had difficulty focusing and staying on task. She was easily distractible and restless and fidgety when asked to attend to a task. She would often act impulsively, though she was not a thrill-seeker.
  • Language delay: Abby had difficulty expressing herself. She often repeated words or phrases, had difficulty with pronunciation and enunciation, often reversed her pronouns, and had problems finding the right words to say even if she knew them.
  • Sensory seeking behavior: Abby was a highly energetic child who would seek highly stimulating activities. She often craved pressure to self-soothe. She had difficulty with motor planning and didn’t know where she was in space, frequently bumping into others.
  • Sensory aversion: In spite of her sensory seeking behavior, Abby was also often sensory aversive. She was easily startled, reacted aggressively to light or unexpected touch, and disliked physical contact.
  • Social interaction difficulties: Abby prefered to interact with her family and had difficulty knowing how to engage with other children. She required prompts to interact unless it was a high-energy activity, such as playing tag.

Abby listened to her REI Custom Program recording once a day at various times based on her schedule. Times were generally between 8am and 10am or between 6pm and 8pm.

Many people ask about the best time of day to play their REI recording. In the long run it doesn’t matter – we can achieve the same net results as long as the current recording is played once a day. In the short run, the time of day you play the REI recording can have an impact on behavior for that day.

Abby’s varying schedule illustrates this concept really well. For example, she seemed calmed by the recording when it was played. In the evening this made the transition to bedtime easier. Even on the first day of listening, her mother reported that she was more compliant with her routine of brushing her teeth and putting on pajamas when she listened at 7pm.

When listening in the morning (8am) Abby also demonstrated calm from her REI recording. She dressed without complaint and allowed her mother to comb her hair without fidgeting. This calm effect seemed to last: According to teacher reports, Abby did a better job following directions and staying on task on the days she listened in the morning.

These immediate effects of listening can help you decide what time of day to play an REI recording. For most of our clients we recommend bedtime for three reasons:

  1. The evening transition is often difficult because the client is tired therfore is often more resistant. Calming can only help this resistance.
  2. Most of our clients have a hard time falling asleep. Turing on the recording when the light is turned off generally helps with falling asleep.
  3. The evening routine usually ends with some quiet time and it’s often easy to fit the REI recording into this time. 

Abby benefited well from the calming effect of her recording regardless of when it was played, so the best schedule for her was one in which her mother could find the time to play the recording.

After 2 weeks Abby showed improvements in:

  • Eye contact. This was noticed not only by Abby’s parents but also her teacher, who in one instance, remarked how Abby looked her in the eye and said she understood when her teacher explained that Abby could play with her friends after school if she followed directions during the day. She complied and was able to follow directions.
  • Transitions. She was less reactive/resistant to going to bed and school.
  • Language: Began using full sentences.
  • Sensory defensiveness. She was less bothered by having hair combed and would sit quietly rather than fidget or pull away.

Abby was clearly getting a fair amount of stimulation from her REI recording, which allowed for some good initial gains. On the flip side, she also craved more sensory input such as jumping on a trampoline and running around.

For her next recording we chose to address her sensory seeking behavior, knowing we would be slowing the progress of her language improvements, as sensory modulation and language development require two different types of REI stimulation. Her other issues, anxiety and attention, generally didn’t require this shifting focus since we can address them in each context. Over the remainder of her REI Custom Program we alternated the focus of Abby’s program between language/social and sensory.

This meant that each new track pushed one area forward while stalling, and some cases slightly back-tracking, the other. For example, during track #5 Abby showed significant improvements overall in her ability to appropriately interact with other children and her language showed improvement. While at the same time, she still needed to seek sensory input by jumping and swinging and she exhibited anxiety, particularly over loud noises, the dark, and monsters. 

On the other hand during track #4, when we focused on the sensory processing, Abby showed improvement in sensory seeking activities such as running and jumping and engaged in more quiet activities including pretend play. Her langauge, however, regressed. She returned to repeating words and phrases, something she stopped doing once she began her program. Her mother felt that some of the vocal perseveration was due to anxiety over her school situation – there was a new student in the class that was impulsive and loud – but this behavior matches the give and take that can happen when switching the focus of an REI Custom Program.

Over the next several months Abby made progressive gains across the board from this alternating pattern in REI stimulation levels. Most notable from the start of the program were:

  • Language: She was now using pronouns properly more consistently. The fluidity and composition of her sentences also improved significantly.
  • Social: She was interacting more appropriately with other children. She was more talkative with them and was able to engage without needing prompts from adults.
  • Anxiety: Overall Abby was less resistant to transitioning to and from school and with her bedtime routine. She still exhibited some anxiety when she was tired or over-stimulated.
  • Attention: Abby was more compliant with directions from her parents, therapists and teachers and was better able to attend and stay on a task asked of her.
  • Sensory seeking behavior. She was less compulsive about seeking sensory input from running, jumping or swinging. During the last three tracks of her program she exhibited some self-stimulatory behaviors, such as rocking and jumping, but the timing of this matches with her returning school where there are other children who are anxiety provoking to her (crying and screaming)
  • Sensory Aversion. This area improved most notably in her reduced resistance to having her hair combed. She was also better able to handle noisy environments, though she could still get over-stimulated by them if she is tired.

Abby continues to listen to REI recordings as we adjust her recordings to further her progress.

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 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:
  1. Here is a video with me playing rhythms to help you transition to sleep:
  1. Here is an article on the science and history behind using complex REI drumming to improve sleep:

Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) and CNS Arousal

REI for Sensory Processing: Two helpful resources

Most of our clients have sensory processing issues, whether its hyper-sensitivity to sound or poor grading of movement (or a host of others). In this blog post, I share two great resources for understanding how REI can help with sensory processing.

1. Video. Here is a video on how we approach sensory processing using complex drumming

2. Article: A Look at Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention by Its Creator

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Published in: Insights into Sensory Issues for Professionals: Answers to Sensory Challenges, edited by Kathleen Morris. MS CCC/SLP. 2010.

by Jeff Strong

Director, Strong Institute

Auditory rhythm has a long history of use for affecting neurological function, with the earliest uses being documented tens of thousands of years ago. These original techniques are some of the most pervasive therapeutic practices known to man, existing on every continent even among people who had no contact with one another (Harner, 1990). As an ethnomusicologist I was fascinated by the commonality in the techniques within such disparate cultures. I spent over a decade trying to understand how the same basic therapeutic approaches developed when so many other aspects of these societies were vastly different.

The answer, it appeared, was that the physiological mechanisms at work are so powerful that experimentation by each culture resulted in a common finding: You can affect consciousness, cognition, and behavior by employing only two specific rhythmic techniques. One consists of a repetitive pulse while the other employs complex rhythmic structures.

Discovering such commonality among traditional therapeutic rhythm practices prompted another, perhaps more important, question: Can these therapeutic effects sustain themselves outside of the cultural context in which they developed? I believed so, but many of my colleagues did not, believing instead that the rhythm was secondary to the rituals they were imbedded in (and is often attributed to the placebo effect). This led to an odyssey that began in 1992 and has continued to this day, culminating in the development of Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention™ (REI).

REI is a music-medicine therapy (Spintge & Droh, 1992) that stimulates and synchronizes the listener’s brain. REI is available as some generalized CDs (Calming RhythmsFocusing Rhythms and the SI Series CDs), and the REI Custom Program™. This is a custom-made, program that optimizes neurological function.

Auditory Rhythm to Stimulate the Brain

REI is unique in several ways. First, REI employs auditory rhythm to directly stimulate the listener’s brain. Other auditory programs use modulated frequency (Tomatis, 1992), binaural beats (Oster, 1973), or simply classical-based music (Rauscher, Shaw, and Key, 1993).

Auditory Driving

As I developed REI, my first step was to identify the core mechanisms of the traditional techniques. It turns out that these mechanisms are simple, powerful, and easily understood. First, human consciousness can be directly affected by an auditory stimulus. This is called “auditory driving” (Goldman, 1992). Auditory driving states that a listener’s brain wave activity will synchronize with the pulsation of an auditory rhythm (provided certain conditions are met).

Traditional practitioners would employ a four-beat-per-second rhythm, which would in turn facilitate a corresponding four-beat-per-second pulsation in the listener’s brain, resulting in bilateral neurological synchronization and a shift in consciousness to a theta state (this is a meditative state)(Maxfield, 1994).  With REI we double the tempo to synchronize a listener’s brain into a relaxed neurological state called alpha. This is the state of consciousness where sensory processing is optimized.

Complex Rhythms

The second core mechanism involved in traditional therapeutic rhythm techniques consists of using complex rhythms to activate the brain (Scartelli, 1987; Shatin, Koner, Douglas-Longmore, 1961; Parsons, 1996). Here complex auditory rhythms stimulate the Reticular Activating System (RAS), a part of the brain that controls sensory input (Scartelli, 1992). Applying rhythm – especially complex rhythm – to activate the brain is one level of the stimulation provided by REI. As we conducted research we discovered another dimension to the rhythms: One that appears to be more important than just complexity. It seems that each rhythm produces a different response.

Once the core mechanisms were discovered the next step was to determine the best way to deliver the correct stimulus to aid in the areas in which I was interested. Traditional practitioners performed the rhythms live for each person and adjusted their rhythms based upon the responses they saw in their patient.

Daily Listening for Long-Term Change

This is where I started — the first 1,000 people that REI was used for experienced this one-on-one, live stimulus. They also listened to a recording of one of their live sessions daily in their home. Daily listening was a departure from the traditions, but I felt that people needed the stimulation repeated consistently for a length of time in order for any long-term change to be expected.

One of the first children that I worked with in this manner was a seven-year-old girl on the autism spectrum. In this case, the girl, let’s call her Stephanie, was referred to me because of extreme anxiety. This anxiety impacted every aspect of her life: She wasn’t able to sleep in her own room and needed to be in constant contact with her mother; transitions and even minor changes in her environment were a point of crisis for her throughout the day.

She also had significant language and social delays. Her language consisted largely of repeating rote words and phrases. Although she had a large vocabulary, she was unable to communicate beyond her basic needs and desires. Socially, she lacked eye contact and wasn’t able to interact appropriately with her peers.

She calmed down within minutes during the first live session, and after the second session she remained calm and was able to sleep in her own room from that night on. Stephanie listened to a recording of her third live session everyday for eight weeks. At seven weeks she spontaneously described events in proper sequence for the first time. She was also developing social connections and had begun making friends.

She was mainstreamed at school (she was in a classroom with non-autistic children and had a one-on-one aide) and at 10 weeks the school psychologist evaluated Stephanie in her classroom and noted that she was “indistinguishable from the “normal” children in the class.” She continued listening to her recording for several more months and eventually no longer required her one-on-one aide.

Universal Calming Effects

This, and many other cases studies, led to a formal study conducted in a public school setting (Strong, 12). This study consisted of 16 children from age 6 to 12 who were on the autism spectrum. The results of this study showed almost universal calming effects (only one child was not calm most of the time, and this child ended up not being on the autism spectrum).

Long-term change was significant for anyone who heard the recording at least four times per week.  This study caught the attention of several prominent autism professionals and led to a paper of this study being presented at several professional research conferences (including one organized by The Center for the Study of Autism led by Dr. Stephen Edelson, who went on to design all of our double-blind, placebo-controlled studies).

At this point my interest in exploring the therapeutic application of auditory rhythmic stimulation techniques deepened. I formed the REI Institute with Beth Kaplan with no intention of creating a “therapy” that would be available outside of a research environment.  Our goal was simply to try to understand how auditory rhythmic could be used to enhance neurological function.

Over the next 10 years the REI Institute conducted numerous studies and presented dozens of scientific papers on what we were learning. Two of the key discoveries of this period were that synchronization was universal when certain techniques were applied and that each rhythm used elicited a definite, observable response over time.

Specific Rhythms’ Observable Effects

In other words, we found that we could introduce specific rhythms to have a pre-determined effect on each listener. To date, we have documented over 600 rhythms that seem to correspond to symptoms and combinations of symptoms. As a result we found it was critical to use just the right rhythms for each person in order to have the greatest positive benefits for that person.

During the 1990s, the REI Institute conducted a series of double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to try to understand the best approaches to take in balancing auditory stimulation and synchronization. What we learned in a nutshell was that the custom-made CDs are more effective than CDs created for a broad user base.

Custom-made, Revisable CDs

This leads to the second unique aspect of REI: The REI Custom Program™ is custom-created for each person based on his unique characteristics. By custom-making each CD we can ensure that the correct level of stimulation is used for that person. In the event that we aren’t seeing the results we’ve come to expect, we also revise the CDs until we see the results we are looking for. The practice of revising the custom-made CDs is the third unique aspect of REI.

Because the REI Custom Program™ is created for each person, we are able to focus the CDs on the three or four main issues someone faces. As a result, everyone responds differently to his CDs, but we see the most significant benefits in some general categories. These include anxiety, sleep, self-stimulatory behaviors, language skills, sensory sensitivities and defensiveness, socialization, attention and focus, and aggressive or oppositional behaviors.

Another example of the results with the REI Custom Program™ (and one most relevant to this article) can be seen with a 10-year-old boy with severe sensory issues. Gerald, as I’ll refer to him, saw significant improvement within just a few days. Before he began the REI Custom Program™ he refused to wear shoes or socks, covered his ears whenever music was played, couldn’t tolerate headphones, and socially isolated himself from others, often retreating to a dark, quiet room.

Within the first week of listening to his CDs, Gerald was more tolerant of everyday sounds. He also spontaneously joined his extended family outside and began  interacting with them. By the second week he was interacting with his siblings and cousins much more frequently, and by week four, according to his REI Provider, “… He is wearing socks and tennis shoes every day. He now not only allows mom to listen to music in the car, he often goes to his room and ‘rocks out’  to his own pop music.  He has been more interactive and engaged in activities as well as initiating appropriate play with other children.”(Strong, 1996) He was also able to tolerate headphones for the first time.

Open-Air Environment

This leads to the fourth thing that distinguishes REI from other auditory programs: REI is designed to be used in an open-air environment. That is, we don’t use headphones for the implementation of the therapy. The CDs simply need to play quietly in the background once a day (with the exception of the third week where the CDs are used twice a day). Having the stimulus in the background while the rest of the sensory input of life goes on forces the brain’s RAS to work hard to decipher the pattern in the stimulus while also ensuring that the listener doesn’t become over-stimulated by the rhythms.

In 2004 we began offering REI Custom Program™ through trained providers -– we now have hundreds across the U.S. This represented a monumental shift after 22 years of research — research that simply started from my desire to understand why traditional therapeutic rhythm practices were so prevalent around the  world.

In spite of our growth and the expansion of REI beyond just research, I am still personally involved in the creation of all the REI Custom Program™ CDs that leave our office and am still impassioned by learning more about how auditory rhythmic stimulation can impact individuals with neurological issues.

References
Goldman, J. (1992). Sonic entrainment. In R. Spintge & R. Droh (Eds.), MusicMedicine (pp. 194-208). St. Louis, MO: MMB Music, Inc.
Harner, M. (1990). The Way of the Shaman (3rd ed.). New York: Harper San Francisco.
Maxfield, M. (1994). The journey of the drum. ReVision, 16(2), 157-163.
Oster, G. (year, month). Auditory beats in the brain. Scientific American, 229, 94-102.
Parsons, L. M. (1996, October). What components of music enhance spatial abilities? Paper presented at the VI International MusicMedicine Symposium. San Antonio, TX.
Rauscher, Shaw, & Key (1993, October 14). Music and spatial task performance. Nature, volume, pages.
Scartelli, J. (1987, November). Subcortical mechanisms in rhythmic processing. Paper presented at the meeting of the National Association for Music Therapy. San Francisco, CA.
Scartelli, J. (1992). Music therapy and psychoneuroimmunology. In Spingte & Droh, (pp. 137-141).
Shatin, L., Kotter, W. L., & Douglas-Longmore, G. (September 1961). Music therapy for schizophrenics. Journal of Rehabilitation, 27, 30-31.
Spintge, R., & Droh, R. (1992). The International Society of Music in Medicine (ISMM) and the definition of MusicMedicine and music therapy. In Spintge & Droh, (pp. 3-5).
Strong, J. (1996, October). Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) as applied to childhood autism. Paper presented at the VI International MusicMedicine Symposium.
Tomatis, A. (1992). The conscious ear: My life of transformation through listening. Barrytown, NY: Station Hill Press.

REI for Calm: 3 clinical studies show reductions in anxiety and anxiety-based behaviors

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%.

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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. 

aggression

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.

Sources:

1. REI to Calm Autism in Schools

2. REI Rhythms Reduce Aggression in Autism Home

3. Calming Anxiety-based Behaviors in Autism

Quantitative Data Shows that Listening to Complex Drumming can Increase Attention.

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.

Note: Data used for these studies are anonymous and complies with IRB and HIPAA requirements for client privacy and research integrity. 

Sources:

1. A Study for Improved Concentration by Acoustic Drum Rhythms Music Medicine Therapy

2. REI Rhythms Beat Ritalin for Adult with Attention Deficit Disorder

3. Mozart Effect

Using REI Drumming to Improve Sensory Discrimination

In this video, I play complex rhythms at 8 beats-per-second to stretch your sensory system and improve your ability to understand the subtleties in the sensory input.

Learn more about REI for sensory issues here: reicustomprogram.com
Learn to play the drum for healing here: drumhealing.com
Listen to more of my music for free here: brainshiftradio.com