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The Biological Benefits of Drumming

By | Articles

The simple act of people drumming together is on the rise in schools, hospitals, nursing homes — sometimes led by certified drumming facilitators, other times spontaneously among people who just want to make music together.

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7 Ways Music Breaks Can Improve Your Health

By | Articles, Blog

Huffington – Unplugging from the daily rigors of life and recharging with music may be one of the most beneficial things to do for your body. Recent studies have shown that music may have a beneficial effect on your body’s immunity and overall health. This then gives your body a better chance to fight off disease and protect itself against the attacks of many illnesses. Below are some of the ways in which unplugging from stress and recharging with music may improve your life. But the ways in which music impacts your health may surprise you.

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When patients have ‘music emergencies’

By | Articles

(CNN) — Brian Jantz marched down the hallway of the hospital with his guitar, accompanying a 4-year-old oncology patient with a maraca and a drum. He remembers they were singing their own creative version of “Itsy Bitsy Spider.

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Video: Reading & Rhythm

By | Articles

Check out this great video.

“Percussionist Steven Angel has developed an innovative program that uses rhythm to help struggling students improve their reading fluency and comprehension. Deceptively simple — a facilitator taps out a basic rhythm while students read aloud — the method relaxes students, helps them focus, and is effective in after-school intervention programs as well as traditional classrooms”

BBC: Moving to the rhythm ‘can help language skills’

By | Articles, Blog, Rhythm & Health

From BBC

Moving in time to a steady beat is closely linked to better language skills, a study suggests.

People who performed better on rhythmic tests also showed enhanced neural responses to speech sounds.

The researchers suggest that practising music could improve other skills, particularly reading.

In the Journal of Neuroscience, the authors argue that rhythm is an integral part of language.

“We know that moving to a steady beat is a fundamental skill not only for music performance but one that has been linked to language skills,” said Nina Kraus, of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Illinois.

More than 100 teenagers were asked to tap their fingers along to a beat. Their accuracy was measured by how closely their responses matched the timing of a metronome.

Next, in order to understand the biological basis of rhythmic ability, the team also measured the brainwaves of their participants with electrodes, a technique called electroencephalography. This was to observe the electrical activity in the brain in response to sound.

Electroencephalography Those with musical training had enhanced brain responses to speech sounds

Using this biological approach, the researchers found that those who had better musical training also had enhanced neural responses to speech sounds. In poorer readers this response was diminished.

‘Neural jitter’

“It turns out that kids who are poor readers have a lot of difficulty doing this motor task and following the beat. In both speech and music, rhythm provides a temporal map with signposts to the most likely locations of meaningful input,” Prof Kraus told BBC News.

The brainwaves recorded matched the soundwaves, she said. “You can even take the recorded brainwave and play it back through your speaker and it will sound like the soundwave.

“It seems that the same ingredients that are important for reading are strengthened with musical experience. Musicians have highly consistent auditory-neural responses.

“It may be that musical training – with its emphasis on rhythmic skills – can exercise the auditory-system, leading to less neural jitter and stronger sound-to-meaning associations that are so essential for learning to read,” added Prof Kraus

John Iversen of the University of California in San Diego studies how the brain processes music. He was not involved with the research but agreed that musical training could have important impacts on the brain.

“This study adds another piece to the puzzle in the emerging story suggesting that musical-rhythmic abilities are correlated with improved performance in non-music areas, particularly language,” he said.

ETW: PATTERN: The Foundation of Creative Freedom

By | Articles, Blog

From Easier Teamwork

PATTERN: The Foundation of Creative Freedom


We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
– Aristotle

Imagine something you’d like to do more consistently in your life — something that doesn’t take long, but uplifts your mood or energy, and makes a positive difference to the rest of your day.  Perhaps it’s beginning each day with a little movement or meditation.  Or maybe you want to escape from computer/chair-lock to move more often during the day.  Perhaps it’s taking a head-clearing walk at lunchtime to get fresh energy and perspectives for a better afternoon.

These things are all simple, right?  Our rational mind’s “cost-benefit analysis” say that these kinds of actions pay off for our health, happiness, and productivity.  Yet if they were easy, a lot more of us would be flexible, fit meditators — or at least be seen upright and moving more often during the day!  What can help us DO what we know is good for us?

Help from Everyday Rhythm:  PATTERN

The Rhythm element of Pattern helps develop practices that anchor me in the groove of my desired life.
Pattern emerges from Pulse (rhythm’s steady foundation) and Cycle (groups of pulses moving forward in time).  Pattern is made up of the notes that you actually play.

In other words, Pulse and Cycle form the structural framework of a rhythm, and Pattern is its audible manifestation.

Let’s take a basic 4-count cycle                                 ◉                       ◉                         ◉

and create a pattern with words:  “WA-ter-mel-on-GRAPES  ●  ●  PEA ● ches-ba-NA ● na ●”  Hear how it sounds in this 8-second clip.

Watermelon grapes

Say that phrase out loud, and then play it on your lap or desk several times, like this.  Let yourself get into it!

You’ve just created a rhythmic pattern that would fit into just about any drum circle song.

When the Mind Takes a Back Seat: From Challenge to Flow

The process of learning a new pattern on the drum offers a window into the formation of patterns in our lives.  At first, our minds are involved, trying to “figure it out,” telling our hands what to do.  This is the uncomfortable phase of trial and learning that often activates our inner critic.  The antidote: Breathe and listen.  Relax and try again.

Drum3As we start to get it, our hands and body take over, repeating the pattern without needing the mind to direct them.  Not that the mind retires easily.  It will suddenly realize it’s not in control and think, “Wait!  Am I doing it right?”  That’s when we usually fall out of rhythm!

Eventually, your mind learns that it can trust the hands and body to carry on with the pattern.  This frees it to relaaaaaaaax, and simply notice the full experience of the moment.  You sense your hands hitting the drum, the sounds you make, and the vibrations coming from others in the room.

At that point, your inner Observer can notice:  What am I thinking, feeling, and wanting right now?  Drumming becomes an active journey of mindfulness with that magic feeling of Flow.

Repetition Gets Results

In life, too, we adopt patterns that can perpetuate with little involvement from the mind.  We call them Habits, and they are a powerful force for both accomplishment and misery in our lives.

On the positive side, thank goodness we don’t have to “figure out” each action or choice we make in daily life!  How exhausted would we be if we had to consciously decide each step to get ready in the morning, drive to work, or perform the same task every day?

On the other hand, as we all know, habits can be just as strong when they’re not helpful, taking us further from our goals.  Consciously shaping and cultivating habits is essential to successfully living to one’s chosen drumbeat.

Better Patterns = Better Life

Here is what Pattern and Rhythm have taught me about how to create positive habits in life:

  1. Business walkFeel It In Your Why.  Declare your commitment to the new habit by stating WHY you want to create it.  Include both the result and the feeling you expect.  For example, Why statements about creating a lunchtime walk habit might be: 

“I’ll feel energized, and open up to new ideas and insights by getting away from my desk.”  “I’ll feel better physically, and be proud I did something good for my body.”

 “I’ll feel more connected to my co-workers and what goes on around here by getting out and walking around.”
  2. Imagine It, Beginning at the End.  Give your new habit a head start with imagined practice.  First, envision yourself enjoying the results and feelings after completing the actions of your new habit.  Next, play your mental movie from the beginning, and imagine what triggers the routine.  Then watch yourself take that first action, go through the steps, and enjoy the feelings at the end!
  3. Set Your Cue.  Create a trigger to help yourself launch the new pattern.  Set a reminder alarm, for example — preferably one you have to stand up and move to turn off.  This is a critical moment in forming a new habit, where the voices of inertia serve up their excuses.  (“Just let me send one more quick email.”)  Don’t give in!  Let your cue trigger your resolve as well as your action.
  4. Start Small.  In drumming, we often learn new patterns by starting with just the first few notes.  Then we add the others, one at a time, until the cycle is complete.

  Starting small works in creating new habits, too — with five minutes, for instance.  Beginning a new habit like stretching, meditation, or a lunchtime walk with as little as five minutes makes a HUGE difference, compared to doing none at all.
  5. Tend the Transitions.  There is usually a “tricky spot” in a drum pattern.  That’s the place you’re most likely to “lose it,” to miss a note and fall out of the pattern.  

The same is true in establishing a new habit in life.  The tricky spots are usually in the transitions — at the start, and when you’re bridging from one stage to the next.  In our lunchtime walk example, the challenge might be walking past tempting conversations on your way to the door outside.  

Anticipate such transitions with relaxed focus.  Don’t let a stumble pull you completely off track; simply take a breath, remember your Whys, and return to your pattern.

Pattern Brings Creative Confidence

Finally, enjoy being in the process of creating your positive habit!  It’s not about “getting there” or doing it perfectly.  It’s about being engaged in taking consistent, small steps in your desired direction — and appreciating yourself for it!

photo 2 250Developing healthy, productive patterns boosts our confidence, and builds a foundation of freedom for creativity, exploration, and improvisation into new areas in life.

That’s what happens in a good jazz band, jam band, or drum circle.  The players sink (and sync) into their patterns, which form a solid platform for something new and different to emerge on top — a burst of solo play, a new melody, a deliciously interweaving duet.  Sweet!

Positive Patterns set the stage where Creativity can dance.

ETW: CYCLE: The Turning Wheel of Time

By | Articles, Blog

From Easier Teamwork

CYCLE: The Turning Wheel of Time


We began this blog series with Pulse, the foundation of Rhythm — and Life.  But Pulse by itself — a repeating beat ● ● ● ● ● ● ● ● without any variation — gets boring pretty quick.

Pulse alone implies a steady state, a constancy.  That makes it is important as our grounding anchor, the thing we can return to when we need to release the swirl of life’s details, and rediscover our center.

But Life moves forward.  And so does Rhythm, with the introduction of Cycle.

Here is a representation of a 4-beat cycle:

◉ ● ● ● ◉ ● ● ● ◉ ● ● ● ◉ ● ● ●

Try playing it with alternating hands, on your lap or desk.  ONE-two-three-four, ONE-two-three-four.  Simply placing an emphasis on every 4th beat creates a repeating cycle. This should feel very familiar — think of your favorite rock song as you play.

Now try playing this — a 3-count cycle — also with alternating hands:

◉ ● ● ◉ ● ● ◉ ● ● ◉ ● ●

ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three, RIGHT-left-right, LEFT-right-left.  It feels very different, doesn’t it?  A 3-beat cycle has a “rolling” sense, compared with the back-and-forth of the 4-count.  Even at their simplest, different rhythmic cycles create different feelings and moods.


Life Moves Forward in Cycles

In Life, as in Rhythm, time moves forward in cycles, with each initiation carrying forward from a new point in time.  From the time our ancestral DNA began, we are profoundly rooted in Nature’s cycles, in our days and nights, our seasons and our years.

Yet the constant press of modern life, especially in the workplace, can often undermine or even trample, our sense of cycle.  Push, push, push.  Always striving for more, better, faster.

This is a recipe for burnout.  Instead, if we tune into our cycles and work with them (rather than try to ignore them), we will more easily move into richer, more productive territory.

The Easy Way To Fall Back In

Marys-hands-on-drumWhen drumming in a group, we sometimes lose our place, or “fall out” of the group’s rhythm.  But, like falling off of a playground merry-go-round, the rhythm continues, and “your place” comes around again with every cycle.

When this happens, simply pause, and take a breath.  Listen to the complete cycle of the music, and hear where you want to come back in.  Then, when you’re ready, listen as the rhythm cycle repeats, and “jump back on” when your recognized entry point comes back around.

In Life, it is also common to “fall off” of our natural rhythmic cycles from time to time throughout our day.  “I feel out of sync,” we say, or, “I just can’t get into a rhythm with this task.”

We can react with frustration, and “try harder” to “catch up” to where we thought we “should be.”  But this is like falling off of the merry-go-round, and chasing your empty spot around the circle to try to jump back on.  It’s exhausting, and usually futile.

Instead, use the natural power of Cycle.  Pause, take a breath, notice and let go of the “gotta – gotta – gotta” chatter in your head.  Allow your own energy and attention to realign within yourself.

Woman-merry-go-roundThen imagine watching your task as that merry-go-round, with your “empty spot” coming around every revolution.  When you’re ready, “jump on” at your entry point with refocused attention on the task.  Perhaps even enjoy the ride!

Let Cycle Bring You More Daily Ease

You can use the Rhythm Tool of Cycle to bring more ease and flow into your daily life.  Here are a couple powerful ways:

Notice and ride your daily energy cycle.   What time(s) of the day do you feel most alert?  Most creative?  Most physically energized?  Where can you adjust your activities and work to align with your natural energy cycle?  For example, if your most creative or high-focus time is late morning, protect it by minimizing meetings and interruptions during that time.

Create short work cycles within your day to “pump” your productivity. Here’s how:

  1. Choose the task you want to work on.
  2. Get clear and specific about exactly what the very next action step is.
  3. Set a timer for a finite amount of time of concentrated focus.  Fifty minutes is a good maximum, especially if you’re sitting.  If you’ve been fighting procrastination with this task, start with twenty minutes, or even ten. You can work on anything for just 10 minutes, right?  That will feel MUCH better than putting it off, and you’ll often find it easy to keep going once you start.
  4. Breathe! As you start the timer, take a deep, refreshing breath, and wiggle your toes to reconnect your mind and body.  Reaffirm your commitment to focus on ONLY THIS TASK for this next time period.
  5. Move.  When the timer ends, say “Yay!” for your progress, and envision your specific next action steps.  Then stand up and move around a little.  If you are in a good flow, return to your work and keep going.  Or, treat yourself to a short walk to get a drink of water, or spend a few minutes outside.

iStock_000007562619XMan-merry-go-round-resizeBy creating these kinds of intentional work cycles through the day, you are harnessing your own natural momentum to work for you.  It’s like giving the merry-go-round a push from one spot every revolution, versus pushing by running along side of it all the way around.  Which makes more sense?

Cycles are powerful influences in our lives — forces to tune into and appreciate. They give us a sense of renewal, of starting fresh, of having another chance to change, or reach higher this time around.

Life’s Rhythmic Cycles Nourish Hope!

ETW: PULSE: The Foundation

By | Articles, Blog

From Easier Teamwork

PULSE:  The Foundation

PulseWhat was the first sound you ever heard?  If you guessed your mother’s heartbeat, you’re right.

We came into this world on a lifeline of Pulse, and it has been there for us ever since.

Yet in our complicated daily lives, juggling work demands, family needs, and personal aspirations, we can easily disconnect from the comforting, grounding expression of Life represented by PULSE.

It all starts with Pulse

Pulse is the most basic unit of Rhythm — the steady beat.  Pulse is the oscillation of opposites:  a note and a space, a sound and a rest, the yin and the yang.

Beyond Rhythm, Pulse is essential to Life itself, which depends on beating flow, moving in and out.  The squeezing and releasing of our heart.  The expanding and relaxing of our breath.

Pulse and Breath are our grounding, our biological rhythm track. Together, Pulse and Breath declare, “I Am Here,” as a living, breathing, ALIVE creature.

We need the rhythm of in-out, up-down, push-relax for our lives to be in balance.  Yet when our work, family needs, and general busy-ness push us to be “ON” most of the time, we can easily get disconnected from our basic sense of inner rhythm — and the energy support that it can give us.

BreatheAs wise people have said for centuries, you find It by simply noticing.  Go ahead, do it now:  Feel your pulsing breath and heartbeat.  Come back to the moment, This Moment, This Now.

Most importantly, feel the shift in the quality of your attention, and your inner physical experience as you focus on the pulsing sensations.  With each “relax” side of the cycle, allow the mosquito-whine of your “Constant On” energy to slowly drain away.

When your mind is quieted, and grounded with a slow-tempo pulse, space opens up for new thoughts, insights, and possibilities.  Keep noticing: your thoughts, feelings, sensations, and wants.

None of this is new, of course.  It’s the ancient wisdom of meditation practice, whose benefits are confirmed by science every day.  Spending even a few minutes a day in this kind of centered, aware state make a big difference in our lives, compared to never experiencing it.  Let your breath and heartbeat take you there!

Everyday Pulse

Pulse supports us outside of meditation, too.  Let’s look at some ways to call on Pulse to help at work and in life.

Choose Your Tempo

Do you choose the tempo of your inner rhythm, or do your circumstances drive it?

Our tempo varies throughout the day depending on what we’re doing, reflected both physically in our breath and heartbeat, and energetically in the quality of our attention.  We are easily revved up by external circumstances, and we like the stimulation and challenge of upping our tempo to play a bigger game.

IMG_4506-600-270But it’s important to maintain our awareness about how we’re doing at such a fast pace, and keep our sense of choice about when to throttle back.

In a drum circle, when the tempo picks up, you may find a point where playing faster becomes too difficult without your playing turning to mush.  No problem! You CAN play at the higher tempo, just with fewer notes.  If you simplify your pattern by dropping a few notes, you can get right back into the fast-rocking groove.

What are some “extra notes” in your life that could be dropped?  What activities, dramas, and distractions steal your time and attention, but leave you feeling drained and with no sense of gain?  Regularly pruning of what is sapping your energy will let you reach a deeper groove with what’s most important in your life.

Pulse and Tempo at Work

When a group plays music together, everyone’s first duty is to unify around a common pulse — to hear it, feel it, and play in time with it as the heartbeat of the music.

What is the pulse of your work place?  Is it deep and steady, or scattered and erratic?  Are people tuned in and aligned with it, or marching to their own beat?

What helps your team’s pulse get steady and grounded?  What throws it off?

Tune into Pulse for Easier Teamwork

Here are some ways to use the qualities of Pulse to foster a more pleasant and productive atmosphere at work:

  1. Tune in to your own Pulse and Breath.  It’s way too easy to spend hours in our heads, or immersed in an on-screen world.  Our bodies hate that.  So build the habit of regularly returning your noticing your breathing, and feel the grounding sensation of your own steady pulse.  Set a reminder timer — it works!  Pay attention to your cycles of energy, and take deep conscious breaths through the day.
  2. Breathe — visibly — especially in meetings, so that others are reminded to breathe, too.  Notice that “holding our breath” quality that is so common in meetings.  It’s true — that’s what’s happening!  Bring some fresh air to the conversation with your own deliberate deep breaths.
  3. Help Team Tempo adjust to the situation at hand with your own actions and demeanor.  Sometimes, you need to speed up for an action response.  Sometimes, you need to take a collective breath and think for a bit.  Sometimes, you need to get back to a satisfying, sustainable pace.  Calibrate your own tempo help the team gear up, relax, or hold steady.
  4. Take a walk! First, tune into your walking rhythm, and the sensation of movement.  Then walk and daydream.  Walk and think.  Walk and talk — with colleagues, or with yourself!  Feeling the physical weight-shift motion as you walk — right-left-right-left — brings your body into rhythm, and helps your mind relax into more creative brain wave frequencies.  Often, what seemed stuck under intense mental effort cracks open with the help of simple movement and rhythmic flow.

From your private meditations to your most high-stakes public moments, PULSE — the most basic element of both Rhythm and Life — is there to support and affirm you.  Tune into Pulse to claim:

“I am Here, I am Alive, I am Ready — Now!”


All you bosses out there – bring drumming to your workplace!

By | Articles, Blog

It has been confirmed by a number of studies that drumming is an effective tool for increases organizational efficiency, relieving stress and improving a person’s overall mood. The most famous of these is a study was done by Barry Bittman, MD, CEO and medical director of Meadville Medical Center’s Mind-Body Wellness Center. He did a study over six weeks introducing a one hour daily drumming session with nursing staff in Pennsylvania. His results found that the staff member’s mood improved by about 50%, and that their tiredness and fatigue decreased significantly. Dr. Bittman said it resulted in 49 fewer employees resigning from the nursing home – the Westbury United Methodist Retirement Community – over the 12 months that followed. The results of these studies were implemented by prestigious Fortune 500 companies including Toyota, Unilever, Raytheon and Oracle with the goal to decrease absenteeism and reduce employee turnover and achieved great success.

Not only is drumming good for organisations but individuals can benefit greatly from it as well. Dr. Bittman’s study showed also that drumming helps enhance one’s cellular immune system, stimulating the activity of cytokines and specialized white blood cells.

Paul Tharp. New York Post. New York, N.Y.: Dec 5, 2003. pg. 039
Composite effects of Group drumming Music Therapy on Modulation of Neoroendocrine-Immune Parameters in normal subjects, Barry B. Bittman, MD, Lee S. Berk, MPH, DrPH, David L. Felten, MD, PhD, James Westen


Drumming and your ears – Tinnitus

By | Articles, Blog

Tinnitus is a physical condition, experienced as noises or ringing in the ears or head when no such external physical noise is present. I am coming across more and more drummers with this problem. Getting a set of professional quality ear plugs was one of the best investments I’ve made as a drummer. PLEASE, take the time to make an appointment with a Hearing Specialist

I’ve found a great place in Melbourne called Audiocare – a 20 min appointment, moulding and plugs cost around $250

03 96548232

Cheers, Simon