Different Drummer – Jeff StrongAndy Ziker
After only a few gigs as a musician, youʼre bound to observe (unless your head is down or your eyes are closed) that rhythm affects people in dramatic and emotional ways. Rhythm in its purest form — without melody and harmony — causes people to move their bodies uncontrollably, to remain motionless, and all points in between. In the book Different Drummer, Jeff Strong, hand percussionist extraordinaire and author of books as wide-ranging as ProTools For Dummies, ADHD For Dummies, Home Recording For Musicians For Dummies, and Woodworking For Dummies, recounts his 30-year journey using rhythm as a therapeutic tool to help people with anxiety, attention, tics, sleep, mood, language, and other developmental disabilities.
Weighing in at 280 pages, Different Drummer is in no way a quick read, but by using entertaining vignettes to reveal his findings — instead of the dry format often used in the world of academia — Strong keeps his audience engaged. We first meet his teachers: Lloyd, a hand drummer from Trinidad (from the Orisha tradition) and Colin (from the Shamanist tradition), who train Strong in the art of healing through drumming; and then his mentor Rachel, who helps him gain footing through his own struggles with ADHD and helps him recapture his sense of purpose. We then learn about Strongʼs amazing success with one client after another, and how he uses these experiences to fuel future research and discoveries. Stacey and her debilitating anxiety; the students at Otter Lake Elementary School suffering with autism; Lily with a condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC); and countless more were treated by Strong. He then records personalized tapes for each client so that his methodology has lasting effects and can be analyzed over time. Eventually, this leads to a therapy program called Rhythm Entrainment Intervention (REI), a software program called Brain Shift Radio, and numerous albums of therapeutic music.
You might be thinking to yourself, “This sounds too good to be true. Is this some kind of gimmick by Strong to get people to pull out their credit cards?” If this review or the book doesnʼt convince you, visit jeffstrong.com/brain-shift-radio/ and youʼll soon put your skepticism aside and youʼll become a believer.
We live in an over-medicated society, one in which people are constantly looking for quick and easy solutions to problems such as ADHD and autism. Strongʼs use of just the right patterns, complexity, tempo, and dynamics, has produced a groundbreaking approach that has the potential to help millions without the worry of long-lasting side effects. In fact, all they have to do is listen. 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.
When non-fiction really grabs you, like Different Drummer has done for me, it can produce follow-up questions. Here are five questions for Strong:
OLD: A YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3o4NycxRgw) demonstrates how to play one of the therapeutic patterns from the book. Have you thought about creating an instructional book or DVD with this type of material?
Strong: Yes. I’m working on a series of videos exploring various rhythms and techniques. I’m hoping to put more up on YouTube soon.
OLD: Is your methodology recommended for those who donʼt have serious behavioral disorders? In other words, if someone feels “stressed out,” would they also benefit from your program?
Strong: Yes. This is why we developed Brain Shift Radio (brainshiftradio.com). This site allows anyone to use REI rhythms in an easy, interactive, and inexpensive way.
OLD: Pure rhythm obviously works well as a therapeutic tool. Do you think that pure melody or pure harmony could be just as effective?
Strong: No. Melody and harmony are processed differently in the brain, so the approach, goals, and expectations need to be different. These musical elements effect listeners mainly psychologically whereas the effect of pure rhythm is physiological. With rhythm, because there is little to no emotional response, we can drive the brain regardless of the listener’s associations with music. Melody and harmony effect listeners through association, therefore entrainment doesn’t work.
OLD: Some popular music seems to have therapeutic value in the same way as REI. Would a “setlist” of these tunes, broken down by condition, also be a helpful resource?
Strong: The main thing to keep in mind with popular music is that we each have a personal relationship with it based on our associations with the music (or tunes with a similar feel). What may be calming for you, may not for me. Likewise for focus. Also what may be calming (or focusing) for you one day, may not be the next – it all depends on your state at the time. Therefore, though it’s possible to create a set list of songs for therapeutic purposes, this set list would be in broad strokes and would require quite a bit of tweaking for each person and circumstance.
OLD: Is there therapeutic value to playing the drum versus solely listening?
Strong: Yes. Absolutely. There are numerous benefits to playing the drum. As I described in my book, I first discovered that playing syncopated rhythm exercises (from Ted Reed’s Progressive Steps to Syncopation for the Modern Drummer) for 30 minutes helped me focus for a short time afterward. This is just one of the ways that playing a drum (or drumset) can offer benefits. The videos I’m creating will cover the specifics and how-to’s of them.
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