• How to break the ice with rhythm – and look cool doing it

    100_0607.jpg resized Icebreakers.  Does the word make you cringe?  Does it conjure up any flashbacks of weird requests from conference leaders or workshop trainers that made participants feel awkward or embarrassed?  Maybe they were actually fun but had nothing to do with the topic of the actual training.  Here’s something you might not know:  rhythm can make a great icebreaker.  Read on and I’ll tell you how it works and why it’s successful – and why so many companies are choosing to include drumming in their trainings and conferences.

    Why drums?

    As a drum circle facilitator, I’ve honed my skills in order to offer programs that will begin by breaking the ice and allow people to feel comfortable together.  Interactive rhythm itself is a great icebreaker, because it puts everyone on an equal footing – no competition! (read this post about what happens when competition takes over team building)  With a drum in your hands, you automatically have permission to fidget, tap, and make noise.  If the facilitator does a good job, people will feel less anxious and will see themselves as part of a supportive group.  But, if the facilitator could use some improvement, participants will end up feeling overwhelmed and not rhythmically skilled enough to “keep up.”  Let’s look at a few ways in which drumming can help break the ice within a group of professionals whose idea of cutting loose is probably Casual Friday.

    How it works

    Here are some ways a skilled facilitator can break the ice (at a training, conference, or other company gathering) successfully:

    1) Allow participants to find a drum that appeals to them and explore sounds on their own, and wait for a common rhythm to emerge from the group.  This encourages participants to establish their own boundaries before the facilitator even needs to speak a word.

    2) Offer a short, easy to replicate rhythm that can be spoken and played (called by skilled facilitator Jim Donovan a ‘rhythm seed,’ such as saying and playing “play that drum” over and over).  Short, familiar patterns can help ease performance anxiety by letting participants know that no musical experience is necessary to enjoy and benefit from drumming.

    3) Invite the group to “rumble” on their instruments, effectively creating a drum roll that can increase the energy, excitement and camaraderie among the group. Even with the most rhythm-challenged group, we can still create cohesiveness through rumbling.  Rumbling requires no ability to keep a steady beat – and it always brings out lots of smiles!

    When the pressure to perform is OFF, participants can start to make connections with one another, which will then carry over into the workplace, conference, or training.

    Why companies are getting on board

    A number of Fortune 500 companies are choosing drumming for their team-building programs and conference icebreakers, as well as company wellness programs.  Corporations are becoming aware of the fact that if they invest in their individual employees’ physical and mental well-being, they will experience less employee turnover and lose less money in the constant hiring and training of new employees.  Plus, those employees will be better equipped to do their jobs.  Drumming has been demonstrated to improve communication, encourage teamwork and group support, offer outlets for stress, and provide tools for maintaining mental health.

    A great icebreaker is one that a) makes people smile and laugh, and b) encourages connection and creativity among participants.  Interactive drumming ticks off all those boxes, and plus – who doesn’t want to bang on a drum?

  • Teamwork – it’s easier said than done


    In middle school I played on a cup soccer team. This meant that we traveled to games and tournaments and basically prepared ourselves for potential professional play. One of the teams I played for had a star player – the quintessential goal scorer whose job it was to just keep pumping the ball toward the goal. She was also a basketball player and could never show up for our practices. But the coach bent the rules for her since she could just arrive at a match and start racking up the goals. Our role as “the rest of the team” was to feed the ball to her continually so she could do her thing. I’m sure you can see where this is going. After awhile, our team got tired of the same old plays over and over again, and our goal scorer stopped coming to games altogether due to a basketball injury. What was our team to do?

    Oh, right – become a team again. Our coach finally realized he better train some of the other players to score. And that meant creating a whole new team structure on the field.

    Sports metaphors are effective because they continually provide a parallel to life situations. Whether we realize it or not, we all “play” for a variety of “teams” throughout our lives. Think about it for a moment – what teams are you on? Do you have a partner, a family, a group of friends, a Meetup group, or a project at work? No matter what group we belong to, there are some universal responsibilities that all team members must adhere to for the team to function efficiently and effectively.


    You could have all the dedication in the world, but if your fellow team members aren’t as committed to reaching the goal as you are, you’re not going to get there. Just think back to your high school group projects when the teacher paired you with the slacker, the jokester, or the popular girl who never completed her own homework. That poor project didn’t stand a chance. What’s the fix for lack of commitment? Proper motivation! Maybe a job well done won’t light a fire under them, but finding something to motivate unwilling members isn’t difficult. Find out each group member’s own goals and find a way to weave them into your project.

    Um, hello…communication

    This one is painfully obvious, but unfortunately many people still haven’t gotten the hang of it. Don’t wait till your weekly meeting to hash something out that’s been hanging over your head – chances are you’ll build up so much anxiety about it in your mind that when the time comes, you’ll back down so as not to rock the boat. Have an idea, or a doubt? Expressing these thoughts between formal meetings can actually make your meetings more productive, since everyone will come prepared with their own responses. BUT! Don’t fall into the trap of email miscommunication – there are certain emotions that can’t be accurately conveyed via email or text, and often people will misinterpret a comment as a personal affront or a dismissal. If you have doubts about your ability to clearly convey your concern in writing, maybe a quick conversation on a coffee break would be more effective.


    Again, this is a concept so basic that we’re taught it in preschool – it’s the golden rule (you know, do unto others…). And yet we all struggle with this one from time to time. Letting go of egocentric thought is the first step (instead of thinking about how a decision will affect you right away, take a look at the big picture and how it might affect the group and its members). I’m not saying you have to become a Zen master or anything; sometimes a deep breath before you open your mouth is all you need to get some perspective. Even a well-placed and sincere “I understand” statement can let your colleague know that you place his or her view in high regard.

    A Re-building Season

    Yep, just like in sports, big changes won’t happen overnight just because you start to become more aware of these responsibilities. Implementing them on a daily basis in your work and personal life will allow them to come more naturally, and may even encourage others to become more conscious of them as well. But it’ll take time, encouragement, and patience from all teammates – then you’ll come back next season even stronger for it.

  • The great equalizer: How music & rhythm can help encourage commonality

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    Photo courtesy of Steve Vinick.

    “Team-building” has become quite an overused term these days. If you’ve worked in a large or mid-size company, nonprofit organization, or community business, then you may have participated in your share of diversity seminars, sensitivity trainings, or group morale-boosting activities. My first experience with this was 10 years ago, during one of my first “grown-up jobs” working for My Gym Children’s Fitness Center. We did the high and low ropes course team-building that many people probably know. I was not a fan of heights at the time. My anxiety at climbing high trees to walk across tightropes was not allayed by my co-workers’ verbal encouragement. Instead, the more I was encouraged to try it, the less I wanted to. By the end of the day I had retreated into my shell.

    But team-building doesn’t have to be that way. It doesn’t have to be intimidating, physically demanding, or catering to people with specific talents or abilities. When I mention to people that I’m an interactive rhythm facilitator, some people shy away and claim no musical ability, or cite negative childhood music experiences. Well, guess what – none of us has to be a musician to bond with our co-workers. I promise! Here are 3 ways that music and rhythm can help us overcome differences and encourage bonding in the workplace.

    1. We’re all in this together

    You just walked into the conference room and eyed the 150 various drums set up around a circle of chairs. Even if some of your co-workers are musicians, chances are they don’t know what’s about to happen with these drums any more than you do. Your boss doesn’t actually expect you to play them, does she?

    That’s the cool thing about team-building with music and rhythm (many facilitators call it “in-the-moment music-making”). No one – not even me, the facilitator – can know exactly what type of music will result from this session, so we’re all on an even keel. I plan a road map of activities and discussions based on the objectives discussed with me by your boss; you, the employees, have the ability to take this session wherever you want. If you want to jam out, then jam out. If people want to dance, then dance. If you’re interested in talking about workplace experiences, then we’ll relate the music experience to what’s going on at work. My job is to help all of you create musical moments that translate into real-life situations. That means it’s not a performance: everything won’t sound perfect, just like people don’t always communicate exactly what they’re trying to say. But we go through the process together.

    1. “Hey, I didn’t know Jim was so great at that!”

    All that being said, the rhythm circle is a great way for people to showcase abilities that their co-workers didn’t know they had. This allows people to see what natural strengths others bring to the team that can also be utilized on the job. Jim held down a steady bass beat while everyone jammed? He might be a reliable person to count on during your next project. Marie and Susan got up and danced? No performance anxiety there! Maybe they’d be great people to talk up the key points for an upcoming proposal. Even someone who appears to be a “rhythm dork” (as experienced facilitator Arthur Hull so lovingly puts it) might turn out to be the one to offer insightful suggestions for improving communication during the workshop. Even just sharing a smile with your co-worker across the circle can have a positive impact and help you realize there’s some common ground.

    What I love about my job is that I never know what the power of rhythm will bring to the surface for people, and it’s amazing to see them empower themselves and each other during the workshops. Many times they discover a skill or talent they had thought was long gone or didn’t know they had – and realize they can still make use of it. This can help take your upcoming project/account/proposal/task to the next level, and instill confidence for your whole team.

    1. Become a metaphor master

    Most potential clients want to know how banging on a drum for an hour and a half can possibly help them become better at a particular set of skills in the workplace. The key is all about creating metaphors for work and life during the workshop. Let’s say we do an exercise where each person has to ‘pass the beat’ around the room, so that everyone gets a turn to play it. It’s kind of like the “wave” in stadiums at sports events. We’ll go through it once and see how each person ‘passed’ it – did they rush through it or take their time? Did they wait until the person before them was finished? Did they listen to what the person before/after them played? These are observations anyone can make during the exercise, which can facilitate a discussion afterward on how the group could improve its efficiency/speed/attention while passing the beat around the room. Are those attributes that are valued in the workplace? Of course! Bringing them to the surface in a safe and non-threatening environment like the drum workshop can offer a great opportunity for employees to discuss issues with each other and make constructive suggestions. It’s all about the metaphors baby!

    The great equalizer

    Music truly is the great equalizer when it comes to team-building. No matter what your background, language, department, skills, or interests, music and rhythm are accessible to all. Health Rhythms® facilitators like to say, “If you have a heartbeat, you have rhythm.” In fact, many times when we introduce drumming to people, the first rhythm we play on the drum is the heartbeat. When we take away job titles, role expectations, and hierarchies, we level the playing field and invite a new understanding of ourselves and our co-workers.

    Looking at it from a worldview perspective, Dr. Max Bendiner makes a hopeful point: “Music may achieve the highest of all missions: she may be a bond between nations, races, and states, who are strangers in many ways; she may unite what is disunited and bring peace to what is hostile.


  • Let’s stop being ‘anti-bully’ and start being ‘pro-kindness’ – a lesson we can learn at any age

    music-304757_150A lot of people think my chosen field is new age-y.  Some think I’m a child care professional or a drum teacher.  When asked what I do and I explain that I ‘provide specialized interactive rhythm and music programs for all ages and abilities,’ the person usually responds with some form of, “well, we already have a music teacher” or “cool, I used to play percussion in marching band.”  Today let’s talk about what interactive rhythm and music programs have to offer besides generic music skills – namely, anti-bullying and pro-kindness skills:  no matter if you’re 5 or 95.  People will always need to improve their people skills at every stage of development, and rhythm is a totally accessible method for doing it.

    I talk a lot about when I was a child.  There are two reasons for this.  The first is that I had a pretty great childhood and I’m passionate about creating opportunities for today’s children to have some great and memorable experiences.  The second reason is because I was bullied, and it has affected my adult personality in ways I’m only beginning to realize.  Oh, you say that bullying doesn’t exist in your school, your company, your family, your organization?  Well, even if it’s not outright bullying with a capital “B,” I’ll tell you that at the very least, there is room for improvement in communications.

    The self-confidence crisis in schools

    cyber-bullying-122156_150When we mention “bullying,” the first thought is usually what happens in schools – ‘mean girls’ singling each other out, rough-looking boys beating kids up for lunch money, and the alarming statistics on teen suicide and school tragedies.  Yep, this is where it starts.  Kids are impressionable.  The same goes for their impressions of how to treat people.  Kids look at their teachers, parents, grandparents, friends, and imaginary TV pals to subconsciously determine how to act toward each other.  An unkind word from a classmate can have some pretty nasty effects if the responsible adults don’t or can’t act properly.  My bullies were my friends until middle school turned them into antagonizers (or silent by-standers); my loving and supportive parents weren’t able to protect me from the nasty words at school.  My well-meaning principal had no protocol in particular to follow. My self-confidence, never having wavered much before, was at an all-time low.

    The communication crisis in the workplace

    angry-46375_150I once worked for an organization (which remains anonymous) that had a dramatic blow-up in accounting.  A co-worker and a supervisor got into a heated argument and yelled at each other in the office, resulting in the firing of the irate employee, and also resulting in dramatic whispers about the incident by the rest of the employees – who loved their juicy gossip, I must say.

    Where was the communication in this scenario?  Was either employee making an effort to be an empathetic listener, and were any of the bystanders doing anything to improve communication?  These days, many people are experiencing a disconnect, feeling as if they are anonymous or aren’t being heard.  If you’ve never worked for a large company, watch the movie Office Space or an episode of Better Off Ted to get a dose of the communication disconnect. Corporate employees and medical care professionals especially experience the feeling that they don’t matter enough to their employers.  As a result, stress is high, tempers become short, and turnover happens at a rate that costs these companies money each year in new hire and training costs.

    A shift in mentality

    arrow resizedThrough my company Just Add Rhythm, I often talk about making a simple shift in individual and group mentality.  The shift can be as small as deciding to go for a walk twice a week, or as large as a company exploring new options for creating a more healthy environment for its employees.  By implementing these shifts on both a small and a large scale, our consciousness as a culture has the ability to improve drastically.  We shift our focus to ‘pro-kindness’ and ‘pro-respect.’

    The kid who was bullied in school doesn’t have to grow up to fit into the movie stereotype “recluse” or “resident nerd.”  The kid who did the bullying in school also doesn’t have to fit into a stereotype of office jerk.  Our shift in mentality requires a safe and respectful environment and open communication at all stages of development – from the classroom, to the university, to the workplace, even to the yoga studio or the local Target.

    Self- and group-empowerment

    exchange-of-ideas-222787_150I recently read a great post on LinkedIn about workplace archetypes.  The author made a point that it always seems that the person in charge of approving a big project or decision is “difficult” to work with in some way.  He also made the point that most of the employees know this but choose not to take action until the very last moment before a project is approved.  Why not take actions to prevent last-minute stressful decisions by having the necessary conversations in the beginning of the process?  Because most of us want to avoid conflict, and we hope it will magically go away if we don’t bring it up.

    Imagine if all company cultures were such that employees were encouraged to voice their opinions before the very last step of a project.  What if you, the employee, knew that in voicing a legitimate concern, you had the support of your colleagues and the ear of your supervisor every time?  Would you take the initiative more often?

    In my opinion, this is a culturally systemic issue that begins in childhood.  Whatever you believe in the nature vs. nurture debate, we are all to some extent shaped by our childhood experiences.  When we get angry or defensive about something, there is usually some underlying memory or trigger that floats up and determines our reaction.

    If we address the issue like a disease for which there is a vaccine, we can both treat the symptoms and the underlying cause.  Initiate conscious programming in schools that doesn’t just teach to the test but teaches to the experience.  This is the pro-kindness vaccine, the inoculation that will help prevent (not necessarily eradicate!  We are human, after all) an epidemic in adulthood.  For the symptoms that are occurring right now, we arm ourselves with resources for compassion and respect – the wellness consultants, the health initiatives, the team-building workshops, the communication seminars – and the drum circle facilitators.

    It’s amazing what a drum can do

    park-25667_150At Just Add Rhythm, we treat the symptoms and the underlying cause.  We treat the symptoms that are already present in this generation as a result of lack of systemic respect, and we treat the underlying cause starting with the next generation. We arm ourselves with drums and go into the schools, the community centers, the businesses, the conferences, the after-school programs, the summer camps, the hospitals, and everywhere else we’re needed.  My colleagues worldwide do the same, with unwavering belief in the power of rhythm.  Their stories range from being beaned in the head by a child with anger issues (and receiving an apology and a request to join the group), to watching a couple dance at a Holocaust Survivor’s event, to seeing an Alzheimer’s patient’s eyes light up with recognition during the playing of a particular song.  My colleagues surprise employees of Fortune 500 companies at conferences with hundreds of drums and a morning filled with infectious rhythm rather than speeches.  My colleagues return to at-risk youth and detention centers week after week to provide a safe and stable environment for participants to vent frustrations.  They treat the symptoms and the cause, one drum vaccine at a time.

    It’s inspiring what you can do!

    Each choice lies with you.  My objective is to empower each of you – so that you can make the shifts you need to live a healthier and happier life.  I love sharing with you what I’ve learned on my own journey, and hearing from you about yours.  Get started by following me or Just Add Rhythm on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+, or visiting us at  Or, contact me at  If I can’t come to you, I’ll help you find someone who can!

  • Rhythm & Memory – Childhood lessons for improving your adult memory capacity

    Post It Pic Monkey resizedWhen I was in 7th grade, I remember having to learn a long list of prepositions overnight. Oh, the agony! How was I supposed to remember every single preposition and then regurgitate it all down on paper? I remember sitting at my kitchen table with the book open in front of me, and then pacing around as I wracked my brain to commit them to memory. The only thing that ended up working was an alphabetical rhythmic memorization. When I went into school the next day, I confidently (and as quickly as possible) wrote down all the assigned prepositions before they fell out of my head. I still remember a select few groupings today: about, above, around…

    Throughout school, I often found myself utilizing rhythm in order to commit words, speeches, and tables to memory. True, I was a pianist and a singer and so I was more inclined to utilize these skills for the benefit of a good grade. But how intrinsically linked to memory is rhythm? How helpful can rhythm be in populations as varied as school children to university students to elderly to people with Alzheimer’s? Since I work with people of all ages and often tout the benefits of rhythm and music, including memory, I thought I’d better dig in a little deeper and find out what’s floating around the scientific community. Read below for 4 clinically studied benefits of rhythm on one’s memory – and consider drumming the next time you have a challenging work assignment!

    Benefit #1: Rhythm can help you recall words and phrases. Several studies were conducted back in the 60’s and 70’s to determine the effect of rhythm on short-term memory. Subjects of various ages and abilities were asked to memorize word or number sequences, either semantically related (ie, table-chair) or semantically unrelated (ie, dog-mirror). In general, subjects who were given the opportunity to chant the words and/or tap their hands or feet to a basic pattern showed more recall than subjects who utilized a more conventional learning environment (read it here). Have you ever tried to memorize a short grocery list on your way home from work? I chant it over and over and tap softly on the steering wheel!

    Benefit #2: Rhythm (and music) can help in language development. Do you remember singing lots of songs as a kid? Or, if you’re a parent, do you often pick your child up from school and hear her singing a new song she learned that day? I’m proud to say I still can memorize all 50 states today because of the “United States” song I learned in 6th grade! (still looking for a practical use for that) Singing and chanting are excellent methods for introducing new words and phrases to children. “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November….” Research has also been conducted to determine how much language a fetus can hear and react to in utero – and it’s quite a bit!

    Benefit #3: Rhythm can help ward off dementia and possibly slow some effects of Alzheimer’s, in addition to helping those who’ve suffered a stroke. There are a lot of music therapists and drum circle facilitators that utilize a hands-on rhythmic approach with these populations. Playing a drum in a social setting can have significant benefits for someone with memory loss, including communicating musically what you cannot express verbally, via an instrument. How can it help ward off dementia or slow its effects? Music Explorium’s website explains one reason: “‘Playing the drums makes the brain think in a way that very few activities can,’ said Pat Brown, International Drum Month chairman and Percussion Marketing Council co-executive director. Being able to understand musical notes and dissect how rhythms work and go together is a very complicated thought process.” The process of drumming utilizes both the linear and creative sides of the brain. The simple act of hitting a drum with alternating left and right hand strokes engages the brain and makes a kinesthetic connection. Susan Bock, MM, MT-BC, wrote about her experience facilitating at a camp for people who have suffered a stroke. She puts it beautifully when she describes the purpose behind the music: “The power of stroke camp is the power of stroke survivors and caregivers to persevere and again find their rhythm in life when it has been taken from them…music and rhythm give stroke survivors a chance to regain their sense of self among those who care and understand…[it’s] is the universal ‘glue’ that binds us all together and helps to regain the normalcy of life for those affected by stroke.”

    Benefit #4: Rhythm can help relax the mind. You know that feeling when you’re trying to recall the name of the actor in that movie you saw recently and it’s on the tip of your tongue? Often when we try to recall information in a hurry, or in a stressful situation, it can be very difficult. You might be in the shower later that night and suddenly shout out “Gerard Butler!” Why? Because you’re relaxed enough to remember. Drumming can help facilitate deep relaxation and lower blood pressure. A 2003 Remo Health Rhythms clinical study analyzed the effects of drumming on long-term care workers and reported a significant improvement in mood and a decrease in employee turnover that year. When you have a regular opportunity to relax and express yourself, you’re likely not only to be great at your work, but also to stay mentally and physically healthy later in life.

    I didn’t know all this when I was learning prepositions, but these days I utilize rhythm and music for a variety of practical purposes, including remembering my gym locker combination, relaxing me when I’m feeling stressed, and keeping an even stride when I’m out for a walk. Hopefully it keeps my brain sharp into my golden years – and I hope it will help you too!

  • Autism Then & Now – A critical look back at my childhood introduction to autism

    Autism ribbon butterfly PaintWhen I was young, I used to love reading the Baby-Sitters Club book series by Ann M. Martin.  I bought the books, checked them out of the library, and even dreamed of starting my own club.  Now, several decades later, I have been thinking about just why I loved those books so much, and what lessons I learned from them.  The over-arching theme of each book and the whole series is acceptance – of all people, all the time, no matter who they are, even when they make mistakes.  Shouldn’t this be foremost in our minds as adults as well?  During Autism Awareness month, I decided to think back to one particular book in the series, about an eight-year-old girl with autism.  It was my first introduction to autism, and I’d like to share with you what I learned then and now, and discuss a bit about the benefits that music and rhythm can have with this special population.

    In The Baby-Sitters Club book #32, “Kristy and the Secret of Susan,” 13-year-old baby-sitter Kristy gets hired to baby-sit for an eight-year-old girl with autism named Susan.  Kristy soon learns all about autism from Susan’s mother and from Susan herself, as well as from the kids in the neighborhood.

    THEN:  Kristy discovers that although Susan is largely non-verbal and cannot respond to questions the way that most kids can, she has an amazing talent as a pianist, and can play and sing just about anything she hears – with the catch that she is memorizing it by rote, and doesn’t necessarily make sense of what she’s singing.  At one point in the book, the record that Susan is listening to begins to skip, and she incorporates the skips musically into her piano playing and singing.

    NOW:  Today, children with autism are given increasing opportunities to explore the joys of music through more than just individual raw talent.  Music for Autism is an organization that provides “autism-friendly” interactive concerts for children with autism and their families throughout the U.S. and U.K.  Because many people with autism have specific sensitivity to certain sights or sounds, this population is typically unable to attend a regular concert where noise is discouraged.  Autism-friendly concert experiences are interactive and they encourage a child’s natural reaction to something he sees or hears, in whatever verbal or physical form it may take, such as screeches of delight, hand clapping, or dancing in the aisles.  Other cities and organizations are now offering “autism-sensitive” performances not only for children with autism but with other special needs as well, such as the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s autism-sensitive performance of “The Nutcracker.”

    THEN:  Susan’s methods of communication, including tongue clicks and hand flapping, baffle Kristy at first, and leave the neighborhood children either confused or annoyed.

    NOW:  Families that have a child with autism learn how their children communicate their wants and needs.  Through integration of higher-functioning special needs children into mainstream classrooms or camps, typically developing students are introduced to children with all types of special abilities, and experience different methods of learning and communicating.  A process called Rhythmic Entrainment Intervention (REI) has been developed from centuries-old world drumming traditions, as a therapeutic technique for people with autism.  REI research has shown that drumming certain rhythms can “reduce anxiety and improve language, eye contact and socialization in a child with autism.”  The website includes an introductory video with testimonials from therapists, with one occupational therapist noting that the therapy gives clients a “groundedness, sense of organization, a good sense of self” (Kelly Zaros Berman, OTR).

    THEN:  After several weeks of baby-sitting for Susan, and conducting her own personal campaign to integrate Susan into mainstream schooling and help her become “normal,” Kristy realizes that Susan’s autism will not go away, and that she can learn from and appreciate Susan exactly the way she is.

    NOW:  While the scientific community is still unclear about the specific causes of autism and Asperger’s, the social community is hard at work developing support organizations and resources for families dealing with autism.  It has been found that drumming and music can offer a myriad of benefits to children with autism, from a calming influence to a behavioral diversion to a means of communication and socialization with others.  An organization called Drumming for Autism states on its website that “some experts believe that drumming can help autistic children access different parts of their brains, specifically, their right-brain. The right-brains of humans are responsible for emotions, intuition, artistry and relaxation…it is possible, therefore, that drumming can provide a type of neurological repatterning for these children.”  A recent article by a parent in the Orange County Register discusses the positive effect drumming has had on her son, and the great outcomes of UCLA’s Beat the Odds program, which “integrates activities from contemporary drum circles and counseling” without bearing the stigma of actual ‘therapy.’

    What have I learned about autism and related disabilities since opening that book 20-plus years ago?  Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with children of many ages on the autism spectrum, both in musical and non-musical capacities.  It can be frustrating to watch a child slip into a tantrum, or “get stuck,” as it is described in the amazing novel “Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend” by Matthew Dicks.  I’ve seen firsthand that no amount of reasoning can resolve the tantrums, only time.  But on a hopeful note, there are many families, teachers, and organizations out there who are working hard to understand this unique population and offer sustainable solutions for improving their options for learning, socialization, and leading a healthy, happy life.  And rhythm, in many of its forms, can help to provide these benefits.  Thank you, Ann M. Martin, for introducing me to autism with a compassionate and honest view so many years ago.

    For information on autism, as well as resources, research, and local chapters, please visit the CARD (Center for Autism and Related Disorders) website.


  • A Simple Shift for National Stress Awareness Month

    hustle-and-bustle-73400_150“Hectic,” “whirlwind,” “consumed,” “crazy,” “hard to keep up with it all,” “on the run,” “way too fast” – do any of these accurately describe how your life feels lately?  In her book Overwhelmed:  Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, Brigid Schulte interviews Ann Burnett, who since the 1960s has been chronicling how people describe their lives through holiday letters.  The above descriptions have all become increasingly popular.  After reading this article by Hanna Rosin, I decided to think about how the people in my world handle stress, and see what we can be doing more (or less) of.  Whether you’re a parent, a full-time employee, a student, a coach, or a ‘do-it-all-er’ (all the above), in these paragraphs you will find an attitude with which to approach your tasks that is perhaps so simple you haven’t thought of it before.

    The stress response

    We are all aware of nature’s “fight or flight” stress response in animals, and that we as humans also possess.  Reactions to a fight or flight situation can include heart rate acceleration, flushing or paling of the complexion, constricting of blood vessels, and shaking.  But are all stress responses created equal?  I’ve had these physical reactions occur before a simple audition as well as just before receiving some very bad news.  The key lies in recognizing the response and in how you control it.  A little bit of stress here and there can be a helpful thing that can propel you forward in your career, convince you that you’re ready to make a big commitment, or motivate you to complete that marathon.  But it’s the way in which we handle stress long-term that can affect our health positively or adversely.

    Stress-related health complaints

    WebMD claims that “stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.” We’ve all probably experienced a tension headache or difficulty breathing at one time another as a result of pressure.  While there is no clear scientific connection between stress and ulcers, nervousness is certainly a contributing factor in many upset stomachs.

    A simple shift

    madeira-103270_640Let’s go back to the Hanna Rosin article.  Her solution is to make a simple shift in the way you approach your daily tasks.  The shift is to stop telling yourself you’re too busy, and simply accomplish what you need to.  Then, ask yourself what’s totally necessary and where you can replace “crappy bits of leisure time confetti” (Schulte’s words) with real, quality relaxation time.  There are many ways to do this, but since I’m a musician and facilitator, I’m inclined to tout the benefits of music.  Relaxation is not just about fitting something into your day, like playing your latest iPhone game; it’s about adding up those bits of confetti and turning them into something with long-term benefits – like exploring rhythm at your local wellness or rec center (because most towns these days have at least one or two drumming enthusiasts who teach classes or offer community circles).  A few paragraphs ago I promised to evaluate how the people in my world handle stress, because I can’t vouch for it if I haven’t seen it in action.  My community in South Florida fortunately has many options for stress relief through rhythm, including women’s wellness centers, sound healing circles, open drum circles, culture-specific drum and dance classes, and much more.  My own facilitated events have included one-time sessions for culture-, age-, and gender-specific groups, as well as repeating sessions for children and special populations.  The other day, I facilitated a teen girls’ school drum circle at which many of them began an “I hate math” chant in time to the rhythm – their own version of stress relief.  At another event I observed an adult participant who was at first shy to join in eventually pick up and try every instrument that was at his disposal, even experimenting in ways I’d never thought to try!  If we can find the time to be as playful in our busy adult lives as most of us were in our childhoods, there’s no telling what we can accomplish in the future of our human race.

    An invitation for you

    This month during stress awareness month, I invite you to critically examine your schedule and identify at least 3 hours (separate or consecutive) of uninterrupted time in which to devote to your well-being.  Check your city’s web page for rhythm and music events, plan an unplugged afternoon, or try a new activity.  Not only will it be fun and relaxing, it will also contribute to being your best you in the future, if you keep it up.  And trust me – go bang on a drum.


  • Humming isn’t just for the birds – how to hum your way to health

    Here we are in mid-winter.  You know what that means don’t you?  The arrival of holiday credit card statements, severe weather, and…cold and flu season is in full swing.  While there are many methods of preventing or alleviating cold and flu symptoms out there, here’s one you may not have heard yet – humming.  Studies are being conducted to demonstrate the link between regular humming and sinus health.  One nasty side effect that often accompanies colds or flu is a sinus infection.  According to WebMD, “Sinusitis is an inflammation, or swelling, of the tissue lining the sinuses. Normally, sinuses are filled with air, but when sinuses become blocked and filled with fluid, germs (bacteria, viruses, and fungi) can grow and cause an infection.”  Doesn’t that sound yummy?

    One thing you might consider doing to improve sinus health is humming.  Keeping your sinuses healthy requires a constant flow of air between the sinuses and the nasal cavity.  One study reported in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that, when compared to simply exhaling, “humming led to greater levels of exhaled nitric oxide, a gas produced in the sinuses.”  Healthy sinuses have a high concentration of nitric oxide (NO).  Another study in the European Respiratory Journal found similar results, and suggested that daily humming could possibly help reduce chronic sinus problems.  Below are several short and simple activities that take less than two minutes to perform daily to get you humming your way to health.

    4 ways to hum your way to better sinus health

    1. Ommmm… the yogis got it right.  Not only does chanting “om” help to focus the mind, it also produces the nasal “m” sound which resonates in the ‘mask’ of your face, or your sinuses.  Whether you practice yoga or not, simply chanting “om” (on any pitch in your lower register) several times in a row can produce a lovely buzzing sound in your nasal cavities that will have great benefits.  If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, try chanting this chant called Ra Ma Da Sa.  Not only does it include several nasal sounds (“m” and “ng”), it can also have a calming effect when repeated for several minutes.
    2. Brahms’ Lullaby.  Even if you don’t have a baby, you still might want to brush up on your lullabies.  Lullabies are usually sung in the lower register and often utilize humming so your baby can feel the vibrations in your chest (it helps soothe them).  But, you yourself can get the benefits of these same lullabies!  Hum the popular Brahms’ Lullaby or any of the other 6 on this list.  Or, check out my earlier post on lullabies for more suggestions.  The best part?  You don’t need to memorize the words!
    3. Mi-mi-mi-mi… one simple exercise that I as a vocalist always like to do in warming up is to sing on the vocables “mi-may-ma-mo-moo.”  Start out in a low voice, almost as low as you can go.  In between each vowel sound, insert an “m” sound so they all blend together:  meemmaymmammommoom.  Sing it all on one pitch, and then try it a little bit higher.  Yes, you’ll sound a bit ridiculous (maybe don’t try this one in public around a bunch of strangers), but trust me you’ll feel the effects when you’re done!
    4. Hum your favorite song.  It doesn’t get any simpler than that!

    Try any one of these suggestions for just one or two minutes a day and see how you feel.  Hopefully these exercises will help get you through cold and flu season with fewer sinus problems.  I often like to incorporate humming into my group drum sessions as a simple way to center ourselves and connect our minds to our bodies.  Happy humming!


  • Finding music among the madness – 3 simple tips to keep calm and thrive this holiday season

    stress resizedIt’s begun already.  The holiday roller coaster of shopping, wrapping, planning, cleaning, decorating, cookie baking, inevitable weight gain, and impending financial fallout in the new year.  Did I forget anything?  The American Psychological Association has reported that during the holidays, people’s main causes of stress are “lack of time, “lack of money, and “pressure to give or get gifts.”  Oh, don’t forget the added negative emotions of fatigue, stress, irritability, sadness, anger, loneliness, and yes, bloating.  Have I completely bummed you out yet? But wait, there’s good news!  It doesn’t have to be that way.  Below are three simple music-related tips that can help you and your loved ones to maximize joy, decrease stress, and maybe – just maybe! – eliminate that pesky bloating.

    3 musical tips for kicking this holiday season’s butt (in a good way)

    1.  Rock your holiday playlist.  Whether it’s listening to a killer mix in the car on the way to the mall (like HIMYM’s Barney’s playlist here), or embracing the Christmas cheesiness and belting out some tunes with the fam (like this great mix here), you better know what music will get you going so you can get things done.  I start playing the Christmas tunes on Pandora and my iPod typically the day after Thanksgiving.  Do whatever floats your boat and is appropriate for the activity (for tree decorating and cookie baking, I highly recommend Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton’s “Once Upon a Christmas” – but only if you’re prepared for some uber cheese and nostalgia.  Oh, and *don’t*sacrifice your workout regimen to get everything done!  If you quit the gym and pick up where you left off on January 2nd, I guarantee you you’ll feel the wrath of the holiday bloat – and be sorry you had to tackle the gym with all the other New Years Resolution-ers.  Try to keep your regular (or slightly modified) workout regimen going throughout the holidays as best you can, and if need be create a new workout playlist (Pinterest is a good place to start) to keep you pumped up and pumping iron.
    2. Dance, gosh darn it.  Do you dance like Elaine from Seinfeld?  Is anyone really going to care when chances are they’ve got a pint of eggnog in them and won’t remember the night before with the utmost clarity?  You’ve probably had some invites for holiday shindigs, be they for work, family, neighborhood, or friends.  I’ll bet you any money (unless they’re vegan!) that those parties are going to have ooey gooey finger food out the wazoo.  I’m not saying don’t munch on some holiday goodies, but cut the munching with some dancing and frolicking, which will boost your endorphins (similar to a workout would) and balance out some of the caloric intake.  Make sure to drink plenty of water in between all the eggnog and champagne.  Didn’t get invited anywhere?  I refer you back to Tip #1 – create a playlist you love and dance yourself silly for a few minutes in between tasks.  You will feel better!
    3. Laugh.  That’s right, laugh.  Laughter has been shown to boost the immune system;  protect the heart by improving blood vessel function and increasing blood flow; increase endorphins; and be a great workout for your abs and your core.  Find (or start) a Laughter Club near you (they exist), and brush up on some great jokes for those holiday parties.  What does this have to do with music?  Lots.  Experiencing music as a connected group is not only empowering, it also as a rule elicits a bunch of laughter we didn’t even know we had inside us.  One of the first activities in my drum circle programs is to do an icebreaker that gets people laughing.  Laughing can put people on equal footing with each other and help tear down the walls we subconsciously build around ourselves through body language.  Laughter is universal, and it’s the simplest way to keep up those spirits during the holidays.

    Are you ready to tackle this holiday season with an arsenal of simple ideas?  By now you should be ready to breeze through the holidays with your favorite songs, dance moves, and jokes at the ready.  What else works for you during the holidays to keep your sanity intact?  Post your favorite songs and musical activities below for the benefit of others!  (oh, yeah, and let us know if you eliminated that pesky bloating thing)  Contact me if you’re interested in bringing in some drums for your holiday shindig!

  • Regular people: Extraordinary Happiness – what we can learn from the “Happy” video

    Within the past week, you may have heard something about a 24-hour music video called “Happy.”  Rapper-producer Pharrell Williams recently released this video to the public which allows the viewer to skip around to different times of the day.  The upbeat video contains clips of a variety of people dancing and singing to the song while seemingly going about their daily lives.  In many instances, participants are walking through questionable neighborhoods at various times of the day, while onlookers stare at the spectacle of a freely joyful individual.

    Why are the people in the video so darn happy, you might wonder?  In many cases their surroundings are less than stellar, and you might even question if they’d be about to get mugged in real life.  How do we separate ‘happiness’ from our financial state, geography, health, career, schedule, and/or support network?  The cliché answer is that happiness is a state of mind, not a destination or a tangible item.  But in order to approach that state of mind, you do need to make some very real shifts in your thoughts and actions.  Read on to find out how music and drumming could be the shifts you’re looking for.

    Ever hear a song that made you feel you could totally take on the day? (mine is Good Lovin’ – whew, it gets me going!)  How challenging is it to stay energized after the song ends?  Listening to music can be a great mood lifter, but actually playing it (and dancing to it!) can have so many additional benefits.  How to do that in your already jam-packed life?  Well, where do you spend the bulk of your time?  If it’s at the office, then talk to HR about forming a wellness committee for the purposes of creating some stress relief drumming opportunities (like this organization did).  If it’s at home with the kids, then talk to other parents in your neighborhood about joining a family music program or creating one yourself.  If it’s in the car commuting – well, you’re just going to have to master the art of drumming on the steering wheel.  As the owner of Just Add Rhythm, of course I encourage you to contact me (or your local drum guru) to book some music and drumming events that will benefit your particular community.  It’s what I love to do!  But I recognize that we can’t all attend drum circles 24/7, and squeezing in you time can get pretty difficult.  So even if it’s just 5 minutes a day, find a way to connect with your inner rock star/opera singer/Tony Award winner and do something musical and rhythmic and social.

    Your body and mind will thank you for it.  In addition to reducing stress and boosting the immune system, you can also lower blood pressure, help deal with grief, and improve your communication with others through music and drumming as a group.  Utilize your support networks to actively create some opportunities for happiness.  And if JAR can help, just say the word and we’ll be there!

    chalk happy face


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