Recent Events & Articles (Our blog)


  • 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 www.justaddrhythmnow.com.  Or, contact me at alisha@justaddrhythmnow.com.  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.

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