Friday, January 29, 2010

Bobby McFerrin Goes Pentatonic!

One of my classmates e-mailed this to the entire class while we were discussing the social psychology aspects of music. I have always loved Bobby McFerrin, but this is really neat! I can't imagine that all the people in the audience were musicians since this was a Science fair, so that makes it all the more impressive that the audience could sing the correct notes without practice!

Many people talk about music as a universal language, but this has always been difficult to quantify. Every culture may have their own music, but music in different parts of the world varies greatly and does not easily transfer between countries. Bobby said that he has been able to create this experience all over the world, so there is something about the pentatonic scale that transcends cultures and different forms of music theory and organization.

I must have watched this video five or six times. I especially love the reactions of the scientists and doctors on stage! They kept thinking Bobby was finished, but Bobby just kept going until they were speechless at the end. Sometimes music makes sense to our minds and bodies without us needing to understand how it is happening!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Ring, Ring! Who's There? Tinnitus - Or, Maybe Not!

My wife suddenly woke up from a nap this afternoon thinking the phone was ringing. It wasn't, but she could not believe it had seemed so real! Some people have a ringing in their ears all the time called Tinnitus. Scientists and doctors are still not sure what causes Tinnitus, but sometimes damage to our ears from consistently loud noise is one of the suspected causes. There may also be some effect from certain drug use or even illness. I actually have a little bit of Tinnitus that I notice when it is very quiet or before I go to sleep. It does not bother me during the day or keep me from hearing things well. I can actually hear up to 18,000 Hz (which is pretty good for my age!). I think my Tinnitus started after a very high fever in reaction to a Tetanus booster. If I am exposed to any increased intensity of sound for awhile I have noticed that the Tinnitus seems louder to me for an hour after the loud noise.

Many people have Tinnitus much worse than mine that does affect their quality of life. It is not an uncommon or trivial condition. The research recently posted in the news is extremely interesting in how they have used music to "retrain" people's minds to somehow ignore the Tinnitus!

German researchers took subject preferred music selections and modified them so that no sound frequencies existed in the frequency range of each subject's Tinnitus. Eight subjects listened to this music through headphones for one year and reported a significant decrease in self-described Tinnitus. The eight subjects who did not receive the modified music did not report a decrease in Tinnitus symptoms. The researchers believe that the brain cortex responsible for decoding the information from the inner ear can be trained to reorganize the information and diminish the cognitive processes that may cause Tinnitus.

I think this is very encouraging! The authors of the research were also excited that a possible treatment for Tinnitus might be developed at relatively low cost and without side effects. I think one year is a long time for treatment, but hopefully they may do some follow studies to refine the process and shorten the treatment time.

The abstract for the research is here.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Ten Tips For A Successful Drum Circle!

I have recently had the opportunity to facilitate many drum circles as I am now teaching a therapeutic drumming class at Florida State University. My experiences have reminded me of some of the things I have learned over the years about making it possible for a good drum circle to occur. All of these tips do not apply in all situations because there are so many sizes and settings for drum circles, but these are good, general rules I like to follow:

1. Adapt! - Drum circles usually ebb and flow, changing as new beats and sounds are introduced or faded out. Every drum circle has a different set of people or moods, so you can never go in thinking that you want a certain sound or outcome. It is okay to start with a theme or even some prompted rhythms, but pay attention to the ability levels of the participants and take advantage of moments when you hear a cool beat or sound develop.

2. Experiment! - In my class I have encouraged the students to try out different instruments, sounds, singing, movements, etc. Drum circles are an amazing setting where so many things are possible in a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

3. Listen! - It is important to take time to listen while you are facilitating. You don't always have to be providing guidance. Listen for complimentary rhythms or interesting crossings of timbres. These can be your chance to facilitate and direct the circle into another direction.

4. Live the beat! - Allow the drumming to go where it wants to go. Don't prematurely end a drumming experience unless time is an issue. A drum circle will usually come to a close on its own or settle down to a point when it can easily be facilitated to finish. Just enjoy it while it lasts!

5. Engage your whole body. - Use your whole body to facilitate and not just your hands. Sometimes stomping works or a simple wink in a person's direction. You will want to find a comfortable way to dance to the beat as you are facilitating. Dancing energizes the circle and visually grounds the pulse.

6. Act like you're having fun! - Hopefully you ARE having fun! The point is not to stress about what you are doing. There is not a right or wrong way to facilitate a drum circle, although helpful strategies have been provided by experienced people to aid you in leading a successful drum circle. Drum circles should provide a supportive environment for many types of personalities and people who want to facilitate.

7. Watch for the "whites of their eyes!" - Good eye contact with the participants is a key to success. Try and look at all the different people and not just concentrate on a few. Their faces will tell you a lot about how they are feeling and what kind of experience they might be having. Obtaining eye contact is also vital before you provide non-verbal instructions or "sculpt" the drumming experience.

8. Start with "Passion" - Stop with "Clarity!" - You should approach a drum circle with a purpose and objective just like any other therapeutic intervention. Drum circles are powerful and can open up a world of emotion and thoughtful reflection for participants. Be prepared to process thoughts and feelings after the drum circle is over. This tip also reminds you to demonstrate excitement for the drum circle before it begins and to be in charge when the drum circle has reached the end of its natural life.

9. Mix and Match! - When possible, provide plenty of different types of drums, shakers and bell sounds mixed all over the drum circle. It is also a good idea to have at least two of each timbre so that everyone has a "partner" and doesn't feel like they stick out when playing a certain instrument. The availability of different timbres will also help you to facilitate when you are using techniques like Arthur Hull's "sculpting" ideas.

10. Make a Transfer! - What is this, you ask? Be prepared to relate something you learned or experienced in the drum circle to something meaningful in real life. It is nice to sit and drum for awhile and we do benefit while engaged in the experience, but hopefully we can take some essence of the circle with us when we go. A short discussion or processing of the drum circle experience after it ends can often spark an idea that can apply to another setting.

There are many wonderful drum circle facilitators out there doing some incredible work. Christine Stevens, Arthur Hull, Kalani, and so many others. They also actively present workshops and trainings to help people learn how to be good facilitators. You will learn about all these tips if you have a chance to participate in one of these events. These are just the way I like to think about things after many years of trying drum circles in a variety of settings. Maybe you have some other ideas you would like to share?

Now--go find your groove!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What Stress Can Do For You!

Stress. It really can cause heart attacks researchers say!

There is mounting evidence of the role of stress and the increased risk of heart attack. A new research study in the European Heart Journal links elevated salivary cortisol levels as a result of mental stress to increased coronary artery calcification, a risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD). This study is important because it used subjects who were not already diagnosed with CHD. The research is also emphasizes how important it is for everyone, not just people who already have heart problems, to recognize and address stress in their lives.

I have written several posts about using music as an aid for relaxation and stress management. I think music continues to offer a powerful tool as part of a lifestyle that includes managing stress. One of the comments on the webpage that introduced the story was from Tony in Essex who quite correctly stated, "Let's get it straight, how the h--- does anyone avoid being stressed constantly in this insane society?"

This past week in my drumming in therapy class we have started each class with a facilitated drum circle. After the drum circle I asked the participants what they had been thinking about while they were drumming. I found it interesting that everybody seemed to have had a clear mind. They had not been thinking about their "to-do" lists or where they needed to go after class, or any number of different mental stressors that clutter up our everyday lives. Christine Stevens, a pioneer in community drum circles, often talks about the power drumming has on our mind, body and soul. I have heard her mention the fact that drumming is powerful because while you are engaged in a group drumming event your mind is more at peace and temporarily free of many of the mental stressors that usually take up our thought space. (For more information about Christine see my post here.)

Stress is a problem for all of us in the modern world. It obviously becomes more serious after a heart attack or diagnosis of Coronary Artery Disease, but it looks like any of us could end up in those situations if the new research holds true. Finding some time to relax and listen to some favorite music or scheduling a few times a week to play a musical instrument as a leisure skill are some healthy suggestions in developing a good way to cope with modern life. Music makes sense!

The abstract to the original research in the European Heart Journal can be found here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Top Ten Creative Ways Kids Use Instruments!

I am teaching a new class about using drumming in therapy. Our first task as a class was to explore and become familiar with all the different kinds of percussion instruments common in drum circles and therapy work. I introduced a large ocean drum and made mention of the fact that if you give an ocean drum to a young child without any instructions, it usually does not end up sounding like the ocean! It never fails that the kids want to see just how fast and furious all those beads can get tossed around!

Here are my top ten (in no particular order) funny and sometimes crazy things kids think make sense to do with my musical instruments:

1. Ocean drum - a machine gun sound or VERY stormy ocean.
2. Tambourine - always makes a good frisbee!

3. Thundertube - a helicopter of course!

4. Boom whackers - "friend" whackers.

5. Mini maracas - these often become little "peoples" for kids with autism.
6. Drum mallet - a microphone. Better than a karaoke machine!

7. Gathering drum - a boat.

8. Shaker eggs - unidentified flying objects. They are just the right size and weight to throw!

9. Cabasa - an arm massager.

10. Shaker banana - a telephone.

Maybe you have other stories about the funny things kids do? Feel free to share!

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