Rhythm Mechanics

Rhythm Mechanics is a term I use to describe my methodology  when using rhythm and drumming for healing, particularly with trauma clients such as war veterans and refugees suffering Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).


"Rhythm alone makes possible the temporal order of music. Most people will disregard music to which they cannot keep a beat. If rhythmic order cannot be established then melody and harmony lose their potency. Most music involves dancing. Dance involves a unity of purpose and activity. Rhythmic activities make working together easier because no words are needed; Rhythm is the common bond.  Stimulative rhythms are detached, percussive, and vary in their patterns. Lullabies are unrelenting in rhythm"  E. Thayer Gaston.   

Group music therapy or performances for traumatised refugees and others are useful because of the common theme and complaints they share.

I provide a relationship which the client they can use for their own personal growth, a humanistic approach which is client centered, non directive, with complete acceptance, sincerity and empathy, no conditions.

The therapist should prize the client in a total, rather than a conditional way, a humanistic approach is needed on a client by client assessment as Psychologist Carl Rogers expressed. 

But many music therapists today have experienced difficulties offering sufficient safety. They tell me confrontation with loud sounds, vivid interaction with other group members and differences in (musical) culture can make these people fearful and avoiding. But activities focused on reducing actual complaints and distraction from their daily stress such as ‘making one’s own music’ or instrument making are experienced as pleasant.
Recent music therapy research shows “Music therapy as clinical work alone, without good and well organised professional support and co-operation of the local people outside of the therapy cannot be efficient and sustainable in such countries foreign to the client” (Spela Loti Knoll and Claudia Knoll)
To attain realistic outcomes would be to offer individual music treatment as well. An individual approach makes it possible to pay special attention to specific cultural needs, more safety and intensity.
Music is sometimes played during torture, for example, and group session performances can evoke intrusive memories, so it is necessary to surround these sessions with safety. I would suggest therapists using music therapeutically with traumatised refugees initially anyway, work hand in hand with like - minded appropriate musicians whether Afghan, Indian, African… for translation, cultural differences, musical differences, and to improve safety conditions during performances.

‘The Potency of Music is Greatest in the Group’

‘The chief aim of therapy is to enable the individual to function at his best in society. Music, by its’ very nature, draws people together for the purpose of intimate, yet ordered function. Music is structured reality; all the senses bring to us aspects of reality. All the musical elements require astounding preciseness, and thus attention to detail brought about thru conscious use of them. Music is derived from the tender emotions and thus leads to more intense and significant group participation’ E Thayer Gaston

The act of drumming is a universally healing experience. It releases body tension, emotional stress, and mental fatigue. The ability to drum is alive in all of us… not based on musical knowledge or rhythmical expertise. It’s something we all did naturally as children while expressing our rhythmical spirit, by hitting things and making sounds. This ability has been socialised out of us by western culture to the point that, as adults, most US and Australian citizens believe they are rhythmically challenged, and that only musicians can drum.
Responding physically to a steady drum beat or rhythm, in subjective, or tempos the client can relate to… is closely linked to skills in writing reading and concentration. It helps the client concentrate and hold their attention span longer. Also the ones who have difficulty in reading and writing or various other activities improve because they are able to organize their thoughts better. It helps clients make a connection between what they hear and what they do.

This drumming methodology for concentration with clients, is sometimes referred to as the ‘hearing-feeling’ connection: It allows the client to listen to something that is being said, or watch something that is being done, and follow the directions. What is being linked is action, thought and language. And with children having a sense of inner timing, it allows them to speak in whole sentences, instead of just one word at a time.
 I have found that creating your own relaxation music by means of improvisation offers an attractive and pleasant therapy. 

This method can be used for individuals as well as for groups. It begins with a warm up to get rid of dominating thoughts and to get closer to the client’s own feelings. The warm up is usually a rehearsed musical score, with maybe some humor, and possible interaction. 
Then the clients can choose their own instruments of choice from the various acoustic instruments, tuned and not tuned. Xylophones and harps for example are tuned to pentatonic scales. Pentatonic scales are useful because they are easy to improvise over, and clients from other cultures like them too. Ocean drums, rain sticks, small rhythm instruments such as egg shakers and finger cymbals are useful also.
One group member is elected as the ‘Maestro’ or Band leader… who then decides who plays what. The band leader also determines the style of song, the tempo, even the dynamics. Once improvisation has begun, the therapist plays recurring chord patterns on the keyboard or guitar. With today’s technology keyboards can produce very realistic genres of most styles of music, due to ‘sampling’ and other various techniques. These patterns serve to support the structure of the improvisations, and to produce the appropriate ‘atmosphere’ by playing minor or major keys and different rhythms. For simplification, when playing a relaxing chant or ballad, the chord of E Major allows all the white keys of the keyboard to play the sounds of Arabia and the Middle –East, occasionally adding F Major 7th,  D minor 7th and D minor 7th (flat 5)  to add color. The Band leader conducts.
It’s a special moment to witness how people from various cultures having trouble verbally communicating and often being distracted by their alien surroundings, start playing together in a very short space of time. People are observing, watching, focused together sometimes creating art on the spot… music has been a big part of their lives. Outsiders become curious, they’ve never seen this before… a crowd gathers.

Language is no longer a barrier!

The experience of being able to influence one’s own mood by making one’s own relaxing music, is a valuable contribution to the health of traumatized clients in general. It is even more valuable to the band leader who becomes aware of the influence he or she may have on fellow group members. It’s the relief of the tormenting thoughts, the socializing and interacting with peers and others that leads to relaxation, and creates the circumstances required to be able to deal with trauma. This strengthens and empowers clients and provides them with the means to focus on the future.

Apart from ego boosting activities (bandleader) and the group experience, this methodology of 'rhythm mechanics' provides ways for emotional expression and experiencing one’s own cultural identity. 

The Power of the Drum

My major instrument is drums, and I’m a jazz drummer, used to the polyrhythms and complex harmonies that can accompany that improvised art form. Drumming has been receiving considerable attention in music therapy. Few references relate to such activity among those who suffer from PTSD, and even fewer relate to combat induced post traumatic syndrome, none of them empirical.
In my experience over the years, the drumming programs adapted for the treatment of PTSD especially increase: A sense of openness, togetherness, belonging, sharing, closeness, connectedness and intimacy as well as achieving a non-intimidating access to traumatic memories facilitating an outlet for rage and regaining a sense of self control.

Refugees often say that certain music evokes pleasant memories that they can dream about. It comforts them when they feel lonely. They can take a tape/ Cd with selected music home and play the music when they feel tense or cannot sleep. They sometimes fall asleep listening to it.
It has a positive influence on their mood, and the client’s ability for self- control is enhanced when they can modify their own moods and thoughts. 

In summary, I would like to bring your attention to the fact that that when we talk about music, the reason we use terms that sound vague, is not because there is anything vague about music, but because music expresses human experience so specifically in such specific ways that when you attempt to find language to describe that… the words fall short. 

And what is falling short in that equation is language… not the music.

The music expresses things about human experience that cannot be expressed any other way. That is why it is so important.
“It is the wordless meaning of music that provides its’ potency and value. There would be no music, and no need for it if it were possible to communicate verbally that which is communicated musically” E Thayer Gaston, The ‘Father’ of American music therapy

Experience- has no substitute........

“Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other persons ideas, and none of my own ideas – are as authoritive as my experience. It is to experience I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming me. Neither the Bible nor the Prophets … neither Freud nor research … neither the revelations of God nor man … can take precedence over my own direct experience. My experience is not authoritive because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority, because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error of fallibility is always open to correction”
Psychologist Carl Rogers ‘The Humanistic Approach’ Client-centered

“Many therapists with histories of childhood trauma have developed ‘heightened capacities to be attentive to the needs of others… including an acute sensitivity to the affects, needs and unspoken defenses of another’ (Pearlman and Saakvitne 1995) Such therapists often bring to the work a deep sense of commitment, compassion, and understanding only gained through personal experience of the debilitating effects of trauma on one’s sense of self as well as the courage to make the long and difficult journey toward recovery. These therapists make excellent role models. Clients generally feel safer with a therapist who has ‘been there’. As they say in Alcoholics anonymous, someone who doesn’t just ‘talk the talk’ but who ‘walks the walk’ ……. I believe that the primary healing element in music psychotherapy is the relationship (between therapist and client) …. Singing together can bring about physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual connection between the client and therapist, and the client and his or her core self”
Julie P. Sutton ‘Music, Music Therapy and Trauma’

My extensive experience in walking in their shoes has enabled me to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk which is an invaluable tool for my music therapy treatment