Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and Its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism


The science of creativity has always been fascinating, whether it’s sculpting, writing a novel, or just experimenting with music. How do artists, whatever the medium, get their ideas? More importantly, why does it intrigue us? Not only can these powers give us unforgettable work, but they also have the capacity to heal, something that Jeff Strong investigates in his book, the memoir “Different Drummer: One Man’s Music and its Impact on ADD, Anxiety, and Autism.”

In addition to being a percussionist, Strong decided many years ago, after hearing a street drummer in Los Angeles, that he could help people through cooperative music therapy. As someone suffering from ADHD, he began by performing for his clients, making cassette tapes for them to listen to. In a matter of months, his clients made considerable strides, gradually reconnecting with the people around them.

He compares it to a magical power, something passed down to him by one of his first teachers. He has his doubts, but then he sees the client: A child refusing to cooperate, gradually settling down and listening to the playing of conga drums.

As a result, he took on a three-decadeslong journey, abandoning what was a successful musical career in order to pioneer what he calls “auditory brain stimulation” — a brain educational program that he makes available to a wide group of students. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of Strong’s work is that rather than a standard memoir that focuses just on one particular time in his life, overcoming one basic obstacle, his writing style seems to move just like the percussion of his drum sets, constantly jumping back and forth in time, as he moves from apprentice to teacher.

Along the way, he learns that this alternative treatment — targeting the brain’s processing centers for memory and emotions — is able to help treat people who not only suffer from ADHD but a number of anxiety disorders, including autism, among people of a wide spectrum of ages — children and adults alike.

“I was engaged in a tradition with a long history,” Strong recalls. There’s a rich history of professional drummers in many cultures, who did more than simply provide entertainment, and Strong explores in his book why that was, “In many places around the world drummers were employed to moderate behavior, to calm or excite, to soothe, or provoke. They were the therapists, the psychologists, the psychiatrists. Drummers were the bridge to the unconscious and the unknown where the root of behavior resides.”

Just how important that bridge was is laid out by Strong — something that music therapists are just beginning to scratch the surface of.

This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of Brain World Magazine.

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