The second concert of the conference Sound Health featured Dr. Nina Kraus, Mickey Heart (drummer of the Grateful Dead), Zakir Hussain, and Adam Gazzaley. The focus of this day of performances and talks was rhythm.
Mickey Hart is a great drummer who plays with The Grateful Dead. For his part of the talk he focused on the personal importance of rhythm in life. One of the points he made is that life works right when you are in rhythm. And well, what is rhythm? He defined it as “anything that repeats itself in time.” Of course, this would then include many things, from your heartbeat and breathing to the turning of the Earth on its axis and around the Sun.
And he did identify rhythm as the ordering principle of the universe. He talked about the Big Bang as the downbeat, beat number one. Mickey talked about how he grew up with music and rhythm all around him, coming from both his parents and from the city he lived in. He then invited the audience, as now I invite you to close your eyes and imagine what your first encounter with sound was. For him, it was Mozart, whom he still enjoys. But also, in the midst of the Duke Ellington and Count Basie collection that his parents owned, he was able to find and encounter a recording of the forest people. He became one with them through the sound of their music and their rhythms.
He also related how he loved playing the drum pad that his dad owned. “Drumming made me feel good, it was freedom.” He realized he was able to access a flow state, what some people would call “rhythmic entrainment.” Because, he said, vibration and rhythm connect us to other people and to the world around us. And this is something that we should seek after, we should prolong and nurture it for its healing potential. He also pointed out that in nature it’s more efficient to be in time than not and he finishes saying the following:
“Finding your groove enhances your sense of personal power. You feel solid, you feel whole… Go out and find your own personal rhythm. In your interaction with friends and family, with nature and the world at large, finding one’s rhythm is everything. Next time you feel really good, take notice. Recognize what’s happening and become conscious of it. Think how you can stay there and how you can return.”
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Dr. Nina Kraus & Zakir Hussain
Then Dr. Nina Kraus came back out and introduced Zakir Hussain, who is probably one of the best tabla players in the world. She talked about the connections between rhythm and language, pointing out also that the brain makes sense of rhythm with more rhythms. We have an internal sense of beat and not only that, but we have an auditory-motor integration. That means that our motor systems activate with music. Music makes us move. There is rhythm in language and the proficiency in rhythmic abilities can be tested as it corresponds with language abilities.
Zakir then continued the conversation and demonstrated the use of rhythm and language to communicate. He said that every language has rhythm and an improvisational character. Music allows you to express yourself even further than language! He also talked about his personal journey with rhythm and music. His first few years of life were deeply entrenched with rhythm, specially between him and his dad. And he finished by pointing out how a concert can be an opportunity to forget about the outside world and the worries of our daily lives. In those moments in a concert, you can forget about everything else.
Dr. Nina Kraus
Dr. Nina Kraus came back one more time to talk about the different systems that work on recognizing rhythms and patterns, which are surprisingly a bit independent! You can be more proficient at one or the other. And why is this important? Well, she talks about the research she has done on how kids who get music education get better rhythm skills AND better educational achievement. Indeed, there is an achievement gap in language and readings skills in low income areas, but if they are engaged in music, they maintain their age reading scores.
Another really interesting part of the evening was when Adam Gazzaley came out to the stage to talk about how specifically designed videogames can improve cognition. He argued that one of our biggest challenges as humanity is to improve our cognition. And our current systems have problems that prevent this from happening. We do not have fine assessment of cognition, our treatments are poorly targeted, we have a non-personalized system, and an open-loop system.
So his question is, how do we leverage technology to enhance cognition and change our minds? His answer is to have closed-loop experiences, i.e. a system in which you can intervene, record impact in real time and refine/reapply immediately. Video games are a closed-loop experience that he and his team have used to help develop attention. He talked about something I find quite exciting, something he calls a “digital medicine.” He is in fact in the process of having the FDA approve the first ever digital treatment for ADHD. Bringing it back to rhythm, he talked about a video game he has helped create called Rhythmicity. This video game uses rhythm to improve abilities related to our rhythmical skills. Furthermore, Mickey demonstrated the next initiative that Gazzaley is working on called Cohesion. It is a VR experience that integrates rhythm and visual stimuli just as Rhythmicity.
Lastly, Dr. Nina Kraus comes back out and talks about another rhythm game called Interactive Metronome. This game combines visual with auditory cues to help people develop their rhythmic abilities. Knowing about rhythmic ability can help us tell which kids will have problems with language, reading, and attention.
In conclusion, rhythms are everywhere. They form part of the universe, life, and who we are. These rhythms are deeply entrenched in other abilities that form part of our cognition and are important for success and improvement. Working on our rhythm can help prevent and treat disease and disability but can also help us have a more fulfilling life. This is all really important knowledge for music therapists!
Check out the whole video if you have time!
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