Music Making Deprivation – Consumers versus Creators? by Christine Stevens

“Life can become boring when the spark of creative fire is not lit in the soul of our spirit.”

We all listen to music.  Many of us dream of playing an instrument, yet most of us don’t.  How do we move from being only consumers of music to becoming music creators?

A “sound check” of the status of music making in America shows how common this is.    A 2006 Gallup poll indicated that only 7.6 percent of Americans over the age of eighteen had played an instrument in the past year. That’s 92 percent who felt they were not musical!  The same Gallup poll found that eighty-five percent of people wished that they could play an instrument. Guess who is among this majority? President Barack Obama, who told Barbara Walters in an interview of Ten Personal Questions that he wishes he could play a musical instrument.

If music is such a universal language, why are we so tongue-tied?  For many people, music has been a challenge.  All it takes is one critical statement from some authority figure to silences us.  We get told we “can’t carry a tune in a bucket” or that we should “just move our lips” in the choir concert, and we stop making music.

Guess what? Sir Paul McCartney was kicked out of the choir.  Luciano Pavarotti was told he needed to change his sound to be more like the “operatic greats.” At the age of fifteen, George Gershwin was told it was too late to start playing piano. Imagine how many McCartney’s have been lost because of musical criticism that silenced them when they gave up on their music.

Creativity is our birthright, an organic medicine of healing. No matter where these limiting beliefs originated, you are the one who can remove them and take action!  Otherwise, you may never express the song of your soul that wants to be sung. As the old saying goes, don’t die with the music inside you.

The Science of Creativity – Mind & Body

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) to look at brain activity, surgeon and jazz pianist CJ Limb compared improvised piano playing to a rendition of a rehearsed piece of music.  The results showed that when musicians used their own creativity, a very specific small area of the brain’s frontal cortex — the medial prefrontal cortex — became activated. This part of the brain functions in self-reflection, introspection, personal sharing, and self-expression; it is often thought to be the seat of consciousness. The medial prefrontal cortex area is also activated when we talk about ourselves, telling our personal story.  Simultaneously, a deactivation occurred. The two larger areas of the frontal cortex — the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — were deactivated. These areas deal with self-monitoring, judgment, and self-criticism. It’s a paradox; the larger parts of the brain inhibit our self-expression, while the smaller part reveals the greater self.  No wonder it’s a challenge to express ourselves creatively in music.

Barry Bittman, MD, echoed the importance of creative self-expression in a study.  He used subjects who drummed in a drum circle designed for wellness as compared with another group who only listened to drum music. All subjects had no prior musical training.  They were complete novices! By screening out experienced drummers, the study clearly demonstrated that we all have the capacity to express ourselves creatively through rhythm. Results showed that active drumming resulted in greater biological changes compared to just listening to music, a result created through exercise, self-expression, and a sense of support.

Are you ready to begin to be a creator; not just a consumer?  Try these guided practices and awaken your Creative Spirit through sound.

1.  Dance to the Beat of your own drum

Drumming is an immediate portal into musical expression.  Everyone can be successful immediately.  Whether you are more comfortable drumming or dancing; both are great tools for awakening your musical creativity. Listen to the free play along track at  Select Rhythm (Chapter 3).  Scroll to the bottom and play the last two tracks: Reviving Rhythms and Beauty Groove  play-along tracks.  Get out a drum, rattle, or homemade percussion sound and play-a-long, improvising the beat that only you can play.  Each track is more than seven minutes, giving you time to get out of your head and into your drum.  Remember, there is no right or wrong here; simply the joyful feeling of self-expression.

2.  Tone your note

Toning comes from “tone,” a single note that is an inner sounding.  Give yourself permission to sing your note, whatever it may be, and let it resonate your whole being. Trust yourself. Don’t think about it.  Just take a deep belly breath and exhale a note.  Now, sing the same note only louder!  Repeat. When you complete the toning of your note, allow yourself time to sit with the vibration.  Feel the resonance of creativity, of musical freedom reverberating through your body, mind, and spirit.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapy consultant to REMO drums, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles.  Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music.

Edited by Jeff Newman



Music Medicine – Orchestrating Change by Christine Stevens

In today’s world, music is a much needed key tool for transformation on the planet, ushering in a time of harmony in our new co-created world. We are witnessing more and more musicians becoming activists, or as some say “artivists” — performers who are becoming reformers.

The transformation from performer to reformer involves four key paradigm shifts:

1. A performer plays an instrument; a reformer becomes an instrument.

2. A performer gets applause; a reformer gives applause.

3.A performer uses talent to be a success; a reformer uses talent to make a difference.

4. A performer entertains an audience; a reformer transforms a community and even the world.

In the movie Ten Questions for the Dalai Lama, His Holiness is asked what we can do to create peace. With a huge smile on his face, the Dalai Lama says: “More music festivals.”

As an artivist myself, I have been deeply transformed by the process of working in other countries and with other cultures such as Iraq, Russia, Brazil and South Africa. For years, I was a go-getter, who became a go-giver.  When I went to Iraq in 2007 to lead a drum circle training for Kurds and Arabs, I was touched at the core of my being by the powerful connections created through music. (

There is a growing trend of performers becoming reformers as evident in the influx of performers who use music to awaken hearts, unify audiences, communicate a message of hope and empower survivors of violence.  Just think of Bono, from the rock group U2. He was awarded the distinction “Man of Peace” by the Nobel Laureates in 2008, was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, and has worked to raise awareness about global poverty for more than two decades.

In an act of musical bravery, Kristina Sophia and Cameron Powers, from Musical Missions of Peace (, sang Iraqi love songs on the streets of Baghdad at the start of the American occupation in 2003.  One of their most amazing experiences was literally singing their way across the Iraqi border, where guards were so moved by their renditions of Arabic love songs that they allowed them to enter the country without visas. Talk about the global passport of music!

Afghani singer and songwriter Farhad Darya, a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations, is another reformer. He has been uniting audiences, raising money for orphans, creating education for street children and singing in places of suffering.  In 2010, he created a concert for fifteen thousand Afghani women and girls at a former Taliban headquarters, where many people, especially women, had been executed. In his song “Brother,” he says “sing along with me; without formality of languages, just like the bird canary.”

Do you want to make a difference through music? Here are some ways to orchestrate change in your community:

1.  Sing to the Earth

Go on a hike or walk and take a moment to offer music to your favorite part of nature. There may be a nature song you learned as a child at summer camp. I still remember singing, “I love the mountains, I love the rolling hills, I love the flowers, I love the daffodils, boom de a da, boom de a da.” Your nature song might even be a lyric of a Beatles song, like “Here Comes the Sun.” Or you can make up your own chant and offer it outside in nature to your favorite nature element. Sometimes if you listen very carefully, nature will teach you its own song.

2. Random Acts of Music

When you find yourself in a situation that could use an energy change, consider toning in the space, singing, chanting, or using an instrument to create a new song. Consider getting a small drum or flute to fit in your hiking pack. Surprise a group of strangers by playing some music for them wherever you go. I carry a small Native American flute in my purse or hiking bag and a small drum in my car for these random moments

3.Become a Reformer

Would you like to share music with the world?  Are you inspired to lead? If so, you may want to create a chanting circle, become trained in facilitating a drum circle or form a sound-healing group. Are you inspired to create sound as an offering to friends in need of healing? Is there a way you can weave more music into your work, bringing specifically selected music into the teacher’s lounge or some other creative way to infuse music into the daily rhythms of work? Think of your own special way to orchestrate change with music.

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapist, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles.  Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music.

Edited by Jeff Newman




Music Medicine – Song Synchronicity by Christine Stevens

Why is it that the perfect song comes on the radio or the iPod shuffle just when you need it most? Or just when you miss someone, a song plays at the grocery store that makes you think of that person? Or a song comes on the radio reminding you of someone, and at that very moment, that person calls you?

We all have these stories of song medicine―a stunning moment of pure song synchronicity when the perfect song comes on the radio just wen you need it most.

When I was thirty-five, my mother lost her two-year battle with stage IV ovarian cancer. After her passing I went into a kind of hibernation.  In my bereavement process I used many of the tools of music medicine that I now teach others.  A month later, I was driving home from work when the song “You’ve Got a Friend” by James Taylor came on the radio just when I was thinking of her. My mom and I had sung this song to each other in her Cape Cod living room a few months before she died. The synchronicity was uncanny. I felt as if she was sending me a message.  It was as if some random radio station was designed for just this healing moment in my life.

When there are no words, music expresses our deepest love, pain, joy, rage or longing.  Songs give us goose-bumps, tears and even time-traveling flashes of memories. But how can we actually dive more deeply into the song medicine that is available to our hearts?

Think of a time when song synchronicity graced the symphony of your life. Try these techniques to invoke some song medicine in your life:

1.  Random Acts of Song―Set your iPod to shuffle and allow something to pop up.  It could be just the song you need to hear today. Set up a playlist of favorite inspirational songs, things that move and awaken your heart.  Within this playlist, set to it to shuffle and roll the dice; see what you get in this music roulette.  Listen to the meaning of the song.

2. Let the song choose you―pay attention to those song worms that rise up in your mind at random times of day; this could be when you first wake up in the morning or throughout the day.  The next time you find yourself singing a tune for no reason at all, pay attention. Wonder about the song, its meaning and its relevance in your life. It may have a deep message for you.

3.  Lyrics for Life―Go to the web and find the song lyrics for a favorite song. Post them on your refrigerator or on the whiteboard in your office or family room.  Highlight one phrase that most touches your heart most.  What moves your heart about your chosen line? What message does it is bring to your life?

Christine Stevens, MSW, MT-BC is an author, music therapist, and founder of UpBeat Drum Circles.  Her new book, Music Medicine (Sounds True, August, 2012) includes more than 40 guided practices and 50 audio tracks of healing music.

Edited by Jeff Newman