Grateful Dead Drummer Works With Doctors to Investigate the Healing Power of Rhythm

There’s no question that music therapy works.  How it works, though, is still something of a mystery to neuroscientists.  

And it’s not just music and melody.  Rhythm can have some kind of therapeutic effect.  Mickey Hart, the Grateful Dead drummer, is working with doctors to see what kind of good rhythm can do.  

Here’s more from TIME magazine:

When Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart’s grandmother descended into the depths of dementia, she stopped speaking. Hart was caring for her at his home, but was on the verge of entering her in hospice.

Then he played for her. Although she had not uttered a word for nearly a year, when he began to pound out a soft, but insistent beat, she smiled. Then, a tear came to her eye and she said clearly, over and over, “Mickey.”

“That was one of the key experiences in my life, which showed me what the power of rhythm can do,” Hart says, recalling the incident, which occurred in the early 80s. “Rhythm was reconnecting her to the world that was fading away.”
Our lives, it turns out, depend deeply on rhythm. There’s the obvious lub-dub of the heart, where one lapse in essential time-keeping can be fatal; then there is the clear patterning of women’s monthly cycles. But less visible are the daily and nightly peaks and valleys of hormone levels, the critical rhythms that shape language and nonverbal communication and the ebb and flow of constantly thrumming and pulsing nerve activity in the brain.
“Brain activity fluctuates— it oscillates in rhythmic patterns and different rhythms are represented throughout the brain in terms of how its activity changes over time,” says Adam Gazzaley, director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center at the University of California San Francisco.
Gazzaley and Hart have collaborated to try to understand the neuroscience of rhythm and to plumb these patterns for potentially therapeutic uses. This fall, they spoke together at the annual conference of the AARP, using the latest imaging technology to broadcast images of Hart’s brain rhythms live.


Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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