beat the odds®: social and emotional skill building delivered in a framework of drumming

BTO Logo_WebBeat the Odds® is a trauma-informed program that integrates activities from group drumming and group counseling to build core strengths such as focusing and listening, team building, leadership, expressing feelings, managing anger/stress, empathy, and gratitude.

UCLA researchers have shown that Beat the Odds® can significantly reduce a spectrum of behavioral problems in children, such as behaviors related to inattention, withdrawn/depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and sluggish cognitive tempo (Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer, 2011). New findings show that the program is also highly effective for special education classrooms.

bto_3rd-grader-leaderBeat the Odds® emphasizes process and not performance. It includes a therapeutic dimension involving such elements as positive affirmations, emotional coping strategies, and guided interaction with rhythmic activities serving as a metaphor for life, followed by reflection and dialogue—without the stigma of therapy.

Beat the Odds® is an eight-session program delivered weekly for 40 – 45 minutes, and the easy-to-follow curriculum is in the form of a scripted manual. The program serves a whole classroom at a time and is sustainably designed for delivery by school personnel or individuals without musical experience. It can easily be adapted for other age groups and also serves as an effective tool for community building with staff and families.

resources at a glance:

Find the original study and other publications, a summary document for administrators, testimonials, and media articles in our Resources section.

View a documentary trailer, testimonial, and clips from our trainings in our Videos section.

Purchase the Beat the Odds® curriculum materials or drum equipment via our online Store.

Find answers to commonly asked questions about the program and facilitator trainings in our FAQs section.

why drumming?

  • Drumming is a universal activity that is part of every culture. It is equally enjoyed by boys and girls. The National Education Association advocates the use of the arts as a “hook” for getting students interested in school. Drumming gets students interested in school. (Verdugo, 2006)
  • Drumming is an inclusive nonverbal activity that enables anyone to participate – even those who do not speak, do not speak the same language, or are wheelchair bound. No previous experience is required for participation.
  • Drumming, without expectations of perfection or mastery, reduces self-judgment and performance anxiety and encourages a growth mindset that is essential to learning and academic performance, and greater participation in classroom activities. (Gunderson et al., 2013; Moser, Schroder, Heeter, Moran, & Lee, 2011)
  • bto_3rd-graders_group_giselle-featuredCreative expression that embraces mistakes as part of the learning process can bring the missing element of joy and laughter to the lives of traumatized children. The arts are uniquely capable of enhancing positive emotions, which in turn build resilience (Frederickson, 2012; Tugade & Frederickson, 2004). Children are empowered by discovering that they don’t need to be stuck in their feelings.
  • Active music making engages large areas of the brain, which quite literally crowds out stress, grief, and pain. It also keeps us in the present moment. (Tramo, 2001) In addition, repetitive rhythm promotes the relaxation response (Crowe, 2004) and can bring calm and centering through contained energy release. All of these aspects of drumming can calm stress reactivity in the brain after exposure to trauma and enable rational brain functions of sequential thinking, decision–making, and social behavior that are inhibited by trauma. (van der Kolk, 2014)
  • Traumatic stress responses inhibit speech center activity in the brain, which interferes with our ability to articulate what we are thinking and feeling. On the other hand, when under stress, we are hardwired for activity in visual, movement, and sound centers of the brain for self-protection. Therefore, drumming offers a non-verbal means of self-expression and engagement that can be useful in addressing trauma. (van der Kolk, 2014)
  • Rhythmic synchrony (a form of empathy) stimulates a reward center of the brain and leads to positive behavior. (Kokal, Engle, Kirschner, & Keysers, 2011) Synchrony, or mirroring, is akin to having a voice and being heard. Trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk, in The Body Keeps the Score, notes that: “Trauma almost invariably involves not been seen, nor being mirrored, and not being taken into account…Children will go to almost any length to feel seen and connected.” Beat the Odds® gives them this opportunity in a way that feels organic and safe. The experience of connection and safety provides an essential point of reference for resilience and, thus, is key to healing trauma.
  • With drumming, one can participate as much or as little as one likes, yet still be engaged and feel part of the group. Drumming is a contained activity, as everyone is seated, and participants feel safe behind their drum. Shared creative experiences offer organic opportunities for meaningful dialogue, development of empathy, and community building. (Freire, 1973) And they offer an opportunity for embodied social-emotional learning that is enduring. For example, “when students that don’t ordinarily get along are brought together for a positive shared experience, they form a group identity. One school counselor that we worked with noted that when she incorporated the use of a drum into her counseling groups, the students enjoyed sharing while drumming and stopped fighting with each other because, ‘you don’t beat up a member of your group.’ ” (Ho, Chinen, Streja, Kreitzer, & Sierpina, 2011)
  • Studies of group drumming with adults have shown measurable improvements in biological, psychological and social measures of stress, particularly when reflection and self-disclosure are incorporated. (Bittman et al., 2001; Fancourt, Perkins, Ascenso, Carvalho, Steptoe, & Williamon 2016) Research with other age groups also supports the benefits of this process. (Kirschner & Tomasello, 2009; Gerson, Schiavio, Timmers & Hunnius, 2015; Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer, 2011; Bittman, Dickson, & Coddington, 2009; Koyama et al, 2009)
  • Rhythmic strategies can be utilized easily in classrooms as a kinesthetic tool for facilitating learning, cooperative behavior, and a positive classroom environment.
  • Drumming offers an opportunity for students to shine, particularly those who struggle with academic subjects, and provides a positive activity alternative to unhealthy choices that might otherwise be made.

become a beat the odds® facilitator:

bto_faciltator-training_group_mike-featuredWe offer one-day Beat the Odds® facilitator trainings throughout the year. Trainings are open to all—from mental health professionals to teachers to non-profit personnel. No previous musical experience is necessary.

For information on our training programs, visit our Programs section.

We also offer onsite Beat the Odd® workshops for group stress reduction and community building. If interested in arranging a customizable workshop, visit our Services section for Professional Development offerings.


beat the odds® program delivery testimonials

“ . . . once we went through the [BTO] experience though, I have to say, my class is closer now, then I’ve ever probably had a class . . . and it’s because they’re able to express themselves, they’re able to take chances in front of one another, which is something that they do in class, but they were able to be all on the same level, and they were able to have these wonderful discussions through the rhythms . . . it’s made a huge impact. The conversations now that we have in our class are deeper then they were before we started. And everyone feels comfortable. So, now, because you took a chance with Beat the Odds, now you can come back and take a chance with math, or language arts . . . I completely recommend it. I wish we could do it every single week. I can’t see where we would be without it.” — Mr. Soqui, 6th Grade Teacher in the Newhall School District, excerpt taken from his video testimonial.

“I used the program in a setting that had special day classes, English language learners and then general population. The most significant result was the development of an inclusive spirit among my students. Drumming, a universal language, evened the playing field. It helped to build empathy, acceptance, and gave all children a chance to lead and shine. Students in general became more tolerant and generally happy.” —Dr. Deborah Bohn, Principal of James Foster Elementary School in the Saugus Union School District, who reported on the outcomes of Beat the Odds at Skyblue Mesa Elementary School, where she previously served as principal.

bto_facilitator-training_group“The classroom that I selected was an all boys class, several of them with serious behavior issues, a couple of the kids are on medications. However, once we started with the drumming, you would have never thought these children were nothing but well behaved young kids . . . Best of all, was the camaraderie that developed amongst the class members. They will not miss school on Wednesday so as not to miss the [BTO] class. A parent came early to pick up a student on the day we had the last class, this student refused to go and the parent had to come back an hour later when the class was over.” ­— Carmen Lima, psychiatric social worker in the Los Angeles Unified School District, CA

“As a supervisor of a counseling program in the LAUSD, I am always looking for ways to motivate, support, and rejuvenate my staff who are deployed in the schools hardest hit by the influences of poverty, gangs, drugs, and violence. They have responded with amazing enthusiasm to drumming and recreational music making . . . I know of no other intervention that has sparked the interest, enthusiasm, and hope in the counselors I supervise. The process seems to motivate the counselors to use the method with their students while bestowing measurable health benefits in the counselor delivering the intervention. It is a win-win for all involved . . . I am thrilled that several of our schools have purchased the drums and see the health benefits for themselves as healers and as a tool for facilitating healing and hope in our students.” — Karen Timko, former LAUSD Coordinator of Primary Intervention and Elementary Counseling Services

“I am sooooo amazed at the transparency of the students. This week we did the drumming of ‘I am valuable oh yeah.’ One boy said, ‘I feel valuable when my dad spends time with me. He doesn’t very often because he smokes and . . .’ At that point, he looked down. I think the class felt his pain even without him finishing the sentence. We went on to talk about how we make others feel valuable. Right after class the kids had recess and one of the boys was really mean. The others kids looked at him like ‘Really? We just talked about this.’ He was very embarrassed by his own behavior. Now that’s positive peer pressure. We also talked about trying new things and taking risks and not letting fear of failing stop us from trying new things. I teach 4-6 grade chorus. I have NEVER had so many kids try a short solo. They sang in front of about 75 kids. Wow! That is risk taking. I could go on and on. The program really is about giving kids a ‘home’ within their school that feels safe and loving. At least that’s what our drum circles feel like to me. Thanks for training me and giving me this amazing experience as a teacher.” — Jana Gruss, Music Teacher, Newhall School District, CA

“We have been having problems with [a boy] in my class. On Tuesday he attacked two students in my class, and threw objects in the classroom because I would not print something from a website he had visited. He had not been given permission to be on the computer, but remained there despite being told five times to get off it. He was still carrying a grudge about this at breakfast on Wednesday morning, when he refused to sit with the rest of the class at breakfast, muttering that he wanted his printout. He sat there scowling for 15 minutes. After breakfast we moved into the multi purpose room for drumming, and he followed us. Within five minutes of starting the drumming class, his whole face and manner changed. He started smiling, joined in the drumming with enthusiasm, and later volunteered to lead the drumming. I think the drumming is very therapeutic for students with emotional problems like him.” —Jenny Owens, Upper Elementary Special Education Teacher, Quincy Jones Elementary School, LAUSD

“I tried the first lesson with a focus group of 5th grade students today, and already saw positive feedback from them. When I asked one student how he felt at the end, he said. “Good”. I asked him to tell me more about that and he said, “I didn’t leave the class.” (He walks out or has to be escorted out of my room every week . . . if he even makes it to class at all from prior disturbances.) I even teared up a little! And that was just the first day, and me having no idea what I was doing! This program is truly inspired. Thank you so much!” — Melissa Fabbi, K-12 Music Specialist from Clark County School District, Las Vegas, NV

beat the odds® facilitator training testimonials

bto_music-motive_group_displaying-certficates“Life changing and incredible!!” — BTO Trainee

“Thank you so much for the fantastic workshop . . . the training was so well organized and flowed so well. One of the best I’ve ever been to, academically or otherwise. — Melissa Fabbi, K-12 Music Specialist From Clark County School District, Las Vegas, NV

“I enjoyed being integrated into the training so that I left with a sense of practice. I also liked the free spirit that was modeled and encouraged.” — BTO Trainee

“It was fantastic! Great pace with lots of information that was heartfelt and helpful. Thank you for the work that you do!” — BTO Trainee

Click here to read the complete list of testimonials for the Beat the Odds® program and facilitator trainings.

curriculum materials:

Written by the Beat the Odds® program developers, the easy-to-follow manual contains the scripted curriculum and booster/demo session. It is also full of pointers, explanations of the purpose of each activity, and guidelines for managing activities, behavior, and logistics. The program is designed to be deliverable with the manual alone, although we also offer a facilitator training program and DVD (which demonstrates the delivery of each activity in the program by our LCSW co-developer). Note that Beat the Odds® facilitator trainees receive a special, discounted rate for both the manual and DVD.

We have partnered with Remo, Inc. to be able to provide deeply discounted prices on drums and hand percussion instruments. These products are specifically designed for the Beat the Odds® Program and community use. They are durable, lightweight, sound adjustable for sensitive ears, and nest-able for easier storage.

training instructors and program development team:

Ping Ho - Headshot - 2016 - Low ResPing Ho, MA, MPH is Founding Director of UCLArts & Healing, which transforms lives through creative expression for self-discovery, connection and empowerment. UCLArts & Healing is an organizational member of the UCLA Collaborative Centers for Integrative Medicine, of which Ping is a Steering Committee Member and was the founding administrator. She was also the founding administrator for the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI), which led to the privilege of writing for Norman Cousins and co-writing the professional autobiography of George F. Solomon, M.D., founder of the field of PNI. In addition, Ping has an extensive background as a health educator and performing artist. She has a BA in psychology with honors from Stanford University, an MA in counseling psychology with specialization in exercise physiology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and an MPH in Community Health Sciences from UCLA School of Public Health. Ping is on the Council of Advisors for the Academic Collaborative for Integrative Health, a national network of educational organizations and agencies in complementary and alternative medicine, and the Leadership Council for the Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine. She was the principal investigator of the Beat the Odds effectiveness study that was published in the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 

giselle-friedman_headshot Giselle Friedman, LCSW is a licensed clinical social worker that is bicultural and bilingual in Spanish and in English. Giselle received her undergraduate degree from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and her master’s degree from USC School of Social Work. As a psychotherapist, she has worked in school settings, agencies, hospitals and private practice, with a focus on children and families. Giselle spent four years as a treating and on-call therapist for Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center’s Rape Treatment Center, Stuart House, and SM-UCLA Psychotherapy Group. She has been working as a full-time psychiatric social worker for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) since 2000. In this capacity, Giselle provides individual and group therapy to students and their families at several elementary schools. She also leads parenting classes and educates teachers and staff on topics such as children’s responses to trauma, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, childhood depression and anxiety, classroom behavior management, and addressing bullying behavior. Giselle is a member of the school Student Success Teams and she participates in her local district’s LAUSD Resource Coordinating Council and neighborhood community meetings.

mike-demenno_headshotMike DeMenno came across a magazine article in 1993 featuring Mickey Hart and Arthur Hull where the mission was to use drumming for community building and personal well being. Within a year, Mike began facilitating drum circles for kids at risk throughout Los Angeles. In 2003, Mike became the Manager of the first recreational music center. Under the mentorship of Remo Belli, the REMO Recreational Music Center has developed into an extraordinary place dedicated to bringing rhythm and music to people from all walks of life. Mike has also not only found himself working closely with Mickey Hart on several projects over the years, but also has been under the mentorship of Arthur Hull for the past ten years. Mike considers drumming to be his life raft. He maintains his passion for the drum set as well as helping others to experience playing music for personal joy.