Beat the Odds® (BTO): Social & Emotional Skill Building Delivered in a Framework of Drumming
UCLA researchers have shown that BTO can significantly reduce a spectrum of behavioral problems in children, such as behaviors related to inattention, withdrawn/depression, post-traumatic stress, anxiety, attention deficit/hyperactivity, oppositional defiance, and sluggish cognitive tempo (Ho, Tsao, Bloch, & Zeltzer,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.
Beat 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 any age group and also serves as an effective tool for community building with staff and families.
Find the original study and other publications, a summary document for administrators, testimonials, and media articles in our Resources section.
View a 3-minute inspirational video featuring students, a 6th grade teacher testimonial, as well as the 12-minute trailer for American Rhythms, a 2008 documentary film on BTO, following completion of the original study of its effectiveness.
Listen to the wellness team staff from Zamboni Middle School in Paramount, California, describe their experience implementing our program with their students pre-pandemic in this 4-minute video.
Purchase the Beat the Odds® curriculum materials or drum equipment via our online store.
- 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)
- Creative 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
We 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 Odds® workshops for group stress reduction and community building. If interested in arranging a customizable workshop, visit our Services section for Professional Development offerings.
“Beyond the fun, openness, vulnerability and connectedness that occurred, I found myself awestruck by the depths of the students reflections. Some talked about how this made them feel calm, others focused, confident, happy, etc. One student, who speaks in whispers, led a wave. A few shy students celebrated their names with loud, silly rhythms. . . . Within the first few minutes of the first class, I couldn’t believe how much insight I could learn about the health and hurts of my kids. This experience allowed me to gain so much perspective on students’ mindset and impulses, pains and insecurities. And of course, above all, we had a wicked good time. “ — Rebecca Perentin, Department Teacher Leader, English Language Arts (ELA), Delsesto Middle School in Providence, RI, reflecting after delivering BTO to her sixth and seventh grade classes.
“ . . . 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.
“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
“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
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.
Training Instructors and Program Development Team:Ping Ho, MA, MPH is Founder and Director of Arts & Healing Initiative, an organizational member of the UCLA Integrative Health Collaborative, of which Ping is a steering committee member. She was founding administrator for the UCLA Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, 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. She has a BA in psychology with honors from Stanford—where she was appointed to establish the still-thriving Health Improvement Program for faculty and staff, 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 Fielding School of Public Health. Ping is associate editor for the Creative Arts Therapies section of the Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine. She spearheaded the Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts (SEA) and the SEA on a Shoestring program of supportive art, movement, music, and writing for individuals or groups in any setting. In addition, she co-developed and served as principal investigator for the evidence-based program, Beat the Odds®: Social and Emotional Skill Building Delivered in a Framework of Drumming. She is co-author, with Erica Curtis, of the 2019 National Parenting Products Award-winning book, The Innovative Parent: Raising Connected, Happy, Successful Kids through Art (Ohio University/Swallow Press, March 2019).
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.
Participant Expectation Policy
In accordance with our mission and cultural, equity and inclusion practices, our aim is to foster a supportive, healing, and collaborative learning environment, whether in an online or in-person setting.
With this goal in mind, we ask our program participants and staff to acknowledge, and abide by, the following community agreements:
- Practice loving kindness, nonjudgment, and listening to understand
- Acknowledge your feelings and the feelings of others
- Practice cultural humility, acknowledging the lived experience of others and our own privilege and biases
- Hold in confidence what is shared here personally
- When speaking, be mindful of time for others to be heard
- Practice self-care and seek support as needed
- Keep cameras on, if/when possible, to maintain your presence
In order to protect participant and staff safety as well as the integrity of our programming, we have adopted and maintain a zero tolerance policy for inappropriate and/or triggering behavior, whether accidental or intentional. Such behavior includes offensive or discriminatory actions related to sex, gender, gender identity or expression, race, color, ancestry, religious creed, national origin, age, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, medical condition, genetic information, or any other characteristic.
Digital Media Release Policy
By registering, you give Arts & Healing Initiative approval to record this event, still and/or moving images from which may appear in printed materials or digital channels for archival, educational, or promotional purposes. Note that Zoom breakout rooms are not recorded.
In order to keep our programs affordable yet self-sustaining, we regret that we are unable to offer refunds on enrollment fees ; however, we are happy to provide you with credit good for one year from the date of the program toward the next offering of the same program or a different one. Credit applied toward a program with higher registration fees will require payment of the balance. In addition, credit may be applied toward purchase of curriculum materials for any program. Unused fees after one year would then be tax deductible to the fullest extent of the law because no goods or services would have been received for them.
Click here for our Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts refund policy.
- Enroll in a PhD, PsyD, or master's degree program in clinical or counseling psychology, social work, or marriage and family therapy, and then supplement your training with creative arts therapy training in your art form(s) of interest.
- Enroll in a graduate program in one of the creative arts therapies. Most of the credentials offered in these fields, which teach integration of specific art forms with mental health practices, are at the master’s level.
- Enroll in a two-year training program in Expressive Arts Therapies. These programs offer credentialing in the integrated use of a variety of art forms for therapeutic purposes.
- Enroll in our Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts. This comprehensive program is for anyone who wishes to learn how to design, deliver, and evaluate their own effective programs. It offers practical training that addresses what professionals may encounter in the community. Creative arts therapists who have taken the program have reported that it is invaluable and offers training in areas not addressed by their previous academic curricula. Many of our trainees come from the arts, education, mental health, and complementary health care. Some are fresh out of college and exploring career options, others are mid-career and wanting to add a therapeutic element to their work, and still others are making career transitions after many years in other professions.
- Enroll in our online, four-session Social Emotional Arts on a Shoestring training offered as part of our signature programming, or join us for the two-day online offering at our annual conference on Creativity & the Arts in Healing. This training offers scripted activities in four different art forms that are adaptable to any population, setting, ability level, time frame, or budget. It can be used with groups or individuals. It teaches the key principles of social emotional arts work.
- Additionally, volunteering is a great way to familiarize yourself with the field and what it is like to work with different populations. Here are several possibilities:
- We often seek translators/interpreters to volunteer their services at our workshops.
- There are two programs that partner with Arts & Healing Initiative, which often actively seek volunteers: ALMA (Addressing Loneliness through Movement and Art) and the Creative Minds Project (although Creative Minds Project may require more extensive training in order to be involved).
- Some of our organizational partners often seek volunteers as well: Safe Place for Youth, Able Arts Work, and The Miracle Project are a few examples.
- We also partner with a Therapeutic Arts Group for UCLA medical and undergraduate students.
- Professionals who have completed a formal degree program in the creative arts therapies, typically involving masters level integrated training in mental health and the arts with supervised internship hours and a certification option.
- Mental health practitioners who have created a social-emotional arts curriculum for a specific population that is well documented and tested.
- Graduates of our Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts who have demonstrated mastery of their training in the design and delivery of programs that maximize the social-emotional benefits of arts experiences.
- Recruitment is also often based in knowledge of an individual’s work and recommendations from trusted sources.
Beat the Odds® (BTO)
How can I order a copy of the curriculum?
The curriculum manual is available via the Curriculum Materials section of our website. You can choose from the manual alone or the manual with a DVD showing our LCSW co-developer delivering the program to a group of 4th grade students. The scripted curriculum is designed for delivery via the manual alone, although we also offer 1-day trainings here in LA and occasionally in other parts of the country. You can find information about our trainings in the Upcoming Program section of our website.
How much space to do I need to store drums?
- The drums nest together in groups of 3. For 30 drums, there would be 10 groups. Two groups can be stacked vertically on one another. Most of the groups are the same height (all tubanos) except for two, which consist of some different types of drums (tubano, timbau and djembe combo), so they are a little taller.
- A stack of two groups of tubano drums will require 1 foot square land space and 51" height. There would be three of these.
- A stack of a group of tubano drums and mixed drums will require 1 foot square land space and 58" height (an additional 7"). There would be two of these.
- Therefore in total, you would need a 5 foot square land space and 58" height to accommodate 30 drums. For 60 drums, you would multiply this by 2.
- If you do not have the height to stack 2 groups of drums on top of one another, but have a space with width, just assume a 10 foot square space to accommodate each stack of drums and a height of 32" to accommodate the tallest stacks. For 60 drums, you would multiply this by 2.
FOR 15 DRUMS
- You would need a 3 foot square space and 58" height for 15 drums.
- If you have more land space and less height, you need a 5 foot square land space and a height of 32" to accommodate the tallest stacks.
- Present our research findings and other scientific justification for drumming to your administration by sharing with them the document entitled, “Beat the Odds®: A Brief Summary of an Evidence-Based Program”
- Facilitate buy-in for the program by demonstrating the Booster Session in the curriculum with students or with staff.
- Show excerpts from the training DVD, which can be purchased with a manual via our Curriculum Materials section, particularly the clips demonstrating the "Student-Led Call and Response - Drum in Middle" and the reflection" (on empathy) that follows.