Former Rusted Root drummer teaches sound training to reduce stress

| Monday, Feb. 24, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A Pittsburgh musician is using his talent help people ease stress, boost energy and energize the brain.

Jim Donovan, founding member of the multiplatinum band Rusted Root, will host a seminar on sound empowerment training March 1 at the Metamorphosis Center in Peters.

“Sound empowerment is the idea that people can use sound as a way to better their wellness,” Donovan says. “You can utilize the power of rhythm and sound to relieve stress, get better sleep, etc. The training will show people how to do this and how to show other people how to do it for themselves.”

Donovan will teach participants how to clear the mind, lessen resistance and create deep relaxation and stress release.

“Sound is one of the most natural human tools,” he says. “Sometimes, we have mental or emotional blocks. The combination of drumming and voice — not singing but toning, or holding particular vowel sounds — helps the body feel more open.”

Nonmusicians are invited to attend as there are no prerequisites. Instruments and training manuals will be provided. The training is particularly beneficial to people who work in the fields of music therapy, yoga, wellness, social work, disaster relief, education and counseling, Donovan says.

He cites as example one counselor who trained with Donovan in Ohio. She had a patient who was selectively mute — the child hadn't spoken in three years after experiencing a trauma. The first time the counselor incorporated sound empowerment into their sessions, the girl was able to sound out the letter “M.” They drummed together for several sessions and by the end of two weeks, the girl was speaking.

As a retired music teacher, Annette Bernazzoli, 60, of Portage near Altoona, Blair County, began studying under Donovan four years ago to help with complications she experiences from multiple sclerosis.

“Whenever I get tired or achy, it relieves all that stress and makes me feel calmer,” she says. “It helps me deal with everyday life and relationships in different way.”

Bernazzoli also applies the training to drum circles she leads in her community, at nursing homes and with cerebral palsy patients at hospitals.

“They really like it,” she says. “They tell me they do a little at home to help fall asleep. They all report feeling calmer. I always notice everybody is in good mood when we're finished.”

Donovan's attentive nature helps the learning process, she says.

“Jim is an excellent teacher,” she says. “He's very caring about every single person, and you can feel his caring. As a teacher myself, I really feel like I got a lot out of it.” Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or

Tap technique

Jim Donovan's Stopwatch Tap Technique can help reduce stress in two minutes. He recommends you read all five steps first, and then give it a try.

• Close your eyes and imagine the sound of a stopwatch, like the one at the beginning of the show “60 Minutes.”

• Place your hands on the top of your thighs or on your chest.

• Begin to alternate your hands back and forth (right, left, right, left) mimicking the speed and sound of a ticking stopwatch. This tapping need not be loud, nor do you need to use much energy. In fact, the less physical effort you put into the tapping, the better.

• Try to keep the tapping going for at least 60 seconds or for as long as it feels good to do so.

• Breathe very slowly for the duration of the exercise.

If at any time you feel uncomfortable, open your eyes, take a few deep breaths and stop the technique. Remember, you are in charge of your experience.

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