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What's Interactive Metronome?

Interactive Metronome (IM) is a PC-based interactive version of the traditional music metronome that has been shown to improve attention, coordination, and time management in children and adults with a wide range of cognitive and physical difficulties including Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD). The Interactive Metronome’s steady beat (called the “reference tone”) is played through stereo headphones, while guide sounds are played in each ear to prompt a student to respond closer to the central beat. The guide sounds direct a student’s responses toward the central beat much like the bumpers in bumper bowling direct a bowling ball toward the pins at the end of the alley.

As a student’s responses grow closer to the beat, the Interactive Metronome tightens the controls on the guide sounds—the electronic equivalent to moving the bumpers in a bowling alley closer and closer together. This never happens in a bowling alley, of course: eventually, the ball would have nowhere to go but the headpin! But with Interactive Metronome, a student’s responses can be guided closer and closer to the central beat, helping the student develop timing more efficiently than ever before. A human coach simply can’t provide the consistently accurate and encouraging feedback designed into the Interactive Metronome.

Interactive Metronome is used by professional golfers and pro sports teams as part of their training regimen. Young athletes, dancers, and musicians can benefit, too, because what they do requires precise timing. Interactive Metronome (IM) gives a competitive edge. For a learner who hasn’t yet developed good timing, IM can do even more: IM can change that learner’s life.


Who can benefit?

Do you, or does your child:

  • Have trouble staying on task?
  • Have difficulty getting or staying organized?
  • Struggle to do or remember more than one thing at once?
  • Seem unaware of date or time?
  • Arrive to school or appointments late?
  • Occasionally zone out, despite trying to pay attention?
  • Read choppily?
  • Move rigidly or clumsily?
  • Have nervous tics?
  • Have Parkinson’s, tardive dyskenesia, or tardive dystonia?
  • Lose track of details or the main idea while reading?
  • Struggle with reading comprehension?
  • Become agitated when doing math?
  • Have difficulty with rote memorization, especially of diagrams?
  • Leave tasks unfinished?
  • Tend to perseverate or become over-focused?
  • Get easily distracted?

If you see yourself or your child in three or more of these, you or your child likely has under-developed timing. Under-developed timing makes each of these worse. If you have under-developed timing, IM can help. IM develops timing.

What is timing? Why is timing important?

Timing—the ability to synchronize rhythms—is a foundational skill indispensable to maintaining an awareness of the passage of time. With good timing and good “temporal awareness,” learners can often remember events in the order they happened, without causal connections, simply because their minds “logged” the events that way. Without timing and temporal awareness, however, learners' ability to remember must usually depend on their awareness of context.

Even gifted learners who struggle with timing often spend so much effort trying to understand how the particulars of people or situations relate that they seem indecisive and, sometimes, miss opportunities to act on their conclusions. Lacking a spontaneous impression of the whole (gestalt), they sometimes spend so much time and energy “thinking things through” that they seem aloof or disinterested to others. Paradoxically, though they’re focused on connections among particulars when learning, they may forget on tests whatever particulars were not important in forming their ultimate view of the whole.

Other learners who struggle with temporal awareness—particularly when they also struggle with other cognitive delays—may give up too easily on some activities while perseverating on others. Even in instances in which such students can read fine, their attention to sequence and flow may be so impaired that they demonstrate little comprehension of a passage upon completing it.

Timing and Rhythm

Individuals with poor timing may have good rhythm, especially if they have been involved in aerobics or dance when young. Rhythm is the ability to “feel” a beat and produce a consistent cadence. Marching requires good rhythm; seeing the whole picture—quickly and easily—requires good timing.

Obviously, the skills of timing and rhythm are highly related: as one improves rhythm (the ability to maintain a consistent beat), timing generally improves, too—and vice versa. However, working on rhythm alone is insufficient to overcome problems with timing: not only must an individual with poor timing learn to “feel” an external beat, as he might in moving rhythmically to a regular metronome, he must also receive precise feedback about how many milliseconds his rhythmic movements fall before or after the beat. A standard metronome alone cannot provide this feedback. The Interactive Metronome, which uses a computer, sensors, and headphones to measure and report the milliseconds a user moves before or after the beat, can.

According to Jim Cassily, inventor of the Interactive Metronome, the Interactive Metronome “provides users with tonally and spatially changing guide sounds that tell them exactly when in time their actions are occurring, as they are occurring.” For the first time since metronomes were invented in 1692, timing can be thoroughly trained, thereby increasing students' attention, organization and punctuality, awareness of date and time, and ability to finally do more than one thing at a time.

Pre- and Post-Testing

Pretesting often includes an IVA+ Plus test, which measures ability to achieve, sustain, and switch between visual and auditory focus. A learner’s IVA+ Plus test may indicate that EEG biofeedback and/or The Listening Program would be beneficial to pursue before Interactive Metronome training. We refer out for the former, when needed.

Pretesting always includes the Interactive Metronome Long Form Assessment (LFA), which measures how close to a metronome beat a learner can consistently respond. If a learner’s IVA+ Plus scores suggest (s)he can succeed with Interactive Metronome training, we will look for three tendencies on the Interactive Metronome LFA:

1. Responses on the LFA that average more than 70 milliseconds (ms) off beat, suggesting difficulties with timing.

2. Responses on the LFA that are outside of a 70/30 early/late ratio, suggesting a learner has to remain stressfully vigilant, guessing when something will occur next, in order to keep pace with peers who relax and handle things as they come.

3. Rhythm scores (adjusted variability average) at least 30% lower than timing scores (adjusted task average). This tendency suggests that a learner’s good rhythm may be masking very real difficulties with timing; i.e., difficulties with timing may still impair a learner’s everyday life, even if his/her timing scores on the LFA are within normal parameters.

The more of the above tendencies we see, the greater the positive impact we expect Interactive Metronome will have.

Follow-Up

After Interactive Metronome training, it’s important to use—to max out and diversify—the abilities one has gained through training.

•   Intense PACE training helps learners stay in time even under pressure, ensuring their gains in timing are available whenever needed.

•   Slow-paced Feldenkrais classes help learners differentiate one movement from another, then coordinate movements together in time, helping to broaden the applications of improved timing.

•   Since daily stresses can inhibit a learner’s newfound timing from flourishing, continuing practice of complementary, stress-reducing interventions begun in tandem with Interactive Metronome (interventions like HANDLE) can be important, too.

•   Any participation in regular, rhythmic movement using both sides of the body—activities like dancing, aerobics, or using a Trikke—also helps. Because timing is so beneficial to these activities, participating in them regularly helps ensure the nervous system doesn’t discard newfound abilities as useless.

•   Finally, some people—especially people with Parkinson’s or other movement disorders—use a version of IM for home use (IM Home) to maintain and further refine their timing.

For everyone, but especially for adults with years of habits working around timing deficits, it’s important that family and friends acknowledge the changes in those who undertake Interactive Metronome training, as those changes become evident. As a person experiments with and gets used to newfound abilities, mistakes are bound to happen every now and then. Having the freedom to grow and change is vital.

Research & Resources

For reflections on the science behind Interactive Metronome, visit Dr. Kevin McGrew’s Brain Clock Blog.

To read research on this evidenced-based intervention, read IM-Specific Research.

For additional support, consider playing complex rhythms in the background, like those generated by:

•   Poly: A polyrhythmic sequencing app by James Milton for the iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch. Poly creates a background soundscape sufficiently complex to facilitate focus—without an overwhelming monotony, since the patterns of overlain beats are nearly impossible to “figure out.” Poly doesn’t provide user feedback like Interactive Metronome, nor does it require special hardware or guidance through an individualized program. It can be fun to play with, however, and some learners with timing issues and auditory hypersensitivities find the tracks it generates soothing to listen to while doing homework or tinkering around the house.

•   Brain Shift Radio: A new program by the Strong Institute, with some of the same benefits of Poly. The Strong Institute’s products are not based on Tomatis’s or Berard’s work, as are most listening therapies. They provide complex rhythms, rather than the complex frequency variations provided by most listening therapies (including The Listening Program).

If you’d like to give Interactive Metronome a try, or investigate whether Interactive Metronome training may be appropriate for you, why not give us a call today?