Beating Depression with Drum Sticks, by Steve Benedetto


Feeling down, moody and depressed? You are not alone. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 1 in every 15 adults suffers from depression every year. That accounts for about 6.67% of the adult population in America. About one in six people (that is 16.6%) will experience depression at one time in their lives or another. In case you think the figures are a little bit abstract or insignificant, let me attempt to put the numbers in correct perspective for you. Information on the US census bureau states that America has a population of about 327.16 million as of February 2018. If we were to put this in perspective, we could say that about 21.8 million people suffer from depression in America alone every year - that is almost the entire population of Texas (28.7 million people are in Texas). About 54.3 million people in America have had or will have depression at least once in their lifetime. So next time you are feeling depressed and you think you are in it alone, just think of the fact that so many people almost as large as the entire population of Texas are having the similar challenges. On the bright side, depression can be treated with medicine, electroconvulsive therapy and with psychotherapy. However, we are going to look at a way to beat the depression – almost literally. We are going to see how music therapy can help in reducing depression. More specifically, we want you to beat out depression with your drumsticks.  But first, let us take a look at what depression is. 

What is depression?

We all go through rough times and at times life beats us up pretty bad. It is natural to feel depressed. We feel sorry and helpless in such moments. . It could possibly be the loss of a loved one from divorce, breakups or worse still death; or loss of a job or even our favorite Android phone. However, this is not depression – at least not clinically. Clinical depression is deeper than this kind of depression. Yes, these events may trigger clinical depression, but in clinical depression, the negative feelings you feel can affect your daily and social activities. Clinical depression usually lasts way longer than normal depression. Taking some points from the American Psychiatric Association, we can say that depression or major depressive disorder is both common and serious. It affects how you feel, think and act negatively. Symptoms of depression (of which some are similar to common grief) are: sadness or melancholic mood, anhedonia (loss of pleasure), changes in appetite leading to weight gain or loss which is unrelated to diets for the most part, sleeping disorders (insomnia or somnolence), fatigue, feeling of worthlessness and thoughts of death or suicide. These symptoms last for more than 2 weeks before depression can be diagnosed. Also, a difference between depression and grief can be seen. 

Now that we know what depression is and how to differentiate it from common grief or sadness, how can we turn to music therapy to heal?

What is music therapy?

Music therapy has been used in different times in history. Group drumming sessions have been used by soldiers in battling post-traumatic stress disorder after a battle. Music 'medicine' was even used in the ancient biblical times before Christ was born, when Saul was made mentally ill (possibly mania or manic depression) by an evil spirit and could only calm down after David played the harp (1 Sam 16:14-23)

Now, let us try to differentiate between the terms music therapy and music medicine. They both have similar elements which include either listening to different kinds of music or even participating in musical activities such as singing or playing musical instruments. They both aim at treating a particular ailment or they can assist in treating those ailments through music. Music medicine is used by people that are not necessarily certified as music therapists. Music therapy, on the other hand, is usually done by a professional. By a professional, we mean someone has been trained in an approved music therapy program. In music therapy, one cannot just use any music to treat depression and other sicknesses. In fact, the rationale for the treatment must be based on evidence. In short, it can be defined as a clinical and evidence-based use of music by a certified music therapist to achieve individual goals in therapy. As we said earlier, music therapy is not just about listening to music, but it can also involve participating in music in one way or another such as playing musical instruments or singing. However, there is a thin line between music therapy and music medicine. In most cases the difference gets so blurry, for example, in some cases, it can be called music therapy as long is it is used by medical professionals according to specified guidelines. This means in some cases that, if a physician decides to use music in the treatment of a sickness it can be called music therapy if and if only he follows the correct evidence-based guidelines. These varying definitions of music therapy and the similarities between music therapy and music medicine are some of the reasons why there is a thin line between music medicine and music therapy. The common features between music medicine and music therapy, however, are the fact that they both look at a scientific, artistic and clinically based approach of using music in the treatment of some ailments. 

Does Music therapy work?

Hopefully, we have managed to simplify the basic questions about depression and music therapy and give an insight into what they are. We are now going to see if this actually works. There is evidence that music therapy works! However, it is largely an experimental process. This, however, doesn’t mean it does not work as most medical processes used today were once experimental processes. It just means that this is a relatively innovative process in medicine and it has great potential. In a Cochrane review, out of a crowd of various studies, 28 studies were selected of which 6 actually used a certified music therapist (remember it's not music therapy until a certified music therapist is used). It was found that percussion music was most used as it was used by four (4) out of five (5) studies. The researchers chose different instruments based on the preferences of the participants. Some of the drums used include congas, cabassas, claves, egg shakes and paddle drums. The sessions included active participation such as playing the musical instruments and singing together; and passive sessions where the participants just listened to the instruments. In these studies, a very high level of improvement in depression was noticed.

Why should you beat your depression?

Like we said earlier we want to look at why you should consider beating your depression like a drum - almost literally. But first, lets still get more facts on how drums fare both in music therapy and in music medicine as compared to jazz and classical music. 

Classical music: 

Of the eight (8) studies compared by the Cochrane analysis, only four (4) showed good promise in reducing depression. The authors of the review blamed it probably on the fact that the participants did not have much choice in classical music and there were too. Anyway, more studies may actually show the benefits but in the meantime, it would be a good choice to look for a more effective means. Remember, the keywords in music therapy or music medicine are evidence-based music. Unfortunately, evidence has not been too kind on classical music. So we would move to Jazz music. 

Jazz music:

Five (5) of the studies used Jazz music. Jazz music in scored very good marks in reducing depression. But, there were many limitations. Much information was not given hence the researchers could not come to a solid conclusion. In two of the studies with the best scores, they combined jazz with classical music and so it was difficult to tell if the improvement was as a result of the jazz or classical music or both. This is actually because of the manner in which the studies were conducted. So while jazz seems to be better, information from some of the studies could be confusing. 

Percussion (Drums):

Nine (9) studies dwelt mainly on the use of drums. The drums can be used in two ways. On one hand, the participants may be made to listen to music comprising mainly of percussions. On another hand, the participants may be given drums of their choice and allowed to compose their own music. The second approach was used in the nine studies. Group sessions were used for most of the studies (only one study used individual sessions). Some of the studies had either a music therapist or professional artist accompany and instruct the participants on how to use the instruments. It was seen that most of their depression was reduced. The total reduction in depression was significantly above average in the studies analyzed. 

Other music genres like pop, rock, salsa, lullabies, Indian ragas and nature sounds (this is not an exhaustive list) were analyzed too but more data is needed to make a definite conclusion on whether these genres can help in depression or not. Also, more data would be needed to know the best combination of these genres in music medicine or music therapy.  

Making sense of it all

Like we said earlier, we want to look at why you should consider beating your depression. It was discovered that music therapy seemed to fare better than most other forms of therapy overall including cognitive behavioral therapy. More so, learning drums especially in groups seems to be the most beneficial music medicine or music therapy. If one was to try learning drums as a way to cope with depression, it would be more advisable from the evidence to do it with a professional in a group. Music therapy has been shown to improve motivation and willingness to partake in social activities. Learning drums also have a positive effect on anxiety. It is a huge possibility for depression to co-exist with anxiety as it is in many cases. Music medicine or music therapy can help people who have depression and anxiety. It is a new, emerging method of treating depression in medicine and it is possible to tap into its various benefits. According to the review, music therapy can be used when all other forms of therapy fail. This may be a pointer to the effectiveness of music therapy especially learning of drums as learning drums are seen to be better than most forms of music therapy. In addition, music therapy in addition to standard therapy does better than either method alone. In other words, one can learn drums in addition to his standard therapy to give one’s therapy a boost.


Here a few links to products for you to begin beating the heck out of depression!


Beating Depression with Drum Sticks, by Steve Benedetto Beating Depression with Drum Sticks, by Steve Benedetto Reviewed by Respectful Beats™ on Wednesday, May 16, 2018 Rating: 5

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