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The Guitar Hero of Social Drumming

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Drumming vs. depression & anxiety, backed by science

The healing qualities of music and drumming are getting more and more attention this decade. Bold claims are running around the internet on how beneficial drumming is. We at BeatOrbit felt necessary to dig deeper and see how the real scientific evidence is building up.

Depression – the heavyweight champion of our modern age

Dealing with depression and anxiety is a huge task for many and with our rushing, modern urban lifestyle it is becoming more and more challenging to find the appropriate cure. As the word “depression” is becoming well-known in many families, the arsenal of methods labelled as “beating depression” is also getting bigger every year. While we are aware that the is no single ultimate method to beat depression or anxiety, it seems that during the recent years scientists are finding a growing number of evidence about how playing the drums can be an effective addition to this healing arsenal.

Good news from London’s Royal College of Music

Professor Aaron Williamon, the Head of Centre for Performance Science in the Royal College of Music, London has already done some amazing work in this field. In a specific research, he and his colleagues experimented with more than 50 volunteers, who were suffering depression or anxiety, in a 10-week trial during which they played the drums in groups of up to 20 for one hour a week.

The results? They concluded that group drumming can reduce depression by as much as 38%. As well as reducing depression, the drumming sessions also saw a 20% drop in the symptoms of anxiety, while social resilience — the ability to relate well to others — improved by 23% and general mental wellbeing by 16%.

We went with drums partly because they are quite easy for most to play without too much of a learning curve,” he explains. “Our study shows that making music can be a powerful tool for promoting mental health.

The research is the first to bring together psychological and biological results to investigate how making music helps people with mental health problems. The findings echo existing research on the effects of antidepressant medication and psychotherapy on depression.

Another highlight from the research shows that the “social interaction” of making music in groups is a really important factor in reducing symptoms of depression. During interviews, people told that drumming provided a “form of expression and communication” and that the shared experience “boosted feelings of belonging and acceptance”. There were also benefits to be had in making new social contacts and learning new skills in an “inclusive and relaxed musical activity”.

Drumming as a motor for mindFulness

Besides science and research, social drumming circles have also been around for ages and these circles have shown that drumming is really a meditation in motion. It helps with keeping you centred in the present moment. Focusing is also a constant challenge of our attention-deficit times, but drumming is an activity that motivates you to stay focused for a prolonged period. Group drumming and rhythm allows people to increase connection with their body, which is a crucial component of anchoring yourself in the present moment. So drumming is one way of practising mindfulness, which we know can enhance the symptoms of depression and anxiety.

We at BeatOrbit know that many people feel some aversion to drum circles for their hippie connotations, that’s why we have rebuilt the whole experience from the ground up. Adding the 21-century packaging – with the panorama projections, the studio-grade interior and the high-tech audio with electronic drum pads – these all help with the ease of immersion from the first minute.

Constance Scharff PhD from Psychology Today also highlights that “many developing countries do not have the medical infrastructure or cultural norms in place to connect depressed individuals with medically indicated anti-depressant medications. Although historical interpretations of and treatments for depression vary widely from culture to culture, one common antidote may surprise you: communal drumming.” … “The effects of communal drumming can extend even further than we realize. A recent study conducted by researchers in the United Kingdom ought to put to rest what, if any, objective benefits communal drumming specifically could offer people struggling with depression.”

Drumming is also called as a “coping technique” in terms of managing depression. In this article, the author, Lee says “When I played them I was so focused that my mind was prevented from wandering and ruminating. I was in what is known in psychological terms as being in a state of Present Moment Contact. This concept works in the same way as mindfulness.”

Listening to music vs. Making music

It also echoes from our findings, that the positive health effects of “listening to music” are known for a long time, but “making music” is still a less researched area, that deserves more attention in the future.

The above-mentioned research highlights many mental health benefits of making music. The research examines the “Effects of Group Drumming Interventions on Anxiety, Depression, Social Resilience and Inflammatory Immune Response”:

“The potential of music within mental health has been recognised for nearly a century, and there is now a large body of literature that has demonstrated improved symptoms and reduced severity of conditions, from depression to schizophrenia, in response to music. However, the majority of previous studies have taken place within specific institutions and used a music therapy model, led by a professional music therapist with specific psychological aims. A much less researched area is whether general music-making within community settings, not led by therapists, can still enhance the mental health and wellbeing of service users. This is an important topic to explore, as a growing number of organisations in the UK and abroad are developing community music interventions for mental health, including Youth Music UK and the Mental Health Foundation. Research into their efficacy is needed to ascertain whether they have a therapeutic effect and to support the design and implementation of future interventions.”

Drumming with a short learning curve

It is also worth highlighting that making music is generally considered to be an exceptional task for exceptional people. It is mainly due to lack of skills or lack of opportunities (or both). Drumming, however – at least the basics of drumming – can be learnt fairly quickly and easily.

It is also reflected in Professor Aaron’s research, where they have chosen drumming on purpose, because of its relatively short learning curve. The learning process looked like this during the experiment:

Those in the experimental group took part in weekly 90-minute group drumming lessons, which were led by a professional drummer.” … “The professional drummer taught the participants the basics of how to use the drum, led the participants in a series of ‘call and response’ exercises where they copied the leader, and taught the participants rhythmic patterns” … “The complexity of the music they played gradually increased over the course of the program.

If you give it a go and try BeatOrbit – our sessions take the same approach: the sessions start with very easy warm-up exercises and by the end of the 60-minute sessions, participants gradually learn more and more complex patterns without knowing: they are already drumming!

Famous drummers vs. anxiety and depression

It is not just science that brings us evidence for the mental health benefits of drumming. Looking at the life of famous drummers can help too. Let’s have a look at two examples:

UK’s famous band, McFly’s Harry Judd has admitted his former battles of anxiety on many platforms and he’s become an advocate of mental health for good reasons. He’s also tried and officially recommended BeatOrbit on World Mental Health Day, 2019:

Also, famous drummer Alex Rüdinger has faced and battled depression via drumming – his story is very nicely covered in this article:

“Like many people, I’ve struggled with fairly severe depression and somewhat crippling anxiety, at varying points in my life. There was even a point when I genuinely thought I’d never be able to perform live,” he admits. “Somehow my passion for drums and music has always managed to outweigh those mental health issues just enough to force me out of my comfort zone, time and time again.”

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