Making music for mental health: how group drumming mediates recovery


Background: While music-making interventions are increasingly recognised as
enhancing mental health, little is known of why music may engender such benefit. The
objective of this article is to elucidate the features of a programme of group drumming
known to enable mental health recovery.

Methods: Qualitative research was conducted with 39 mental health patients and
carers who had demonstrated recovery following engagement with a programme of
group djembe drumming in the UK. Data were collected through semi-structured indi-
vidual interviews and focus group interviews designed to understand the connection
between drumming and recovery and analysed using Interpretative Phenomenologi-
cal Analysis (IPA).

Results: Results revealed three overarching features of the drumming intervention:
(1) the specific features of drumming, including drumming as a form of non-verbal
communication, as a connection with life through rhythm, and as a grounding experi-
ence that both generates and liberates energy; (2) the specific features of the group,
including the group as a space of connection in and through the rhythmic features of
the drumming, as well as facilitating feelings of belonging, acceptance, safety and care,
and new social interactions; (3) the specific features of the learning, including learning
as an inclusive activity in which the concept of mistakes is dissolved and in which there
is musical freedom, supported by an embodied learning process expedited by the
musical facilitator.

Conclusion: The findings provide support for the conceptual notion of ‘creative prac-
tice as mutual recovery’, demonstrating that group drumming provides a creative and
mutual learning space in which mental health recovery can take place.

Keywords: Music, Group drumming, Recovery mechanisms, Mental health, Qualitative