Making Music for Mental Health

Mental Health Recovery through Group Drumming

Making Music for Mental Health was a project of Creative Practice as Mutual Recovery (CPMR), an international health humanities initiative supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (2013-15).

The project examined how group drumming can facilitate mental health recovery among adults with experience of mental and emotional distress based on a series of drumming interventions led by professional and student musicians. Adopting a mixed-methods approach, quantitative and qualitative data were collected throughout each intervention using questionnaires, saliva samples to measure stress response and immune function, and interviews.

The research showed that, compared with control activities, 10 weeks of group drumming led to significant improvements in measures of anxiety (by 20%), depression (by 38%), social resilience (by 23%), and wellbeing (by 16%). These findings were maintained at 3 months follow-up, with drumming seen to facilitate positive emotions, increased agency, a sense of accomplishment, task engagement, enhanced self-awareness, and social connections. The mechanisms behind recovery were identified as: artistic, due to the communicative and rhythmic nature of drumming; social, due to the accepting, safe, and connecting nature of the group; and educational, due to the inclusive and free learning environment expedited by expert musical facilitators. In addition, analyses of immune function (derived from saliva samples taken as part of the research) showed that drumming was also associated with a shift away from an inflammatory immune profile, a finding that is comparable with results from studies involving anti-depressant medication and psychotherapies.

Making Music for Mental Health has informed drumming and singing interventions offered through the Art for Ages project.

CPS team

Aaron Williamon, RCM (PI)
Sara Ascenso, RCM
Louise Atkins, RCM
Daisy Fancourt, UCL
Rosie Perkins, RCM

For the full project team,
visit the CPMR website.


ChelWest NHS Foundation Trust
University of Nottingham

Supported by 

Arts and Humanities Research Council

Learn more

Visit the CPMR website.

CPS publications

Ascenso S, Perkins R, Atkins L, Fancourt D, & Williamon A (2018), Promoting well-being through group drumming with mental health service users and their carers, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Health and Well-being, 13 (1484219), 1-15 [DOI].

Fancourt D, Perkins R, Ascenso S, Atkins L, Kilfeather S, Carvalho LA, Steptoe A, & Williamon A (2016), Group drumming modulates cytokine response in mental health service users: a preliminary study, Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 85, 53-55 [DOI].

Fancourt D, Perkins R, Ascenso S, Carvalho LA, Steptoe A, & Williamon A (2016), Effects of group drumming interventions on anxiety, depression, social resilience and inflammatory immune response among mental health service users, PLOS One, 11 (e0151136), 1-16 [DOI] [VIDEO].

Fancourt D & Williamon A (2016), Attending a concert reduces glucocorticoids, progesterone and the cortisol/DHEA ratio, Public Health, 132, 101-104 [DOI].

Perkins R, Ascenso S, Atkins L, Fancourt D, & Williamon A (2016), Making music for mental health: how group drumming mediates recovery, Psychology of Well-Being, 6 (11), 1-17 [DOI].

Perkins R, Fancourt D, & Williamon A (forthcoming), Making music for health, in P Crawford, B Brown & A Charise (eds.), Companion for Health Humanities, Routledge.

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