The Buddy Beat: music, wellbeing and recovery

31st August 2016

Community musicians Dr Jane Bentley and Tom Chalmers, of The Buddy Beat, tell us about the positive impact music is having on participants wellbeing and recovery.

“Group drumming better than Prozac, study suggests” –  announced a recent clickbait-worthy headline on my news feed. Could this be true? In fact, the actual study suggested nothing so simplistic – but offered a much more sophisticated and solidly-researched analysis: reaffirming what (as a drummer working in mental health services for 15 years) I have always believed. Making music is good for your mental health.

Buddy_Beat_image_4The study itself (Fancourt et al., 2016) makes fascinating reading. 30 people took part in a 10-week drumming programme, alongside control groups who took part in alternative social activities, such as quiz nights and book clubs. By 6 weeks there were significant decreases in depression and increases in social resilience in the drumming group, and by 10 weeks there were added improvements in coping with anxiety and mental wellbeing. What’s more, these changes were still evident 3 months later after the programme had finished. The researchers also found that the immune profile of the group also shifted from a pro to an anti-inflammatory profile – something worth considering given that many mental health conditions have underlying inflammatory immune responses (e.g. Dahl et al., 2014).

Beating a path to recovery – Dr Jane Bentley


So from theory to practice. For the past 9 years, members of The Buddy Beat drumming group have been firmly convinced of the power of music in their recovery, and have gained international recognition as a model of practice (Higgins, 2012). Set up in 2007 as a collaboration between lead occupational therapist Jeanette Allan (NHS Renfrewshire mental health services) and myself (as a community musician), the original aim was for the group to follow the ‘traffic light’ model of social inclusion:

  • red for closed activities in mental health settings (in-patient workshops);
  • amber for supported activities in everyday settings (weekly group sessions);
  • green for open activities in everyday settings (open public engagement).

Today, the group are a constituted voluntary group, with a committee comprised entirely of members themselves. The emphasis on social inclusion continues: the weekly workshops are there as an inclusive, supported space; there are frequent opportunities to perform at community events, and for those that want to take things even further, opportunities to give something back and act as workshop assistants – sharing the joy of drumming with the wider community through connections with groups involving young people with autism, older people – even conference teambuilding!

It’s much more than ‘just drumming’ however: the therapeutic nature of the weekly group arises from a carefully developed model which uses group rhythm activity to explore stages of self-expression, recognition and inclusion of others, joint interaction, group co-operation and creativity. The next stage of the journey will be devising training to enable others to make the best possible use of the benefits of the beat… watch this space…

I invited group member Tom Chalmers to share his perspective on what recovery means within the group, and how it is complemented by the work of the NHS-led Network employability service.

Tom’s perspective


My own mental health declined in 2006 and by 2008 I was a lost soul. I knew something had to change, having considered myself at the end of the line. Out of the blue I had an unexpected drumming experience with Dr Jane Bentley, who invited me along to The Buddy Beat. I instantly found that the music let me leave my worries at the door, giving me the first peace in many years. I kept attending and as the weeks turned into months, then into years, I found that the things lost to me: self confidence, self worth, friendship – were returning bit by bit. After a while I was asked at an event how I had found being part of the group and I replied: “It’s the one place where I can be me.” The Buddy Beat saved my life in no short measure and also opened it outwards, giving me the empowerment of performance, giving me back my creativity, and leading me into volunteering and employment.

I am not the only person to benefit of course, and I’d like to share another couple of examples from the group. Derek had been out of work for some time, and joined Buddy Beat despite never having been a part of any community group, wanting something to give him that life spark we all look for. He enjoyed the structure and sense of belonging, and found his own well being improved. Derek succeeded in gaining employment as a peer support worker in our local mental health hospital and has now moved on to full time work at our local general hospital. This means that he can sadly no longer attend our weekly sessions, but keeps in touch through our monthly open nights in Paisley.

Buddy_Beat_image_1Stacey also needed an activity to improve her self-isolation and confidence. She saw Buddy Beat perform in public in 2014 – was inspired to give it a go, and has blossomed since then: becoming an integral part of our membership. Using our group as a launch-pad, Stacey has volunteered with ROAR, a local older adults’ organisation, and Flexi-Care, who provide clubs for young people within the Autism/Aspergers Spectrum, and has received an award for her work at their recent annual awards bash! She has also joined a mental health drama group. We all see the change in her and appreciate that she can still find time to join us each week.

As for me, I am now a Peer Support Worker with The NetWork Service in Renfrewshire, which is an employability/vocational rehabilitation service for people with mental health & addiction issues. I sit with clients, sharing experiences, and of course credit Buddy Beat with my continued recovery. Over the last year I have managed to encourage close to 20 people to come and be part of the music, many of whom have become long term members. I firmly believe that the best way to move forward is to not let your mental health hold you back. There is a lot out there and with a little luck, you can find it and reap the benefit.

The Buddy Beat in action

Further information

The Buddy Beat is running a free drumming workshop as part of the Renfrewshire Mental Health Arts and Film Festival.

Visit The Buddy Beat website.

Dr. Jane Bentley is also the founder of Art Beat, an organisation specialising in music for health, social care and wellbeing settings.


Dahl, J., Ormstad, H., Aass, H. C. D., Malt, U. F., Bendz, L. T., Sandvik, L., … Andreassen, O. A. (2014). The plasma levels of various cytokines are increased during ongoing depression and are reduced to normal levels after recovery. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 45, 77–86.

Fancourt, D., Perkins, R., Ascenso, S., Carvalho, L. A., 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(3), e0151136.

Higgins, L. (2012). Community Music: In Theory and In Practice. Oxford University Press, USA. 97-100