Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Using Music to Relieve Depression

musical note.pngCaught in a terrible conundrum of whether I should break my diet over New York Super Fudge Chunk or Chunky Monkey at Ben and Jerry’s yesterday, I was reading the different fliers pinned to the community bulletin board inside this 200 square feet of ice-cream heaven.


One flier read: “Got the blues? Learn to play them!”

I don’t know whether to blame the kids or my depression for my stupidity (the death of my brain cells in the prefrontal cortex), but I had to read these seven words four times (that’s 28 words) before I understood the message, which is an important one: Music can help treat depression.


Back before my Prozac and Zoloft days, music was my sole therapy. I pounded out Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude to C Sharp Minor” as a way of processing my parents’ hostile divorce. My hour or more a day at the upright piano in the family room of my childhood home became a sanctuary of sorts for me. I practiced scales, cadences, and arpeggios until they were perfect, because rhythm–that sweet pattern between sound and silence–was something that I could control with the tip of my fingers. Emotion was translated into melody as I played the ivory and ebony keys, sometimes closing my eyes.

During the worst months of my depression, I blared the sound track of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Pretending to be the phantom with a cape and a mask, I twirled around our living room, swinging David and Katherine in my arms. I belted out every word of “The Music of the Night,” which I had learned to play on the piano for my stepdad as his birthday present one year (It is one of his favorites, too).


“Softly, deftly, music shall caress you,
Feel it, hear it, secretly possess you . . .”

The gorgeous song–like all good music–could stroke that tender place within me that words couldn’t get to.

Everything with a beat moves my spirit. Even Yanni, with his long hair blowing in the wind (I saw a video once…and the image unfortunately stuck). But especially the classics. I can’t get enough of Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, because I think so much better when these guys are playing in the background. (Consequently almost everything I publish has been written under their influence.)

And apparently I’m not alone. Because the website of the American Music Therapy Association lists 57 pages of research articles chronicling the successful use of music to help treat a host of different illnesses, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and chronic pain.


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  • Karl Shallowhorn

    Music has always been a central part of my recovery. Whenever I’m feeling down it is always there to lift my mood. I don’t know where I would be without it.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment spareparts

    Music helps me with a lot of things. Before I recently lost electricity in the barn, I played Classical Radio. It was good for me and for my horses. People made fun of me, but I don’t care.

    I used to sit on the entry way floor outside the formal livingroom where they gave piano lessons in one of the childrens’ homes I was in. My peers said it was creepy, and I was punished many times, but I would always find a way to listen. They said piano lessons for me would be a waste of money.

    I used to sing. I paid for my lessons myself. It got me through high school and into college (but practicing enough to keep my scholarship and play the piano well – yes… I was required to learn an instrument – while trying to keep a part- or full-time job to pay for school was a bit more than I could handle).

    There was also that nasty little alcohol and “stay-awake” pills addiction. It’s a wonder I made it out of college with a degree and my life.

    Anyway, to fill the void left by my dead radio in the barn, I try to sing, but as always, I can’t get 4 or 5 notes out before I start crying. Even old “Pop” songs I used to know, I just start crying.

    So, I dry up and just keep working. When I’m in the truck, I listen to Catholic Radio. There is something about not getting from point “A” to point “B” without having to shut the Classical music off and not hear the end (my favorite, for example, is “Die Moldau” by Smetana – it is quite long). I guess with EWTN, different voids are filled and I don’t feel “shorted” when I have to turn the truck off.

    Sorry to prattle… The chickens wake up early. Perhaps I shall get the electricity fixed in the barn soon.

    Great article, Therese. Thank you.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Myke McCormick

    Works for me. Some of the saddest music has lifted my sorrow when the happiest was just aggravating.
    Just as the most anguished of the Psalms speaks to my depression when, rejoice, just isn’t happening anytime soon.
    I think it is the reaffirmation “You are not alone. Others have been here before.”
    For me is not even “Others lived through this you will too.” It is simply others have lived what I am living. I may even be quite mad, I am not alone. Madness is after all, like laughter, so very human.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Bern

    I can relate. At some (extreme) times only one kind of music will do: it’s gotta be a Bach by Glenn Gould; or chant; or right now “Someone Like You” by Adele–the “straight” version, not the dance mix!!–no full orchestras Classical or Romantic please!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Kathy

    Music is wonderful… except for the days if I listen to the 60’s and it takes me back to angst of High School… depending on my mood that can bring back some not so good memories.. then onto the disco days of the 70’s.It is amazing that a song can take you right back to those days and the emotions of the period.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment steve

    Great piece (as always). As a banjo player, I have found that to be true LONG before a doctor finally correctly diagnosed my chronic, organically based depression. I came to love the Charlie Brown (“Peanuts”) cartoon where Charlie says every baby should be issued a banjo before being born :-)) … and, as my priest said to me a couple of days ago, what comedian and banjo player extraordinaire Steve Martin apparently said: “It’s impossible to listen to the banjo and feel sad.” It’s *possible* of course … but there’s wisdom there too LOL. Anyhow, kudos to this piece on the power of music from almost *any* instrument, the voice included!

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Ofie

    I know very well, that music can help those who are depress it help me.

  • http://AddaURLtothiscomment Dawn

    I know the days when the silence is irritating so to add animation and to remember positive emotions associated with music and to get my body moving I enjoy MUSIC!!! It is pumped into some great speakers at the gym!

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