It might not have worked for such legendarily gloomy composers as Beethoven, Schumann or Morrissey, but according to academics making music can help overcome depression.
Researchers found that adults who were given music therapy sessions, in which they played drums or instruments such as xylophones, showed fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety than those who just had standard counselling.
They suggest that it helped patients express their emotions as well as well as being a pleasurable activity in its own right.
Professor Jaakko Erkkilä, who led the study at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland, said: “We found that people often expressed their inner pressure and feelings by drumming or with the tones produced with a mallet instrument. Some people described their playing experience as cathartic.”
Prof Christian Gold added: “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care including medication, psychotherapy and counselling, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety.
“Music therapy has specific qualities that allow people to express themselves and interact in a non-verbal way – even in situations when they cannot find the words to describe their inner experiences.”
The clinical trial, the results of which are published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, involved the study of 79 people aged between 18 and 50 who had been diagnosed with depression.
Of these, 46 received anti-depressants, psychotherapy and counselling while the other 33 were also offered 20 music therapy sessions.
The hour-long sessions involved a trained music therapist helping the patients make music using an African djembe drum and a digital mallet instrument, with their tunes recorded so they could be listened to later.
The participants in each group were followed up afterwards, with the researchers finding that those who had the music therapy had “significantly” fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety three months later.
Differences remained after six months but they were no longer statistically significant.
The fact that most of the music group attended 18 out of the 20 sessions they were offered suggested they were interested in it.
In an accompanying editorial Dr Mike Crawford, Reader in Mental Health Services Research at Imperial College London, said: “This is a high-quality randomised trial of music therapy specifically for depression, and the results suggest that it can improve the mood and general functioning of people with depression.
“Music-making is social, pleasurable and meaningful. It has been argued that music making engages people in ways that words may simply not be able to.”