12 February 2009

Bashing it out...

In news that’s hardly about to delight your neighbours, landlords and housemates, scientists and therapists have recently been highlighting the health benefits of drumming on mental and physical wellbeing. Experts and musicians alike have been singing its praises, with former drummer for The Clash, Nick “Topper” Headon, citing percussion as being partially responsible for his recovery from heroin addiction. He recently told BBC News, “Its a physical activity, it stimulates parts of the brain keeping the four limbs doing something different, and it is primeval as well - drums were the first instrument: before music, people were banging things together."

From group sessions patting out gentle African djembe rhythms to letting rip with high hat-assaulting punk, it is believed that drumming reduces stress, thus lowers blood pressure, and can also trigger specific brainwaves which foster clear thinking. It’s nigh-on impossible to sit behind a drum kit and not want to bash out a cack-handed fill, possibly stemming from bashing on saucepans with childish abandon all the way back to a more primitive, primal instinct. Indeed, Dr Bobby Bittman, neurologist and CEO of the Yamaha and Wellness Institute in Pennsylvania, believes that we are born with an inherent musical ability. “I believe we are hard-wired for music. There is evidence that even in the womb, the foetus has rhythm,” he said.

Of course, the idea of music as therapy is nothing new – testimonials of music’s effect on the psyche are innumerable, and evident in any part of daily life – revising to calm music, throwing shapes to 120bpm tracks, and amplifying a wallowing mood with equally downbeat music. But research undertaken by Guys Marsh prison near Shaftesbury, Dorset, puts forward the idea that music therapy can be strongly linked to reoffending rates amongst prisoners – the average prisoner is 61% likely to reoffend upon release, whereas, according to the study, the rate drops to around 15% with regard to prisoners who regularly attend music therapy sessions. Evidence has shown that self-expression via music and positive activity increases confidence, and helps offenders associate with crowds outside of troubled social spectrums.

Upon discovering this information, folk legend Billy Bragg established Jail Guitar Doors, an initiative intended to provide HMP prisoners with instruments. Named after a Clash b-side, one of the initiative’s most financially successful gigs paid tribute to the fifth anniversary of Joe Strummer’s death. Bragg said, “Hearing the Clash as a 19 year old had changed my life, so I guess I was looking for a project that underscored the transformative power of music.” Since its conception at the 2007 NME Awards, Jail Guitar Doors has donated instruments to more than 20 detention centres, at a cost of just under £500 per prison.

Although Daily Mail readers might be quick to cite the number of times that Pete Doherty has dragged his battered acoustic through Pentonville’s doors, Bragg’s project has seen some undeniable success stories. Theone Coleman, a former Guys Marsh inmate, was awarded the Young Achiever of the Year award from the Prince’s Trust, for his work in establishing and running a youth music project in Bournemouth. So next time you’re feeling frustrated or at loggerheads with the world, try sitting down, rollling up your sleeves, and bashing out a different kind of relief.

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