Decoding the Music in Music Therapy: The Effect of Depression on Musical Expression and Emotional Processing


University of Jyväskylä, Music, Art and Culture Studies, Jyväskylä, Finland

Vilnius University Medical Faculty, Vilnius, Lithuania

Vilnius University Medical Faculty Psychiatric Clinic, Vilnius, Lithuania


Randomized controlled trials have shown that music therapy is effective in the treatment of depression, but further studies are required to explain the working mechanisms of a music-based psychotherapeutic intervention. The design and implementation of such a study is further complicated by the lack of consensus among therapists as to what constitutes conventional working practice. One potential way to introduce greater objectivity and facilitate research in music therapy is through the adoption of computational analysis. One of the criticisms of existing methods of computational analysis for music therapy is the lack of established links between computationally retrieved results and clinically relevant issues. The aim of this study is to bridge the gap between research and common clinical practice – to link computationally extracted musical features with psychological phenomena. 20 depressed and 20 healthy participants (without prior music therapy experience or professional training in music) were asked to perform a free improvisation on a keyboard. Depressed clients were patients at the psychiatric hospital in Vilnius, and the control group was matched in sex and age. All participants completed Geneva’s emotional music scale, Beck’s depression inventory and Hospital anxiety and depression scale. The experiment was expected to reveal lower musical activity levels (event density and RMS) and reduced emotional processing in the depressed population. Preliminary results on the effect of depression on musical expression and emotional processing will be presented and the implications of this study will be discussed.