Everyone who enjoys music knows it can make them feel good. They recognise the welcome of an old favourite, or the excitement of hearing for the first time something they know they’re going to love. Musicians and healthcare professionals have long been aware of the potential for music, played or heard, to affect our health; the earliest applications of music in clinical settings in the UK date back more than a century (1). More recently, research interest in these links has burgeoned across the life sciences, particularly here in Scotland. On June 23rd, the new Scottish Music and Health Network brought together more than a hundred researchers, musicians, clinicians and patient group representatives from around Scotland (with a few from further south) to discuss how to build the evidence for music as a means to improve wellbeing.
Presenters illustrated some of the ways that have been investigated. In video games such as Guitar Hero or those based on dancemats, points are scored by accurately striking indicated areas in time to music. Frederike van Wijck’s team at Glasgow Caledonian University have harnessed the rhythmic interaction of such games to improve stroke patients’ engagement with rehabilitation exercises, by making demanding and repetitive tasks part of something enjoyable (2). Other research has indicated that listening to favourite music can reduce anxiety, for instance in medical situations, or reduce the experience of acute pain. But what kind of music is this, and why does it work? Don Knox, also from GCU, described ongoing research to identify commonalities between the types of music people select to achieve these effects (3). James Robertson outlined research around music therapy, drawing on many years practicing and teaching in this field. Many delegates attended with an interest in the benefits of choral singing, or in the importance of music to people living with dementia, whose musical memories may remain less impaired than other memories. Dr Katie Overy and players from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra demonstrated the ReConnect music
intervention they are pioneering on dementia wards, and described how they hope to measure its impact. We also heard vivid testimony from Limelight Glasgow’s professional musicians who performed on the day. They had overcome considerable health challenges to achieve their vocation, but also felt playing music had helped them avoid debilitating consequences frequently associated with their conditions, such as isolation or mental health problems. Musicians from Drake Music Scotland showed in performance how they are using groundbreaking digital technologies to overcome health-related barriers to music-making; and throughout the day, members of the public were at the front of the queue to ask questions, a reminder of the importance to research of the views of those whose health might be improved by music.
The day took a broad brush to an expansive field. ‘Music’ and ‘health’ each encompass a vast range of human experience and activity with many other areas for investigation (e.g. community music participation, traditional music or digital creation; palliative care, children’s health or developmental disorders), and a final discussion raised some key considerations in developing new research. If we are not to stab about in the haystack of all possible links between music and health, robust theoretical models are vital; understanding why and how music might have particular effects allows us to predict achieving these in other contexts. Delegates thought research needed to answer specific questions to identify which symptoms, conditions or groups could be affected, by which music, experienced in which ways. Alongside this focus, other delegates were concerned not to lose sight within a medical model of the overall impact of music on the whole individual. Making contact and sharing knowledge and practice across disciplines were also emphasised as vital to successful research in this field. For instance, patients may be most keenly aware of what effect music is having on their condition; musicians have unique insight into how music can be tailored or participated in; healthcare professionals and clinicians have expertise in identifying and treating health conditions; and researchers are well placed to assess current evidence and gaps in it. Those present also called for research to be planned so that as many people as possible are aware of, and understand, its implications when completed; and to ensure that those results would be able to inform clinical practice as far afield as possible.
Over the next year and a half, these are the issues on which the SMHN will seek progress. It was uplifting to see the excitement of everyone in the room at the potential in this field, and at the realisation that those in other professions shared their convictions about music’s importance. We hope to see the numerous connections made translate into new research showing how different groups could benefit more from music. If you are interested in the Network or in attending the next research event then please comment on this post, or sign up to the SMHN website at the link below.
More details on the SMHN event at: http://www.smhn.hss.ed.ac.uk/groups/mapping-future-music-and-health-research-scotland
MacDonald, Kreuz & Mitchell (2012) Music, Health & Wellbeing. Oxford University Press.
(1) Bunt, L and Stige, B (2014) Music Therapy: An Art Beyond Words (2nd edition). Hove: Routledge.
(2) van Wijck, F, Knox, D, Dodds, C, Cassidy, G, Alexander, G and MacDonald, RAR (2012), Making music after stroke: using musical activities to enhance arm function. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1252: 305–311. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2011.06403.x
(3) Knox, D, Beveridge, S, Mitchell, LA and MacDonald, RAR (2011) Acoustic analysis and mood classification of pain-relieving music. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 130: 1673. doi: 10.1121/1.3621029