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Diagram showing how music can improve health and wellbeing
How music can improve health / wellbeing
MacDonald et al (2012) 'Music, Health & Wellbeing' (OUP)

The Scottish Music and Health Network (SMHN) facilitates and shares high-impact research on links between music and health.

A collaboration between the Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), the Network was established in 2014 by Professor Raymond MacDonald and Dr Katie Overy, with £33,000 funding from the Carnegie Trust.

Managed by Dr Graeme Wilson, SMHN has become a lynchpin for music and health research in Scotland, widely recognised as an authoritative community for researchers and practitioners.

To date, the Network has hosted a series of events with capacity audiences and its website has over 200 registered members.

Events to date - from papers to performances

SMHN events have brought together delegates from:

  • international higher education organisations, including eleven in Scotland;
  • a wide range of community music providers;
  • healthcare professionals from Scottish NHS organisations including music therapists, nurses, consultants and GPs;
  • representatives of patient organisations including Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, Pain Concern and three Clinical Research Networks;
  • representatives of key funders including the Chief Scientist Office and Creative Scotland.

The first SMHN seminar, Mapping the Future for Music and Health Research in Scotland, highlighted Scottish research into musical interventions for stroke rehabilitation, pain management, improving quality of life with dementia and the amelioration of child trauma.

Performances from Limelight, Drake Music Scotland and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra illustrated how health benefits can arise from musical participation, even if not primarily a therapeutic activity.

A workshop saw delegates discuss research ideas with a panel including representatives from the Scottish Children’s Clinical Research Network, the CSO Patient Engagement Group and NHS research governance.

A second seminar, Developing Research on Music and Health, focused on innovative uses of music to benefit the health of adolescents, children in hospitals and young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder or profound learning disabilities, with a performance by Edinburgh’s Cheyne Gang Choir for individuals with COPD demonstrating their innovative approach to offering a music activity as a referral for a specific condition.

A two-day international conference in Glasgow, with the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE), attracted 130 delegates and saw presentations from the UK, Philippines, Indonesia, Czech Republic, Australia and the USA on music applications targeting dementia care, ADHD, cancer, mental health and other conditions.

Most recently, the third SMHN seminar on Music as a Preventive Strategy for Public Health set out challenges to evaluating health impacts of community singing and instrumental music initiatives, with performances by Sing for Life Speyside and Sensatronic (SENSE Scotland) underlining the value of music for community health.

Looking to the future - opportunities and challenges

A key aspect of all meetings to date has been delegates’ open discussions of issues, including the need to ask more specific research questions about music’s effects, to work towards prescribing music as a treatment, and to meet the high demands of longitudinal research into potential long-term benefits.

Commonly perceived challenges include capturing impacts beyond medical models alone, and meeting policy agendas for social or health benefits when objectives are primarily musical.

Greater and more effective use of existing data to support smaller research plans and making a common toolkit of robust outcome measures available are seen as valuable goals.

SMHN is viewed as a valuable facility for sharing and supporting the collection and understanding of useful data, providing peer review, increasing the feeling of community, supporting music practitioners to lead research, and helping to bridge theory and practice.

New research arising from the network includes:

  • a programme at GCU funded by Alzheimer Scotland and Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation to develop the Playlist for Life music listening app for people living with dementia and their carers;
  • a proposal to AHRC for a five-year investigation into benefits of community singing at individual and community levels;
  • a proposal to the Chief Scientist Office for a pilot study to inform a trial of an outreach musical intervention on dementia wards.