Music technology in therapeutic and health settings

In my daily work at the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, I research the therapeutic applications of music with people who have complex needs following acquired brain injury and have limited means of expressing their thoughts and feelings. Technology plays an important part in helping people with disabilities to communicate with the outside world, access leisure pursuits and control their environment. Music technologies help too, and include listening devices such as MP3 players, computer software, assistive devices to play musical sounds, and other electronic musical instruments. However, although these technologies are a part of everyday life in society, there is little information about how music technology can improve health and well-being in medical and educational settings.

Demonstration in action JPG

Demonstration in action – the symposium held in Boston, USA, April 2010.

The focus of this Study Abroad Fellowship was to explore how music technology is being used with people with special needs. I sought to document innovative and ground-breaking practice taking place in the USA where the use of music technology is being pioneered with children and adults living with illness, trauma or disability, and then make recommendations for international practice.

I based myself in a professional community where the use of music technology in therapeutic settings is thriving. Working from the Music Therapy Department at Berklee College of Music, Boston, I visited a wide range of medical, community and educational settings. I met with over 50 professionals, including therapists, technology specialists, and technology designers, using music technology in therapeutic programmes in the states of Massachusetts, New York and further afield. The fellowship was a wonderful opportunity for me to work with colleagues at Berklee such as Dr Suzanne Hanser from Music Therapy and Dr Richard Boulanger from the Electronic Production and Sound Department to define current practice and inform future directions.

An outcome of this project was a symposium held in Boston in April 2010, bringing over 100 interdisciplinary professionals from a number of regions in the USA to share experiences, skills and offer practical demonstrations on the latest technologies. Following this, there will be several publications for students and professionals on using music technology in health and educational settings.

The findings of the project reveal that technology often provides a solution when traditional tools fail to meet a person’s needs. In medical and educational settings, music technologies are being used across the lifespan: from neonates, right through to the elderly. This project has been an extraordinary stimulant and thought-provoker for many, bringing together musicians, health care professionals, teachers and the ‘geeks’; and has opened doors in new directions for training and practice which will influence the delivery of health care.

Wendy Magee PhD
Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability, London

Wendy was awarded a Study Abroad Fellowship grant in 2009, providing £14,540 over 5 months.