Environmental Music in a Hospital Setting: Considerations of Music Therapists and Performing Musicians

Jing Wen Zhang, Mary A Doherty, John Francis Mahoney





Background: This qualitative study explores the considerations of music therapists and musicians who provide environmental music therapy (EMT) and environmental music (EM) in hospital settings. EMT is an approach within the field of music therapy, utilized by trained, certified professionals who apply live music to address the physical, psychological, and cultural needs of patients, caregivers, and staff in the hospital environment. EM is defined as live music performed by musicians in public areas of hospitals typically on a volunteer basis. Both models might appear to be similar in actual presentation. However, the underlying differences warrant discussion.

Objective: This study explores the similarities and differences between musicians and music therapists’ experiences of playing music within the sound environment of hospitals, and the unique considerations and impact their music conditions may have upon patients, and caregivers.

Method: Interviews were conducted with 6 musicians providing EM and 5 music therapists providing EMT. Data were analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach.

Results: Results suggest that music therapists and musicians consider their contributions to be beneficial to the hospital environment and to the emotional states of individuals, as well. Findings indicate that music therapists’ considerations are more goal-directed. Of the 11 participants- 5 were music therapists from urban hospital settings and 6 were performing musicians who were involved with community music programs. All of the interviewees expressed unique understanding of music’s value in medical settings, which can often be associated with anxiety and stress. Discussion includes considerations for collaborations between music therapists and musicians in the hospital setting inclusive of administrative understanding of the essential differences between music therapists and musicians.


Keywords: music and medicine, music and health, environmental music,
                    Environmental music therapy, community music, attunement,  

                    deep listening.                                                                                                                  multilingual abstract | mmd.iammonline.com

Full Text:

 Subscribers Only



Aasgaard, T. (1999). Music therapy as milieu in hospice and paediatric oncology ward. In D.

Aldridge (Ed.), Music therapy in palliative care (pp. 29–43). London: Jessica Kingsley.

Aasgaard, T. (2004). A pied piper among white coats and infusion pumps: Community music

therapy in a paediatric hospital setting. In Andsell, G., Pavlicevic, M. (Eds.), Community

music therapy (pp.147-155). London: Jessica Kingsley.

Biglin, T., Ma, J., & Lin, Y. (2013). Confronting a different great wall: Using environmental

music therapy to provide psychoemotional support for Asian and Asian-American patients in a radiation oncology waiting room. In J.F. Mondanaro & A.G. Sara (Eds.), Music and Medicine: Integrative models in the treatment of pain (pp. 451-468). New York: Satchnote Press: The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine.

Berglund, B., Lindvall, T., & Schwela, D. H. (1999). Guidelines for community noise. The WHO-expert task force meeting, London, United Kingdom.

Bruscia, K. (2005). Data analysis in qualitative research. In B. L. Wheeler (Ed.), Music therapy

research (2nd ed.) (pp. 179-186). Gilsum, N. H.: Barcelona.

Canga, B., Hahm, C., Lucido, D., Grossbard, M. L., & Loewy, J. V. (2012). Environmental

music therapy: A pilot study on the effects of music therapy in a chemotherapy infusion suite. Music and Medicine, 4(4), 221-230.

Chen, P. W. (2012). The clatter of the hospital room. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/08/02/the-clatter-of-the-hospital-room/?_r=0

Daveson, B., & O’Callaghan, C. (2011). Investigating the dimension of time: Findings from a

modified grounded theory study about clients’ experiences and descriptions of temporality or time within music therapy. Journal of Music Therapy, 48(1), 28-54.

Fowler, K. F. (2006). The relationships between personality characteristics, work environment

and the professional well-being of music therapists. Journal of Music Therapy, 43(3), 174-97.

Gatti, M. F. Z., & da Silva, M. J. P. (2007). Ambient music in the emergency services: The

professionals’ perception. Rev Latino-am Enfermagem, 15(3), 377-383.

Kuhn, P., Zores, C., Langlet, C., Escande, B., Astruc, D., & Dufour, A. (2013). Moderate

acoustic changes can disrupt the sleep of very preterm infants in their incubators. Acta Paediatrica, 102(10), 949-954.

Linder, L., & Christian, B. (2011). Characteristics of the nighttime hospital bedside care

environment (sound, light, and temperature) for children with cancer. Cancer Nursing,

(3), 176-184.

Marshall, C., & Rossman, G. B. (2011) Designing qualitative research (5th ed.). SAGE Publications.

Mazer, S. E. (2010). Hospital noise and the patient experience: Seven ways to create and maintain a quieter environment. Retrieved from www.healinghealth.com/images/


Musicians on Call. (2014). About MOC. Retrieved from


Oliveros, P. (1995). Acoustic and virtual space as a dynamic element of music. Leonardo Music

Journal, 5, 19-22.

Park, M., Kohlrausch, A., de Bruijn, W., de Jager, P., & Simons, K. (2014). Analysis of the soundscape in an intensive care unit based on the annotation of an audio recording. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 135(4), 1875-86. doi:10.1121/1.4868367

Preti, C., & Welch, G. F. (2013a). The inherent challenges in creative musical performance in a

paediatric hospital setting. Psychology of Music, 41(5), 647-664.

Preti, C., & Welch, G. F. (2013b). Professional identities and motivations of musicians playing in healthcare settings: Cross-cultural evidence from UK and Italy. Musicae Scientiae, 17(4), 359-375.

Salandin, A., Arnold, J., & Kornadt, O. (2011). Noise in an intensive care unit. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 130, (6), 3754-3760. doi: 10.1121/1.3655884

Rossetti, A., & Canga, B. (2013). Environmental music therapy: Rationale for ‘multi-individual’

music psychotherapy in modulation of the pain experience. In J. F. Mondanaro & A. G.

Sara (Eds.), Music and medicine: Integrative models in the treatment of pain (pp.

-468). New York: Satchnote Press: The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and


Schneider, S. (2005). Environmental music therapy, life, death and the ICU. In C. Dileo & J. V.

Loewy (Eds.), Music therapy at the end of life (pp. 219-225). Cherry Hill, N. J.: Jeffrey Books.

Shoemark, H. (2009). Sweet melodies: Combining the talents and knowledge of music therapy and

elite musicianship. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 9(2). doi: 10.15845/voices. v9i2.347

Stewart, K., & Schneider, S. (2000). The effect of music therapy on the sound environment in the

neonatal intensive care unit: A pilot study. In J. V. Loewy (Eds.) Music therapy in the neonatal intensive care unit (pp. 85-100). New York: Satchnote Press: The Louis & Lucille Armstrong Music Therapy Program.

Topf, M. (2000). Hospital noise pollution: An environmental stress model to guide research and clinical interventions. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 31(3), 520-528.

Treasure, J. (2012, June). Why architects need to use their ears [Video file]. Retrieved from


Trythall, S. (2006). Live music in hospitals: A new ‘alternative’ therapy. The Journal of the Royal Society for the Promotion of Health, 126(3), 113-114.

Ulrich, R., Quan, X., Zimring, C., Joseph, A., & Choudhary, R. (2014). The role of the physical

environment in the hospital of the 21st century. Retrieved from www.healthdesign.org/chd/research/role-physical-environment-hospital-21st-century.

Weiland, T., Jelinek, G., Macarow, K., Samartzis, P., Brown, D., Grierson, E., & Winter, C.

(2011). Original sound compositions reduce anxiety in emergency department patients: A

randomized controlled trial. The Medical Journal of Australia, 195(11-12), 694-698.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

by The International Association for Music & Medicine