Music-based health intervention research
The use of music in clinical settings is an age-old practice, however only few of these methods have been scientifically evaluated or understood. Although the application of music to health was long considered non-scientific, its highly prevalent use, together with increasing evidence of replicable neurological responses to music, calls for systematic clinical investigations. Given that music provides a complex, emotionally charged stimulus, with many aspects that may drive any observed effects (i.e. perceptual stimulation, potential participatory elements, social aspects, etc.), dedicated investigations of the separate elements of musical activities promise to yield important and useful results with implications for future intervention design.

Our projects on music, health and well-being include investigations into musically cued movement in rehabilitation contexts, effects of music listening and participation in healthy aging and dementia, applications of musical imagery, and more. In these projects, we make use of brain imaging methods (EEG, (f)MRI), behavioral lab settings, and clinical paradigms.


Image credit: Scottish Music & Health Network,

Image credit: Scottish Music & Health Network, MacDonald (2012)

Music & movement research
Moving to music is widespread, in healthy situations as well as in clinical settings, where music might, for example, be used in the rehabilitation of movement. In these interventions, there is often some sort of entrainment with music, but sometimes sound is also produced with musical instruments, providing auditory feedback as extra information of the movement that is being practiced. The current literature has put forward ideas about how either of those mechanisms may be effective in relearning a movement, but they have not directly been compared. The results of this comparison will not only give insight into how movement is related to music but may provide a direct input to music interventions for movement disorders.

Imagery research
Imagination is a large part of our lives, but its cerebral correlates are still poorly understood. The idea that imagination influences perception or action, or even other cognitive functions, is widely accepted, with the most obvious example seen in athletes and musicians who imagine target performances while carrying out movements. One thing that is hampering systematic investigation of this fundamentally human cognitive function is the variety of phenomena that are named under the same term. In the neuroscientific literature, the functional differences between different types of imagery are often lost or neglected. The term ’imagery’ may be used to refer to implicit predictions of action outcome, working memory rehearsal, thinking about the future, mental manipulations, and various other functions. These cognitive phenomena do have something in common, in that they involve some form of a mental model or simulation, and are shown to overlap with modality-specific cerebral networks for perception or action. However, they differ substantially in terms of subjective experience, and there is no indication that they should share neural substrate, which is one of the issues I address in my research.


The Scottish Music and Health Network (SMHN)
The University of Edinburgh, UK, Glasgow Caledonian University, UK
Carnegie Trust, September 2013 – September 2015
Music is fundamental to human social life around the world, and there is a growing understanding that music can be an important influence on our health and wellbeing. Further research exploring this association can provide evidence of how patient and public wellbeing can benefit from enjoying and participating in music, and from its therapeutic application.
The Scottish Music and Health Network (SMHN) is a collaboration between Edinburgh and Glasgow Caledonian Universities, funded by the Carnegie Trust to facilitate high-impact research on links between music and health. As well as maintaining communication between researchers, practitioners and public, SMHN programmes events in order to publicise and inspire new research in this field.
SMHN’s objectives are:
>To create active research infrastructure for Scottish researchers in the areas of music and/or health, focusing on collaborations across disciplines and institutes
>To set up pathways for translation of music and health research into practical applications
>To set up knowledge transfer channels between researchers, practitioners, patients and the general public
> To establish and publish best-practice guidelines for the development of evidence-based music interventions to benefit health
Research for the Scottish Government has shown that those participating in cultural activities report better health and satisfaction with life, and SMHN aims to build on existing research strengths to establish Scotland as a world leader in the emerging field of music and health.

Let the music move you: involvement of motor networks of the brain in music processing.
(Acronym: MusicMoves)
The University of Edinburgh, UK
Marie Curie Program FP7-PEOPLE-2010-IEF, September 2011 – September 2013
Previous work has shown an intricate connection between music processing and movement in the brain. Motor network activation is also reported for imagined music, and may as such be applied to existing imagery-based movement rehabilitation paradigms. In this project we pose two main questions. The first concerns the extent of the additive involvement of motor areas while moving to auditory cues or auditory imagination, which is investigated with functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI). The second question addresses the effects of cued movement training paradigms on motor learning, as well as plastic changes in the brain. Pre- and post training changes in brain structure and connectivity will be measured as well as the behavioral output of the training. The outcomes will address unanswered issues that are relevant to existing movement rehabilitation paradigms. Additional to furthering our knowledge of imagery mechanisms in the brain, the results will be directly applicable to the clinical arena, as well as training in high-level skill acquisition.

VEST: Visualisations for E-learning-based Speech Therapy
St Maartenskliniek RD&E, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
STITPRO grant Nijmegen, January 2011 – January 2012
The purpose of this project is to improve the visual feedback in an existing web-application for speech therapy (E-learning based Speech Therapy or EST, Beijer et al 2010, DOI: 10.1089=tmj.2009.0104). This application, meant specifically for Parkinson’s Disease patients, allows users to practice independently with meaningful feedback on their performance by comparing their own performance to a goal performance.

BrainGain Link
Brain-Computer and Computer-Brain Interfaces: devices for detecting and modifying brain activity for ill and healthy users using invasive and non-invasive methods
Donders Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
SmartMix program, 2007 – 2013
Detecting and modifying brain activity is currently one of the fastest developing areas of research. It promises to bring applications that have long been thought to be only science fiction, ranging from mind-controlled computer games to so-called mental prostheses and treatment for conditions previously thought untreatable. BrainGain is a Dutch research consortium consisting of researchers, industry and potential users of Brain-Computer and Computer-Brain interfaces. The program started in September 2007 and is funded by SmartMix, a Dutch initiative to support applied research. BrainGain is researching possibilities of applications for both ill and healthy users, and aims to eventually manufacture off-the-shelf products making use of their research results.

Online interpretation of imagined temporal patterns from EEG: the next step toward neuronal control of motor and communication processes
Donders Centre for Cognition, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands
STW/NWO Cognition NGT, September 2005 – September 2009
Recent studies have shown that imagery of patterns in time, both of auditory sequences and of motor behavior, gives rise to almost the same pattern of neuronal activity in the central nervous system as the actual perception or performance of the same pattern. We are using this to develop new methods that enable patients with impairments of the motor system (like ALS) to control devices and even to communicate. The key idea of this work is to measure temporal modulation of EEG while imagining temporal patterns, such as musical rhythm, and to classify these signals in discrete categories.