Music and Medicine Vol 13, No 4: Article Feature and Table of Contents

Published by International Association for Music and Medicine on

Featured article

Music intervention pilot study: Assessing teaching methods of group marimba classes designed to train spatial skills of older adults experiencing changes in cognition

Spatial skills decline in older adults, particularly those with cognitive challenges, leaving them less confident to navigate their environment. Spatial training has been shown to help with this decline, and engaging in music has benefitted the spatial skills of musicians. A paucity of research explores ways that music could serve as spatial training for older adults. This study explored music classes as spatial training for older adults in three ways: 1) Success rates staying spatially oriented on the instrument. 2.) Ability to read written music. 3.) Outcomes on a spatial orientation test taken pre- and post-intervention. 

We developed and tested a six-week marimba class that targeted spatial training principles for older adults with predementia or early dementia. We assessed the spatial skills with the Orientation Test from the Test of Visual Perceptual Skills pre- and post-intervention. Participants’ scores increased an average of 0.71, a clinically meaningful change (d = 0.3). They also demonstrated high frequencies of remaining oriented on the instrument, and more participants self-selected to read music without notes (p < 0.01) over the course of the intervention.

With future research, music-based training may be one way to support spatial skills during cognitive decline.


1. Can you provide an overview of the article and the topics it explores?

We studied the relationship between music classes and spatial-orientation skills in older adults with changes in thinking and memory. Spatial skills are important because they can help older adults find their way in their environment. We assessed the older adults’ ability to learn to read music’s notation and to stay oriented on the marimbas as the music became more complex. We also explored if spatial skills improved after the intervention, which they did with a small, clinically meaningful effect. This is exciting because it shows promise that music may be able to support older adults maintaining their spatial skills, potentially helping them navigate their environments more successfully every day.

2. What was the impetus for writing this article?

Older adults with changes in thinking and memory can have declining spatial skills, which show up in a variety of ways. One way we observed is that our participants would have trouble finding their way around a familiar community space, moving from room to room. Music has shown the power to support spatial skills in pianists through the reading of music’s notation and transferring that knowledge to the corresponding keys of a musical instrument. We wanted to see if we could introduce those same concepts – reading music and playing increasingly challenging repertoire – to older adults with changing thinking and memory.

3. What future research or areas of exploration would benefit the field and application of what was discussed in this article?

One of the most exciting findings was the older adults’ abilities to learn to read music’s notation system and play increasingly difficult repertoire. I treated our participants with the same expectations that I bring to teaching conservatory musicians! Science is showing that older adults with changes in thinking and memory benefit from rigorous music programs, and that it’s important to create new and challenging musical opportunities for this population. By increasing the rigor, we may be able to impart even more of music’s benefits for the brain, which is critical to support older adults with changes in thinking and memory. 

Jennie Dorris, MM, is a PhD student in Rehabilitation Science at the University of Pittsburgh and a Research Associate at Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Music. Ms. Dorris is a trained classical musician. She is interested in best practices of teaching music to older adults with memory loss, with a focus on music’s effects on emotional well-being, social connection, and cognitive function. She has developed music classes for the BriTE program, which serves older adults with changes in their thinking and memory. Her most recent project is assessing the feasibility of a digital intergenerational music program delivered by adolescent musicians for older adults. She was the lead author on a meta-analysis and systematic review published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society about the effects of active music-making interventions on older adults with mild and moderate dementia. Her music pedagogy and research has been disseminated widely, from the Daily Mail to Martha Stewart Living, and has been featured on NPR’s “Science Friday.”  She presented in 2020 and has been accepted to present in 2021 at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting.

Table of Contents


Have COVID norms changed how people communicate?

Joanne V. Loewy, Ralph Spintge

Full Length Articles

On the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven: How unwell was the genius musician during his lifetime?

Hans-Joachim Trappe

The effectiveness of music as an intervention for dementia patients in acute settings: A literature review

Kate Hack, Kate Martin, Chris Atkinson

Effects of choir singing on salivary cortisol levels and self-reported stress in university students

Gunnar Glauco De Cunto Carelli Taets, Ramon Werner Heringer Gutierrez, Leila Brito Bergold, Luana Silva Monteiro

Development of the Caregiver Confidence using Music Scale

David Kim, Brandon Ruan, Lee Bartel, Bev Foster, Chelsea Mackinnon

Music intervention pilot study: Assessing teaching methods of group marimba classes designed to train spatial skills of older adults experiencing changes in cognition

Juleen Rodakowski, Jennie L. Dorris, Diana J. McLaughlin, Dustin L. Grimes

A web app based-music intervention (MUSIC-CARE) reduces sedative requirement and anxiety during coronary angioplasty

Gilles Boccara, Aurélien Mazeraud, David Cassagnol, François Tarragano

The impact of music therapy in late-moderate premature infants, on their parents and their environment, in a Spanish neonatal intermediate care unit.

María Jáñez Álvarez, María Jesús Del Olmo, Cintia Rodríguez

Hearing the Music in COVID-19’s Medically-Induced Coma: An Interview with Dr. William C. Banfield

Suzanne B. Hanser, William C. Banfield

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