Importance of Collaboration Between Research and Clinical Music Therapy Practice in Music Therapy

Published by International Association for Music and Medicine on

Who am I?

My name is Kyurim (Kyu) Kang, and I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for Music and Medicine. My interest in the brain and music has grown after a long study journey for my master’s and PhD under the supervision of Dr. Michael Thaut. Currently, I am in the fortunate position of being able to conduct and participate in brain-imaging research and working as a neurologic music therapist under the supervision of Dr. Alex Pantelyat, an outstanding violinist, neurologist, and assistant professor at Johns Hopkins. 

Throughout my journey, I have been trying to answer questions such as, “How and why can music be used as a therapeutic medium?” “Why is clinical and scientific evidence-based music therapy important?” “How can we apply it to clinical settings?” In this blog post, I would like to share my perspectives on why research and practice should be closely linked to maximize the benefits of the incredible tool that is MUSIC.

Brain and Neurologic Music Therapy

You may have noticed yourself tapping your feet or nodding your head while listening to music (automatically and subconsciously). A particular piece of music might also have brought back memories associated with a specific event.  

Throughout history, music has been used to express emotion, create social cohesion, represent beliefs and ideas, or teach, among many other things. The use of brain imaging technology has allowed us to understand how and why music activates the brain.

A variety of brain regions such as the auditory, motor, speech, language, memory, attention, and reward systems are activated when we listen to songs (or sounds), play instruments, or sing songs. Numerous studies have found that music triggers these higher cortical brain systems.

As a result of this relationship, music can be utilized in clinical settings to support not only general well-being concepts, but also specific therapeutic outcomes, such as motor/gait training, speech and language rehabilitation, and cognitive restoration. Through tremendous advances in basic neuroscience, music perception, cognition, and production, translational clinical research paths have been created.

Neurologic music therapy has applied evidence-based clinical and brain research to clinical settings based on the mechanisms that underlie music perception and cognition 1.

Why should we do research?

Graphic created by Kyurim Kang.

Besides contributing to the scientific field, research can also directly or indirectly benefit our communities and patients. 

Brain imaging research could provide us with more objective information about how music therapy is conducted for patients.Researchers have previously used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the degree of similarities in electrical brain activity between music therapists and patients2,3 or non speaking children and their parents during music sessions2,4

These interbrain synchrony levels during music sessions can be viewed as objective measures of patient-therapist and patient-caregiver interaction. For example, when therapists observe reduced brain activity synchronization between them and their patients in certain moments and frequency bands, they could apply another approach or plan further sessions to provide better music therapy sessions.

Clinical and brain imaging research will also enable us to determine the number and duration of sessions that are appropriate for certain populations and conditions. Patients will be able to receive more individualized and tailored treatments in this way.

Research and clinical practice should be close friends!

Graphic created by Kyurim Kang with image from

Research and clinical practices should be close friends – research needs practice, and practice needs research. They need to support each other!

To provide effective music therapy sessions to individuals, it is essential to use research-based music therapy practices. Also, patient-oriented/centered research should be based on clinical experiences. Researchers often miss the most important component – “why are we doing this?” We need to carefully consider the impact and contribution of this research to patients’ quality of life and functional performance. Translating knowledge to the community is crucial, and this should be one of the key goals! 


  1. Thaut, M. & Hoemberg, V. Handbook of neurologic music therapy. (Oxford University Press (UK), 2014).
  2. Kang, K., Orlandi, S., Lorenzen, N., Chau, T. & Thaut, M. H. Does music induce interbrain synchronization between a non-speaking youth with cerebral palsy (CP), a parent, and a neurologic music therapist? A brief report. Dev. Neurorehabilitation 1–7 (2022).
  3. Fachner, J. C., Maidhof, C., Grocke, D., Nygaard Pedersen, I., Trondalen, G., Tucek, G., & Bonde, L. O. “Telling me not to worry…” Hyperscanning and neural dynamics of emotion processing during guided imagery and music. Frontiers in Psychology, 10, 1561 (2019).
  4. Samadani, A., Kim, S., Moon, J., Kang, K. & Chau, T. Neurophysiological Synchrony Between Children With Severe Physical Disabilities and Their Parents During Music Therapy. Front. Neurosci. 15, 380 (2021).
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