Transforming Communities
‘Play it by ear!’

Musicians must be flexible at all times and be ready to improvise around the patients’ needs. The following questions may help musicians find their own ways of catering for patients’ creativity, while celebrating their individuality:

  • What do I play and how do I adapt the music-making to the patient?
  • Do I play for the patients or with the patients?
  • Do I have intentions and goals?
  • How can I focus on the well-being of a patient rather than the “sick” being?
  • How can I involve family?
  • How can I involve staff?


  • Create accessible ways to engage patients and inspire them to learn new skills and make their own music (consider carefully the sounds or instruments you choose to introduce and work with).
  • Tune in to what the patients may want to express and how they want to express themselves through music.
  • Play your best by offering high-quality delivery and musical excellence.
  • Take musical risks such as introducing patients and families to music they may not have heard before.
  • Challenge yourself to change your musical habits.
  • Remember that children learn best through play and fun.

Examples of musical activities on the wards

The following musical activities can help musicians respond to patients’ needs by offering a choice of musical options (adapting tempos/dynamics/harmonies/timbres). These can also be used to include family members and staff (when appropriate) in the music-making:

  • Singing and use of voice
  • Free improvisation/ framed improvisation (within a chord or rhythmic structure)
  • Songwriting
  • Choosing and playing instruments
  • Sensory music making (touch, feeling textures/vibrations)
  • Exploration of sounds
  • Drumming
  • Technology (recording/apps)
  • Exploring different musical genres including families’ cultural background
  • Interactive music making
  • Storytelling and music-making
  • Imagination and role play inspired by music
  • Playing repertoire pieces and well-known songs
  • Performing for staff and families on the ward or in a performance.