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Music Therapy and Music Psychology: Living Apart Together

January 28, 2003; Annemiek Vink (



1) Recently, I have written an article in the Nordic Journal (Volume 10(2), 2001) about the possible relationship between music psychology and music therapy. How can they assist each other in developing a theoretical framework explaining how music induces emotion? This topic has interested me since years. In this paper if have suggested some routes for establishing a sound relationship, where there is plenty of room for discussion. I hope this forum will be a place where people can engage in the discussion how music induces emotion and what theoretical grounds there are from a music therapy perspective.

2) Since the ancient Greeks, we have tried to describe how music induces emotion in the listener or patient. Each music therapist who will read this discussion, will recognise these words of music and emotion as the first two words spoken and experienced, when they were born as a music therapist.
Regretfully, some of us were born as researchers and the first words they spoke must have been something like: why and how? So, they start a walk in the seemingly dead-end street of describing this process. Why want to research the obvious, is then the obvious question? Or maybe the question should sound why are we not able to find a sound scientific argument to provide an answer to the question why we respond to music emotionally?
In this forum, I hope we can explore some of these streets, already walked by Egyptians, as also by well-known EU-members as Pythagoras. The question how music is related to emotion is as ancient as history itself.

3) Can music indeed induce emotions or de we project emotions to music? Generally, discussion forums are filled with researchers. Every one is a music listener from day one. I hope this discussion will be full with all sorts of responses from all sorts of perspectives to the question how music and emotion are related and how research findings can be useful for music therapy.

Annemiek Vink

Read Vink’s original article.

January 28, 2003; Thomas Wosch (



Special Perspectives of Music Therapy in its Basics of Emotion Psychology and Music Psychology*

(*This discussion contribution is a slightly modified part of a paper from the world Congress of Music Therapy in Oxford 2002)

1) The following discussion contribution with answers to four questions of Annemiek Vink’s article on music and emotion is a contribution from music therapy basic research. Music therapy as a separate discipline in social and human sciences is not the addition of different subjects such as medicine, psychology and musicology. Own questions, practice, needs and perspectives characterize music therapy also in its theoretical basic. The ”living apart together” e.g. of music therapy and music psychology is very usefully on the one hand. But on the other hand there are also differences between both, which can enrich and clarify music therapy and music psychology cooperation with new perspectives from both sides. Annemiek Vink underlined that topic and the following contribution tries to give answers to her questions and more details of it within music therapy.

2)In the very beginning most of all the first question is interesting: What definitions of emotion exist and are they even relevant for music therapy? According to emotion psychology emotion is very strongly determined by cognition, acting and behavior-changes. One of the most important emotion-psychologists, Caroll Izard, gives the following definition: “Emotion is the basic motivation system of a human being which primarily causes its acting, behavior and thinking.” (Izard, 1994, 19) As in classical psychoanalysis, emotion has a function in the context of other psychological functions such as thinking, behavior etc. It has no value of its own. But especially in the relationship of music psychology and emotion psychology Vink refers to Sloboda (Sloboda, 2001) and underlines that there is a shift in the definition of emotion in music psychology. The use of the term “emotion” shifts to the terms “musical experiences” and “experience of emotions” (Vink, 2001, 145-146). The “experience”, which can be determined very individually, seems to become much more important, than the term “emotion”.

3)I want to add here that we need not go far away from emotion psychology to make that shift. In the ninties in German emotion psychology, Dieter Ulich did these shifts as an emotion psychologist. But it is very interesting that emotion psychology as a whole, was not so interested in that shift until today. For music psychology and music therapy that can be much more important. Ulich defines the kernel of emotion as the experience itself (Ulich, 1992, 56). That means that emotion is most of all the “being touched”-state of a person. That “being touched”-state has no more function than to be experienced by human being. The special kinds of “being-touched” are very different. These differences vary widely from person to person.

4) So finally the function of emotion as a basic cause of psychological functions is lost. Emotion has its own separate value in the psyche-system. The individuality of emotion is much higher than the former functionality of emotion of a means to an end. However, does emotion cause something as a “being-touched”-state in the end if they do not cause acting, behavior and thinking directly? – My first research on music and emotion could provide one answer. One result of music- and verbal-analysis was that different emotions could be connected with different stages of the individual‘s object-relationship (Wosch, 2002, 253). This object-relationship is not the same as that describes Kernberg (Kernberg, 1988, 340-346) within the context of affect, drives and primary motivation. The object-relationship here is less complex then Kernberg’s definition. Here these are different stages of “being touched” by a person, a thought, by an object etc. So it is the individual, who is “being touched” and who has internal or external individual relationships within the musical experience of emotions. Nevertheless, the first level, the kernel of emotional experience is the “being touched”. – It is like play, without purpose. – Afterwards, emotion could be but isn’t necessarily motivation etc. However, every emotion as a “being touched”-state seems to be caused at the second level by different stages of object-relationship. So in the end I give the following definition of emotion in the context of recent emotion psychology and musical experience.

Figure 1 – Definition of emotion (Wosch, 2002, 255)

Figure 1 – Definition of emotion (Wosch, 2002, 255)

5) This definition may give the first answer to the first question on emotion from figure 1. So next question is, which music is to investigate “emotional” for music therapy? – In her article Vink concludes that in most music psychology research classical music is studied and these studies are generally focused on healthy adults (Vink, 2001, 148 & 154). In music therapy practice we have quite another situation. People of all ages with special needs and disorders are the clients and in most cases active music therapy with very elementary music structures is used. Therefore, there are problems in transfering the knowledge of music psychology directly into the field of music therapy.

6) On the other hand, for receptive music therapy there are some very interesting findings. The American receptive music therapy method Guided Imagery and Music works on the basis of associational processes. In the studies of music psychology, which Vink consulted, music listening seems especially linked to earlier associations, which are different for every individual. (Vink, 2001, 152) Helen Bonny, who developed GIM, stated (1986 in Vink, 2001, 154), that the personal music preference was not necessary for succesfull GIM-processes. Despite that, Gerdner (2000) demonstrated that person’s music preference into account reduced agitation in demented elderly more effectively. We have here two different groups of clients in music therapy and two different results in the applications of music experiences concerning the emotional dimension of music preferences for the therapeutic process.

7) However we can see different approaches in the same client group. GIM works on the basis of associational processes and the music experience. The German receptive method Regulative Music Therapy (Schwabe & Röhrborn, 1996) works on the basis of self-perception and music experience. Associational processes are less important in that method. Much more important are descriptions of the experiences of the clients while listening to music (classical symphonic). In different stages, the client perceives more and more of himself and of the music step by step. Within that process the client also percieves “emotion-reactions” to all perceptions, even emotion to emotion in one stage. Later, the client can regulate problematic self-perceptions, and especially in this stage of the therapeutic process an emotional shift takes place. One result of Sloboda‘s music psychology research was that music is generally used as a “change agent” to alter mood state (Sloboda 1992, in Vink, 2001, 151). So it may be that GIM and Regulative Music Therapy use these potencies of music experience in a context of disorders with different therapeutic processes – one of them with the associational process as musical experience- and emotional process, and the other with the self-perception-process as also musical experience- and emotional process. In both methods music preference is not so necessary for a positive therapeutic process. The high hedonic value of music preference, which Berlyne investigated in healthy adults (Berlyne 1971, in Vink, 2002, 146), does not seem to be useful for the clients of GIM and Regulative Music Therapy and their emotional process. Contrary to this client group, music preferences are very important for demented elderly. Also, the shift of a possible object-relationship (see figure 1) seems to be a much longer process in GIM and Regulative Music Therapy than in the use of music in a much shorter process of a few minutes to reduce agitation in demented elderly.

8) There are additional studies of music psychology concerning emotional shifts or the “change agent” music, as Sloboda named it (Sloboda, 1992, in Vink, 2002, 151). In these studies one point is very important. Music psychology aproaches try to focus on the musical elements itself. That means, that in-music-elements are studied. One example is Meyer, also mentioned by Vink (Meyer, 1956, in Vink, 2002, 152). In his study listeners experienced thrill when a new or unprepared harmony occured. That means that unexpected moments occured in the process of music and the mood state altered to thrill. Tempo changes, climax of musical theme and harmony-changes are in-music-elements which are studied by music psychologists regarding an emotional shift. But the music, which is studied, in most cases is classical music. There seems to be some differences between the “emotional” in-music-elements of classical music and of elementary music created in active music therapy. Even more dimensions of music seems to be relevant for the “emotional” in-music-elements.

Figure 2 –

Figure 2 – “Emotional” in-music-elements

9) In figure 2 you can see in the white frame below the in-music-elements of the music psychology studies mentioned. Music there is seen as an only one-dimensional time-Gestalt. The change in tempo of the music occurs as a whole and in this way an emotional shift is experienced. But there are also interactions within the music. In music sociology these moments are called “intratextural interaction” (Mäkelä, 1995, 196). It can be studied in symphonic pieces between different instruments or in a piano piece between the right and the left hand etc. It can also be studied in active music therapy improvisation, e.g. between the instrument of the client and that of the therapist. For such a case I investigated a number of improvisations with 40 raters, who evaluated the emotion-process of the improvisations by listening to them. I studied the “intratextural interaction” with a measurement instrument of music therapy. I used the IAP (Improvisation Assessment Profil) of Kenneth Bruscia (1987) and its modification in the Autonomy-File by Tony Wigram (1999). I made a further modification. I did not assess the improvisation as a whole, as like in the white frame. I assessed the client’s and the therapist’s intrumental play second by second with the IAP. You can see this in figure 2 shown by the different arrows in the yellow frames.

10) Different emotion-parts within every improvisation created by Cluster-analyses were one result of the emotion-rating. These different emotion-parts of one improvisation corresponded to different intratextural-interaction-patterns within music. In that case-study emotion interest was connected with more music follower-patterns, fear with more resister-patterns, anger with music leader-patterns of both players, sadness with leader- and follower-patterns and joy with leader- and partner-patterns. Last but not least partner-patterns also characterized interest. These patterns occur most of all in the specific emotional parts of the improvisations. The different lengths of the arrows show different intratextural-interaction-patterns as different in-music-elements. It was only possible to show this if in the IAP-item melody the sub-elements tonality and harmony were neglected.

11) The music therapy improvisations which were studied were sometimes atonal and sometimes tonal. This was an important additional information. But a lot of German active music therapy is atonally based; that is tonality, as used in Nordoff-Robbins-music therapy does not appear. In atonal improvisation in therapy the music psychology findings regarding tonality and harmony do not seem to be important for emotional shifts. In the second case of tonal improvisation, e.g. Nordoff-Robbins-music therapy this would be interesting to research whether or not tonality is important for emotional shifts. However the intratextural-music-interaction-patterns could be an object-relationship within music structures.

12) Another question is whether there is a difference between cognitive music specialist’s listening of music and the more affective listening of “untrained listeners”, mentioned by Vink (2001, 153). If harmony is a more cognitive element of music then we need to leave it, if we are to match our position to the emotional experiences of “untrained” clients (in music therapy research). – Further it also would be interesting to research, whether changes in different interpretations of a musical piece could explain different emotional experiences from the point of view of the music, if the intratextural interaction of music differs. This could be very interesting even for the choice of music in receptive music therapy methods like GIM and Regulative Music Therapy. These are a lot of questions, which cannot be answered by a single study. We need research networks in order to deal with that. Another point, to consider is, that the single-emotion-excerpts within one improvisation were very short. They were only between 1 and 2 minutes in length.

13) With this short duration of emotion as affect in music-and-emotion-research I’ll come to the last question: In which process do emotions develop “in music”? For the last time I’ll refer here to Vink. She concludes that generally, emotion term lists of emotion psychologists “are very difficult to interpret in the context of music” (Vink, 2001, 150). But if emotions are of short durations in music, which was a result of my research mentioned, and these short durations are characterized in emotion psychology as affects, then music therapy has to consult affect-systems. Beyond that, music therapy research also needs to distinguish which emotion is an affect and which is more a cognition or behavior etc. In older and newer German emotion psychology one can find a very strong system of affects in the context of psychobiology.

Figure 3 – Affects and emotion-process (Wosch 2002, 253)

Figure 3 – Affects and emotion-process (Wosch 2002, 253)

14) You can see this in figure 3. This began with the work of Hans Lungwitz (1970) and it was further developed in newer EEG-emotion-research of Wielant Machleidt (1989, 1994; Gutjahr e.a. 1994; Brüggenwerth e.a. 1994). The five affects, which are written in capitel letters on the figure are Lungwitz‘s five basic affects. Machleidt developed the ideas of Lungwitz further. He offers the only closed process of emotion in all emotion and affect systems of emotion psychology. Mary Priestley gave seven emotions values based on the emotion psychology of the fifties. It is very interesting that these values are similar to the process, which Lungwitz and Machleidt describe (Priestley, 1994, 35-36).

15) Bunt and Pavlicevic (2001) also studied improvisations concerning five emotions: tenderness, fear, anger, sadness and happiness, but mention no inner process-character. However, their five emotions are also very similar to the names of Lungwitz‘s five mentioned basic affects. They seem to be very “musical” emotions. I can confirm that with my study (Wosch, 2002).

16) Machleidt‘s “experience process” starts with interest, is followed by anxiety, then anger occurs and afterwards sadness, which is finally followed by joy, the hedonic end of this process. In the manner of the main stream of recent emotion psychology Machleidt describes a special shift in that process, which occurs in the stage of anger, as the “acting treshold” (acting shift, Machleidt, 1994, 353 & 359). But on the other hand he names this process the “experience process” (Machleidt, 1994, 353), so he seems to be very near to the above mentioned “being touched”-definition. In my study of the music- and verbal-analysis within the context of the affect of anger, this stage seems not to be an “acting threshold”. It became an “object-relationship-threshold” (Wosch, 2002, 253). The client follows in the first improvisations the affects or musical structures of the therapist. Within the stage of anger the client separates from the therapist very clearly, also with his own music elements. Afterwards, the client begins a long period of sadness with different developments. During that period of time different affects were evaluated for client and therapist. The individuality of the client and a separation-process to inner object-relationship could start then within the stage of anger. Therefore, interest seems to show a tendency in the direction of the object, anxiety a tendency away from the object, anger the fight for separation from the object, with elements of moving toward the object and away from the object. After that, sadness continues separation from the object, including separation from the self of the experienced person. Last but not least, joy turns toward the self as the hedonic end stage of the experience “being touched” by something. In these senses it was possible to add 21 further emotions to these five categories. The emotion psychologist Philipp Mayring characterized these further emotions in a very similar way, also as emotions in the sense of “being touched” (Mayring, 1992). – We were able to evaluate short excerpts of music therapy improvisation using these different emotion based on the five basic affects. It was also necessary to understand emotion in music as an on-going process, not as a static experience. It seems that emotion can be studied only as an on-going process of “being touched” and of object-relationship even within short pieces of music of only two or three minutes in music therapy improvisations.

17) To make a long story short, following theses for music and emotion in music therapy could be concluded:

  1. “Being-touched” as the core experience of the individual can be considered the basic element of emotion, in its definition within music therapy. German emotion psychology, which does not follow the main stream of differential emotion psychology, offers this very important perspective on emotion. Also, in music psychology the function of emotion for acting or emotion as a basic motivation system has been studied very little. The musical experience is an experience first of all. Even if music is a “change agent”, the shift of a mood, meaning here of an emotion is the shift of an experience too.
  2. Musical material in music therapy, especially the atonal elementary material, has special characteristics which can differ from those pre-structured material such as classical music. In-music-elements of the music therapy material can focus quite different elements. Therefore tonality and harmony could be more cognitive rather than affective elements if musical interaction within one moment, the so called “intratextural interaction”, characterizes a single emotion. This should be studied further, also with regard to possible cues for single emotions on the side of music within the individual-music-relationship. These “intratextural interactions” differ in pre-structured musical material each time it is interpreted. The elementary elements for music therapy seem to be timbre, dynamics, rythm and melody.
  3. Emotions in the musical experience are affects of short duration. They move from one affect to another as a continuous process within a few minutes. Basic affects and related emotions were seen on the last figure. Just as the emotional experience changes, we can also observe a change in object-relationships over time. Musical material, as a material of time, could deepen the conciousness of such processes and is itself always a continuous process.

18) These theses are very special. They come from music therapy research, are to prove further in music therapy research, but they give also new perspectives and theoretical basics from music therapy research to music psychology. May be, the discussion in that topic could be continued here in the Nordic Journal discussion forum from researchers and also from listeners. To encourage also listeners in taking part with their experiences in that discussion, if they experience as an experience process, etc.


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Gerdner, L. (2000). Effects of individudualized versus classical relaxation music on the frequency of agitation in elderly persons with AD disease and related disorders. In: Intern. Psychogeriatrics, 12,1,49-65

Gutjahr, L.; Brüggenwerth, G.; Güvenec, O.; Wilcken, C.; Machleidt, W.; Hinrichs, H. (1994). Die Wirkung altorientalischer Musik im EEG. In: Z. EEG-EMG, 25, 126-129.

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Machleidt, W. (1994). Ist Schizophrenie eine emotionale Erkrankung? Affektpsychologisches Verständnis und integrative Behandlungsansätze der Schizophrenie. In: Psychologische Beiträge, 36, 348-378.

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March 17, 2003; Eliana Gilad, Founder, Voices of Eden (



1) I was very happy to come across your article in an internet search on healing music.

2) As founder of Voices of Eden, healing music method which combines an eastern and western approach to music, I have practical experience with the
psychological effects in a constructive way with both Arab and Jewish populations in the Middle East.

3) I am one who practices music vs. asking why and how. My focus is on the source of music which is healing by it’s very nature. Eastern music in
particular, with it’s microtonality and special forms – which are metro-rhythmic connect us with our inner beings.

4) The music has been used successfully with both Arab and Jewish listeners. When it is used in mixed company – it has a soothing affect that
releases excess tension allowing people to connect on a human level rather than by destructive stereotypes. It has been so successful in the neonatal ward
of one hospital that they are now embarking on a research study of the method.

5) You can hear samples, read and see pictures at www.voicesofeden.com.
Thanks for your insightful work. I look forward to hearing response from other professionals in the field.

All the best, Eliana Gilad

© 2003: Nordic Journal of Music Therapy
(last updated February 6, 2003 by Rune Rolvsjord)