Research Plan


NIH hosted a workshop in January 2017 bringing together neuroscientists, music therapists, and supporters of both biomedical research and the arts to discuss the current landscape of research on the interaction of music and the brain as well as how music is used as therapy. A set of research priorities and recommendations for basic and applied research were identified that will:

  • increase our understanding of how the brain processes music
  • develop scientifically based strategies to enhance normal brain development and function
  • advance evidence-based music interventions for brain diseases and human health overall.

NIH is collaborating with other federal agencies to support funding opportunities and programs that study the application of music in health settings. Basic scientists, clinical researchers, musicians, educators, and music therapists will play an integral role in increasing our understanding of how the brain interacts with music, and this understanding is providing a foundation for promoting health and treating disease. To achieve this, Sound Health will focus on the following research:

Basic and Mechanistic

  • Establish what neural circuits are involved in the interaction between music and the brain
  • Investigate which neural pathways are enhanced by musical training
  • Examine to what extent music and language processing overlap
  • Explore the possible evolutionary benefit of music to Homo sapiens

Translational and Clinical

  • Better integrate mechanistic understanding with music therapy approaches
  • Develop and validate biomarkers for music interventions
  • Investigate the question of “dosing” in music interventions
  • Explore how music is “special” and develop methods to better understand and predict individual differences in responses to music interventions

Methods and Outcomes

  • Develop methods to integrate brain-based measurements with musical activities
  • Conduct longitudinal and ancillary studies to assess outcomes of music interventions on timescales matching developmental trajectories
  • Promote more rigorous reporting of interventions, methodologies, and results
  • Establish standardized and/or personalized outcome measures

Capacity Building and Infrastructure

  • Promote multidisciplinary research and capacity building through networks and collaborative studies involving neuroscientists, music therapists, musicians, and biomedical, behavioral, or social scientists
  • Support the training of neuroscientists and music therapists interested in basic or clinical research on music and the brain
  • Establish evidence-based best practices for music interventions intended to enhance wellness or treat/ameliorate specific health conditions

This page last reviewed on July 6, 2023