A cartoon drawing of someone listening to music, while someone is playing with music in a colourful background.

Feature Spring 2024

Music and Wellbeing: New networks created by RCM Researchers

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‘Wellbeing’ has become a buzzword associated with music, sometimes in the form of vague, well-meaning but rather glib pronouncements about the benefits of music – which can sound, as a result, like a wholesome but potentially bland necessity, like eating one’s greens.

But in an age when the value of the arts seems to be questioned and challenged at every turn, backing up these claims demands more detailed research, along with providing realistic strategies for putting those ideas into practice. With their groundbreaking work, two members of the Royal College of Music research community, Professor Rosie Perkins and Dr Neta Spiro, have been doing just that.

The Music and Parental Wellbeing Research Network

Rosie Perkins is Professor of Music, Health and Social Science at the Royal College of Music, and was elected an Honorary Member in 2019. She is also an honorary Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London. Based in the RCM’s Centre for Performance Science, Rosie’s research investigates music and mental health from two angles – how music and the arts support societal wellbeing, and how to enhance artists’ wellbeing and career development. Her research has been supported by leading funders including UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), the Dutch Research Council, and the British Academy.  

Rosie has recently spearheaded the Music and Parental Wellbeing Research Network: the first of its kind to foster new, international, and interdisciplinary collaborations to explore the role of music in supporting parental wellbeing. The network recognises that parents’ wellbeing is suffering, exacerbated by factors such as health inequalities, austerity, and the COVID-19 pandemic. While there is already some evidence that music can support parental wellbeing, the network aims to diversify and expand the available information on this subject, crucially bridging gaps between practice and research, and between policy and implementation.


This essential research asks three main questions:

  • What musical practices could be used to support parents in a wide range of contexts?   
  • How can musicians working in this area be supported and cared for?   
  • How can music be implemented as a sustainable part of parental wellbeing? 

The complex nature of these questions calls for a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach in which a range of voices from practice, policy and research is heard.


A Summer Symposium at the RCM 

The Music and Parental Wellbeing Research Network is co-led by Professor Rosie Perkins and Dr Katie Rose Sanfilippo of City, University of London and runs from 2023–25. Funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, during 2024 and 2025 the network will be welcoming participants to a range of activities, both online and in person, including an inaugural symposium on Music and Parental Wellbeing at the Royal College of Music on 22 and 23 July 2025.

Rosie has also edited a book on this topic that will be published by Oxford University Press in May. The book illuminates how music can support mental wellbeing in pregnancy and the postnatal period, childbirth and perinatal hospital settings, and in the early years.


The Musical Care International Network

Dr Neta Spiro is Reader in Performance Science at the Royal College of Music and an honorary Research Fellow at Imperial College London. Two questions underlie her research:

  • What is the potential role of music in our health and wellbeing?  
  • What is communicated when we make music together?

Neta’s research on these questions has been from three perspectives: investigations of people’s reported experiences of music making, effects on people’s judgements, and analysis of interaction in music.

The Musical Care International Network grew out of Neta’s collaborative work. In the process of co-editing the book Collaborative insights: Interdisciplinary perspectives on musical care throughout the life course with Dr Katie Rose Sanfilippo, a new term, musical care, emerged. Musical care refers to ‘the role of music – music listening as well as music-making – in supporting any aspect of people’s developmental or health needs’. Alongside the book, they launched a series of animated films about musical care during each life stage.


In collaboration with Dr Katie Rose Sanfilippo and Dr Bonnie McConnell at The Australian National University, Neta then launched the Musical Care International Network, which aims to bring practitioners and researchers together to explore musical care from a range of disciplinary and cultural perspectives. There has been little international and interdisciplinary collaboration in this area, so the network is filling this gap through a number of collaborative ventures co-developed by network members including a series of online and in-person workshops, research projects and a collaborative publication.

Much of this work has been directly supported by funding from the Royal College of Music, with funding from the UKRI’s Knowledge Exchange Fund and Policy Support Fund administered by the RCM.

Related Research at the RCM

The new networks in this area are complemented by a number of projects by Royal College of Music research staff whose work addresses music’s role in wellbeing.

In addition to co-leading the Musical Care International Network, Neta is also co-leading with Dr Katie Rose Sanfilippo a research project exploring the experience of, and barriers to, musical care during the beginning of life in the UK. This project, funded by the British Academy and Leverhulme Trust – whose wider team includes Rosie and a multidisciplinary group with experience in music practices, policy and the challenges of early parenthood – will culminate in a Musical Care Family Festival in September 2024 at the Royal College of Music. The festival will be a celebration of research and practice in musical care during the beginning of life.

Within the Royal College of Music’s music education research area, Dr Dave Camlin has worked extensively on the potential of group singing and participatory music-making for human flourishing, and Dr Jess Pitt has pioneered new approaches to musical play as an enabler of young children’s communication and bonding.

Elsewhere in the Centre for Performance Science, Dr Tania Lisboa, in collaboration with Rosie Perkins and others, has undertaken extensive research on the role of musical engagement in fostering wellbeing amongst city dwellers in Bolivia and Brazil. This staff expertise has attracted a number of doctoral students wishing to pursue related projects on the health and wellbeing benefits of music.

Musical Care at the College

This research is having a direct impact on learning within the Royal College of Music. Since 2017, there has been a module on Performing Arts in Health and Wellbeing for students on the RCM’s pioneering MSc in Performance Science Programme. More recently, this module has been opened to postgraduate students and an accompanying undergraduate module – named Musical Care after Neta’s work and co-led by Neta and Rosie – was launched in 2023.

[quote quote="This is an exciting time for us, as we build on our research work to lead international networks that push forwards research and practice in music and wellbeing. Crucially, these advances feed straight back into our teaching and learning here at the Royal College of Music, and it’s inspiring to work with students and colleagues to think about the many ways in which people can engage in different kinds of music and the variety of roles that music can play in supporting people to flourish." author="Professor Rosie Perkins and Dr Neta Spiro"]

Get Involved

Join the Music and Parental Wellbeing Research Network 

Join the Musical Care International Network 

Find out more about the RCM research community 

Explore the Centre for Performance Science

Join us at the RCM Open Day when Student Services Manager Nicola Smith will give a talk on Supporting Musicians’ Health and Wellbeing, 1 May 2024, 3.15–3.45pm in the Performance Studio.

Joanna Wyld

Publications Officer Joanna Wyld is a writer and librettist who has written CD liner and programme notes for organisations such as the BBC Proms, Southbank Centre, Wigmore Hall and Salzburg Festival.


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