Music therapy and musical stimulation in the context of prematurity: A narrative literature review from 2010-2015

J Clin Nurs. 2018 Jan;27(1-2):e1-e20. doi: 10.1111/jocn.13893. Epub 2017 Dec 5.


Aims and objectives: To examine empirical studies of musical stimulation and music therapy carried out with preterm infants and their parents published from 2010-2015.

Background: Prematurity constitutes a global health problem that can impact the development of the preterm infant and the well-being of the parents. Music-based interventions may benefit the infant, parents and their relationship. In our review, we distinguished between musical stimulation and music therapy, as we found no previous studies that had made this distinction.

Design: This is a narrative literature review.

Methods: A search was undertaken in PubMed, PsycINFO and LILACS using the terms "music," "music therapy," "singing," "prematurity" and "preterm." Thirty studies were included and analysed according to the following categories: (i) aims of the study, (ii) participants, (iii) design, (iv) type of intervention, (v) assessment and measures and (vi) main results.

Results: The vast majority of the studies focused on the preterm infants and used an experimental design. Few studies carried out family-centred interventions, despite this having been noted as an important factor in effective interventions. Musical stimulation studies used more recorded music, whereas music therapy studies used more individualised interventions with live music.

Conclusions: Both musical stimulation and music therapy demonstrated significant effects on preterm infants and their parents. However, compared to musical stimulation studies, interventions performed by music therapists provided more individualised care and tended to show greater effects on infants' physiological and behavioural responses.

Relevance to clinical practice: Our review showed that music therapy interventions may provide individualised, effective and family-centred care. There is a significant need for these types of interventions in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Keywords: NICU; intervention; music therapy; musical stimulation; prematurity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Family Nursing / methods*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases / therapy*
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Infant, Premature / psychology*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Male
  • Music Therapy / methods*
  • Music*