Core Themes in Music Therapy Clinical Improvisation: An Arts-Informed Qualitative Research Synthesis

J Music Ther. 2017 Jul 1;54(2):161-195. doi: 10.1093/jmt/thx006.


Background: Although clinical improvisation continues to be an important focus of music therapy research and practice, less attention has been given to integrating qualitative research in this area. As a result, this knowledge base tends to be contained within specific areas of practice rather than integrated across practices and approaches.

Objective: This qualitative research synthesis profiles, integrates, and re-presents qualitative research focused on the ways music therapists and clients engage in, and make meaning from, clinical improvisation. Further, as a conduit for broadening dialogues, opening up this landscape fully, and sharing our response to the analysis and interpretation process, we present an arts-informed re-presentation of this synthesis.

Methods: Following an eight-step methodological sequence, 13 qualitative studies were synthesized. This included reciprocal and refutational processes associated with synthesizing the primary studies, and additional steps associated with an arts-informed representation.

Findings: Three themes, professional artistry, performing self, and meaning-making, are presented. Each theme is explored and exemplified through the selected articles, and discussed within a larger theoretical framework. An artistic re-presentation of the data is also presented.

Conclusions: Music therapists use complex frameworks through which to engage clients in, and make meaning from, improvisational experiences. Artistic representation of the findings offers an added dimension to the synthesis process, challenging our understanding of representation, and thereby advancing synthesis methodology.

Keywords: arts-informed; clinical improvisation; qualitative research synthesis; theory development.

MeSH terms

  • Art*
  • Humans
  • Music Therapy / methods*
  • Music*
  • Qualitative Research