While working with patients, CW+ Music and Sound Research Consultant Andrew Hall designed OPRA (Older People’s Rhythm App), which brings musical creativity to a patient’s bedside. Through simple and intuitive touchscreen rhythm exercises, the app delivers the same creative satisfaction and cognitive benefits as group music making and aids rehabilitation, for example, in stroke patients.We began this project by identifying several areas of care in which interventions based on interactive music technology might help to address specific clinical needs: these included the exercising of fine motor skills and upper limb movement, stimulating cognitive processes associated with pattern identification and rhythm, and redeveloping visual scanning and communicative ability, particularly in stroke patients. On top of this, however, was the desire to also give patients a sense of musicality, allowing them to assert their own creative identity amidst a potentially alienating environment.From these starting points a series of interactive touch-screen musical tools were developed, using rhythm, pitch and colour, in combination with a simple accessible design, to create engaging musical interactions at the bedside. Subsequent testing and collaboration with staff allowed for a detailed refining of these tools to even further address specific conditions: for example, following a discussion with the stroke-specialist occupational therapists regarding the condition of left-side ‘neglect’, in which the left side of someone’s field of vision is neglected by the brain, two of the tools were redesigned to include bright focal points on the left of the screen to aid visual scanning. This is just one example of how the input of staff has directly influenced the design of these tools, which remain, at their core, expressive musical instruments.


Pulse Music is an intelligent music listening system, designed to use live patient data to modify the listening experience to support specific clinical goals. Inspired by the new ‘sensorrich’ Intensive Care environment now being built at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, and based on recent research suggesting a link between musical tempo and a listener’s pulse, the ‘Pulse Music’ system automatically adapts the tempo of a piece of music in response to changes in a listener’s heart rate. For example, if the listener’s heart rate is higher than what would be clinically desirable, the music can be slowed down accordingly, and any resulting change in heart rate can be monitored, recorded, and reinterpreted by the system. There is currently a pilot study taking place at West Middlesex Hospital, led by consultant cardiologist Dr Sadia Khan, to investigate the potential effects of this system on a cohort of volunteer participants.‘Pulse Music’ is prototypical of a new technology-driven approach to music listening in hospital settings. The continuing onset of machine-learning and artificial intelligence may pave the way to a flourishing of similar ‘smart’ arts interventions, simultaneously influencing the patient environment, measuring the impact of these changes, and learning how optimum conditions can be achieved: in this way, the arts may become more deeply integrated into healthcare environments than ever before. Read more about the design and research behind this system here.