Research Archives

Research Archives


Singing and Foreign Language Learning

This study provided the first experimental evidence that a ‘listen-and-repeat’ singing method can support foreign language learning. It was conducted by Dr Karen Ludke and Dr Katie Overy at the Music in Human and Social Development Research Group at ECA, together with Professor Fernanda Ferreira, formerly based in the Department of Psychology at the University of Edinburgh. Funded by a scholarship from the University, the research was published in the journal, Memory & Cognition, in July 2013. Its findings were widely covered by both specialist and mainstream media around the world.


In the study, 60 adults were randomly assigned to undertake one of three kinds of ‘listen-and-repeat’ foreign language learning tasks. These tasks were: speaking (normally); speaking (rhythmically); or singing. Hungarian was chosen as the test language because it is unfamiliar to most English speakers and is quite different from both Germanic languages and Romance languages, such as French and Italian. The three groups of 20 adults then took part in a series of five Hungarian language tests.

The singing group performed the best in four of the five tests. Not explained by potentially influencing factors – such as age, gender, mood, memory ability or musical training – this superior performance was statistically significant for the two tests that required participants to recall and produce spoken Hungarian phrases.

As well as offering insights into the way in which the brain integrates music and language, with opportunities to enhance foreign language learning within and outside of the classroom, the study also opens the door for future scientific research in this area. One question, for example, is whether melody can provide an additional memory cue for speech, which later facilitates recall.



The Skoog

The Skoog meets the need for a new kind of inclusive musical instrument; one that maximises the educational and health benefits of the creative arts. Developed by researchers spanning music, psychology and physics, it enables people of all ages, with a wide range of disabilities, to have accessible, expressive control of sound.

the-skoog-1_croppedDesigned to be commercially viable and useful to as a wide a range of audiences as possible, the Skoog is a research-led product successfully brought to market. The spin-off company, Skoogmusic, was formed in 2010 and now employs six staff, selling the instrument in 27 countries, including online via the Apple Store.

The origins of the Skoog lie in Music in the Community research led by Professor Nigel Osborne. In collaboration with The Tapestry Partnership, the researchers engaged in extensive consultation with Scottish schools between 2003 and 2005, identifying music as a tool for improving learning engagement in children, particularly those with profound physical and learning challenges.

Funding from the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (Nesta) enabled the team to set about creating an instrument to meet the needs of budding musicians of all abilities. This involved developing a flexible but robust object with a sensitive interface; one with software capable of picking up expressive movement, interpreting its meaning and communicating it in sound.

the-skoog-2_croppedApple Accessibility Ambassador, and distinguished educator, Greg Alchin, has said of the product “I have seen the potential of the Skoog to benefit students from every level of musical ability”. The majority of its 2,000+ sales have been to schools and education services and the Skoog has been incorporated into the Special Educational Needs (SEN) and mainstream music curriculum by UK Local Education Authorities and Music Hubs.It has recently been shortlisted for the 2015 Music Teacher Awards for Excellence in the Best SEN Resource Award category.

Also widely used in clinical music therapy, it featured prominently in Technophonia, a composition by Oliver Searle. This was commissioned by the Drake Music School Project for the 2012 Cultural Olympiad and featured three instruments played by disabled performers. The piece premiered in Queen’s Hall Edinburgh, and was performed in the South Bank Centre as part of the London Olympics celebrations. It was short-listed for the 2013 British Composer Awards in the Community or Educational Project category.

In 2011, Skoogmusic donated two Skoogs for use at Athens Special Olympics events, wherein athletes could try the instruments in a specially designated Skoog Zone. Mary Mavis, Managing Director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia, commented that “The Skoog is a wonderful invention which is accessible to everyone and gives people with disabilities of all ages an opportunity to express themselves and develop new skills”.

The Skoog was developed by a team led by Professor Nigel Osborne at the Reid School of Music using Nesta funding totalling £195k. Skoogmusic Ltd was formed in 2010 by two members of the research team, Dr Ben Schögler and Dr David Skulina, with £400k investment from the University of Edinburgh, Nesta, Scottish Enterprise, Barwell plc and the Daedalus Investment Fund. Skoogmusic recently ran a crowdfunding campaign to bring an updated version, Skoog 2.0, to market.



Scottish Music and Health Network

The Scottish Music and Health Network (SMHN) facilitates and shares high-impact research on links between music and health.

A collaboration between the Reid School of Music at Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) and Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU), the Network was established in 2014 by Professor Raymond MacDonald and Dr Katie Overy, with £33,000 funding from the Carnegie Trust.

Managed by Dr Graeme Wilson, SMHN has become a lynchpin for music and health research in Scotland, widely recognised as an authoritative community for researchers and practitioners.

To date, the Network has hosted a series of events with capacity audiences and its website has over 200 registered members.



How music can improve health and wellbeing, MacDonald et al (2012) ‘Music, Health & Wellbeing’ (OUP)

Events to date – from papers to performances 

SMHN events have brought together delegates from:

  • international higher education organisations, including eleven in Scotland;
  • a wide range of community music providers;
  • healthcare professionals from Scottish NHS organisations including music therapists, nurses, consultants and GPs;
  • representatives of patient organisations including Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland, Pain Concern and three Clinical Research Networks;
  • representatives of key funders including the Chief Scientist Office and Creative Scotland.

The first SMHN seminar, Mapping the Future for Music and Health Research in Scotland, highlighted Scottish research into musical interventions for stroke rehabilitation, pain management, improving quality of life with dementia and the amelioration of child trauma.

Performances from Limelight, Drake Music Scotland and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra illustrated how health benefits can arise from musical participation, even if not primarily a therapeutic activity.

A workshop saw delegates discuss research ideas with a panel including representatives from the Scottish Children’s Clinical Research Network, the CSO Patient Engagement Group and NHS research governance.

A second seminar, Developing Research on Music and Health, focused on innovative uses of music to benefit the health of adolescents, children in hospitals and young people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder or profound learning disabilities, with a performance by Edinburgh’s Cheyne Gang Choir for individuals with COPD demonstrating their innovative approach to offering a music activity as a referral for a specific condition.

A two-day international conference in Glasgow, with the Society for Education, Music and Psychology Research (SEMPRE), attracted 130 delegates and saw presentations from the UK, Philippines, Indonesia, Czech Republic, Australia and the USA on music applications targeting dementia care, ADHD, cancer, mental health and other conditions.

Most recently, the third SMHN seminar on Music as a Preventive Strategy for Public Health set out challenges to evaluating health impacts of community singing and instrumental music initiatives, with performances by Sing for Life Speyside and Sensatronic (SENSE Scotland) underlining the value of music for community health.

Looking to the future – opportunities and challenges

A key aspect of all meetings to date has been delegates’ open discussions of issues, including the need to ask more specific research questions about music’s effects, to work towards prescribing music as a treatment, and to meet the high demands of longitudinal research into potential long-term benefits.

Commonly perceived challenges include capturing impacts beyond medical models alone, and meeting policy agendas for social or health benefits when objectives are primarily musical.

Greater and more effective use of existing data to support smaller research plans and making a common toolkit of robust outcome measures available are seen as valuable goals.

SMHN is viewed as a valuable facility for sharing and supporting the collection and understanding of useful data, providing peer review, increasing the feeling of community, supporting music practitioners to lead research, and helping to bridge theory and practice.

New research arising from the network includes:

  • a programme at GCU funded by Alzheimer Scotland and Edinburgh & Lothians Health Foundation to develop the Playlist for Life music listening app for people living with dementia and their carers;
  • a proposal to AHRC for a five-year investigation into benefits of community singing at individual and community levels;
  • a proposal to the Chief Scientist Office for a pilot study to inform a trial of an outreach musical intervention on dementia wards.