by Author Mark Harmer

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Working with premature babies and their parents at Gloucester Hospital

The Early Start - Music by Heart programme aims to help parents bond with their babies through music, and will continue that work with those babies who go on to Early Start Baby Groups.

This project from GlosMM is currently about halfway through, but has already received very positive feedback from familes and medical staff, has led to playing to comfort babies during procedures, has suggested extensions to the existing body of peer-reviewed knowledge, and is prompting us to think about the wider question of embedding music in neonatal areas in the NHS.

Starting such a project is a gentle process - and involves two different professions (musical and medical) working in close collaboration. We are hugely grateful to Gloucester Hospital, and in particular the Neonatal Nursing team, for their positive response to our inital approach, to Opus music for their excellent "Music in Healthcare" practical workshop, and to nurses, consultants and parents for their feedback and ideas.

As well as playing gentle, traditional tunes, Mark has also been writing original music based on the babies' names. His visits are advertised on posters from which parents can also access a project website via a QR code and hear examples of the music. This really helps in gaining acceptance of the work for those who may not have had a live musician play for them. In addition, we have a simple project book that anyone (Mark, the consultants and nurses, the parents) can write in. This has been superb at suggesting other ideas, such as invitations to play for procedures.

While we have not so far been looking to clinical measures of outcomes of using music, we have read some fifty recent papers on various aspects of music in neonatal - from clinical effects, to the impact on staff, parents and the musicians themselves, and on the expectations that these various groups might have around music. We have also done some research ourselves, for example in finding out just what the acoustic is like inside an incubator (it allows music through in a very gentle way while cutting down the noise in the room). You can see our journey (complete with "baby steps"!) in the presentation below, which also includes some audio from our incubator experiment, some feedback on the Gloucester NHS trust Facebook site, and some questions which we are still exploring at this stage of this project.

To see more details about what we believe are the important aspects of this emerging work, you can see a fuller report on Mark's blog page at

This programme is funded by Youth Music and administered and supported by  GlosMM at