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In-person Training: Exploring the role of the Healthcare Musician

In-person training for musicians: Exploring the role of the Healthcare Musician: 15th - 19th May 2023

We are delighted to be bringing back our in-person training for Musicians wishing to explore their potential role, or develop their current role, within health and social care.

Over the past 10 years, this highly-regarded course, a mixture of theory, application and reflection, has led to numerous practices and programmes emerging across the UK and beyond. We're now looking for our next cohort of musicians ready to make this journey.

A picture of a music making session with guitars xylophones

"This course opened my eyes to the many different ways to use music in a hospital setting. If you are a musician first and foremost and want to learn how to transfer those skills into a hospital setting in a sensitive and effective way this is the course for you. Getting to see the course leaders in action was a particular highlight for me. This excellent course offers musicians an inspirational opportunity to reassess and develop their own musical practice in an enjoyable, supportive and professional setting. For me, it has presented a pathway into a different, very rewarding way of making music professionally."

What are the benefits of the course?

When is the course?

The course will run from Monday 15th May – Friday 19th May 2023 inclusive.

Where is it based?

The Healthcare Musician Training will be based in Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, UK.

What does the course include?


Day One

The first two days will explore the theory and context behind this rapidly growing practice, looking at acute and community-based approaches.


Day Two

You'll have the opportunity to develop your own musical, personal and professional skills and competencies supported by the OPUS Trainers.


Day Three

Following this, our healthcare partners at Sherwood Forest Hospitals and Nottinghamshire Healthcare will be hosting two days of training across a variety of contexts.


Day Four

During these two days you will apply yourself as a Healthcare Musician, with ample time to reflect on practice with your peers and our team of experienced Trainers.


Day Five

The final day is back in the training room, pulling together learning from the week, and developing plans for rolling out your own practice.

How many spaces are there?

How much will it cost?

We have 8 places available on this course, which will be supported by a team of 4 Trainers.

Fees for the week are £650.00

We are not able to offer accommodation, however we are happy to point you in the direction of suitable places to stay if required.

How to apply

We are asking for people to make an online application to take part in this course.

You can also find the application form here https://forms.office.com/e/6iExL0PxQE

Want to get involved?

Get in touch - let's work together

Charity Single: This Won’t Last Long

We’re delighted to launch our new charity song ‘This Won’t Last Long’, a song of hope and strength for our friends and colleagues in the NHS.

It has been written, recorded and produced in isolation whilst staying at home to help protect, and in celebration of, our NHS.

We’re happy to offer a free download of this song at our Bandcamp page.

If you like what you hear, then please support the work of the amazing Hospital Charities in Leicester, Nottingham, Derby and Sherwood Forest Hospitals at our Justgiving page.

Thank you!

Case study: ‘you have to stay right there until he’s finished!’

Working on a ward at Nottingham Children’s Hospital, we asked a nurse if it was appropriate to play for the very young baby she was caring for. She said ‘yes of course’. We could see that she was feeding the baby through a feeding tube.

As we played, the nurse interacted with the baby, soothing him through touch and gentle tapping.  The ward sister came along and asked the nurse if the baby had calmed down. The nurse said he had since we had arrived. The ward sister then said ‘you have to stay right there until he’s finished!’

Richard asked the nurse if he’d been very distressed and she explained that he’d been struggling feeding with the tube, then getting angry and being sick, so losing the feed.  This had caused him to be hungry and the cycle had then repeated.

We continued playing and the baby was still slightly upset.  Sarah suggested that Richard played the Bodhrán (drum) for the next piece to see if a quiet repetitive rhythm would be soothing.  We played ‘Evelyne’s’, moving into ‘Sailor went to sea’.  We played an extended version, getting quieter and quieter as the nurse finished the feed and cleaned the feeding tube.  She continued to sooth the baby as we played until he fell completely asleep.  She smiled and said ‘he’s gone off’ at which point we finished the piece.

As we left the ward he was still asleep and had kept the feed down. The effect of calm induced by the interplay between the nurse and musicians was observed to continue in the baby until his next feed approximately two hours after the musicians had left the space.

Music Care

OPUS is delighted to be working in partnership with the University of Nottingham and Room 217 Foundation (Canada) to deliver Music Care Training. Music Care Training is for care providers looking to incorporate music into their care practice, and for musicians looking to take their skills into the care context.  

Next Training: 25/26 November 2019, Music Care Level 1, University of Nottingham  

We are also looking forward to presenting at the second ‘Power of Music in Health and Social Care’ conference, to be held at the East Midlands Conference Centre on 4 November 2019

Drumming in Intensive Care Units

richard kensington 1 300Five years ago, during my initial training as a musician in healthcare settings, one of the first challenges I faced was how to take my specialism of percussion into hospital settings. How could I use percussion instruments, particularly drums, in spaces that I assumed would be very quiet in a way that would enhance that environment? How could I use something as potentially noisy and intrusive as a drum in an a space populated by children suffering from a variety of illnesses or conditions which are unknown to us and doctors and nurses doing a job that required great concentration and accuracy? After having spent 10 years playing in a variety of loud percussion based bands and running drum circles and percussion workshops, I couldn’t see how a drum would do anything other than disrupt a hospital space, over excite or disturb patients and distract doctors and nurses. At that time the thought of taking a drum into a hospital ward seemed like a bad idea and if the possibility of taking one into an intensive care unit had been raised it would have seemed ludicrous.

In the last couple of months I’ve had cause to remember and reflect on my initial thoughts and reactions to drumming in hospital.

The first occasion started with walking into a children’s intensive care unit in a large hospital in the East Midlands. The unit has about 10 beds in it with only a few feet in between each bed to allow access for nurses, parents etc. The feeling on the ward is quite enclosed and cluttered due to the large amounts of medical equipment around each bed and the large numbers of staff attending the patients.

I was working with two colleagues, Sarah on fiddle and Marc on guitar. We had been requested by a parent to come and play music with her little girl who was about two years old. The little girl, who we will call Lisa, had special needs, no speech and had recently had a tracheotomy, so she couldn’t make any sounds at all with her voice.

When we arrived Lisa was sitting up in bed and her mother was at the bedside. Marc started playing a nursery rhyme and her actions and facial expression showed that she was immediately responding positively to the music. Her mother reinforced our reading of this response with positive comments and an increase in engagement with Lisa. We continued to play, with Marc leading the interactions and encouraging Lisa to shake along or engage with the animal toys around her bed. I changed from accompanying a lullaby on ukulele to playing a deep quiet and steady beat on the bodhrán on the next song. As I did so I noticed a shift in Lisa’s focus towards the drum so I asked Marc to make some space so I could get to the bed.

I knelt down at the bedside and asked Lisa’s mother if I could place the drum on the bed so she could see it and hear it more clearly. I continued to tap along on the drum as we sang, just keeping a gentle pulse and as I did so Lisa leant forward and started touching the drum skin. She was exploring how it felt, sometimes tapping it and sometimes just leaving her hands on the skin to feel the vibration as I continued to tap the drum. Sometimes I copied what she did on the drum but she seemed to be getting the most pleasure from experiencing the vibration from the skin as I hit it. She moved from having both hands on the drum, to both hands and one foot on the skin, to putting both hands, one foot and her face pressed against the drum as I continued to gently tap the pulse of the song that was being played and sung by all the musicians.

Once Lisa had become used to the sensation she decided she wanted to find out more about this object so she started to try and move it around. I responded to her attempts to move the drum, moving it for her in the direction that she was trying to get it to go. She turned the drum around and put her hands inside it. She tapped inside the drum and left her hands on the skin as I played the other side. This continued for at least 5 minutes after which time Lisa started to get tired which she showed by simply disengaging from the drum and leaning backwards onto her bed.

All the way through the interaction was accompanied by beautiful music and songs from Marc and Sarah. As Lisa was exploring the drum and interacting with me, a group of nurses and doctors had gathered to look at what was happening. From their comments and faces they all seemed to be really enjoying the opportunity to see their little patient behaving like a normal child enjoying her exploration of her environment.

The second instance of drumming in ICU was in a different large hospital in the East Midlands. This time a nurse said it would be ok if we went into a side room where a young toddler, we’ll call him Mohammed, was standing in his cot. His mum was in the room with him and the TV was on with the volume turned up. After saying hello to them both we checked with the boys mum if they would like us to play. They had already seen us playing in the main part of ICU so we felt like they would understand what we might be offering. When Mum agreed we asked if we could turn the TV off. Once we had done this we had Mohammed’s full attention.

As soon as we started playing he was jiggling around to the music and wiggling about holding onto the bars on his cot. He also had a tracheotomy and was attached to oxygen through that. I was surprised at how much energy he had and how little the tracheotomy and the oxygen tube hindered his enjoyment or compulsion to move. He was really grooving and smiling. We gave him a shaker and he quickly learnt the ‘throwing the shaker out of the cot’ game so I approached him with my drum. His response was very similar to Lisa’s. His hands were immediately on the skin and again rather than his focus being on hitting the drum himself he seemed to be enjoying feeling the vibration through the skin. Mohammed too was intent on exploring the drum, constantly turning it around and around so he could feel it inside and out. The drum must have seemed enormous to him, as he was only just taller than it’s diameter. Once he got the hang of how to get a sound from the drum he started really enjoying the loudness of the instrument and as we were in a side room I was able to allow him to really get into this, knowing that the volume outside the room wouldn’t be distressing to other patients and staff. As he started to lose interest in the interaction I refocused my playing of the drum to join back in with the tune that Sarah had been playing throughout the interaction and so we were able to leave the room in a musical way with Mohammed having played his part in some great interactive music making while learning about and experiencing a person sized drum!

In order to use a bodhrán in hospitals I’ve had to develop my technique so that I can play very quietly whilst maintaining accuracy and positivity. I’ve also had to develop and change my musicality to think about how I use the drum to accompany song. Traditionally the drum is used to add drive to tunes and to bring out the rhythm and shape of tunes. There can be a lot of ornamentation used in bodhrán playing and I often choose to strip much of this away so that I focus on the essence of the rhythm of the song or tune, focusing on groove more than the shape of a tune. I always try and keep in mind that my focus is on playing for the space and the person rather than for my own enjoyment. The drum I have has a very rich bass end and even the top end is mellow sounding. This enables me to play with a variety of dynamics without bringing in any harshness to the sound. It has been my experience that choice of instrument is very important when using percussion in hospitals. My preference is for warm sounding drums that can be played to obtain a variety of pitches. The other factor that I’ve had to consider is the weight of the drum. The bodhrán is often played sitting down, so walking around a hospital for a day carrying the drum also presented problems. I fitted a strap to my drum and this has helped a great deal.

When using the drum for interactions there are number of things to bear in mind, not least of all the potential volume of the instrument and the impact that this can have on the space around. There is a lot of satisfaction and a sense of power to be gained by a child when they hit a drum hard and get a loud sound in response. It’s a great thing to allow this but the musician also has a responsibility to their surroundings and the other people in the space. Sometimes it’s not a problem to allow a child to make a lot of noise, sometimes it’s ok once or twice but then the volume needs to be managed. Other times a loud noise is not appropriate. I dampen the drum with my hand, use explicit verbal instructions or offer beaters with softer heads in order to manage the volume of the drum. If volume is becoming an issue I also try to refocus onto rhythm, pattern or copying.

I’ve come to realise that there is no problem with bringing and playing drums into the most sensitive of environments. My skepticism at the start of my training was rooted in the way I was seeing drums, thinking about them and relating to them at the time. The power of drums to transform mood, empower people, to facilitate communication and connection and to bring joy seems consistent in all situations. This power is not constrained to the volume or complexity of what is played. It’s up to the drummer to learn and then decide how to best use the drum to the maximum benefit in any given circumstance. Working with drums in hospitals has given me a great faith in the efficacy of what I do as percussionist and inspires me to explore the huge potential of drums still further.

Richard Kensington, OPUS Musician

Music in Healthcare Settings Conference: Derby, 16 July 2015

royal derby hospitalThursday 16th July 2015, 9.30am – 4.30pm Education Centre, Royal Derby Hospital, Uttoxeter New Road, Derby, UK.

We are delighted to launch the forthcoming International Music in Healthcare Conference, hosted by OPUS Music CIC in partnership with Royal Derby Hospital and Air Arts to Aid Wellbeing.

Bringing together music for health practitioners, healthcare staff, promoters, funders, researchers and other key stakeholders, this event promises to provide stimulus for discussion and debate around the ongoing development of Music in Healthcare settings across the UK and beyond.

A mix of thought-provoking presentations and discussion groups throughout the day will leave all stakeholders with new contacts and new ideas for continuing to develop their own practice.

Places are available to book for a modest charge of £10 from the Eventbrite link below (includes tea and coffee on the day).

We are also hosting a Music in Healthcare Settings ‘Music Sharing’ day on Friday 17th July 2015, to be held in Derby. Any musicians attending the conference are invited to come along from 9.30am-3.30pm (stay for as long or short a time as you like!) to make music with like-minded musicians (small charge of £2 payable on the day to cover refreshment costs).

Please email us at conference@opusmusic.org if you would like to come along to the Music Sharing day.

Reflections on Apprenticeship – Joe Danks

joe danks b&wMy experience as a Music In Healthcare Apprentice in 2014/15 has provided me with a fantastic platform to build my own practice in the coming months and years. I strongly believe that good MiH practice comes from experience, and that this work is all about learning how to adapt to different situations.

One thing I would like to highlight is how a combination of non-verbal approach techniques and repertoire in different languages can help overcome some of the challenges posed by cultural diversity in our hospitals. Instrumental music is not bound by language constraints at all and part of good practice is using repertoire with a ride range of languages. Working as a MiH practitioner has strengthened my belief that music is hugely effective as a communication tool between people from all backgrounds and all ages. There are countless examples of this happening in the last 6 months, and it was been noticeable from when I first engaged in this work in November 2013.

One that springs to mind happened in a neo-natal intensive care unit. Myself and Oli were working as a pair in a small space with 3 newborns. These rooms can often feel very cramped and often the breathing apparatus and monitoring machines can make them feel very noisy. For this reason it is important to be aware of the sound you are making and make sure you are not just contributing to the hum of medical equipment and causing a negative effect. Whilst we were making music with ukulele and melodeon, I feel that the most effective instrument in that space was our voices. We sung, Kyla Vuotti Uutta Kuuta (a traditional karelian wedding song sung in a Finnish dialect) and Zamina Mina (a cameroonian song sung in Fang). We also sung some traditional English Lullabies like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. This seemed to be working well and the two parents in the room were making physical contact with their children and even singing to them!

We were then greeted by a young girl around 5 or 6 who had come to visit her baby sister; she was accompanied by her mum. We continued to play as they got settled. I then went to fetch the box of instruments from outside the room, and chose the Glockenspiel to get out first. I continued to play along with Oli on Melodeon but on the Glockenspiel now. Being aware of the sensitivities of the space, I carefully chose which beater to offer to the young girl and continued to play very quietly along with the music. The young girl hesitantly began to join in and grew in confidence as the music continued. We played 5 Little Speckled frogs together, and then she took to a spark shaker as we played Galopede, an english country dance tune. We were aware all this time of the other parents in the room smiling and vicariously enjoying the music making through the young girl who was clearly having a wonderful time.

As the final tune wound to a close we were asked to stop by a member of the medical team as one of the babies in the room was about to have an X-Ray and they had to move the X-Ray machine into the room. We did so quickly and packed away our instruments. It was only then did we say thank you to the young girl for playing and realise that she spoke very little english. It struck me that we had managed to facilitate music making for a young person, relax the room and provide music for patients and parents, and perhaps most crucially of all provide a platform for parents and siblings to interact with their newest family members using almost no words.

It is important to say that this is one of the instances where music has really been useful to overcome cultural barriers, but this is not always the case. There has been times where it has not worked so well (presuming that every child knows wind the bobbin up springs to mind!). Even the trickiest interactions provide an opportunity to learn, and I am trying to soak in as much as I can from the apprenticeship programme as I begin work at Great Ormond Street Hospital, a hospital that will provide an even more diverse body of young people to make music with and learn from.

Applications closed: Music in Healthcare Settings Training Oct-Nov 2014

DSC04002editedApplications are now closed for our next five-day Music in Healthcare Settings training course to take place in Derby, UK on 30 and 31 October, and 3, 4 and 5 November 2014.




If you wish to receive details for our next training course (May 2015) direct to your inbox as soon as these are finalised please email training@opusmusic.org to be added to our e-mailing list

Training Details (pdf)
Application Form (word)
Application Form (pdf)
Here’s what previous trainees have said about this training course:

If you are at all interested in how music can be used as a vehicle for better health, happiness and well-being…DO THIS COURSE. It was one of the most moving, enlightening and humbling weeks of my life and has confirmed 100% for me that I’m on the right path musically, professionally and personally.

This training was all about fabulous human encounters in music: with the patients, their relatives, the hospital staff, my fellow trainees, and of course with Nick, Sarah and Richard.

I would recommend doing this training if you feel excited about the possibility of using music to enrich and even transform lives in a setting that is a long way from the stage.

This course has the potential to redefine your ideas of musical performance and what it means to connect with others when making music, in healthcare settings and beyond. My notions of musicality were challenged and broken open to reveal once more the true beauty of creativity. Something I am thankful for. The course is an absolute must for musicians, healthcare staff and humanity as a whole.

Training with Opus has been an incredibly creative, exciting, moving, challenging and fun five days, that have inspired me musically and personally. I feel privileged to have met such creative and talented musicians, and feel compelled to tell everyone about the immense power of music in the hospital setting!

Every moment of the course is crucial to exploring the role of the musician in a healthcare setting. The team of professional and well-experienced facilitators firmly ground the profession within its social and cultural context and offer a structured introduction to cutting edge techniques and exploratory, collaborative experience within the hospital setting itself. I would whole-heartedly recommend attending a course with OPUS to any musician looking to have an impact in this growing area of expertise.

This is one of the best training courses I have ever attended because in such a short time it has given me musical skills and confidence I did not have, as well as opening up a new career path in a fascinating discipline

The course is incredibly fulfilling and so valuable. It was unique in how engaging, rewarding and informative it was, as well as fun! I felt at ease quickly and thoroughly enjoyed how much I learnt, both in the experiences it gave but also the practical tools I have acquired to develop my own practice and passion for music in healthcare settings.

St George’s Day


We were working on a ward in Leicester Hospital on Tuesday 23rd April and played our way round to a corner room where the door was wide open. Inside there was a little baby all dressed in green pyjamas. When he saw us he looked quite anxious – Who were these People? What were they carrying with them? And what were they going to do?


I was reminded of the training we had recently been doing with musicians in healthcare, and the ethics we had discussed. I knew I wanted to provide some nice music for this young man to enhance his stay in hospital, but was very aware I did not want to alarm him. He was in a very vulnerable position, with assisted breathing equipment, in a seated position in bed, with no adult he knew nearby.


We decided to play Twinkle, with no eye contact, just letting the music reach out to him and then observed his reactions. The music became part of his environment and more normal to him. He appeared to relax and began to smile intermittently.


My intention was then to help him feel more comfortable with us being there and thereby allow him access to more music and to enjoy himself.


Slowly, but surely, the smiling became more frequent, movement increased with stretching, reaching, sitting up and leg extensions – dancing as much as he could. He started to tip his head back, mouth wide in a silent laughter and caught my eye with glee – as if teasing me. Eye contact now not a threat to him, we shared quite long gazes.


I left him apparently relaxed and smiling and his nurse came by and shared the moment with us. I was reminded of how important eye contact is at the right time and with the right intensity, and felt so glad I had my training to help me make this interaction successful for this little baby and indeed a lovely experience for both of us.