History of ISMM

The history of MusicMedicine began in the Summer 1977, when Dr. Roland Droh MD, Director of the Department of Anesthesiology at Sportkrankenhaus Hellersen, Lüdenscheid Germany asked Ralph Spintge, a young medical student,  to study possible ways of alleviating perioperative pain, anxiety and stress.


Five years later the 1rst International MusicMedicine Symposium about “Anxiety Pain Music in Anesthesia“ was held in Lüdenscheid.  Exceeding expectations, speakers from various fields submitted presentations. Faculty members came from USA, Japan, Poland, Switzerland, Austria, Canada, Norway, Netherlands, and Germany. Soon it became obvious that it was not only worthwhile, but a necessary venture to continue such interdisciplinary dialogue.


Consequently, on the eve of December 3rd 1982, the ‘International Society for Music in Medicine’ (ISMM) was founded under the presidentship of Dr. Roland Droh. In 2005 Ralph Spintge followed him as ISMM President.


ISMM later was incorporated as a non-profit, scientific, interdisciplinary organization, registered in Germany, devoted to understanding the mechanisms of music in medical treatment and improving the care of patients through research, education and interdisciplinary communication. Members of the organization have developed to include health care professionals and scientists dedicated to these goals. The society sponsors scientific meetings and through the years has published journals and books. The central office of the organization is based out of Lüdenscheid, Germany and there are Regional Chapters based in the United States and Europe.


The goal of ISMM is one of fostering and confirming the use of music and musical stimuli as a preventive, diagnostic, therapeutic and rehabilitative means in clinical medicine and health care in general on a broad scale.


In 1989 the definition of MusicMedicine was published:


MusicMedicine is the scientific evaluation of musical stimuli in medical settings, especially through mathematical, physical, physiological, and medical research, as well as therapeutic application, in order to complement traditional medical treatment, with regard to the particular illness, medication, and procedures involved in each individual case

  (Spintge R. & Droh R. 1989)



ISMM Conferences



IAMM - the Journal


Since 2009 there is a new peer-reviewed platform for interdisciplinary dialogue. ‘The Journal ‘Music & Medicine’ is the official organ of the International Association for Music and Medicine (IAMM). The founding editors have been Joanne Loewy  and  David Aldridge. In 2010. Ralph Spintge followed David Aldridge to serve as Co-Editor for the IAMM Journal. The journal is carried by a team of outstanding experts within and around the Editorial Board. The quality of a periodical publication stands with the enthusiasm and active support of its editorial board members, its readership and of course its authors ready to share their expertise and knowledge. We understand this journal as a mutual and significant vehicle to transfer our common goal, to share and discuss our concepts, data, and experiences, thus “crossing borders and joining forces” (moto of the joined Meeting of the AAMT, NAMT and CMTA Toronto 1993).


Research achievements and future topics


Looking back over the past 30 years, there have been numerous achievements in terms of scientific evidence, practicability of clinical programs, socioeconomic benefits and the reputation of music therapy and music therapists working amidst medical and scientific communities, as well as within the general public and politics.


Yet, there is still a long way to go until we need not to apply for reimbursement of every single case, and until hospitals and other health care institutions hire MTs as routine members of their staff.

Themes which have been scientifically elaborated compromise a wide range of topics from basic research to applied research and clinical programs. The initial subjects of topics researched and discussed covered such areas as perioperative stress and anxiety in surgery and anesthesia, intraoperative music and postoperative well-being, vibroacoustic treatment as an anxiolytic, neurophysiologcal aspects of music perception, emotional effects of music in clinical settings, neurohormonal evaluation of music for anxiolysis, and music in psychosomatics (Spintge & Droh 1983).


In the beginning,  the use of music in medicine was brought forward by medical colleagues during and immediately after the Second World War (Gaston, Teirich). The foundation and basis of ISMM was the organized dialogue between music, music therapy and traditional medicine. 


In years following the first symposium main emphasis was layed upon certain areas of common interest: 


Neurophysiological aspects of central music processing, psychology of music, musical microstructure as related to function, music and enhancement of cognitive performance, musical rhythm as major functional parameter.


Clinical areas of special interest included music in geronto-psychiatric care, music for patients with Alzheimer´s disease, music against immune-related disorders, music in neonatal care, music and imagery, music in cancer care, music and dance in rehabilitation settings, music in pain medicine.


In addition, occupational health issues for musicians and dancers were discussed, and programs for coping strategies were proposed.


About 20 years ago, initial meta-analyses were conducted dealing with the question of evidence in studies about music in medical treatment. A process of discussing definitions and standards for Music Therapy and MusicMedicine was initiated as early as 1989 on a first “International Invitational Consensus Conference about Standards of Excellence in MusicMedicine, Music Therapy and Related Research” (Dileo 1992).


While until the early nineties of the last century mainly electrophysiological tools and plasma-hormone analysis were used in neurophysiological research about central music processing under non-clinical and clinical conditions, now functional brain imaging techniques have moved into the forfront. ISMM had the priviledge to include the Brain Imaging Research Center at UTHSCSA San Antonio into the steadily growing research network. This was facilitated and initiated by Donald Hodges, director of the Music Research Institute at UTSA. 


The history of these highlighted areas of MusicMedicine helped to establish a knowledge base we enjoy today, and will continue to thrive in the future. Special emphasis is layed upon issues of further developing standards for qualitative and quantitative research methods, and mixed designs which interweave aspects of both MusicMedicine and Music Therapy, using quantitative as well as qualitative concepts. 


Thus, an updated consensus statement following the 1989 declaration was reconfirmed recently:


We can now analyze and describe quantitatively and qualitatively some important parts of music therapy processes, thus achieving reasonable and responsible control of this kind of therapeutic intervention. Music therapy, dance therapy, and art therapy in general are medical therapies, so they have to fullfill the same standards of excellence as any other medical therapy and must be subject to the same controls of effectiveness and quality. Of course we always have to consider that art itself cannot be quantified, so that there is often the need for a pure qualitative description of the therapeutic means used, and this can be done scientifically (O´Callaghan, 2009). 


Of course the reputation of music therapy / music medicine and its acknowledgement by the medical community depends on how it meets the scientific and therapeutic standards of state-of-the-art healthcare and science within respective worldwide institutions of cultural and medical influence. The scientific instruments, musical realms and methods are at our disposal. They should be used by interdisciplinary research teams which will benefit from expertise of music therapists, physicians, music psychologists, psychologists, educators, biostatisticians and other scientists. 


Looking at the historical development of the field we can clearly state, that we are moving from “alternative” to “complementary” and on to “integrative” medicine now (Loewy & Aldridge, 2009, p.6), musical interventions having its own right in such holistic approaches. This is one of the major achievements reached through combining expertise, dedication and enthusiasm of not at least the membership of ISMM and IAMM as well. 


Aspects of present situation


Music Therapy and MusicMedicine  are still not part of routine therapeutic regimes in traditional medicine to the extent in which scientific evidence and clinical experience could be expected. This is especially true when it comes to consideration of reimbursement by health insurance companies. However, the situation is gradually changing in some countries for the better. E.g. in Germany, the system of Diagnose Related Groups DRGs serving as a basis for reimbursement of hospital care was introduced recently and out-patient treatment is soon to follow.


In 2005, through collaborative efforts among music therapists and physicians, we have succeeded in having Music Therapy included on a regular basis for in-patient care in patients with chronic pain (multimodal pain therapy). This was only possible through joined efforts of MTs and MDs.




(selected, not at all complete)


Dileo C. (1992) A comprehensive Definition of Music Therapy with an Integrative Model for MusicMedicine. In: Spintge R., Droh R. (1992) MusicMedicine vol1. St. Louis: MMB, pp 19 - 29


Eagle C., Hodges D.A. (1996) Access to the Literature of Music Medicine through CAIRSS ° (Computer Assisted Information Retrieval Service System). In: Pratt R.R., Spintge R. (ed.) MusicMedicine vol2. St.Louis: MMB, pp 317 – 326 [www.imr.utsa.edu/CAIRSS.html]


Loewy, J. & Aldridge, D. (2009). Prelude to Music & Medicine, Music and Medicine, Vol. 1, No. 1.


Malchioidi A.C. (1999) Art Therapy, Arts Medicine, and Arts in Healthcare: a vision for Collaboration in the Next Millenium. International Journal of Arts Medicine IJAM 6(2), 13 - 


O’Callaghan, C. (2009). Objectivist and Constructivist Music therapy research in oncology and palliative care: An Overview and reflection, Music & Medicine, Vol.1, Num 1, 41-60.


Pratt R.R. (1996a) Professionalism in Music Therapy and MusicMedicine: Issues of the Past and Future. In: Pratt R.R., Spintge R. (ed.) MusicMedicine vol2. St.Louis: MMB, pp 301 – 308


Pratt R.R. (1996b) Proposal for a Doctoral Degree in Health Sciences: Emphasis in MusicMedicine. In: Pratt R.R., Spintge R. (ed.) MusicMedicine vol2. St.Louis: MMB, pp 309 – 316


Pratt R.R., Grocke D. (1999) MusicMedicine vol3. Melbourne: The University of Melbourne, and St. Louis: MMB


Nöcker-Ribaupierre, M. (Ed.) (2004): Music therapy with premature and newborn infants. Gilsum: Barcelona


Spintge R., Droh R. (1982) Angst, Schmerz, Musik in der Anaesthesie– I. International Symposium Luedenscheid 3. – 4. Dezember 1982. Basel – Grenzach: Editiones Roche


Spintge R., Droh R. (1989) The International Society for Music in Medicine ISMM – MusicMedicine, Music Therapy, Musicmedicine. Book of Abstracts, Rancho Mirage


Spintge R., Droh R. (1989) Towards a Research Standard in MusicMedicine/Music Therapy – Proposal of a Multimodal Approach. Book of Abstracts, Rancho Mirage

(later published in: Spintge R., Droh R. (1992) MusicMedicine vol1. St. Louis: MMB, pp 3 – 5, and 345 – 349)


Spintge R. (1996) Physiology, Mathematics, Music, and Medicine: Definitions and concepts for Research. In: Pratt R., Spintge R. (ed) MusicMedicine vol2. St. Louis: MMB, pp 3 – 13


Spintge R. (2007) Musik im Gesundheitswesen [Music in Healthcare Systems]. Schwäbisch-Gmünd – St. Augustin: GEK - Asgard


Thaut M., McIntosh G.C., Rice R.R. (1996) Rhythmic Auditory Stimulation as an Entrainment and Therapy Technique: Effects on Gait of Stroke and Parkinson´s Patients. In: Pratt R., Spintge R. (ed) MusicMedicine vol2. St. Louis: MMB, pp 145 – 152


[compiled and editied by Dr. Monika Noecker-Ribaupierre, Vice-President ISMM, Chair ISMM Internet Work Group, released  on November 30 2012]


Comments invited!