Skip to main content


Our staff and students have a wide variety of research interests and are currently engaged in projects spanning various research areas within the music psychology domain, many of which are interdisciplinary in nature. Browse the categories below and explore the diversity of our projects.

Enhancing Research Culture

Researchers: Melissa Kirby, Karen Burland, and Freya Bailes
This project aims to improve access to, and participation in, research for individuals with lived experience of disability. It aims to enhance the inclusivity and diversity of research culture, processes and outputs. Previous research involving adults with learning disabilities (LD) as co-researchers has demonstrated that this community can provide meaningful and insightful contributions to research. However, opportunities to develop research skills and experience are often contained within one-off participatory projects, predominantly initiated by non-disabled people. There are few long-term formal opportunities for adults with LD to choose to develop the skills they need to have research autonomy, and therefore to directly influence, engage with and lead research. With the current shift towards participatory and co-created research, further research training opportunities are needed to support adults with LD to engage with research in a meaningful way. This project explores current research training practices for adults with LD with the goal of co-designing a proposed online research training programme for adults with LD. The project is supported by Research England Enhancing Research Culture funding.

Flyer showing the opportunities of co-creating research

Flyer showing what is needed for research with adults with learning disabilities

Flyer showing what supports effective research

Music Therapy and Health

Hearing Aids for Music
Researcher: Alinka Greasley
We know a lot in the field of music psychology about how and why people engage with music. This includes musical performance by trained musicians but also everyday music listening. The focus, however, has primarily been on people with ‘normal’ hearing. Very little is known about how deafness or hearing impairments affect music listening experiences, especially for hearing aid users. The Hearing Aids for Music project represents the first large-scale, systematic investigation of how music listening is affected by hearing aid technology. Social-psychological research methods including surveys and interviews have been used to explore patterns and preferences of music listening behaviour within representative samples from the UK population of hearing aid users, and data from clinical audiology has been used in conjunction to explore how levels and types of deafness and hearing aids affect music listening experiences. For more information, go here:

Musicians’ Hearing Health
Researcher: Alinka Greasley
There is increasing research focusing on musicians’ health in the fields of music psychology and performing arts medicine, and research has shown that various problems are reported such as anti-social working hours, work instability, illness and physical problems, and mental health issues. Recent research has shown that a high proportion experience hearing problems such as tinnitus and hearing loss. This project is a collaboration between Help Musicians UK and University of Leeds which has explored patterns of hearing loss among professional musicians and investigated their use of and attitudes towards hearing protection. The results have been used to develop the Musicians’ Hearing Health Scheme (see

The impact of sudden changes in musical tempo on autonomic control of the heart and subjective emotion
Researcher: Beatrice Bretherton
Music is comprised of many musical parameters e.g. tempo (the speed of the music), dynamics (loudness/quietness) and mode (major/minor). Tempo appears to be one of the most influential musical parameters in modulating subjective and physiological responses to music. However, previous work has used a limited set of physiological variables that indirectly measure autonomic activity. Therefore, the aim of the study was to determine the effects of sudden changes in the speed of a simple tune on a range of indirect physiological measures (heart rate, blood pressure and respiration) as well as a direct measure of autonomic activity (muscle sympathetic nerve activity). These measures were combined with self-reported emotion so that an evaluation of the relationship between subjective and physiological measures could be made.

Mindfulness for Professional Musicians Project.
Researcher: Anne-Marie Czajkowski
We know what teaching mindfulness can look like for student musicians, but what about those who are in the music profession and have long-term mindfulness and meditation practices? A new interview research project is underway investigating the real-life experience of 10 music professionals with a long-term mindfulness or meditation practices discussing their experiences of the inter-relation between their mindfulness/meditation and their music practices. A variety of music professionals varying from performers to teachers and composers from a variety of different genres and countries are being invited to take part in unstructured, exploratory interviews which will then go through thematic analysis to find common themes and unique insights into the lived experience. For more information and to take part, please navigate to this webpage

The Use of Facilitated Song Writing and Performance as Therapeutic Intervention within the Women’s Refuge Setting: An Exploration of the Benefits and Outcomes
Researcher: Susan Donelly
Qdos Creates has been delivering workshops at Judith House Women’s refuge since 2009. The refuge provides temporary accommodation for women and their children for up two years in order to support their escape from domestic violence as is managed by the Independent Domestic Abuse Services. Song writing, music and performance activities enable the women to explore and share their experiences as they move toward the re-building of their lives and their eventual re-integration within society. The research project aims to assess the benefits and outcomes of group song writing and performance as an intervention and catalyst towards change.

Musical Experiences and Participation

An exploratory investigation of the everyday musical experiences of adults and adolescents who are visually impaired in the UK
Researcher: Claire Castle
In recent decades, research investigating everyday musical experiences has expanded greatly. Music has been found to fulfil a variety of daily psychological functions. Despite increasing recognition of the role of music in everyday life and well-being, literature exploring the musical experiences of vulnerable and minority populations is limited. For individuals with visual impairments (VI), this investigation is overdue for several reasons. Firstly, associations have long been made between VI and music, throughout history and the media. Yet, explorations of musical experience for VI individuals have primarily focused on musical processing. Secondly, literature suggests that music may hold a particularly important place in the lives of VI individuals (Park, Chong & Kim, 2015), yet little research has considered the impact of VIs on musical life in adulthood. Finally, VI has been found to impact negatively on psychological and psychosocial functioning. It appears vital to explore the potential role of music in maintaining psychological well-being for this group, and to consider the musical lives of these individuals from an everyday perspective.
Using a mixed-methods design employing focus groups, semi-structured interviews and survey techniques, this project offers the first systematic consideration of the musical experiences of visually impaired adults and adolescents in the UK. The project aims to meet four main aims: to expand on current literature relating to everyday musical experiences; to explore the role of music in the lives of visually impaired individuals; to assess the accessibility of music for this group; and to identify areas where access may be improved.

Exploring the value and impact of arts education outreach projects
Researcher: Karen Burland
This project is being carried out in collaboration with Opera North Education in order to provide a rich, qualitative insight into the impact of their educational outreach events. Using their Orchestra Camp and Opera Challenge formats as the basis, detailed fieldwork involving observation, questionnaires, and interviews with a range of stakeholders (e.g. students, parents, teachers, opera north orchestra/company members) has been carried out and is now being analysed. The project aims to discover the motivations and experiences of students enrolled on the schemes and to examine the impact on their social, personal and musical development.

Musical Leisure: exploring identities at work and play
Researcher: Karen Burland
This British Academy funded project explores the impact of musical leisure on aspects of identity and wellbeing. A series of amateur groups (including concert bands and orchestras) have completed a questionnaire and some have taken part in interviews and a subsequent diary study. I am currently in the process of analysing the results from the project.

Music and Emotion

Investigating the impact of emotional engagement with music on the experience of musical imagery
Researcher: Freya Bailes
This experimental research tests the hypotheses that involuntary musical imagery is more likely for music with emotional associations than music without emotional associations, and that musical imagery will be more veridical for music with emotional associations than music without.

Music Education

Assessing the impact of music teaching on primary students: an investigation of the Opera North In Harmony Project.
Researcher: Kate Cameron
This project is being carried out in collaboration with the Opera North education department and is based in four primary schools in the Leeds area. The In Harmony project delivers free instrumental tuition to primary aged students as part of their school curriculum. The study aims to better understand the wider impact that the Opera North In Harmony project has on the children involved. Through this exploration of the In Harmony project this research also seeks to contribute to a wider understanding of the impact of arts education. It is on this basis that the study aims to develop a toolkit of research methods that can be drawn upon to assess the impact arts education in other contexts.

Staff and student perceptions of, and practices in, collaborative lecture theatres in flipped and non-flipped modules being delivered in the faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures
Researcher: Dave Ireland
Funded by a developmental University Student Education Fellowship, this project seeks to generate rich qualitative data about staff and student experiences in the University of Leeds’ new collaborative lecture theatres, and to explore how the use of these spaces relates to different types of module design and different types of syllabi being used to teach creative arts subjects.

Investigating Conservatoire Graduates’ Transition into the Music Profession
Researcher: Kate Blackstone
This project aims to explore the ways in which young musicians build their careers after graduation from music college. Much of the current knowledge about musicians’ careers after music college is limited to facts and figures, without deeper investigation of the process of becoming a musician, with all of the activities that this entails. This study aims to pick apart this process by collecting musicians’ experiences of graduation and exploring what it means to be a musician in the 21st century. The project began life as a website, where musicians of all ages shared a letter to their younger self at the point of graduation, detailing the careers advice they would have given themselves.  All of the letters can be viewed here.

Understanding the career engagement and transitions of creative arts students
Researcher: Karen Burland
This project is being carried out as part of my University Student Education Fellowship. Using questionnaires and interviews with current undergraduates at all levels of study, taught postgraduates and research postgraduates studying a range of creative arts subjects, the project aims to understand the ways in which students engage with employability activities during their studies. The study also involves alumni from the relevant departments in an attempt to understand the extent to which university helped to prepare them for employment after graduation. It is hoped the findings will help to inform the ways in which Higher Education providers support students as they begin to plan for life beyond graduation.

Understanding the value and impact of employability mentoring
Researcher: Karen Burland
This project is in its pilot stage at the moment and aims to explore the motivations that students and mentors have for participating in a new employability mentoring scheme at the University of Leeds. Data have been collected at three points throughout the year to understand the impact, opportunities and challenges of the scheme and the outcomes will be used to improve the scheme for next academic year. The project is also running at Canterbury Christ Church university, which will be introducing the employability mentoring scheme in the next academic year.

Developing employability in a complex discipline: the case of higher education music.
Researcher: Karen Burland
Unlike traditional careers, music work is often non-linear and involves a self-managed patchwork of concurrent, overlapping roles. These roles can be full or part-time, casual, and/or undertaken as part of a worker’s own business.  Although it is possible for musicians to work as full-time company employees, there are far fewer such jobs than applicants. As such, many graduates encounter professional and personal identity revision as they make multiple attempts to establish their careers. This highlights the need for institutions to prepare students for the complex work they may encounter as graduates working within and beyond music. At Leeds University in the School of Music, the Fellowship team has  responded by striving to broaden students’ perceptions of a musician and to embed this career thinking into employability development embedded across the program.

Becoming an Entrepreneur: understanding the experiences of students studying ‘with Enterprise’ degrees at the University of Leeds.
Researcher: Karen Burland
This project is approaching the end of its third year of tracking the experiences of students enrolled on ‘with Enterprise’ programmes in the School of Music and the Faculty of Biological Sciences. The research aims to understand students’ motivations for studying a ‘with Enterprise’ programme by asking those enrolled on the programmes and those on non-Enterprise equivalents to complete a series of questionnaires and standardised measures, as well as to participate in regular focus group interviews.  We are just about to start analysing the results for the students who are just about to graduate for the first cohort of students who started the course in 2014.

Investigating the entrepreneurial development of music students in higher education
Researcher: Sylvia Jen
My research centres on understanding how to improve entrepreneurship education for music students in the higher education sector. In particular, I am delving into the perspectives of undergraduate music students to understand what deters or contributes to their interest in entrepreneurship, and how it could ultimately inform best practice.

Exploring the outcomes of engagement with inclusive creative arts education programmes for people with learning disabilities and/or autism
Researcher: Melissa Kirby
Current research investigating the musical and artistic experiences of adults with learning disabilities often neglects to include the voices of disabled people. Participatory approaches to research can centralise the voices of disabled people through the recruitment of disabled co-researchers, who are actively involved in the design, implementation and dissemination of research. This project explores the outcomes of participation in the Purple Patch Arts Lifelong Learning programme, a Yorkshire-based creative arts education programme for people with learning disabilities and/or autism. This project collaborates with adults with learning disabilities, utilising a Participatory Action Research approach and a range of creative arts-based methods, to understand and capture the experiences of Purple Patch Arts participants and to identify the outcomes of creative arts-based learning. Find out more about our research team (the Purple Research group) here or read or blog on collaborative research here.

Music in schools for children & young people labelled as having special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEN/D): A whole school perspective
Researcher: Sarah Mawby
‘Best practice’ is an expression which is used widely in educational settings. However what does this term mean when applied to music education in schools for pupils labelled as having Special Educational Needs and/or Disabilities (SEN/D)? Previous research has explored the way in which music education is approached in SEN/D schools. International research has also sought to examine the relationship between music education and music therapy in SEN/D settings. The findings of such research have contributed significantly to the field. However a great deal of research in this domain remains descriptive. What barriers and opportunities affect music education provision in SEN/D schools? How does training impact upon quality of provision? What role does school culture play in the development of a specialised music curriculum? This research aims to answer these questions.

Musical Performance

Stacking and Blend In Barbershop Chorus Practice
Researcher: Luke Windsor
In Windsor (2017) I advance a theory of stacking in Barbershop practice whereby the manipulation of singers’ positions within a chorus is employed as a primary tool for manipulating acoustic and social cohesiveness. This theory is developed from published and unpublished accounts of ‘stacking’ and an analysis of public video-recorded directorial practice. There is next to no existing academic work in this area, with the major scholarly works on Barbershop (Kaplan, 1993; Stebbins, 1996; Gage, 2003; Garnett, 2005; 2009) mentioning this practice in passing if at all. Existing work on acoustic blend in singing (Goodwin, 1980; Rossing et al, 1986) does not take into account the psychoacoustic consequences of singer placement.
This research will start to build a constructivist grounded theory of stacking through interviews with and observations of Leeds’ White Rosettes and their musical director Sally McLean. The justification for this singular context is that this chorus is both unusual in its repeated successes both nationally and internationally but also in its regular contact with other coaches, directors and singers both formally and informally to ensure connection with the widest range of Barbershop influences.

WRoCAH Expressive Nonverbal Communication Network
Researchers: Luke Windsor and Ryan Kirkbride
The Expressive Nonverbal Communication in Ensemble Performance network comprises three PhD projects, exploring aspects of how musicians communicate in groups. My PhD student Ryan Kirkbride (jointly supervised by Guy Brown at the University of Sheffield) is researching ensemble in live coding ensembles.

Transition and identity in collaborative creativity
Researcher: Karen Burland
This project tracked the collaboration between two members of a nu-jazz partnership as their work together commenced and developed over a two-year period, culminating in the release of their first EP. Detailed diaries were kept by one of the partners and regular interviews with the duo and some of their collaborators also took place. The analysis is approaching its final stages and will be shortly prepared for publication.

Previous Projects

Understanding the value of music therapy in rural Yorkshire communities
Researcher: Freya Bailes and Karen Burland
This project explores the use and value of music therapy in rural communities, enriching the collaboration between the School of Music and the North Yorkshire Music Therapy Centre. It is supported by Ignite funding from The Cultural Institute, University of Leeds, awarded to Dr Burland and Dr Bailes.
Is voluntary musical imagery an effective intervention for anxiety?
Researcher: Michelle Ulor
This project aims to test whether voluntary musical imagery can be offered as an alternative form of music therapy for anxiety.


The effect of music in combination with non-invasive neuromodulation on autonomic control of the heart
Researcher: Beatrice Bretherton
Individually, music and transcutaneous vagal nerve stimulation (tVNS) appear to promote beneficial effects on human physiology. However, the impact of their combination is unknown. Therefore, the aim of the study was to determine the effects of music, tVNS and their combination on self-reported emotion and a range of physiological measures, e.g. heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.