The Development of a Mindfulness-Based Music
Therapy (MBMT) Program for Women Receiving
Adjuvant Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
Frost School of Music, University of Miami, 5499 San Amaro Drive, N306, Coral Gables, FL 33146, USA;
email@example.com; Tel.: +1-305-284-3650
Academic Editors: Joanne Reid and Helen Noble
Received: 16 June 2016; Accepted: 28 July 2016; Published: 9 August 2016
Problems with attention and symptom distress are common clinical features reported by
women who receive adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer. Mindfulness practice signiﬁcantly
improves attention and mindfulness programs signiﬁcantly reduce symptom distress in patients
with cancer, and, more speciﬁcally, in women with breast cancer. Recently, a pilot investigation
of a music therapy program, built on core attitudes of mindfulness practice, reported signiﬁcant
beneﬁts of enhanced attention and decreased negative mood and fatigue in women with breast
cancer. This paper delineates the design and development of the mindfulness-based music therapy
(MBMT) program implemented in that pilot study and includes clients’ narrative journal responses.
Conclusions and recommendations, including recommendation for further exploration of the function
of music in mindfulness practice are provided.
Keywords: music; music therapy; mindfulness; breast cancer; attention; mood
1.1. Music Therapy in Oncology
Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish
individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has
completed an approved music therapy program (American Music Therapy Association, 2016).
Music Therapy is a valuable and evidence-based treatment for patients with cancer. For example,
evidence of signiﬁcantly decreased anxiety and depression [
], signiﬁcantly improved quality-of-life [
and shorter length of hospital stay [
], are reported via randomized control studies. Moreover,
researchers elucidate the role of music therapy in cancer care support for patients, staff, and families
and evidence of its effectiveness to decrease symptom distress [
], and, as well, espouse the patient
factors that contribute to successful music therapy outcomes for symptom distress .
1.2. Music and Mindfulness for Women with Breast Cancer
Mindfulness is the practice of being fully aware of occurrences in the present moment. It excludes
preoccupation with the future or rumination with the past [
]. The moment-to-moment engagement
directs individuals away from an “automatic pilot” response or “reactive” mode that can cause stress
and harm to self [
]. Moreover, the practice of mindfulness involves being aware and attentive to one’s
form of thoughts as opposed to the content of one’s thoughts [
]. Further, developing a decentered ﬁeld
of awareness helps individuals tolerate thoughts that may be dysfunctional [
]. This consciousness
applies to feelings and body sensations.
Problems with attention [
] and symptom distress [
] are common clinical features reported
by women who receive adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer. Mindfulness signiﬁcantly improves
Healthcare 2016,4, 53; doi:10.3390/healthcare4030053 www.mdpi.com/journal/healthcare
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 2 of 14
], and, as well, signiﬁcantly reduces symptom distress in women with breast
A main stimulus of focus for mindfulness practice is often one’s breathing. While mindfulness
practice usually calls for attention to one’s breath, other stimuli, including auditory stimuli can serve as
a source of contemplation. Graham [
] provided a mindful-music and mindful-environmental sound
listening guide for readers and recommended the exploration and investigation of preferred music
stimuli as a source of focus for mindfulness practice. Music and mindfulness signiﬁcantly enhanced
attention in women with breast cancer [
], addressing common cognitive problems associated with
chemotherapy treatments, alias “chemo-brain” [23–25].
1.3. Purpose and Background to the Study
The purpose of this paper is to delineate the development and implementation of a
mindfulness-based music therapy (MBMT) for women receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for breast
cancer. Full descriptions of music therapy interventions allow for accurate replications and
understanding of outcomes. Detailed chronicling of interventions used in investigations is referred to
as treatment ﬁdelity in research reporting [26,27].
The author of this paper is a university researcher and a credentialed music therapist (alias music
therapist board-certiﬁed, MT-BC). She developed, implemented, and investigated the impact of a
music and mindfulness intervention for women with breast cancer [
]. While the intervention is
referred to as mindfulness-based music therapy, it can alternatively be referred to as a music and
mindfulness intervention within a music therapy context. The music therapy research community
is currently discussing the role of the term music therapy in intervention titles [
for the purpose of this paper, the title of the intervention retains the full terminology, mindfulness-based
music therapy (MBMT).
The author provides speciﬁcs of the session structure, sequences of activities, and scripted
instructions. Of note, the scripts are a guide for facilitators and are meant to be ﬂuid and should
not be used verbatim. In addition to recounting the session structure, select narrative entries from
homework journals are also provided. This MBMT program may contribute to healthcare programs,
mindfulness-based practices, and, as well, music therapy literature and clinical practice.
Of further note, the MBMT presented here was tested for its effectiveness to improve attention and
mood in women receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer, and is reported elsewhere .
2. Participants and Location
Fifteen women, mean age of 53 years, with a diagnosis of breast cancer, stage I (n = 2), stage II
(n = 6), stage III (n = 7), receiving adjuvant chemotherapy were recruited from a cancer treatment
center in south Florida. Participants were excluded from the study if there was a prior cognitive
impairment such as a head injury or history or psychosis. Session meeting times that were agreeable to
each woman were scheduled for one-hour per week. Most sessions were held in a comfortable room at
a university in southern Florida, while a few women received their sessions in a comfortable room at
the cancer center. Most women attended the sessions alone, while a few were accompanied with a
family member, partner or friend. On occasion, a nurse from the cancer center who was very interested
in mindfulness and music for the women joined the sessions and contributed to the discussions.
3. The Development of the MBMT Program
The MBMT program development was strongly inﬂuenced by the author’s experience with a
mindfulness program called the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program. Prior to the
study, the author took part in a MBSR program held as a continuing education program offered at a local
hospital. The MBSR training included 2-h weekly sessions over eight weeks consisting of mindfulness
exercises of walking, yoga, sitting meditation, awareness and practice of mindfulness attitudes,
and 45-min of daily homework. The MBSR program was established in 1979 by Jon Kabat-Zinn,
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 3 of 14
a professor of medicine and student of Buddhist meditation, for cancer patients at University of
Massachusetts’ Medical School [
]. The full description and beneﬁts of the MBSR program are beyond
the scope of this paper. Readers are directed to Kabat-Zinn’s Center for Mindfulness as one possible
resource  and to a helpful MBSR guide that addresses depression and anxiety .
The author chose four mindfulness attitudes from a possible seven attitudes, espoused
by the MBSR program, and implemented them sequentially into a four-week MBMT program.
The four attitudes chosen translated ﬂuently to music exercises and metaphors. The ﬁrst attitude,
called non-judging, refers to the absence of evaluating and/or absence of reacting in a habitual way
to stimuli, whether the stimuli is initiated from internal dialogue or sensations, or external events.
The second attitude, called beginner’s mind, is the practice of perceiving newness in one’s environment,
even when the environment is very familiar. It is a positive attitude in which one is willing to practice
a sense of wonder and leave old practiced ways of perceiving, especially negative ones. The third
attitude, called suspending judgment, while similar to the ﬁrst attitude, emphasizes the willingness to
try out new experiences and suspend one’s critical voice. This attitude was smoothly implemented in
the MBMT program when the women were challenged to be open to trying new music experiences.
The fourth attitude, called acceptance and letting go, is a mental practice of viewing one’s experience
without ﬁghting or striving to change one’s current state.
All of the attitudes are intended to enhance the practice of being in the moment—the core purpose
of mindfulness. The role of music is to support the mindfulness attitudes, which in turn support
moment-to-moment experience. Delineation of the roles of music is provided in each MBMT session
description. Moreover, the underlying mechanism of MBMT is based on the psychological concept of
decentering, described by Bishop [
] as awareness of distressing thoughts as “transient mental events
rather than as reﬂection of the self or as necessarily accurate reﬂections on reality”. Logically following
then, music promotes the development of decentering awareness.
4. An Overview of the MBMT Program
The women received four-weekly individual one-hour MBMT sessions along with assigned
homework throughout the four weeks. The MBMT program, designed by the music therapist
(researcher), was intended to enhance the women’s attention ability and to decrease symptom distress.
The initial music exercises required relatively passive participation from the women, but required
greater active participation with each subsequent session. The fourth and last session returned to more
Table 1. Mindfulness-Based Music Therapy (MBMT) Weekly Session Structure.
Session Music Experience Mindfulness Attitude
Music Listening and Writing Non-judging
Novel Instruments, Familiar Songs
Rhythm, instrument playing Suspending Judgment
Music-assisted relaxation Acceptance and Letting Go
Music activities varied each week and were comprised of focused music listening and writing,
exploring new instruments, singing, imitating rhythms and playing instruments in ensemble, and
music-assisted relaxation. Weekly music sessions were designed to complement a different mindfulness
attitude for each of the four weeks (see Table 1). Every session began with an opening exercise, followed
by a music experience coupled with a new mindfulness attitude. At the closing of each session,
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 4 of 14
homework assignments, based on the in-session experience, were given. Daily homework practice of
about 15 to 20 min was recommended. Pink folders (the color pink being symbolic for support of breast
cancer) containing homework instruction sheets and weekly handouts, were provided to each woman.
Four author-designed compact discs were also provided. Homework and between-session experiences
of the mindfulness attitudes in daily life were discussed at the beginning of each subsequent session.
5. Opening Exercise with Focus on Sound
An opening exercise of approximately 5–7 min was developed and implemented weekly for
the purpose of focusing the women’s attention to sound. The music therapist sounded out a single
ring of a tone chime or thumb cymbal until there was no longer any sound. The women listened to
the single ringing tone and indicated, by raising their hand, when they no longer heard any sound.
A second focusing experience consisted of listening to a longer live improvisation on one of: piano,
guitar, or xylophone. The music therapist led the women into the practice of mindfulness by speaking
slowly and giving time between statements.
Script for opening exercise focus on sound:
In this exercise we will begin the practice of mindfulness. First, bring yourself into the
present moment by sitting up straight, but comfortably. If possible, close your eyes lightly
and take time to breathe deeply. Then ask yourself silently, “What is my experience right
. . .
in bodily sensations or tensions (scan your body from your feet to your head)
. . .
. . .
in feelings?” Take time to acknowledge and register your experience,
even if it is unwanted.
Now, gently redirect your attention to the sound of this bell and when you no longer hear
it ring out—raise your hand
. . .
(sound of tone chime). Now, listen again, and listen to
whether the sound is shorter or longer than what you just heard (play sound of tone chime).
Was it shorter or longer? Now, again, listen to this
. . .
. . .
. And then listen to
this . . . (play loud) . . . Which was louder?
A few minutes discussion of the women’s awareness of thoughts, feelings or body sensations
ensued. Most often the women focused solely on the sound of the tone chime without distraction.
The discussion of the sensations and sound of the bell reinforced the women being present with
sound, vibration, and their resulting physical sensations evoked by the sound. After a brief discussion,
the next auditory experience was introduced, again followed by discussion.
Script for opening exercise focus on music improvisation:
Continue to direct your attention to the music tones as they sound one after another.
When your mind wanders and gets caught up in thoughts or feelings or other sensations,
simply notice where your mind is, and gently bring your attention back to the music as
best you can. Be aware that you do not have to follow your upcoming thoughts or feelings
and try not to judge yourself for having them or analyze them in any way. It’s okay for the
thoughts or feelings to be there. The music you hear can function as an anchor to bring you
into the present and help you tune into a state of awareness of the present. Simply observe
any thoughts or feelings, let them drift on by, and bring your attention back to the tones.
(Music therapist improvises a short melodic or tonal sequence.)
5.1. Week One—Music Listening and Non-Judging
In the ﬁrst session (Week One), a music listening exercise was used to introduce the practice of
non-judging, a core mindfulness attitude. The music listening exercise served as a support to deepen
listening skills and judgments of the music, and, more speciﬁcally, introduce the mindfulness attitude
of non-judging. Music listening was chosen for the ﬁrst MBMT activity because listening to music is a
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familiar music experience for most people as compared to playing an instrument. The music selections
consisted of different styles of music of a contrasting nature.
The women listened to ﬁve different selections of music (see Supplementary A for the ﬁrst ﬁve
selections), played for no more than two minutes each. After each music selection a written response to
several questions was required. The ﬁrst music listening exercise was processed aloud with the music
therapist modeling the possible type of responses. Leading questions were provided, such as: Did you
like the music selection? What music elements did you hear? What was the emotion of the music?
What did you notice in yourself—in your body, any images come to mind, any judgments about self?
Script for music listening exercise:
This is a music listening exercise in which you will hear a few selections of different styles
of music and you are asked to identify, as best you can, what you hear in the music.
You are also asked to write down your responses and then you will have time to share.
Here is a listening chart that will guide you through the exercise.
After hearing each music selection, and following the columns on the chart, write down
your “ﬁrst impression” of the music selection (e.g., like/dislike, good/bad, etc.), then the
music elements that stand out to you (e.g., voice, guitar, drum, fast rhythms, quiet volume),
the emotion of the music (e.g., sad, happy, excited, etc.), and then lastly, anything you
notice in yourself (memory, image, body sensations, or any judgments you have of yourself,
others, the activity).
Further discussion ensued that linked the music listening experience to the non-musical
experience, that of practicing the mindfulness attitude of non-judging.
Script for music listening follow-up discussion:
What was your experience with this exercise? Was this listening exercise a pleasant event
or experience for you? Most music experiences, when chosen by a person, are positive
experiences. (However, listening to a loud pounding bass rhythm coming from another
driver might not be!) What were you aware of as you listened? Did your mind wander?
If so, where did it go? Were you able to bring it back to the music? What, if any, judgments
arose you took part in the music listening? Were you able to notice them and let them just
be there, as opposed to reacting to them?
Homework of Non-Judging in Daily Living
Pleasant experiences are common in preferred-music experiences, while both pleasant and
unpleasant experiences are the reality of daily living, and particularly for those undergoing treatment
for breast cancer. The homework for week one consisted of writing daily about pleasant and unpleasant
events. Similar to the deep focus required in the music listening exercise, the women were to observe
their feelings, body sensations, and/or emotions that arose during those events. A structured chart
requiring a written response was provided in which participants wrote about daily events, reactions
in feelings and thoughts that arose, and, as they practiced non-judging, how their response changed,
if at all.
The recommendation was to listen to a researcher-developed music CD for 15–20 min daily, along
with completing the music listening chart, and, as well, process and write about at least one pleasant
or unpleasant event daily.
Script for non-judgment homework:
This week, take note of events that are experienced as pleasant and those events that are
unpleasant. Observe your thoughts, feelings, sensations and/or emotions that you become
aware of during or after these events. Be attentive to the response produced and practice
quickly letting go of your own biases and fears [
]. Non-judgment attitudes in mindfulness
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practice are an awareness quality nurtured by assuming a detached observance within
your own experience. In this attitude, we are bystanders throughout our own experiences.
Use the pleasant/unpleasant chart to guide your recording of at least one event daily.
See Supplementary A for Week One homework instructions, the music listening chart, the music
playlist, and the non-musical mindfulness practice.
Select quote from woman’s homework of non-judging:
It was 4 a.m. and I couldn’t sleep
. . .
My mind teemed with little worries and then
I conjured up a big one: A grizzly bear was tearing me apart and eating me, starting
with my arm. I thought: Here’s an unpleasant one for the log. I felt tense and hot
(chemo has restored my hot ﬂashes). I was, in part, a detached observer
. . .
I decided to
try and remember the music that had been part of the homework CD: Rodrigo tickling
the Spanish guitar, [the opera singer] belting out the gorgeous area. It seemed to work:
next thing I knew it was a respectable 7:30. I arose, took a hot shower, and felt like a new
woman. Still feel that way hours later.
5.2. Week Two—Novel and Familiar Instruments/Songs and Beginner’s Mind
The second session (Week Two) consisted of novel instrument playing and singing familiar songs,
both activities used to introduce the practice of beginner’s mind, a core mindfulness attitude. Instrument
playing involved exploring the sound and touch of novel instruments such as a mbira or thumb piano,
an ocean drum, pentatonic bars, and a rain stick. Exploring the feel and sound of novel instruments
was designed to evoke an experience of wonder and pleasant surprise that is found in the attitude of
beginner’s mind. Participants handled and produced sound on the novel instruments and spoke about
their liking, sensory responses, and perceptions of their experience. Immediately following the novel
instrument exploration the music therapist introduced the attitude of beginner’s mind.
Script for novel instrument playing and beginner’s mind exercise:
You will explore a few instruments that you may not have heard or seen before. Take time
with each instrument and listen to its sound (what you are hearing)—be aware of what
you feel (in your hands, on your lap, its vibrations). Now as you explore these instruments
take time to notice your thoughts, feelings, and body sensations. Were you surprised or in
awe of the sounds or feel of the instruments?
One attitudinal foundation of mindfulness practice is called beginner’s mind. It is an
attitude of mind of practicing seeing (or hearing) the richness of the present-moment
experience. Practicing the mindfulness attitude of beginner ’s mind develops perceiving
the world with a quality of newness and awe. This attitude is developed by seeing or
experiencing events, things, and/or people with a child-like sense of wonder.
Following the novel instrument exercise, the women were then given a songbook that contained
several well-known American songs, and, as well, individual preferred song requests were included
as well. Examples of songbook titles included Amazing Grace (from UK), Blowin’ in the Wind, Both
Sides Now, Bridge Over Troubled Waters,Country Roads,I Can see Clearly Now, Let it Be, and You’ve
Got a Friend. Sample individual song title requests included Fire and Rain, and Someone Like You.
The women were encouraged to sing along with the music therapist while she sang and accompanied
the singing on piano or guitar. The women could also simply listen. While the song singing was
enjoyable, the challenge of the exercise was to practice beginner’s mind with familiar music and hear
or perceive something new in the music.
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 7 of 14
Script for beginner’s mind follow-up discussion:
Were you aware of anything new in your experience of singing or hearing these songs?
What occurred in your thinking, feeling, body sensations? Did you have any judgments of
the music or yourself?
Often, we let our beliefs about what we “know” prevent us from seeing things as they
really are. To see the richness of the present moment, we need to cultivate this beginner’s
mind attitude or a mind that is willing to see everything as if for the ﬁrst time.
The music exercise and discussion served as a practice trial to see familiar daily environments,
events, home, spouse, family and/or friends in a new or different way.
Homework of Beginner’s Mind in Daily Living
The women were to continue with daily practice of beginner’s mind using familiar music of
either their own or using the music CD provided. The CD consisted of several different instrument
sounds followed by several different music selections, some of which were piano performances by the
music therapist. The women were also to continue practice of this attitude practice with daily events.
Homework charts for both the music exercise and recording daily events were provided. A suggestion
was given to listen to music CD and/or sing the familiar songs for 15–20 min daily and write about at
least one non-music event daily utilizing beginner’s mind.
Script for beginner’s mind homework:
Where can you practice beginner’s mind today? Is there a time when beginner ’s mind
might be useful? Is there something you might view differently or anew? Is there something
you might hear differently or anew? Someone you might see differently for the ﬁrst time?
Next time you see your friend, try to see something new in him or her. As you practice this
attitude, it is helpful to consciously let go of past experiences and expectations. Witness
the fullness of your new awareness. Use the beginner ’s mind logs to record this week’s
experiences to familiar music listening and to daily events/people. I look forward to
hearing your experiences, whatever you experience, when you return next week.
See Supplementary B for Week Two homework instructions, the music listening exercise,
and the non-musical mindfulness practice.
Select quotes from women’s homework of beginner’s mind:
About music listening:
Piano very joyful and upbeat, beautiful melody. I feel very calm and happy listening.
About daily living:
Plastic surgeon—I was afraid he wouldn’t listen, but he did, and embraced my plan for
surgery. He’s no diva after all.
Sat outside in my yard quietly enjoying the plants and ﬂowers without focusing on
the “jobs” to be done—just enjoyed the air, trees, fragrance and peaceful environment.
It was so relaxing.
5.3. Week Three—Rhythm/Instrument Playing and Suspending Judgment
In the third session (Week Three), several music instrument-playing activities were developed for
the purpose of requiring sustained focus. The intention of the somewhat challenging session activities
was to counteract the negative effects of “chemo-brain”. The session consisted of imitating and creating
simple rhythms on a large paddle drum, playing simple harmonic changes on a xylophone, playing a
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 8 of 14
bordun (a repeated pattern) on a piano keyboard, and playing a familiar melody by number on the
keyboard. Dachinger [
] designed the latter two music exercises to improve impulsivity in adults
with substance dependence. Women were given an egg shaker, an instrument shaped like an egg
that sounds like a small maraca, to retain for their rhythm practice at home. The instrument playing
exercises were also used to introduce the practice of suspending judgment, a core mindfulness attitude.
Script for rhythm and instrument playing:
Let’s play some rhythms. This is a paddle drum (demonstrate sound using a mallet).
I will play a rhythm on my drum and once I ﬁnish, you play it on your drum.
Playing simple harmonic changes on a xylophone:
Let’s play and sing a song together. Here is a song sheet that shows changes in harmony
indicated by changes in color placed over the text. You will play this pulse or beat with
these two mallets on these tones (marked with matching color to the text) for each harmony
change. (Demonstrate beat and practice harmonic changes with an accompanying support,
such as keyboard or guitar). Now, let’s play and sing this together. (If a family member or
friend is in the session, she can play the drum on the chorus).
Playing a simple repeated pattern on the piano keyboard:
Here are two tones that you play together, called a bordun. Play at this tempo.
(Demonstrate). Keep playing that pattern while I play a melody over top. (Music therapist
improvises a melody above the bordun).
Playing a melody by number:
Notice where the numbers are labeled on the keyboard. Play from number 1 to number
. . .
(6). Follow the song sheet reading the numbers above the words and once you are
comfortable feel free to play and sing along.
These music experiences served as a practice trial of the attitude to suspend judgment of self,
especially when trying something new. The women were asked to share about their experience of their
music instrument playing.
Script for suspending judgment discussion:
What was your experience with this activity? What, if any, judgments arose when you
took part in the music making? Were you able to notice these judgments, observe them
and let them go? Can you be aware of feelings, thoughts, judgment and not react to them?
Homework for Suspending Judgment in Daily Living
The women continued with daily music practice with the use of a music CD provided to them.
The researcher-designed CD consisted of 20 different simple rhythms and several rhythmic recordings
of pop and rock music. The women used the egg shaker given to them and practiced imitating
the rhythms they heard on the recording. Following the rhythm practice, the women kept beat to
recorded rhythmic songs while enjoying the experience. They were also to practice the attitude of
suspending judgment with daily events. Homework charts for both the music and daily events were
provided. Daily 15–20 min practice with the music exercise was suggested and to write about at least
one non-musical event daily.
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Script for suspending judgment homework:
Practice with the music CD throughout the week. Try to practice imitating the rhythm
items (try 4 to 5 rhythms per day), as heard on the CD, repeating the exercise as often as
you’d like. Once you are comfortable with playing the rhythms, feel free to create your
Next, using your egg shaker, practice to keep beat to the recorded music on the CD as often
as you’d like.
The next time you ﬁnd your mind saying things like “I can’t do this”, “This won’t work”,
“This is boring”, “I don’t like this”, remind yourself that the mindfulness practice involves
suspending judgment and simply observing whatever comes up for you, including your
judging thoughts, without pursuing them or acting on them. If you doubt this description
of your mind, just observe how much you are preoccupied with liking and disliking
during a ten-minute period as you go about your day. Record anything you might have
done differently or tried that was new. What was your experience and what came up
in your thoughts, feelings, or body sensations? Were you able to suspend judgment?
(These instructions provided from MBSR)
See Supplementary C for Week Three homework instructions, an example of a song with harmonic
color-coding, and the non-musical mindfulness practice.
Select quotes from women’s homework of suspending judgment:
Listened to a conversation where people gossiped about someone and I was starting to
have negative judging thoughts about the person. I noticed [this] and stopped myself by
thinking about something else.
Several issues come up for my [family member] and because of his narcissistic history I
immediately didn’t believe him [or] the situation. I did stop that thought, listened to the
story. For ﬁrst time I did not get angry or frustrated, just tried to observe as an uninvolved
party. I was more calm and detached, which was wonderful.
5.4. Week Four—Music-Assisted Relaxation and Acceptance/Letting Go
In the fourth session (Week Four), music-assisted relaxation was used to introduce the practice of
acceptance and letting go, core mindfulness attitudes. The music therapist introduced deep breathing
prior to the music-assisted relaxation exercise. A demonstration by the music therapist of deep,
slow breaths that expanded the ribs was followed by the women practicing the same.
The music and scripted imagery served to facilitate relaxation and support visualization of
letting go of concerns and distressing symptoms, and, as well, promote loving images and feelings.
The women were informed that they would be led through a spoken and music-assisted relaxation
and imagery exercise. They were asked to gently direct and maintain their full attention to the sound
of the speaker’s voice. They were also told that if their mind wandered and was caught up in thoughts
or feelings or other sensations, to simply notice their thoughts, and gently bring their attention back to
the speaker’s voice as best they could.
The women were instructed to become observant of thoughts, feelings, and/or body sensations
that they would like to have a respite from, such as being tired, worried, and so forth. They were
also informed that as part of the imagery experience they would have the opportunity to send those
issues away, at least for a little time. The music therapist then provided a relaxing improvisation on
piano while speaking the script called Sending Thoughts Away on Clouds, described below. The women
visualized placing their troublesome issues on images of clouds that drifted by in the sky. When in the
script, the clouds (carrying issues) drifted by, the piano improvisation continued to support the imagery,
without any speaking.
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Script for music-assisted relaxation:
If your mind wanders and gets caught up in thoughts or feelings or other sensations, simply
notice where your mind is, and gently bring your attention back to the speaker’s voice as
best you can. It’s okay for the thoughts of feelings to be there. Just notice any feelings or
body sensations, let them drift on by, and bring your attention back to the voice.
Imagery script No. 1 for music-assisted relaxation (“ . . . ” refers to time between statements)
Start by listening to the piano tones
. . .
Simply listen to the music and notice the sensations
of your body as you listen to the music
. . .
Try to focus all of your attention on the speaker’s
. . .
. . .
As you listen, close your eyes and imagine that you are
laying down on a lawn of soft grass, looking up at a blue sky
. . .
Let your mind become
as clear and empty as a perfect blue sky. If you need a break from being tired or from
worrying, or if any thoughts drift into your mind, imagine yourself breathing them out
so that each thought forms a cloud that you send blowing across the clear, blue sky
. . .
Allow your thoughts to drift away from you, like clouds across the sky, until your mind
becomes empty again, only ﬁlled by the image of a clear, blue sky
. . .
Continue with this
visualization until you no longer hear the music.
A brief discussion of the women’s experience with the imagery followed. Many women shared
the images that they sent away and the respite they encountered. They also spoke of their minds
wandering during the relaxation and bringing their attention back to the speaker’s voice.
Imagery script No. 2 for music-assisted relaxation (“ . . . ” refers to time between statements)
The women were then asked to bring to mind a favorite place of comfort or relaxation. A second
scripted imagery followed (Inner Smile Meditation by Tom Price, Michigan musician) read by the
music therapist and accompanied by recorded music (Daniel Kobialka’s instrumental music Love will
Never Go Away from his album Beyond Embracing Dreams).
We will continue to take some time to relax the body
. . .
Find a relaxed position, so you
can be as comfortable as possible. Free your mind and your body of any stress and tension.
Let go of draining thoughts and daily responsibilities, and just focus on this moment and
my voice. Feel free to lightly close your eyes and be aware of your breathing, take deep,
. . .
. . .
and exhaling slowly (pause)
. . .
As you exhale, release all of
the tension in your body and feel yourself start to relax.
Be aware of your body ... relax your head, release the tension from your shoulders, move
any way you like to help you release tension. Feel your hands resting on your chair or
. . .
Let your legs sink into the chair, and feel your feet in a relaxed, ﬂexed position.
Be aware of the feeling and relaxation throughout your body
. . .
And the complete release
of tension and stress . . .
Now, imagine a time in your life when you were in a joyous, relaxed state. For many
people, it is a beautiful spot visited on vacation
. . .
but the beauty of this is, you may
choose whatever your ideal place is
. . .
now visualize yourself in that place, wherever it
is. It may be walking along a beach, amongst some beautiful trees, or a mountain hike,
or it may be in a comfortable chair in your backyard
. . .
where it is, be there now while
you the music plays . . . [Allow the music to sound for a few minutes here].
Now with all of your senses, breathe in the fresh air, feel the warm sun and the gentle
breezes on your face. Internalize how this makes you feel. Does it make you smile? These
are precious moments we have in our memory, and we can revisit them any time we wish.
Now bring this feeling, this smiling feeling—to the core of your being. Start with
feeling the smile on your face, then move it in. Slowly move this smile into your body.
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 11 of 14
Let it penetrate from inside your heart to the rest of your body. Feel this smile in every cell
of your being.
Know now that you may return to this feeling anytime you wish. [Allow the music to
sound for a few minutes here and then fade music here.]
Now slowly begin to become aware of the presence of those around you, the sounds of the
room, the feeling of air on your skin. Feel your feet planted ﬁrmly on the ground and as
you breathe deeply again, slowly open your eyes and become aware of your surroundings.
A discussion of the women’s experience with the music-assisted relaxation followed. The women
shared imagery about their favorite places and the feelings that arose during the music-assisted
relaxation. Acceptance of feelings and being present to the speaker’s voice was also discussed.
Homework for Acceptance/Letting Go in Daily Living
The women were given a compact disc of seven music-assisted relaxation scripts and were asked
to practice with the recording for 15–20 min daily. They were also to practice the mindfulness attitude
of “letting go” during the relaxation. To practice “acceptance” the women were asked to read a poem
called “The Guest House” by Rumi and to be open to accept all emotional experiences. Journaling of
experiences was encouraged.
See Supplementary D for Week Four homework instructions, the music journal exercise, and “The
Select quotes from women’s homework of acceptance and letting go:
This week the music was extremely relaxing and beautiful. From the beginning of the CD
my mood, thoughts and feelings changed. I was apprehensive, nervous, etc
. . .
Now I feel
acceptance, relaxed, ready for the approaching surgery Totally with a positive attitude!
The air around the room was cool but once the music stopped the room felt really warm and
hot. I imagined being so small that I could ﬁt inside a ﬂower. There were pleasant images.
6. Conclusions and Recommendations
The design and development of the MBMT program were inﬂuenced by mindfulness attitudes
inherent in the mindfulness-based stress reduction programs [
]. Four mindfulness attitudes were
introduced to the women and practiced through four-weekly corresponding music exercises that were
facilitated by a music therapist. The attitudes were also transferred to non-music daily living exercises
to be practiced at home. Weekly narrative responses from the women reﬂect an improvement in mood
and provide an understanding of how the women beneﬁt in change of perspective from the MBMT
homework. A positive transformation in many women became apparent over time of the four-week
program. Self-identities seemed to be communicated with strength over time and the women appeared
more relaxed over time. The narrative comments illustrate this positive change. Further, MBMT was
effective in signiﬁcantly reducing negative mood states, especially fatigue, and increasing energy and,
as well, signiﬁcantly improved attention, as reported elsewhere .
This program emphasized four mindfulness attitudes of mindfulness that were simulated or
practiced within a musical context, followed by practice in daily life. While present-moment practice
with sound opened each session, there was not an extended time period of moment-to-moment
mindfulness practice. The author felt the shorter time periods were more appropriate than longer
durations as many of the women were new to mindfulness and many were coping with anxiety as
a result of their cancer diagnosis. The author was aware that enhanced awareness of the moment
could potentially exacerbate the anxiety. Deep breathing was always part of the opening exercise,
so relaxation was also an integral part of each session.
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 12 of 14
There are many ways in which the program can be extended and/or improved. For example,
the author chose to emphasize four mindfulness attitudes, but others such as patience and trust,
could be implemented into music simulations. These two attitudes are very helpful to women
enduring series of chemotherapy treatments. Of note, the nature of the attitudes is that they overlap,
in that, for example, patience is required when practicing acceptance.
The MBMT study was designed for a four-week period, but for some women the program ended
before the women completed their chemotherapy treatments. In clinical practice, the program should
be offered throughout the treatment regimen and, as well, offered to women post-treatment.
Further, MBMT should be held in a group format and outcomes be investigated. The social support
from group members could further enhance the desired outcomes of improved mood states and
attention. As well, the effect of MBMT on outcomes measures such as working memory, quality-of-life,
and immune system response  are recommended.
Speciﬁc to music therapy research, patient factors that contribute to desired positive outcomes
of MBMT, such as those referred to previously [
], should be investigated. Patient factors such
as relationship with the therapist, level of relaxation, and level of mindfulness awareness could
be investigated. Moreover, the effect and function of the music in MBMT should be understood.
Recent studies have included examination of the impact of mindfulness preferred-music listening on
]. Britton [
] designed a music mindfulness program that consisted of breathing with
music, music listening, body scan to music, and movement to music. He outlined three ways in which
music listening and playing instruments supports mindfulness practice: music as primary object of
attention, music as facilitator, and music as a nonspeciﬁc memory cue. Music as the primary object is
the practice of maintaining attention to the sounds of preferred music. Attention is anchored to a
speciﬁc instrument, melody, voice, or overall sound, and if and when the mind wanders to thoughts,
feelings, it is directed back to anchor to the sound. Next, music can evoke thoughts, feelings, and/or
sensation and when attention is brought to these responses music is serving as facilitator. In other
words, the primary object of attention becomes the response to the music, and thus the object of
attention might become an emotional response, thought or body sensation as the mindfulness object.
Last, music acts as a nonspeciﬁc memory cue when it supports exercises in mindfulness that include
body awareness or movement. Music may serve to cue mindful-movement as for example, in Kabat
] body-scan exercise. Britton’s conjecture of the role of music in mindfulness interventions is
an important contribution to mindfulness practice, music psychology and music therapy practice.
Finally, the role of music and mindfulness in theoretical frameworks within a cancer-speciﬁc
model  should be explored.
MBMT is a valuable intervention for women receiving adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer.
In the words of one participant when asked at the end of the program about any particular moments
that stood out to her in her MBMT experience . . .
It was for me, the culmination of the experience and what the study gave to me or reinforced
for me, was my love of music . . .
And then when asked how she would explain mindfulness to a group of people or friends . . .
Getting rid of all the extraneous crap so that you can live in the moment. Depending on
the age of the group I may or may not use the word “crap”!
. . .
And stopping to smell the
ﬂowers and even if it’s in the middle of a garbage dump, you are smelling the ﬂowers.
You deﬁnitely focus on the positive. In fact, [a project being asked of me lately] has been
nothing but aggravation. And I ﬁnally [decided to say] “You know, this music therapy that
I am concluding today has made me realize that I don’t want to do this project. I want to
have positive experiences right now, which may sound selﬁsh, and is more selﬁsh than I
like to be, but it’s necessary right now.
Healthcare 2016,4, 53 13 of 14
This research was funded by the University of Miami Provost Research Award. The author
gratefully acknowledges Carol Kaminsky, M.A., BC-DMT, Joyce Chavarria, D.N.P., O.C.N., and Olga V. Moreira,
M.S.N., A.R.N.P. for their assistance with program support.
Conﬂicts of Interest: The authors declare no conﬂict of interest.
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