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What is Music Centred Design?

Music Centred Design (MCD) is a way of thinking that puts music at the centre of our responses to people, place and wellbeing. MCD is an evolution in the design thinking process and is inspired by the problem-solving frameworks of Participatory Design, User-Centred Design and Human-Centred Design. It is a new approach that applies a music centred lens to problem solving to generate unique solutions that enhance the daily lives of people; the places people live, work and play; and health and wellbeing.

The use of music to enhance our daily lives is well understood, but this understanding often does not translate to deliberate nor strategic user-centred solutions that contribute to better communities, harmonious places and quality of life. Most of us engage with music daily to find comfort, relaxation or motivation, but recent breakthroughs in the scientific understanding of the power of music on our brains has proven that music can have an enormous benefit for our brain health. The growing body of neuroscientific research has demonstrated that when we listen to music, dopamine is released which in turn triggers a pleasure response. Further to this, the research demonstrates that the pleasure response is even further heightened when people play music as the brain is uniquely activated across the visual, auditory and motor cortices. Imagine; if we could better harness the power of music on the brain and get more people listening and playing music, in more places and for the duration of their life – the outcomes are hugely exciting.

People and Music

For centuries, cultures around the world have used music to communicate, bring people together and self-express. Consequently, music plays a central role in many different societal rituals including weddings, funerals, ceremonies and celebrations. With recent changes to the way that we communicate and interact, including technological advances, the digital age and global trends like urbanisation, a result is an increasing sense of loneliness, isolation and mental health issues within our communities.

The benefits of music in education and the development of children have been recognised for many years. However, with recent advances in neuroscientific understanding of the full brain effect that music can trigger, there is a growing push for greater equity of access for not only children, but also for adults to benefit from lifelong engagement with music.

In January 2018, we founded the Community Music Project with the objective of creating a movement of community music sharing. Once a month on a Sunday afternoon, we welcome musicians from around Sydney into our home to share their musical talents, have a glass of wine, some cheese and chat with other likeminded people. This is a hugely rewarding way for us to connect with other musicians in our local area and to share our collective passion for music. We believe this is one of many examples of how MCD thinking can bring people together, strengthen communities and enhance quality of life.

Place and Music

Take a moment to think about some of the places you pass by daily, now think about how those places could be activated and enhanced with music. Great places are fundamentally about people and because of the intrinsic relationship between music and people, we believe that music can play a major role in creating vibrant places to live, work and play.

There are an increasing number of initiatives that harness the power of music to create great places. One of our favourite examples is The Street Piano project that began in Sheffield, England and has subsequently been rolled-out to cities all around the world (now known as Play Me, I’m Yours). These street pianos have enabled both famous and inconspicuous public places to be enlivened and activated by music.

As both a professional Urban Planner and passionate Cellist, Danai has spent many years thinking about a way to connect his unwavering recognition of the potential power of music in contributing to the creation of great places. The MCD approach has enormous potential to activate existing places and inspire the creation of more great places that bring people together through music.

Wellbeing and Music

Music can have a significant impact on our mental wellbeing and physical health because human responsiveness to music is ubiquitous. The field of Music Therapy is a key example of music and wellbeing in action. Music Therapy has evolved significantly in recent years from a social science to a neuroscience with significant application for Stroke, Parkinsons, Mental Health issues and Aged/Hospice care. Brain-based treatments for brain-based disorders are gaining increased recognition, with the ability of music to connect different parts of the brain in a restorative and preventative capacity delivering amazing outcomes and drawing the attention of many in the health sector.

Another current example of music being applied to improve wellbeing is the Community Music Project’s 2019 project, the Autumn Sessions, which  brings the power of music to local aged care residents in the Inner West of Sydney. Having volunteered at a nursing home in 2018 and witnessed first-hand the positive and visible wellbeing effect music has on residents, we applied for a grant with our local council to pilot a project that will fund local musicians to share their musical talents with aged care residents.

Collectively, we have only just begun to scratch the surface of the potential impact of music upon wellbeing. MCD has scope to play an important role in contributing to holistic public health strategy and in delivering enhanced health and wellbeing outcomes.

Ben and Danai

Founders, Community Music Project