Humour in music therapy: A narrative literature review

Nicky Haire, Raymond Macdonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Humour is a highly prevalent but little understood phenomenon. In music therapy, experiences of humour are not well documented yet anecdotally widespread.

Method: A narrative literature review was conducted to identify, critically analyse and synthesise literature related to humour in music therapy. Literature was limited to accessible publications in the English language and sourced from multiple music therapy journals, bibliographic databases, electronic databases and books from the earliest available date until June 2018 using the key terms of humour/humor.

Results: Two empirical research studies that focussed on humour in music therapy were identified and references to humour were found in over 130 articles. Humour in music therapy was evidently taken for granted as a phenomenon with relationship-building effects. In addition, references to humour came overwhelmingly from music therapists’ point of view. Despite one comprehensive research study exploring humour in music therapy, a lack of investigation into reciprocal experiences of humour and how this is “played out” through improvisation was identified.

Discussion: This review surfaces a phenomenon that is ubiquitous yet under-researched in music therapy. In general, a kind of insider knowledge appears necessary for humour to be shared; yet the ambiguity inherent in humour means that music therapists can encounter risk in using or engaging with it in their work. These findings have led directly to further research into reciprocal embodied experiences of humour and improvisation in music therapy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
JournalNordic Journal of Music Therapy
Early online date14 Feb 2019
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 14 Feb 2019


  • humour
  • improvisation
  • music therapy
  • incongruity
  • intersubjectivity
  • relationship


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