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Thesis defences

PhD Oral Exam - Deborah Seabrook, Individualized Program

The Practice of Music Improvisation to Promote Mental Health and Well-Being: A Multidisciplinary Grounded Theory

Tuesday, April 28, 2020
10 a.m. – 1 p.m.

This event is free


School of Graduate Studies


Dolly Grewal



When studying for a doctoral degree (PhD), candidates submit a thesis that provides a critical review of the current state of knowledge of the thesis subject as well as the student’s own contributions to the subject. The distinguishing criterion of doctoral graduate research is a significant and original contribution to knowledge.

Once accepted, the candidate presents the thesis orally. This oral exam is open to the public.


In this thesis, I employed a constructivist grounded theory methodology to investigate current practices and perspectives among performing musicians, community musicians, and music therapists in order to develop a multidisciplinary understanding of how these practitioners use music improvisation to promote the mental health and well-being of their audiences, community members, and clients, respectively.

Ten participants, recruited through purposeful, snowball, and theoretical sampling, engaged in intensive semi-structured interviews. Of these, seven participants submitted an audio recording of themselves engaging in the practice under study. The musical data were used to guide the interviews for relevant participants. Interview data were analyzed with the support of NVivo software. This involved multidisciplinary, case-specific, cross-case, and theoretical analyses.

The main contribution of this thesis is the development of a substantive grounded theory of music improvisation to promote mental health and well-being as practiced by performing musicians, community musicians, and music therapists. Five grounded theory categories were devised based upon the data. “Engaging in the Interpersonal Musical Relationship” was identified as the Core Category. The remaining four categories were: (a) “Understanding Mental Health and Well-Being”; (b) “Understanding How Music Improvisation Affects Mental Health and Well-Being”; (c) “Working With or Without Intention”; and (d) “Acting in the Improvisatory Moment.” The grounded theory explains that how a practitioner engages in the interpersonal musical relationship with those they are improvising with or for configures their practice of music improvisation to promote mental health and well-being. Furthermore, the theory identifies “Affordances of Relationship Type According to Discipline” as a contingency within the Core Category that distinguishes the practice of music improvisation to promote mental health and well-being among disciplinary lines.

The findings of this research establish music improvisation to promote mental health and well-being as both a cross-disciplinary and discipline-specific practice. This may open new directions for relevant multidisciplinary collaboration based upon a mutual understanding of each discipline’s respective potential contributions. Recommendations for future research include inquiry that: (a) incorporates additional related disciplines; and (b) investigates further perspectives (e.g., of audience members, community music participants, and music therapy clients).

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