Music in your room?

Greg Maxwell helps patients heal through music

While the U-M Health System is known for providing world class clinical care, there are many ways our non-clinical employees help patients heal.  Therapeutic music is near the top of the list. Greg Maxwell works for the Health System’s Gifts of Art program as a Certified Music Practitioner (CMP®), singing and playing his guitar in patients’ rooms.

“This type of music creates a space where patients can start feeling better,” says Greg. “All they need to do is relax and experience the soothing effects of live acoustic music.”

Greg began singing when he was only 7, playing ukulele at 8, and guitar by 11. But it wasn’t until he was driving home one day from his office job in Detroit that he considered playing music for a living.

“I heard a radio report about the Bedside Music program and had a light bulb moment,” he says. “Playing music for patients sounded like the greatest idea I had ever heard.”

He soon began playing as a volunteer musician in waiting areas at University Hospital. Then he took the 18-month Music for Healing and Transition (MHTP) program, where he learned how to bring therapeutic music right into a patient’s room. Greg started part-time at UMHS in 2008 and became a full-time employee in 2011.

“Ever since my first day, I’ve been motivated to continue because it’s the coolest job I could ever imagine.”

Bedside musicians are trained to monitor patients’ physical and vital signs as they play. Using a process called entrainment, they play music that is a close match to the patient’s breathing and heartbeat, as can be seen on their monitor. They also look for physical signs of stress like labored breathing or tense shoulders. As the music continues, patients often relax their breathing, have reduced heart rate and lower blood pressure. The musician responds by slowing the music to mirror the patient’s condition.

Greg works with a team of music practitioners, who are all gifted musicians and graduates from the MHTP program. Each one has a special skill that can help different patients including harp, viola, guitar and voice. On any given day, the team works from a list of about 50 patients who have been referred to them for a music visit.

“The most rewarding part of this job is the feedback we get from patients and clinical staff. Seeing my music make a difference in a patient’s well-being or having a staff member tell me how our music makes their unit better is the ultimate reward.”

“We often see patients lean back, relax their shoulders, or close their eyes while we play,” says Greg.

Greg still remembers the first time he saw a patient react to his playing.

“He was tense and in pain when I arrived.  As I played, he almost seemed to melt back into his bed,” he says. “One of the greatest compliments we get from a patient is putting them to sleep.”

Greg.Still004Therapeutic music can be requested for patients by nurses, doctors, social workers, palliative care staff, spiritual care or the patients themselves.  A bedside music visit can even be ordered through the MiChart system.

“Our program is different from other hospitals because of the wide range of services we cover,” says Greg. Bedside musicians can visit patients in most inpatient areas of UMHS as well as intensive care units, neonatal units and dialysis, burn/trauma and pre-and post-surgery areas.

The Bedside Music program is part of the Gifts of Art department, which through its many tailored programs, has brought visual and performing arts to UMHS for nearly 30 years.  To request a visit, call 734-936-ARTS (2787) or email  For a flier with information, click here.