Music Therapy with Actual Heartbeats!

In a Facebook live conversation with music therapist Brian Schreck, we talked about a really cool music therapy intervention. It is music therapy with actual heartbeats! There is no technical term for it, but we can refer to it as “heartbeat music therapy.” The basic concept is to record the heartbeat of patients, which then can be edited, looped, and used to compose music on top of it. The heartbeat is the rhythmic base of a memento that remains as a legacy for loved ones.


Conversation with Brian Schreck

B: “I’ve been doing a lot of work with heartbeats. We like to pick up every part of the patient that is working. And sometimes when there is an inability to speak, or when any sort of verbal language is difficult we can still communicate through their natural rhythm. So I’ll use different stethoscopes. I have a digital one, and I can hook it up straight into my computer. I can use external Bluetooth to put it for a patient and have this far away so it won’t feedback. Someone can hold this on the person and through this, they can hear their real live heartbeat.


They can help us keep the rhythm for a live music intervention and it goes really wonderful with making recordings that can be just as important as the one we heard with Sam singing. If we can get the patient also singing on top of their heartbeat that’s amazing too. It’s really just using all the parts that are working with them. People often say to me, ‘I don’t have any rhythm’ and I like to come back by saying that ‘you have an amazing rhythm that’s keeping your whole body moving right now.’ So helping them understand. It can be a really sweet thing to even start out a session with when things aren’t going great. To be: ‘listen to this, you have a really unique rhythm’ and let’s play around with it.”


What Can We Do with the Heartbeats?

Brian kept on saying: “So once we have that we can edit it, we can loop it, and we can add different member’s heartbeats to it and really create wild things, sound collages. I’m excited about it, we are doing some good work about that. We are trying to make a documentary out of it. I am in the process of creating a website because there are a lot of music therapists that ask a lot of questions about it so this could be a nice way to communicate with them real-time and troubleshoot and add new ideas and help each other out.


Just trying to make music therapy as real and open to the public as possible so that they can see with their own eyes. You know, there are tons of papers about music therapy, there are wonderful things like this where we can talk about it, but people really need to see it sometimes to understand what exactly this means.”


The Beat of the Heart Movie

Brian is working on a feature-length documentary called The Beat of the Heart that will focus on his work with heartbeat recordings. “Based at the Norton Cancer Institute in Louisville, Brian has been recording the heartbeats of cancer patients to incorporate into a unique musical composition written with the patients and/or their families. Just as each individual’s heartbeat is unique, each musical composition becomes a celebration of the individual beauty and spirit of each of the patients involved.” If you are interested, check out:



Heartbeat Music Therapy in Other Hospitals

When I have visited Nationwide Children’s Hospital I have been able to see a music therapist record the heartbeat of patients. It really is a unique thing and families appreciate it. Other than NCH and Norton Cancer Institute, I wonder how many more hospitals have this as part of their music therapy program. It is an intervention that at Sam’s Fans we hope to see more of and we want to encourage music therapists to embrace it. There are really so many creative things that we can do with the heartbeats, from simply recording them, to playing music on top of them and so much more. Music therapy with actual heartbeats is awesome!

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L. Samuel Gracida

L. Samuel Gracida

Samuel is Sam's Fans Operating Director and our primary blogger!

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