Music Therapist Creates Song From Child's Heartbeat

Music Therapy Provides Peace of Mind for Parents with Sick Children

The heartbeat is the most basic, beautiful metronome. It is such a powerful, audible representation of life and of the human experience.

A mother of a patient once told me, “I’m afraid that I’m going to forget my daughter’s voice.” This comment compelled me to begin recording portions of music therapy sessions to proactively build a reservoir of positive and natural experiences with patients and their families.

When I began working in the CICU, NICU, PICU, it was more difficult to capture these moments, because some of these patients cannot speak, whether it is due to their age (infant), progression of illness, or intensive medical care (intubation).

I had heard of other music therapists in the medical field adding recordings of in utero heartbeats to lullabies created with high-risk pregnant mothers to increase bonding between the mother and baby.

But it wasn’t until I saw a piece of news highlighting a mother’s response to hearing her bereaved daughter’s heart still beating inside a recipient that sparked a light bulb. With an improvised stethoscope microphone, I realized I could capture patients’ rhythmic essence – their heartbeat – and add it to music that is meaningful to the patient and his or her family.

Working from a clinical foundation of palliative care, a specialized care for people with serious illnesses, my aim has always been to enhance or improve the patient and families’ quality of life. At Cincinnati Children’s, family-centered care is at the root of every intervention we facilitate.

So I realized this music therapy intervention could potentially fulfill those needs as well, and assist with increased coping, anticipatory grief, and pre/post loss and bereavement.

I have found that the process of performing this intervention together with the family is more important than the product, but aesthetic beauty and musicianship is necessary to truly honor the patient and family. I will ask the family what songs are important to the patient and meaningful to them, then the chosen songs are added instrumentally over the beat of the patient’s heart.

The resulting songs are as individualistic as the patients and families I serve and the outcome is a preservation of the patient’s legacy in the form of music.

Families in a situation in which their loved one has a serious illness feel an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Giving them something proactive and productive to focus on helps to normalize the situation and gives them a little bit of control. This is really the foundation of music therapy: utilizing music to help and support patients and family members address their emotional and social needs and improve quality of life.

I recently helped create a video which explains this heartbeat music therapy and how it has helped one family. You can hear the songs the patient’s father and younger brother chose together, and how the patient’s heartbeat and their love will never stop.

“So I think there is again this word love. It’s capable of so many transformations that can be then something quite practical. Music is the one way in which you can imagine that world—Music that speaks to the human soul, but originates somewhere else, that tells the music, the human soul, that you originate somewhere else. This is the voice of home.” 

Robbins, C. (2005). Personal Interview. Nordoff-Robbins Institute. New York, NY: NYU

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Brian Schreck, MA, MT-BC

About the Author: Brian Schreck, MA, MT-BC

Brian Schreck, MA, MT-BC, is the coordinator of music therapy at Cincinnati Children’s in the division of Child Life and Integrative Care. Brian studied music therapy at Berklee College of Music and New York University, and has been working professionally as a board certified music therapist for 10 years.

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  1. Beth September 11, 10:44
    Oh my Gosh, what you are doing is just incredible! I am a mother-baby RN and IBCLC ( Lactation Consultant) in Cinicnnati and am in complete awe of your musical ability / ministry to heal broken hearts! You are such an amazing person to use your musical gift in this way. kudos to you!
  2. Jeremy Bennett October 05, 16:40
    Brian is truly one of the greatest men that I have ever met.Brian and the music therapy team truly heal on a daily basis!Thanks to all
  3. JS October 24, 18:21
    Brian, this is beautiful work! What an inspired idea. Would you be willing to share information about the technology you're using? I am a music therapist (and fellow NYU alum) working in a medical setting. I would love to have some better options for recording, particularly soft, intimate sounds like the heartbeat. Thanks for sharing your work and for speaking so eloquently about music therapy. What a gift you're given these families and patients!
  4. Shelly Hingsbergen November 24, 10:56
    Brian we can't thank you enough for all that you have done for Faith & Ayden. My daughter came home from hospice in 2010 she was in icu for 2 months in 2009 and again the following year. But the last time she was sent home with her hospice team and I was just told recently she was given 2 weeks. That's been FOUR Years ago. She's still with us I THANK GOD and all the friends at Childrens that take such great care of her and her brother Ayden. Brian made both kids a CD with their names in the songs. Ayden thought that was cool. he along with a few other friends have come out to the house to let Ayden n Faith play with all their musical equipment as well. Again THANK YOU Brian for all that you do for so many precious little ones. Shelly, Faith & Ayden
  5. Will Clayton November 25, 22:45
    That's awesome Brian. This is Willamina's dad. I have great memories of you coming in to play for Willamina and helping me to record my own songs to play for Willamina when I had to be away at work. I thankful that your work continues at Cincy at in a very profound way. God bless my friend. Hope all is well with your family. Willamina is doing great. She is in the first grade and her two sisters are not far behind. Take care, Will Clayton
  6. Brenda Jackson November 29, 00:04
    Brian, I am amazed at your gift. You are a true blessing to those families. I heard of you a few weeks ago, and was so excited to see this article! You have inspired me to dig deep, to see what I can offer children and families. Thank you for your generosity, Brenda Jackson
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  9. […] And the beat goes on Cincinnati Children’s Hospital blogA music therapist records the heartbeats of dying kids and incorporates them into songs that parents can keep. […]
  10. Marlo February 09, 17:25
    What you are doing is beautiful!! This really touched my heart!! You're an amazing person!!
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  15. […] The benefits of music therapy have been documented for years.  In times of duress, for example, music can help individuals better deal with loss by providing a focus and outlet for grief (as well as other emotions), by preserving the humanity of the situation and helping them to regain some sense of control. Brian Schreck — a music therapist & coordinator of music therapy at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in the division of Child Life and Integrative Care — has come up with a particularly moving way to utilize music for such ends…by creating songs from the heartbeats of dying children to comfort grieving parents.  To read the full article click here. […]
  16. […] Source: Cincinnati Children’s Blog […]
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  20. mlokbd March 10, 16:30
    Hello Brian, I am so inspired by the beauty of your project. I would really like to speak with you about an idea I have, creating something with your music. Please contact me when it is best for you. Thank you so much.