CNMN > Projects > The Beat of the Heart

Ruth Eliason

  • Voix
  • Instruments acoustiques
  • Appareils numériques
  • Bébé
  • Ainés

1-3 thirty-minute sessions

  • Santé
  • Famille
  • Soins palliatifs

The Beat of the Heart


The beat or pulse could be consi­de­red the foun­da­tion of what we do, as music-makers.  It is often the struc­ture within which we tell a sto­ry through melo­dy, rhythm, timbre, dyna­mics and even lyrics.  As a music the­ra­pist, I have been wit­nes­sing the power of the beat in the form of heart­beat recor­dings.  I work in an acute care set­ting, with both pal­lia­tive and pae­dia­tric patients.  Heart­beat recor­dings were intro­du­ced to me by work col­leagues who had come across the work of Louis­ville music the­ra­pist Brian Schreck.  Brian’s work with indi­vi­duals with can­cer focuses on the pro­cess of recor­ding individual’s heart­beats, and com­po­sing a song to com­pa­nion that recor­ding.  The resul­ting pro­cess and pro­duct is one that empha­sizes crea­ti­vi­ty, beau­ty and lega­cy.  In the work that I do, heart­beat recor­dings are used in work with patients, young and old, as a form of lega­cy for those whose diag­no­sis may be life-limiting. 

Mate­rials : ipad or recor­ding device, ste­tho­scope, lapel mic

These mate­rials are not pro­hi­bi­ti­ve­ly expen­sive, as iPads are com­mon tools, and the other sup­plies (Rode lapel mic and ste­tho­scope) total ~$350.00.  Other indi­vi­duals have suc­cess in using digi­tal ste­tho­scopes like the Eko Core which may have a stee­per lear­ning curve, but is rough­ly the same price, with some com­pa­tible smart tools (app, etc) that make it equal­ly easy to use. 

Consi­de­ra­tions : When doing a heart­beat recor­ding, it is impor­tant to deter­mine the best place on the chest in order to cap­ture the stron­gest sound of the beat.  There are lots of great resources online that pro­vide a good over­view, along with dia­grams that give an idea of placement.

When using equip­ment that is sen­si­tive, it is good to try to have as quiet of an envi­ron­ment as pos­sible – to put a sign on the door indi­ca­ting that a recor­ding is in pro­cess, etc.

It is impor­tant to put the indi­vi­dual at ease, as they may be uncer­tain about a new expe­rience, even when fee­ling posi­tive about making the recor­ding. Many people with health chal­lenges often have changes to their bodies that can make them feel self-conscious. This can be done by easy conver­sa­tion lea­ding up to the recor­ding, by war­ming the ste­tho­scope, etc.

There are other consi­de­ra­tions that may make it dif­fi­cult to obtain a clear recor­ding.  If someone’s heart­beat is very weak, it may be chal­len­ging to get a recor­ding that sounds like a heart­beat.  This is also the case with indi­vi­duals who have expe­rien­ced extreme weight loss due to disease.  The most impor­tant thing would be to be      able to have a pres­sure-free time of trying to find a clear heart­beat that will deter­mine whe­ther pro­cee­ding with a recor­ding is a good idea.


Consent : It is impor­tant to have consent for the pro­cess and the recor­ding, whe­ther it be for art, research, treatment/therapy, etc.  Ensu­ring that the indi­vi­dual clear­ly unders­tands what is taking place, and what the recor­ding will be used for is cri­ti­cal.  I use the consent forms for recor­ding as well as com­mu­ni­ca­ting elec­tro­ni­cal­ly (to deli­ver the final recor­ding) in my work with patients.  I put the ori­gi­nal in the chart, keep a copy for my records, and then pro­vide the indi­vi­dual with a copy of the consent as well.  It is a straight­for­ward pro­cess in my work, as the recor­dings are sole­ly for the use of the patients, as they see fit.

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