CNMN > Projects > The Beat of the Heart

Ruth Eliason

  • Voice
  • Acoustic instruments
  • Digital devices
  • Infant
  • Seniors

1-3 thirty-minute sessions

  • Health
  • Family
  • Palliative care

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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