Heartbeat Songs: Remembrance of a Loved One

In 2016, Ryan Tonkin, board certified music therapist at Orlando Health UF Health Cancer Center started to hear from his colleagues and read on social media about a new intervention with pediatric patients going through the end-of-life process.

Music therapy is offered as part of a patient’s clinical treatment and some music therapists had started to offer ‘heartbeat songs’ to the loved ones of terminal pediatric patients as a lasting memento. Heartbeat songs feature a song that has special meaning to the patient or loved ones with the patient’s heartbeat as a backing rhythm. Ryan soon started to offer the service to the adult patient population at Orlando Health hospitals.

After getting consent from the patient or their family, Ryan uses an electronic stethoscope to get a 10-second long snippet of the heartbeat and then uses music editing software to remove any interference from the recording and duplicate the heartbeat. He records his own version of the song chosen by the patient or family and inserts the heartbeat as the background to the finished track. Families have been known to play the song at memorials and celebrations of life and they also have it as a keepsake.

“Creating something that is the combination of a song that has special meaning with a piece of the person who has passed, or will soon, not only helps loved ones process a very difficult time, it also provides a tangible memento,” Ryan explained. “It is humbling for me knowing that a family has let me in to a very trying time in their lives. It’s a privilege to be able to provide them something with such significance.”

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