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Music Therapy in Hospice

Using Music to Bring Comfort to the Whole Person

Learn how music therapy brings hospice patients spiritual, physical, and emotional comfort on the end-of-life journey.

Music is a uniquely powerful form of art that has a long and storied role in many forms of healing and overall wellness. Music, with its ability to transcend cultural, language, and societal barriers, has the power to promote wellness for the whole person. In the hospice setting, music is one of many therapeutic art forms that are used to promote total well-being within patients, families, caregivers, and the bereaved.

History of Music Therapy

Music is a medium that has long been used to promote spiritual wellness and has a longstanding history as a therapeutic tool in healing practices. Dating as far back as 500 B.C., during the time of the ancient Grecians, music is recognized for its therapeutic properties. Renowned philosophers of this era, such as Plato, Pythagoras, and Aristotle, recognized the powerful influence music had on an individual’s overall wellness. Plato states: “Music is an art imbued with power to penetrate into the very depths of the soul.”

“Music is an art imbued with power to penetrate into the very depths of the soul.”

- Plato

In music therapy’s advancement as a modern medical profession, E. Thayer Gaston, credited as the father of music therapy, was instrumental in music therapy being an officially recognized tool in the medical community. A staunch defender of the impact music has on the whole person, Gaston established three core principles for the use of music in a therapeutic setting.

  1. Music therapy helps establish or re-establish interpersonal relationships

  2. Music therapy promotes positive self-esteem through self-actualization

  3. Music therapy uses the unique potential of rhythm to energize patients, bringing order and calmness.

Techniques Used in Hospice Music Therapy

Music therapy in hospice is unique in that it can draw from the patient’s culture, religious beliefs, and cherished memories to create a healing experience that is deeply personal and meaningful. In this, music therapy promotes an environment of healing and emotional restoration that are precisely in tune with a patient’s specific needs. While all hospice music therapy programs will have some degree of variance between them, most music therapy sessions in the end-of-life setting incorporate many of the same therapeutic exercises and techniques.


Songwriting can inspire deep thought and reflection about relationships and life. These practices can open up the door to healing longstanding emotional wounds between the patient, friends, and family.

Moving to music

Moving to music promotes physical activity and movement that otherwise may not occur for patients.

Lyric discussion

Lyric discussion and analysis encourages stimulating conversation and can lead to patients’ introspection and reflection on life, relationships, and their legacy.


Singing promotes social togetherness as patients, therapists, family members, and caregivers enjoy the lyrics and tune of the music together.

Emotional, Spiritual, and Social Benefits of Hospice Music Therapy

Music is an artform that has the ability to cross over race, creed, and culture and impact humans at a deeply spiritual level. By employing these inherent characteristics of music, hospice music therapy, at an emotional, spiritual, and social level, promotes:

Heightened self-confidence

As patients experience continued, positive social interactions with the music therapist, learn new musical skills, and potentially regain lost motor skills, their outlook on themselves greatly improves. A positive self-image and self-worth dramatically improves the overall well-being of patients and promotes a more positive outlook on the end-of-life journey.

Increased social interaction

Music allows for patients to form bonds with those who share their love for a specific classic tune, timeless artist, or style of music. These social interactions, made easier by connecting through the shared interest of music, allow patients who may not commonly seek to interact socially to seek interaction and friendships with others.

Introspection and life review

Music provides patients with a safe space to explore their emotions, reflect on life, and look toward the road ahead on the end-of-life journey. During these moments of self-reflection, patients begin the spiritual healing process, allowing old spiritual wounds to heal, and encouraging the rebuilding and healing of relationships with family, friends, and loved ones.

Physical Benefits of Hospice Music Therapy

While music can be an impactful tool in emotional, spiritual, and social healing, music therapy also provides numerous physical benefits. For hospice patients dealing with physical pain, music therapy provides:

Improved relaxation

Music therapy is a powerful tool in aiding relaxation. Music, when paired with relaxation exercises, is shown to promote a deeper level of restorative relaxation than the exercises alone. Skilled music therapists, over time, can hone in on the types of music that the patient best responds to and can create the best environment for maximum relaxation.

Enhanced communication and speech abilities

Speech and singing share many of the same oral motor skills such as breath control, vocal intensity, and articulation. Music therapy sessions that involve singing can help patients strengthen motor skills that may have been damaged due to their illness.

Improved motor coordination

Instruments help promote precise physical motion, such as the plucking of strings on a guitar, or the positioning of fingers on a piano’s keys. These precise physical actions, over time, can help patients regain lost muscular control and can increase overall hand-eye coordination.

Music Therapy and Bereavement Support

The artform of music is accessible to everyone and provides a safe, non-verbal means of communication and emotional expression. The environment that music provides helps promote understanding, healing, and growth in the lives of those who are grieving the loss of a loved one. In a bereavement setting, music therapy helps families and surviving loved ones by:

Understanding and finding meaning in grief

In the safe environment that music provides, the pain, sadness, and anger that may accompany grief can be explored and expressed without fear of judgement. Through therapeutic exercises such as listening to music and analyzing lyrics, music therapy can help surviving family members understand and communicate the emotions they experience along the grief recovery journey.

Honoring the life and memory of the deceased

Music is an artform that has long been used in the practice of memorializing a deceased loved one and bringing honor to their legacy. By engaging in therapeutic songwriting, music therapists can help families process their grief and create a personal and meaningful tribute to a late loved one.

Comfort for the Whole Person

Music therapy is a complex, personal, and deeply spiritual practice that brings aid to all who are on the end-of-life journey. It is a tool that embraces culture, memories, and spirituality to create a restorative experience that is uniquely therapeutic to each person. By employing the restorative nature of music, music therapy allows hospice patients, families, caregivers, and the bereaved to enjoy physical relaxation, mend emotional wounds, and recharge spiritually.


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  2. Gordon, Michael, and Amy Clements-Cortes. "Music at the End of Life: Bringing Comfort and Saying Goodbye Through Song and Story." Annals of Long-Term Care 21.11 (2013)
  3. Hilliard, R. E. "The Effects of Music Therapy on the Quality and Length of Life of People Diagnosed with Terminal Cancer." Journal Of Music Therapy (2003): 113-37.
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  5. Krout, R. E. "Music Therapy with Imminently Dying Hospice Patients and Their Families: Facilitating Release near the Time of Death." American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (2003): 129-34.
  6. Munro, S., and B. Mount. "Music Therapy in Palliative Care." Canadian Medical Association Journal 119 (1978): 1029-034.

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