Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care | Your Personal Soundtrack

Music Therapy in Hospice and Palliative Care | Your Personal Soundtrack

Music Therapy in hospice and palliative care

Guest blog post by Jennifer Buchanan of JB Music Therapy – a Canadian company based in Calgary, Alberta. “Our mission at JB Music Therapy is to transform lives through excellence in clinical practice and education by bringing music into the foreground. JBMT has been providing music therapy services since 1991. We offer personalized programs for individuals coping with brain injury, mental health issues, learning challenges, dementia, palliative care, addictions, long-term care, autism, as well as youth at risk.”


Your Personal Soundtrack

With a piece of paper by your side, or on your computer, construct the following chart. Make one age category per page. That way, if you need to use more paper—say for your teen years – you can do that and not get the age groups mixed up. That’s very important actually as you want to recognize when you were listening to what music.


AgeThe Music You Listened To During this TimeAssociated Memories
Birth to Grade School
Grade School
Later Life


Identifying Preferences

Your preferences are your greatest triggers to snap you into the mood you want to be in but first we have to identify our preferences. In order to do that we have several considerations: style preferences, tempo preferences and timbre preferences.

Style preferences are often one of the easiest markers of music preferences. This is the kind of music we like. From classical to country, there are definite styles that we gravitate towards. It is fun as well as important to recognize what your style preference are, but always leave yourself open to surprises. The activity forms on will help you begin to address the styles you most gravitate towards.

Your tempo preferences vary more often each day. The tempo of a song we like in the morning is often different than the speed of songs we like in the afternoon or just before we go to bed. When selecting a song for a party we often think of tempo first and select what we perceive is upbeat or relaxing depending the mood we want to evoke.

Finally there is your timbre preferences. Every instrument or voice carries with it its’ unique timbre. All timbres attract or repel the person who hears it.

Once you have addressed your music preferences, perhaps even documenting them you may begin to see patterns to your day, week, month or experiences.

So as you tune in to your music, may you find the peace, the joy, the laughter, and even sometimes the tears, that I have found with my music.


The McDonald Family

The McDonald family thought they were choosing just the right music until they heard it. This wonderful family spent every Christmas together. When the matriarch of the family was in the hospital, the entire family came to visit. Sharon McDonald, the head of the family, had always been close to each of her four children. Even after they were grown they all continued to live near each other and visited regularly.

Now in the hospital for Christmas, Sharon always had at least one family member at her side, if not two. When you walked past their door, the room was regularly filled with animated voices and laughter. I first met them a week before Christmas. I was walking to another patient’s room when Sharon’s son ran up to me and asked if I would come into their room for a moment. As I entered I was greeted by four other smiling faces. Each person had a bit of red in their hair, and it was easy to tell they were related. In the centre was Sharon. She lifted her hands and welcomed me with a two handed shake.

Then she said, “Christmas is a very important time for our family. We would be grateful if you would sing some of our favourite songs.”

I agreed. Before I started everyone was lively and cheerful. I sat down amidst the group and pulled out my guitar. Sharon turned to me and said, “Jennifer, I think we need a song that we won’t cry to. How about ‘Jingle Bells’?”

I played my liveliest strum and opened into the first verse, “Dashing through the snow,” I didn’t even make it to the chorus when the entire room stopped singing and started crying. The Christmas music, although the most suitable choice, was reminding the family more about what they wouldn’t have this Christmas (their mom at home) than what they did have. I slowed the music down and was about to stop when Sharon started laughing. And soon everyone else was laughing with her. “I guess it doesn’t matter what we sing I guess we are needing the music to help us cry.”

Music can positively and negatively trigger our feelings and memories. When we choose our music intentionally, amazing things can happen. Our choices are critical when finding the right music for the right moment and for the right purpose. However sometimes, as Sharon recognized, the music can help you understand what you truly need in a moment more than anything else can.

Jennifer Buchanan, MTA is the owner of JB Music Therapy and Author of this story and exercise found in her book ‘Tune In: use music intentionally to curb stress, boost morale and restore health.’  Jennifer is a popular keynote speaker at healthcare and education conferences. 

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Courtney Murrell is a PSW who works in hospice palliative care.

When she is not at work, she is spending time with her family, going on hikes or writing. Courtney is a lifelong learner and loves to share her passion for writing as a wellness practice.

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