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About Palliative Music

What is palliative music? 

Palliative music is also called live, therapeutic music (LTM). It is performed for comfort, not for entertainment. A palliative musician sits at the bedside, carefully attending to the patient as she plays, in order to create music that engages the parasympathetic nervous system and promotes relaxation and rest. She focuses on the patient, not on demonstrating her virtuosity. Palliative music is patient-centered music. A palliative music session usually lasts between 20 and 30 minutes.

Who can benefit from palliative music?

Palliative music can benefit anyone feeling stress, pain, or anxiety. It is most often performed for critically ill patients. To help combat stressful working conditions during the COVID pandemic, CMPs are also providing music to clinical staff—with striking benefits.

What benefits can palliative music provide?

Recent research shows that live, therapeutic music, performed by a trained CMP, can reduce a patient’s anxiety, perceived pain levels, and opioid usage. Palliative music is a nonpharmacologic pain treatment modality that medical facilities can offer patients in need of pain management.

Families and staff can benefit, too! A recent study completed in a COVID-19 intensive care unit showed that after live music interventions of 30 minutes, clinical staff reported substantially reduced stress levels (44.7%).

How is this different from music therapy?

Music therapists engage patients, using music as a tool to accomplish therapeutic goals. In contrast, palliative music is intended as comfort care. Palliative music does not require any attention from the patient—the patient may drift into sleep while listening. While music therapists sometimes make use of recorded music, a palliative musician will always perform music live, right at the bedside.

Why not just play a recording of music?

Studies show that live music is more effective than pre-recorded music in reducing patient anxiety. Live music can be crafted in response to a patient’s symptoms and needs. Every performance is unique. A palliative musician can coordinate the music to the patient’s breathing patterns and heart rate. Palliative music is created for a single individual, to assist with the needs of the moment.


Can music replace medical care?

No. Palliative music is a complement—not an alternative—to conventional medical treatments. Palliative music is part of holistic care, which recognizes the full humanity of each person, even during a critical or terminal illness.

Why palliative music?

Even when we encounter a medical crisis or a serious illness, we are not powerless. Music can transform medical situations, revealing the humanity of each moment for patients, families, and staff. Palliative music offers beauty and comfort when we need it most.

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