Music for Comfort or Healing

Are you interested in using the power of music to support comfort or healing?

Whether you’re looking for college-level training, want to incorporate music into your work, or wish to find a way to use your musical skills to enhance the quality of life for people experiencing health crises or other life challenges, you’ll want to know about these options.

by Barbra Weidlein

1. Bedside Harp
Bedside Harp’s mission is “to promote the therapeutic use of the harp in healthcare and wellness settings.” The Certified Harp Therapist (CHT) and Certified Master of Harp Therapy (CHMT) programs are “mindfulness-based programs designed to train adult harpists (those who play pedal harp) and harpers (those who pay folk or lever harp) to work as healthcare professionals in medical and wellness settings.” 

Most of the training is available online except for one module (“Working with the Depressed, the Seriously Ill and the Dying”) that must be taken live. For those who want to learn to play the harp, instructional harp programs are also offered.

2. Bread & Roses Presents

Bread & Roses, founded by singer/songwriter Joan Baez’s late sister, musician Mimi Farina, presents free live-performance shows at facilities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area. Professional and semi-professional musicians as well as dancers, clowns and magicians volunteer their time and talents “to people who are disadvantaged, marginalized, or otherwise isolated in diverse institutional settings in the San Francisco Bay Area.”  Volunteers with limited or no musical training can also volunteer to host shows.

3. MUSACOR (Musicians as a Community Resource)

MUSACOR provides information and training to musical groups that want to enrich the quality of life in their communities through music. The MUSACOR website offers ideas, resources and even scripts to assist musicians in their efforts. 

Penny Brill, a violist with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, created MUSACOR as well as the PSO’s Music and Wellness Program. 

Music for Healing Guitar Kids

4. Music Care Training

Music Care Training is one of several programs offered through the Room 217 Foundation to “change the culture of care” through music. Music Care Training is designed for healthcare professionals (RNs, recreation therapists, social workers, chaplains, etc.) who want to incorporate music in their work. Musicians as well as family and volunteer care providers can also participate. 

Strategies for using music as well as music skills strengthening are provided in 2-day courses. A longer program for learning to advocate for music in a caregiving setting is also available. Certification or other credentials are not offered for any of these programs. While headquartered in Canada, Music Care Training facilitators will travel to other workplaces to provide the training.

5. Music for Healing & Transition Program (MHTP)

Musicians take this five-level therapeutic music program in order to learn how to bring emotional, spiritual, mental and physiological comfort to patients through live acoustic music played at the patient’s bedside. The only goal is to provide a healing environment.

The training consists of live, experiential classes (some of which are offered via videoconference) plus a required 45-hour clinical practicum. Graduates receive the title of Certified Music Practitioner (CMP).  

6. Music Therapy

Music therapists have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from a school accredited by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). In addition to coursework in music, psychology, behavioral and social sciences, voice, guitar and keyboards, undergraduate requirements include 1200 hours of clinical training with a supervised internship. Certification exams are required at the end of training to gain the credentials necessary to practice as music therapists.  

According to the AMTA, “Highly trained and nationally certified music therapists build on inherent qualities of music, using music and music activities in a focused and concentrated manner for healing and change, influencing physical, emotional, cognitive, and social responses.” Music therapists may use live or recorded music in conjunction with a specific plan for each session.

For musicians who majored in an area of music other than music therapy, a music therapy equivalency program can be undertaken in approximately two years to provide the necessary training. 

Music therapy has been shown to be effective to support babies in neonatal intensive care as well as people with Alzheimer’s disease, depression, substance abuse, pain, autism spectrum concerns, dementia, and PTSD. The benefits of music therapy used with a broad range of people experiencing life challenges and trauma are described in these articles on MajoringInMusic.com. Several schools offering music therapy programs are listed and linked in each article.

7. Musicians On Call

Musicians On Call sends volunteers to perform at the bedsides of patients in healthcare facilities in major cities across the U.S. including Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, New Orleans, Memphis, Miami, Philadelphia Phoenix, San Francisco, San Jose, and Washington D.C/Baltimore area. The Virtual Bedside Performance Program broadcasts performances to homebound patients and those who cannot be at a live performance. 

Volunteers with limited or no musical training can also participate as “guides” who escort the musicians from room to room. 

8. Threshold Singers

Threshold Choirs are located all over the U.S. and beyond. Members are volunteers who bring ease and comfort by singing softly at the bedsides of people who are in a health crisis or who are actively dying. 

Some singers are professional musicians, but this is not required. Members must carry a tune, hold their own part while others sing in harmony, and blend their voices with the other singers. They rehearse together a repertoire of appropriate songs and then sing these upon request to those in need. 


Barbra Weidlein is a co-founder and director of MajoringInMusic.com
Photos courtesy of Bread & Roses Presents (credit: Peter Merts)

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