What is a Music-Thanatologist?

When I wrote my blog yesterday about music therapy, a new group of music therapists called music thanatologist stood out. I wanted to investigate a little bit more about what this form of music therapist does. It is rather interesting and I want to share it with you.

There is a <a href=”http://www.mtai.org/index.php/what_is”>Music Thanatology Association</a>.

What is Music Thanatology?

Music-thanatology is a professional field within the broader sub-specialty of palliative care. It is a musical/clinical modality that unites music and medicine in end of life care. The music-thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to lovingly serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the dying and their loved ones with prescriptive music.

Prescriptive music is live music that responds to the physiological needs of the patient moment by moment. For example, by observing vital signs such as heart rate, respiration and temperature, the music-thanatologist provides music that is tailored to each specific situation. The warmth of this living music can bring solace, dignity and grace to those nearing the ultimate journey at the end of life.

Music Vigil

The word “vigil” means watchfulness or a period of watchful attention. A music vigil is the time during which a music-thanatologist is present and offering prescriptive music using harp and voice for the benefit of the patient and their loved ones. It is recognized that family and caregivers are experiencing grief, loss, change and a desire to support the patient. They are encouraged to be present for the vigil. A vigil usually lasts 30 minutes to an hour.

The Music

Whether conscious or unconscious, the patient is always in charge of the musical direction because we connect at the level of breath, pulse, temperature, pain, effort, and tension; things that we all share by dint of our basic humanity. With this focus, the music can address the needs of each unique individual. In this way, the music seeks to be an expression of beauty and love; and as such, it transcends diverse affiliations of faith and culture.

Music-thanatologists will distinctly steer toward music that is unassociated with particular memories, thoughts or feelings. With this intention of holding a focus on the present moment, the alternation of sound and silence will tend to encourage the listener to simply receive on a deep level.


Members certified as music-thanatologists give evidence of the personal, musical, medical, clinical, thanatological, and professional competencies required to effectively offer the prescriptive qualities of music to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people who are dying and their families, with harp and voice.


Music Thanatologist Salary
Average Salary : $21,700
Maximum Salary Offered : $43,400


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