12 Songs Every Music Therapist Should Know

We all know that the contents of our repertoire depend on the populations with which we work. But there are just some songs that transcend populations, and can be used in almost any setting — whether in a school, private practice, nursing facility, hospice care, or otherwise.

Your list might look different from mine, but based on my experience, here are the 12 songs that I think can be used with just about any music therapy client, regardless of age, diagnosis, or ability.

  1. “American Pie” – This song is obviously a classic, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like singing along to the chorus.  It might not be your first pick for a piggybacked children’s goodbye song, but it was mine :)
  2. “Amazing Grace” – It’s most often associated with seniors and hospice patients, though everyone should have a few hymns in their collection.
  3. “Blue Suede Shoes” – My students dig this tune, even though most of them have no clue who Elvis Presley is!  Older clients, of course, are familiar with both him and the song.
  4. “Blue Skies” – I use this as a weather song sometimes, or to give everyone a mood lift.  It has always been one of my favorite songs.
  5. “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” – This one is great for discussing positive feelings, and I use it often as the basis of a songwriting activity.
  6. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” – Also known as “In the Jungle” or “Wimoweh”, I adapted it for young children and sing the original version on a regular basis.
  7. “Lean on Me” – It’s all about knowing there are people to support you, and that’s applicable to everyone.  Plus, it’s repetitive and easy to sing.
  8. “Ob-La-Di” – Did you know that this song makes an excellent hello song?  I rewrote the words a few years ago, and use it all the time.  Hmm, maybe it will appear in a future Sunday Singalong video!
  9. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” – I think a lot of people have an emotional connection to this song.  It’s interesting to hear what’s “over the rainbow” for clients who are verbal and capable of abstract thinking.
  10. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” – Baseball is America’s pastime, right?  It’s fun to bring out this song every spring and hear about everyone’s favorite teams.
  11. “This Little Light of Mine” – I learned this song for my internship interview and have been singing it ever since.  As a movement song, as an inspirational song, and however else I feel like adapting it on a given day.
  12. “You Are My Sunshine” – A traditional song that almost everyone knows.  It’s easy to adapt for just about any client and setting.

Now that I’ve listed 12 songs, I’m realizing that I really could go on and on.  But I want to hear from you: what’s on your list of essential songs for every music therapist, no matter the setting and population?

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