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.
- “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 :)
- “Amazing Grace” – It’s most often associated with seniors and hospice patients, though everyone should have a few hymns in their collection.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “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.
- “You Are My Sunshine” – A traditional song that almost everyone knows. It’s easy to adapt for just about any client and setting.
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Great list! I’ll add God Bless America to the mix for those patriotic peeps =) But you’re right. There are a million more to add… Looking forward to seeing more songs listed here!
Yes, Kat! Thanks for adding a patriotic song – definitely needed on the list!
Great list! My list also includes “Stand By Me”, “Let It Be” and “You’ve Got A Friend”…oh so many more…
Tara – wow, we must really be on the same wavelength, because all three of those songs were on the original long list that I had to pare down for the post. Awesome :D
I agree with “Stand By Me” for certain! I use this one in my regular rotation, though “Lean on Me” is a close second. I would add a pop song like Bruno Mars “Just the Way You Are” to my personal list (adapted, which I often use as a goodbye song) because it has such a positive message, is certainly familiar to most kids and many adults and almost everyone can take something away from it.
I might also add “Happy” by Pharrell–I mean, come on, who doesn’t like this song!?
Love the “American Pie” & “Blue Skies” ideas… I hadn’t thought of those! The rest match my mental list perfectly! I use pretty much all of those songs at LEAST a few times per week, with the different groups I have. Nice work as usual, Rachel. : )
Thanks Jess! I LOVE that Bruno Mars song — good call! And of course, “Happy” has had plenty of plays in my rotation since it came out :) Check your email for the Ob-La-Di hello song!
Hi! Thanks for your great suggestions! I agree with your list for sure! Interested in how you use Ob-La-Di as a Hello song please! Thanks
I will email you my adapted version! :)
I would add the Mexican Hat Dance too…I know, no lyrics, but a great call/response song that is easy to adapt all kinds of lyrics. I echo Tara and Kat on their standards too. Great list and additions. I would be interested in seeing your FULL list Rachel. Would you share?? :)
Good one, Bonnie! Yes, I’d love to share my full list – perhaps it will be a L&L Plus goodie :)
How about “Happy Birthday?” Or is that song a given that everyone knows how to play it?
You’re absolutely right, Melissa! It may or may not be a given. I will say that since I work at a school, I sing this at least a few times a week!
How about the spiritual “Over My Head, There’s Music in the Air”? It’s very adaptable to all kinds of movement activities — parachute, shakers, scarves —
I imagine we could easily create a top 100 songs here. “She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain” is one I use in a variety of ways.
I’d definitely add If I Had A Hammer, Hey Jude, and Take Me Home Country Roads.
Rachel, I love to use “somewhere over the rainbow” for all sorts of populations. Its great as an intro to colors with little ones or with elderly clients in a nursing home setting.
What an amazingly informative and generous website you have! Thank you so much! I am thinking about a career in music therapy, and I find your posts so helpful.
All the best.
like your list. it will come in had for school. want to ask you some music therapy research questions; is that all right?
Thanks for the insight.
I’d be really interested to see the rewritten lyrics to Ob-La-Di. I’m seeing Paul McCartney in October and I want to tie in a few beatles lessons for my older elementary students. Would you be willing to share?
Hi Matt – check your email! :)
Hey! I’m also interested in the lyrics for Obladi Oblada. Could you please send me those? Thanks a lot!
Mara – sent!
I might add a comment to this…. I am also interested in how you adapted Ob-la-di Ob-la-da, if it is not too much to ask!
Can you please send me the lyrics as well? Thank you!!!
“My Blue Heaven” is a sweet song that’s well received when our ukulele group plays for rest home residents. If you’re interested, the songs we use are posted (with ukulele chords) here: https://bozemanukes.wordpress.com/oldies-sing-alongs-at-rest-home/
Thanks for sharing this, Marla!
Ob-La-Di lyrics? I’m prepping my concerts for next year and would love to see them! I was so happy to find this. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Brandy! Check your email :)
Stand By Me. Motown in general. The basic chord structures are usually pretty easy to play and thet are great memory emoters. Any suggestions specifically for alzheimers/dementia? Thanks!
FYI- Any popular song lyrics and guitar tabs are available for free on many websites (“free song lyrics/guitar tabs” and the like). Play on
Hi All! I am surprised that these following ditties haven’t been mentioned? : This Land is Your Land, Yellow Submarine, When the Saints Go Marching In, Singing in the Rain, and many more! Rachel, could I also please have the re-write to Obla-di Obla-da?
Sunshine on my Shoulders, How Great Thou Art, Side By Side
I like bluegrass music….guitar/vocals and I play banjo instrumentals…….I do a few songs listed above, especially hymns/ bluegrass gospel tunes.
Any advice/suggestions would be appreciated. I got into this effort with my then 90 year old mother who had advancing dementia about five years ago…..ithe above music activities wer a great communications tool and allowed us fun times……especially when she would sing along (on pitch!!) and could follow the logic of verse to chorus to verse from a little book. It is a marvelous activity when you’re really stumped for a way to pleasantly share your time with a dear one limited in their communication skills.
As part of my musical experience, I’ve played for residents of Memory Care homes. Several songs that seem to always get a pleasing, positive reaction are “Take the A Train, Route 66, Fly Me To The Moon and Walkin’ My Baby Back Home”. I suspect that part of the appeal of the first three is that they all share that moderate Swing beat that is easy to follow.
I’m working at a rehab center now. Any good songs for older population? Love to see your ob lol do lyrics too. Thanks.
Hi Kim! I just tried emailing you the lyrics, but it came back as undeliverable. Let me know if you have a different email address I can try. Also, for resources for the older population, I would recommend checking out Rachelle Norman’s site, Soundscape Music Therapy (http://soundscapemusictherapy.com/posts/).
Jesus Loves Me, Unforgettable, It Had to be You, New York , New York, are all songs I have success with at our SNF. As newer generations come in, we will have to tweak the list
My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean was a new one we sang last week, almost everyone sang this one.
Great additions to the list! And I agree, it will need to be tweaked as time goes on.
Stand by me, City of New Orleans, Mama Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys, Bobby McGee, Under the Boardwalk.
Even at a Hospice, people don’t always want to hear sad mournful songs. If I am with a guitar player I like to play mandolin. Cheerie sounding.
Very cool, you had a couple I didn’t have. Another guy and myself started taking the Lords Supper to a few of our members in a retirement home. One of which is in the dementia ward. One day we sang a song and saw the reaction of several of the folks and now we have a simple ministry of song and good news. At first we started with just christian songs but now we are incorporating a few that everyone knows. It is such a blessing to see these folks light up even if its for a short period of time. Thank you for your ministry and may God continue to bless you for all you do, Mike
I love this list – it gave a good idea of what I should be learning as a student :) Can I see your adapted lyrcis for Ob La Di? I’m in the process of rewriting it as a Hello song for tomorrow’s session. Thanks!
I’m a recreational therapist using music in my session with developmentally disabled adults. I’m thankful from my music therapy friends who have helped me out with getting things started this pass couple of years. Thanks for confirming songs that r in my list & would appreciate any feedback about other activities that can b used with the dd population. Thanks again
You’re very welcome!
Thank you so much for this list. I’m starting a playgroup inside a nursing home and want songs everyone can sing along to so I was looking for nursery rhymes but I love these suggestions instead :)
So glad to hear this list will come in handy for your playgroup! Good luck and have fun!
I would love to see your adapted lyrics of Ob La De for the hello song.
I would like the adapted lyrics of Ob-La-Di too, please and thank you!
I think I would add a few pieces from “the sound of music” such as Edelweiss and so long,farewell. My piano teacher says that songs like those could even get the nonverbal patients to sing! It uses a different part of the brain.
For some reason,I’m viewing 12 out of 24 but dog songs have been a hit for me (“BINGO,” “How Much is that Doggie in the Window”,”Old MacDonald”), for positivity/self-esteem, “Hero,” “True Colors”,”Fight Song,” “Firework”. For high energy “Pop Goes the Weasel”,for summer,”My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean”,”Row Row Row Your Boat”
Every child knows “Twinkle, Twinkle!”
I’m so glad I came across your website on Pinterest! I am NOT a musical therapist; I am an elementary music teacher. But, my grandmother recently suffered a massive stroke and cannot speak. However, she can still sing choruses to her favorite hymns. I am amazed by the power of music! I recently was asked to help at an assisted living facility. There is no music therapist there. Again, I am NOT a therapist, but I agreed to help. The songs listed in your post and in the comments are extremely helpful :) Are there music therapy degrees available online? It’s something I am very interested in pursuing.
Hi Amanda! I am so glad you discovered my website and that it has been helpful! How wonderful that you have been able to use music to help your grandmother and the assisted living facility residents. There are a few online music therapy degree programs, including Colorado State University. (There are in-person components to each, as well.) Please let me know if you have additional questions about music therapy!
Wow!! You folks are amazing. So generous and compassionate!!!
I’m a piano & flute teacher and voice coach. I also minister in music and dance at local churches. I remember so many times seeing people touched deeply to tears during a “music happening”.
Would love to have studied music therapy and understand it more and at 57, I’m not far off being able to audit some courses for free when I hit that golden #!. Ha ha
God bless all of you! No matter your faith or no faith, love touches hearts thru music and heals! ❤
Thank you so much for the kind words! Sounds like you are experiencing many of the same joys that we as music therapists do. God bless you too, and keep touching those lives through music!!
Wow thank you for sharing your experience. I am currently studying in school for a degree in music therapy and it’s great reading your blog for insights into the field. This is kind of a random question but in your therapy session, how often do you have to use barred chords? Thanks!
Hi Wendi! I’m so glad my blog has provided you with additional insight :) TO answer your question, I don’t use barre chords too often…maybe 1 out of 5 songs in any given session or group. Since I work mostly with kids, my songs are fairly simple in chord structure and don’t often necessitate barre chords. I try to incorporate them here and there, though, just to keep up my skills. Hope that helps!
Thank you for your prompt response. The reason I asked if that I’m currently struggling with barred chords (since I have relatively small hands). It’s been a frustrating learning experience and I just wanted to know how often it is actually applicable to the career of a music therapist :)
You’re welcome! I also have small hands and find barre chords more difficult for that reason. You can definitely get by without using them; I just force myself to play at least a few each day to keep them fresh in my fingers ;)
I’ve just come across your website. Just want to say how helpful it is. I’m a voice coach working with people with dementia and physical disabilities. Your list of songs have been really helpful.
I’m really interested in your adapted lyrics to Ob-la-di. Would it be possibly to see these please?
Have great day everyone and let’s keep the magic and joy of singing going across the world!
Hi Cheryl! I am so glad you discovered my website and have found it helpful. I just emailed you the song lyrics :) Hope you have a wonderful day, too, and thank you for the important work you are doing!