25 Songs I'm Singing With Older Adults in Music Therapy

Here’s a little-known fact: when I set out to become a music therapist, I had no intention of working with children. My heart was with older adults, after witnessing the power of music with my grandma, who had Alzheimer’s Disease. My first practicum experience in a nursing home during graduate school only further solidified my plans.

But as I gained more experience working with children, I had a change of heart. Helping them achieve their goals through music is what brought me the most joy, so I pursued an internship that served mainly children. From that point on, it was clear that I had found my dream population.

Fast forward a little over 10 years to this past December, when my private practice was contacted by a memory care center in a nearby city. They wanted to offer music therapy services to their residents as soon as possible, and I surprised myself by offering to personally take on the contract for the time being.

Although I’ve been working to lessen my direct service load, I’ve also felt that there was something missing from my professional life. Returning to the population that drew me to music therapy seemed like the perfect way to recharge my batteries.

Working with this group of older adults each week has been a game changer! They are a lovely bunch of people, as is the staff at the senior living center. Everyone is incredibly supportive of music therapy, and the residents are so enthusiastic about our time together. I’m using my skills in a way I haven’t been able to when working with children, and I’ve had the opportunity to grow my repertoire for older adults.

So as someone who is new to the world of music therapy with older adults, I thought it might be helpful for others in my shoes to share the songs I’ve been singing with this group. Initially, I was a little overwhelmed and not sure where to start, but as soon as I began gathering music, the process unfolded very naturally.

This collection of songs covers a wide range of genres and decades, and so far it has been very well-received! My top 30 from the collection (in alphabetical order, including the composer and/or artist who made it famous) is as follows.

  1. “A Bushel and a Peck” (Frank Loesser – Guys & Dolls)
  2. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (Irving Berlin)
  3. “Beyond the Sea” (Bobby Darin)
  4. “Blue Skies” (Irving Berlin)
  5. “Blue Suede Shoes” (Elvis Presley)
  6. “Chattanooga Choo Choo” (Glenn Miller Orchestra)
  7. “Close To You” (The Carpenters)
  8. “Come Together” (The Beatles)
  9. “The Crawdad Song” (Traditional Folk)
  10. “Day By Day” (Stephen Schwartz – Godspell)
  11. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree” (Andrews Sisters)
  12. “Eight Days a Week” (The Beatles)
  13. “From This Valley” (The Civil Wars)
  14. “The Glory of Love” (Benny Goodman)
  15. “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond/The Monkees)
  16. “I’ve Got the World on a String” (Frank Sinatra)
  17. “Joy to the World” (Three Dog Night)
  18. “L-O-V-E” (Nat King Cole)
  19. “Love Me Do” (The Beatles)
  20. “My Girl” (The Temptations)
  21. “My Favorite Things” (Rodgers/Hammerstein – The Sound of Music)
  22. “Put On a Happy Face” (Adams/Strouse – Bye Bye, Birdie)
  23. “Shake, Rattle & Roll” (Bill Haley & His Comets)
  24. “Singin’ in the Rain” (Gene Kelly)
  25. “Stand By Me” (Ben E. King)
  26. “The Tennessee Waltz” (Patti Page)
  27. “This Little Light of Mine” (Traditional Gospel)
  28. “Under the Boardwalk” (The Drifters)
  29. “Walkin’ After Midnight” (Patsy Cline)
  30. “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” (Lerner/Loewe – My Fair Lady)

Because the ages of the residents in my group span so many years, I wanted to make sure there is a little something for everyone. It’s so much fun to see who responds to which songs, especially when that includes coming over to the piano and singing their hearts out with me.

I would love to continue growing my collection of music therapy songs for older adults, especially with the help of those who have much more experience than me when it comes to working with this population. Now that I’ve shared my list with you, which songs would YOU add to it?

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