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Hiring a music therapist in long-term care: Specialized music-making groups

This is the third post in my series on hiring a music therapist in long-term care. For an introduction to this series and links to previous posts, click here.

In my last post, I described the music therapy groups that I provide in long-term care. By my definition (which does not necessarily match other music therapists’ descriptions), these music therapy groups are small, focused on the individual residents’ needs, and centered on being adaptive and in-the-moment.

I contrast this with what I call specialized music-making groups. These are the groups that are focused on a particular music-making activity, such as:

  • Resident bell choirs
  • Sing-alongs
  • Drum circles
  • Kitchen bands
  • Chair dancing classes

As you may notice, what people do in these groups overlaps with what people do in music therapy groups (e.g. playing instruments, singing, drumming, dancing). The main differences (as I see them) are:

  • More focus is on the musical product/experience than on non-musical therapeutic goals.
  • The primary purpose is often recreation or “having fun.”
  • More residents can participate, since less adaptation takes place in the moment.
  • Experiences may be more public, especially if a group performs. The public may include just the long-term care center or the wider community.

Since this type of group is not defined as therapy and is not centered on a therapeutic process, it does not need to be facilitated by a music therapist. (Drum circle facilitators, music educators, church choir directors, teen volunteers and activity professionals could all be great with leading music-making groups.)

Still, a music therapist would be an excellent person to hire to facilitate these kinds of groups. Why? Because music therapists have the musical skills, group leadership skills, and experience in working with older adults to be effective facilitators for this kind of experience. We also are familiar with arranging music and adapting musical experiences to meet the needs of residents. This means a music therapist might be able to help residents participate successfully in a music-making group with their peers when they might not have been able to do so otherwise.

Over the years I have worked with seniors, I have been in and out of many long-term care facilities and have seen a variety of resident music-making groups. One thing that I have observed is that many groups have a season – they are successful while the right mix of residents is participating, but they come to an end as residents leave the group. I think this could be a great time to introduce a new musical experience to engage the veteran music-makers and newer residents alike.

What are the favorite groups in your facility? Music therapists and other musicians, what music-making groups have you facilitated in long-term care facilities?

P.S. I hope you’ve had a chance to see the movie “Young@Heart,” which shares the story of a group of senior citizens who perform a wide range of music, including contemporary popular songs. It is at once hilarious and uplifting – the perfect example of a specialized music-making group!

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