Song Spotlight: “T’ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)”

Taint What You Do - Song Spotlight |
  • Mood: Lighthearted
  • Theme: Letting go and taking it easy
  • Tempo: Upbeat
  • Style: Calypso

I’m always looking for songs with catchy choruses that lend themselves to new song verses, and I recently found a gem: “T’Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way That You Do It).” Written by jazz musicians Melvin “Sy” Oliver and James “Trummy” Young, this calypso song was first recorded in 1939 by Jimmie Lunceford, Harry James, and Ella Fitzgerald. It’s a popular song for dancing the shim sham, a wonderfully accessible jazz line dance. (Check out the instructional video here!)

The chorus is downright infectious:

Oh ‘t ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
‘T ain’t what you do it’s the way that you do it
That’s what gets results

Then, the verse reminds you:

You can try hard
Don’t mean a thing
Take it easy, greasy
Then your jive will swing

The rhythm is catchy and gets you moving. Then, the repetition in the lyrics lends itself to new verses about whatever task you’re doing at the time. This could be handy when you’re trying to coach a senior with cognitive impairments through an activity of daily living, like getting dressed or washing up: “It ain’t what you wash, it’s the way that you’re washing – that’s what gets results!” You could also repeat this chorus in an instrument-playing experience and call out different groups of instruments to play: “It ain’t what you shake, it’s the way that you shake it!”

A fun side note to this song is that it made a comeback in the early 1980s. Fun Boy Three performed this on their debut album, together with Bananarama. You’ve got to watch this video just for the ’80s hairstyles.

What songs get results for you? Which songs remind you take it easy? These could also be great vehicles for encouraging completion of ADLs! Leave your thoughts below.

This post is part of an occasional series on special songs to share with your loved ones. For more song spotlights, click here.


  1. Peggy on June 26, 2012 at 7:26 am

    I love the song! I’m always looking for “positive thinking” songs…This is a gem!

    • soundscapemusictherapy on June 26, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Thanks, Peggy! I was thrilled to find this one.

  2. JoAnn Jordan (@JordanEM) on June 26, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Wow, I remember the 80’s version a little, but didn’t know about these roots. Thanks for this great share. I can see a lot of conversations related to these lyrics.

    • soundscapemusictherapy on June 26, 2012 at 11:59 am

      Isn’t this a fun song? I’m sure you’ll think of many ways to incorporate it into your work, JoAnn!

  3. Carolyn Stone on June 26, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    You know, I think the same approach would work with small children! By the way, I love the instructional video. My Zumba instructor should see it!

    • soundscapemusictherapy on June 26, 2012 at 3:14 pm

      I think it would work with small children, too. And yes, that video is great!

  4. Michelle Seitzer on June 26, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    One of my favorite “letting go & taking it easy” songs is “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon. It always, always makes me smile and brings to mind delightful days of dancing around in the house with my sisters. Our Dad is a real music lover so there was/is always something great on the record player/CD player/iPod. Great post!

    • soundscapemusictherapy on June 26, 2012 at 3:13 pm

      That’s a great song, Michelle! We actually played “You Can Call Me Al” in my high school marching band, so I have fond memories of a different sort.

      • Michelle Seitzer on June 30, 2012 at 7:57 pm

        I’m glad you love it too! It always makes me smile. How fun! What did you play in your high school band?

        • soundscapemusictherapy on July 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm

          I’m an oboist, which meant I played cymbals and mallets in the marching band. Fun times!

  5. Lynda Buitrago on June 26, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    I love this song! So fun to swing dance to, and great message!

    • soundscapemusictherapy on June 26, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Thanks, Lynda!

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