​Today was a songwriting day at our facility. I love incorporating songwriting into my regular music therapy groups, but it often is toward the end of our time (on the bell curve) and it there is not always time to really explain and talk through the process. So I thought it would be nice to have a time dedicated strictly to composing. We started with a simple fill in the blank piggyback. I love this kind of exercise because it really takes some of the intimidation out of doing something you’ve never done before. It simplifies and familiarizes. 

We used this simple format to the tune of You Are My Sunshine (what else). 

My name is _________, oh yes I’m ____________ and I feel very _________ today.

My name is _________, oh yes I’m ____________ and I’m glad you came my way.

To my surprise and amusement several of my (non-dementia) female residents decided to fill their first blanks with “Elvis” and “Kevin.” The First Lady is in love with Elvis so that wasn’t really a surprise. The second said she doesn’t even know a Kevin–she just decided it was her song and she could be Kevin if she wanted! Needless to say it was a pretty fun exercise.

At the end I asked them what the tune of the song was from and then explained the idea of piggybacking. We took the piggyback approach to another song about summer. I’ve seen this activity on several MT geriatric blogs so I can’t take credit for it, but it’s really adorable. The tune is from “In the Jungle (the Lion Sleeps Tonight)” but the words are…

In the summer, the hot hot summer we go _____________.

In the summer, the hot hot summer we eat _____________.

They had a lot of fun adding in things like go to the beach, go swimming, and picnicking in the park, all you can eat fried chicken and “yummy good watermelon.” It turned into a fun little summer reminiscing time. At this point we added in some tambourines and maracas for those who could not see well enough to read the lyrics and just to keep everyone involved and contributing. 

Next, we moved to free writing. We brainstormed some topics to write about but before we could pick one, of my little ladies started spitting out verses about a little bird. It was so spontaneous and her lines were so cute that I quickly started writing them down. She had several lines that were easy to rearrange into rhymes and this was the final product. I wish I could have videoed them performing it but of course that is not possible with privacy protection laws but I think you will get the idea. Just picture a group of 10 older ladies playing the tambourines three times on “hop hop hop, stop stop stop, and flew flew flew!”

It was an absolute blast and absolutely sweet. They were all giggling and laughing and really interacting with each other spontaneously, which if you work in geriatrics you know can be a rare occasion. 

One theme that came up when we were brainstorming was the beach. One of our residents spent her growing up summer days at the beach and would love to go back. She kept saying “I’m just tryin’ to get to the beach.” I told her, “You know what, that sounds like the makings of a country song. Although they decided they dind’t want to make it country it still turned out very fun! We decided her tag line would be our opener so we needed a work that rhymed with “beach.” They said “peach” so our next line turned into “If I did I’d be happy as a peach.” She had also mentioned that she’d need a few things for her day including “sun tan lotion and a bathing suit.” So then they decided the best word to rhyme with suit was “toot.” She said that if she could go to the beach it would just make her heart so happy so we pulled those two elements to come up with the last line “and my little heart would go toot toot toot!”

With this song we added a bongo drum to sound like the foot steps trying to get to the beach. We kept the maracas because they reminded us of sand, but we also added a mini glockenspiel on the “Do” for the “toot toot toot!”

All in all, it was a very fun day. They were super proud of their songs and no longer intimidated by the idea of writing one. They also had some great unprompted social interactions that were fostered by the activity.

Moral of the story: they can do it and you can too! Have some fun songwriting with your geris, whether it be piggybacking, fill in the blank or free writing or all the above!


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