Sing-a-Long at Elder Care Center
Cheri S., Utah
This May or June I’d like to give my students the opportunity to use their accompaniment skills for a sing-a-long at an elder care center. I’m looking for tips to make this a successful experience for everyone, students and audience alike.
I’m wondering if it makes a difference what sort of center I pick. Are there some facilities where the patients wouldn’t really be able to participate? If so, how can I know which to choose? I’m sure the music would brighten their lives either way, but I also want my students to have a satisfying experience.
What else should I consider? Are there better and worse ways to set up the room? Is it a good idea to have someone (like me) leading the music? Should we print out the words to all the songs? What are some favorite songs? If all my 22 students participate, is that too many songs?
Where I live, most people aren’t accustomed to singing along with just chords. They’re used to hearing the melody in the piano. With really familiar songs, they usually catch on pretty quickly, but I haven’t yet decided which kind of intro works better–chords from the last line or just the starting note?
Please share anything else you’ve learned from past experience.
Sue C., Australia
Senior people are different like we all are. I go now and then and play (by myself during lunch). Some like it, some probably don’t want me playing at lunch time, some make a nice comment.
You have to be thick skinned and take every attitude.
On the whole it is good for these people to have variety and not everything will please everyone all the time.
I think if you want residents to participate you will choose very well known simple songs (for singing), unless they are younger than where I have been going.
For giving your students a satisfying experience, you should speak to the audience something like ,,, “wasn’t Sue playing beautifully today. She has been only playing for one year and is doing well. A big clap for Sue.” You will have to tell the residents how to respond.
Re accompaniment songs, you could ask student/s to sing the melody. I would just print a few songs in large print as I don’t think they will want to sing all the songs.
I find they even like nursery rhymes especially if you say, Do you know this one? play a few times, then say “Your turn to join in singing with us.” This way a few different students would get a turn at doing the accompaniment.
If you need to add a bit more interest, ask students to do actions to a couple of songs. Last year I had a PAS family of 4 and got 3 of them to do actions to storm while the other played. ie. Rain, lightning, hail (block ears), synchronized movements etc.
Mark M., New York
Favorite songs are nearly impossible to suggest. Depends on the audience. Unless songs are in the public domain, it’s technically a copyright violation to print and distribute lyrics. However, having printed lyrics is an excellent way to give a high chance of most people actually singing along confidently.
You might consider limiting yourself to public domain choices, or getting several copies of the book “Rise Up Singing” which contains countless songs meant for sing-along and simple accompaniment, or perhaps even polling the audience ahead of time for requests so you’ll know what songs they know and want to hear and then can get and practice those songs as accompaniments.
If providing the melody is very important, you can either ensure that someone is singing along on lead, or playing the melody in the upper register of the piano. Lead singer could be the student accompanist, another student, you, and audience volunteer, anyone. You’ll find with a sing-along, though, that as long as even a couple of people know the song and are willing to sing that this serves in effect as a lead vocal for everyone else to follow. So again it comes back to song selection and making sure that enough people will actually know and be able to sing the words, whether with or without lyrics.
For an intro, you can either give the starting note, or a few chords from the last line, or a few chords from end of the most popular section of the song (which may not jibe with the very ending lines of the song). If you do either of the last two, it’s really helpful to hum/play the melody along with it so that the audience’s ears really get oriented.
Barbara M., New Jersey
I made up a song sheet for our “Recital and Sing-along” that included:
She’ll Be Comin’
This Land is Your Land
Auld Lang Syne
This Little Light of Mine
Peace Like a River
You can also do songs like Beatles Let It Be or My Favorite Things that are copyrighted, but so familiar that people will hum or sing along even without lyrics. I discovered that many of the residents could not see the song sheets anyway! You may also expect some to sing along whether they know the song or not!
Parents, students and community have loved our sing-along recitals. It removes pressure and anxiety for most of the students and enables them to focus on service to others rather than performance.
Rebecca N., Utah
For more than a year, I’ve had the privileged of playing and singing for an hour of music time every Monday at a care facility. I have many opinions and thoughts in regards to this question based on my weekly experience since Jan of 2012 – but of course it is limited to the care facility where I play.
I have done two recitals at the same care facility, and the residents LOVED the sing-a-long to the SM songs, and public domain Christmas songs. (I have many stories about the effects of music on these wonderful people, but that’s for another time). 22 students each playing one song would give you at least an hour of singing–I have 21 and our recitals lasted about an hour. I had different students playing different verses of songs. For example 2 on Dreams, 2 on Honey Dew, etc.
I know your focus is on accompaniment so that will change things a bit. The center where I play for music time already had a song book with just words, and a playbook for me to play from. I don’t imagine that they used only public domain songs, or got permission–but it was already done and I use it for singing time. The facility you look at may have a similar sing-a-long book with words already made. You could ask them, and then find the accompaniment lead sheets to go along with several of those songs. The benefit there is that they’ve already done most of the leg work for you, and they are songs the residents are already used to and enjoy.
That said, if you want the residents to sing along with just the accompaniment without the melody being played, I would suggest an assisted living facility, as opposed to a care facility. The residents at a assisted living facility are generally more coherent and interactive. In the facility where I play, I play on the first floor which is mostly long-term dementia and stroke patients, but have residents from upstairs (recovery, short-term) come down for music time, and of them I only have 5 of a group of 20+ (now only 4–one passed away on Wed morning, a very sad day) that actually sing loud enough, or sing at all, to provide the melody, thus the reason I play and sing. The group activity coordinator actually helps sing too. During our recitals on the 2nd floor residents joined us. And they were more apt to sing along loudly. We also had the families and keep in mind that your students can sing along too–thus providing the melody. As for the choice of music. My group loves anything from the 1920’s – 1950’s and even a few songs from the 70’s included in their song book. During regular singing time most of my group can’t or won’t suggest a song (even those from the 2nd floor), but enjoy anything I play. They did however, have a hard time when my kids came in and played just the chords from their accompaniment songs. Thus my recommendation for a retirement/assisted living facility. Contact their activity person to schedule a formal time and ask about an existing song book.
In regards to the room. Go and look at the room where you will meet before hand, or see what options are available. We did recitals upstairs because the piano was better and the room was more open. If there is carpet on the floor you’ll have less sound bouncing on the walls. Our is not carpeted in the big rooms/cafeterias. So it can get quite noisy with people and chairs moving around. For my second recital there, I had all the students sit up front on either side of the piano, in the order that they would play so that movement of little feet and chairs on the linoleum floor was kept to a minimum. And this worked much better than the first when they came from the audience. I would also highly suggest that you lead the singing and student.
Kylie S., Australia
There are 2 fabulous books called Ulverscroft (there is a blue and red one). Google and you’ll see them. Perfect for retirement villages/nursing homes. Simple easy arrangements with songs from the 30’s – 50s. Music therapists love these books.
Annette L., Utah
I was so excited to read your e-mail! I love hearing about anyone who is willing to share the magic of music with elderly individuals! So many of them have very little to brighten their days, and music can do that so successfully. What you are going to do is very important for the students too. I have worked with elderly individuals all of my professional life in music therapy. And for the past 3 years I have had the privilege of serving in a church calling in a Long Term Care facility. In my efforts to get special musical numbers for each week, I have found that the ones that the residents enjoy the most, are those in which children and young people come in and share their talents!
In my music therapy work I conducted weekly Intergenerational sessions where pre-school children come to the “nursing home” and interacted (via music) with the folks there. The first couple of times they came, they were a bit scared of the “funny/strange” people there. But very soon they loved it almost as much as the older folks! It is so important for our children and youth to learn that “differences” in other people are O.K. Your students can learn this too!
To answer your question about what kind of facilities to consider – Yes, it makes a big difference what kind of facility you choose! An Assisted Living, or a Retirement Facility would be good choices. The people in these types of facilities are generally much higher functioning and would be more able to sing along. It is important for your students to have a positive experience! Nursing Homes/Long-Term Care Facilities will be providing care for people who cannot care for themselves and need extensive assistance. These places will often have a special area/wing for individuals with dementia/Alzheimer’s disease. While these are some of my favorite places to use music for good, your students may be very uncomfortable with some of the behaviors they may encounter in these types of facilities.
If you plan on doing any movement with the music (hand clapping, leg slapping, feet movement, etc.) then a circle is your best bet for audience participation and involvement. This is also a great way for students to get involved as they can model the movement!
As for singing, yes you do need someone who can “lead” the singing. They don’t need to “conduct” the music – only to lead out in singing.
It would be a very good idea to print out the words to the songs you use, as this population sometimes has trouble remembering. (And I’m speaking from personal experience!) On the other hand, many times the music will trigger and enhance memory skills. If you choose to print out lyrics, be sure to print them in large print. Difficulty reading “regular/small” print is common to the people in any care facility (and is one of the sure signs of “getting up there” for some of the rest of us!) This requires some expense and time on your part; but if you plan on doing this on a regular basis, the facility will usually be willing to print out copies for you – as long as you have large-print master sheets. You would then have them to use in the future for all such sharing opportunities!
As far as favorite songs, perhaps you could call me and I can share from the books I have used for years.
And 22 songs are not too many for an hour-long Sing-Along.
Using just chords to accompany could be a problem, but if you have several of your students/parents/you, with strong singing voices, it would be very do-able. Do you have students who can read/play melody lines? That might be a good opportunity for them to do duets with those who are just comfortable playing chords. Also, parent/student duets (where there are parents who play) are great ways to involve them together in making music and in serving others! Or you could provide the melody line in duets with your students.
Intros need to clearly bring to mind the song that will follow, so having the melody played with the chords on the last line would probably be the best. Then perhaps the chords could provide the necessary foundation for the rest of the song. With this population, I have found that just a starting note is not sufficient to “bring them into the song.”
Cheri, again I am so excited about this! Please feel free to discuss more details with me if you would like to. I have a roomful of music and instruments and ideas for working with elderly individuals.
Of course you know that you are going to have to share the results of these projects!