Back in June, I read an article online in the Arizona Daily Sun titled “Music to Span Generations”.  After reading, I contacted Meghan Callaghan, MT BC who runs Mountain Health Music and asked her about sharing a guest post.

Three tips for facilitating a successful intergenerational music therapy session

Last spring I was shadowed for several months by an eighth-grader who was interested in learning more about music therapy for her school project.   While she received mentorship from me, I was also gifted an *amazing* opportunity through the process.  A monthly session that she shadowed at a local assisted living facility  eventually evolved into an intergenerational program for 5th-8th graders as more and more students told one another how exceptionally COOL it was to make music with a bunch of senior citizens.  They were hooked! All because of the magic of group music making.

As we navigated this new experience of intergenerational music therapy, the participants taught me a thing or two.  Here are some techniques I’ve learned to ensure that my intergenerational sessions are a success.  Remember, these students are 5th – 8th graders, so if you work with a younger population, these ideas may not be quite as appropriate.  Adapt as needed.

1. Seat participants in a circle, mixed by age.

When new students attend the group, they are usually a bit tentative and will understandably want to sit together.  I try and arrive early enough to help the older adults get seated so that the students have *no choice* but to sit intermittently (mwa ha ha…).   I also front load with the students before the session starts that they’ll be sitting mixed and “it’s gonna be okay!”

2. A solid opener that encourages interaction is key.

I like beginning with a welcoming song that encourages interaction, name sharing, and chit-chat between the generations.  An activity such as “Who Do You Know” from Dave Holland’s book “Drumagination” is great for encouraging participants to get to know the people sitting next to them.   If you don’t have this book, consider it for your next MT shopping spree.  I use it all… the… time.

 3. Highlight commonalities between older and younger participants

Here’s an activity I call “Common Ground” that encourages participants to find cross-generation similarities.  I use drumming/percussion substantially with this group, and once we’re warmed up and have done a couple activities, I’ll lead them into a groove with the drums  (It’s helpful have someone who can keep a steady rhythm on a bass drum, cowbell, or woodblock to prevent the groove from de-railing!).   I’ll give a 4 – 3 – 2 – 1 – stop cue, and then rhythmically ask a question that relates the session’s theme.  If the theme is “camping,” I might ask,  “If you’ve ever roasted a marshmallow, let’s hear you play now,” or “If you’ve ever slept under the stars, let’s hear you play now,” and so on.  Give a little time between questions, 16 – 32 beats or so.  It’s fun to see the kids and seniors looking around the circle and realizing they have experiences in common with people so far apart from them in age!  I recommend ending with a funny question that everyone can play after, such as “If you’ve ever been bitten by a mosquito, let’s hear you play now!”  If you don’t typically use a drum circle format, you can adapt this activity using just rumbles with percussion, or body percussion too.

These are just a few ways to set your intergenerational participants up for success in making music together.   If you have any suggestions for how these tips can be adapted, please leave a comment below!  What else works for you?

Bio: Meghan Callaghan MT – BC is a music therapist, singer, and rookie blogger based in Flagstaff, AZ. You can find her high altitude musings at www.mountainhealthmusic.com .