It is easy to get into habits in conversation.

P1 – “How are you?”

P2 – “I’m fine.”

Let’s be truthful, how often do you respond that the day is challenging?

I see this habit continuing in many who participate in my senior living music enrichment and music therapy groups. There are exceptions and I am SO thankful for them. They help me tune into what is REALLy going on with some people.

One of my go-to’s in senior living communities for breaking this “everything is fine” habit is songwriting. During our music enrichment and music therapy groups, songwriting is a way for the participants and me to explore a variety of topics.


Here are 4 approaches to song writing I use.

Songwriting with Madlibs

Remember learning about parts of speech in English? Use that skill to take an existing, familiar song and remove some key words. Without telling the group the song, ask for words and use those words to fill in the blank.

For example, you might use “Home on the Range” and ask for a place/building, an animal, and a way of moving. “Oh, give me (a) ______ where the ________  _______. ” 

The results are endless. “Oh give me Paris where the turkeys polka.” 

Many times this silliness makes it easier to talk about home or a place and memories associated with it.

Song writing with extensions to existing lyrics

Take an existing song and have people add add what they would do, say, etc.

One example is “She’ll be Coming Round the Mountain”. Have people share various forms of locomotion.

Example: She’ll be walking in her high heels. She’ll be driving a John Deer Tractor.

Have a discussion about preparing for company/visitors then use a song such as “If I Knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake” to share preparations. From cleaning, to foods to prepare, to locking the door – I’ve heard a range of responses. Take the time to discuss why those steps are taken and if they are enjoyed.

Songwriting with a limited list

Episode 2 of On the Go Studio shares the idea of a songwriters worksheet. Providing a list of words and of phrases to select from would be helpful in many groups. (P.S. – You can subscribe to their podcasts to access even more great ideas.)

Songwriting by rewriting lyrics

There are two versions of this one. The first is using a song structure similar to those of madlibs but sharing the skeleton/structure with the group. Musical Bridges Music Therapy has a great idea for using this process.

The second one takes a little more work on my part, but I’ve had great responses. Often my groups have a topic. We then create a list of experiences, emotions, and other related information around the topic.  Group members are then asked for songs they think we could alter to fit this topic and the list. Sometimes I will share a few song ideas to get the ball rolling.

An example of this was discussing hugs around Hug Day. A group member suggested using “It’s Been a Long, Long Time”. Here is a portion of what resulted:

…or hold my hand if you please.

Just hug me once, then hug me twice, then hug me once again when we greet or when we part. And, I’ll do my part.

There are four of my go-to ideas for songwriting in groups. Do they get people out of the automated conversation habit? Not totally. But, in groups where I regularly include songwriting, they know expect a push to move beyond habits.

Do have another? Please share it in the comments below.


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