Recreative Resources



By Robert Lowden, ACC, DMA



In order to fully comprehend the words, music therapy, we must first understand what it is, and secondly, what it’s all about. Music therapy is the use and application of music to cure, alleviate, or stimulate various senses. It is familiar from ancient mythology and has been increasingly implemented in the treatment of physical as well as mental handicaps and emotional disturbance, although there is little theoretical work to explain its effectiveness. Although the healing powers of music are attested from ancient times and in numerous cultures, the scientific understanding of such powers remains limited. If we had lived in Greece about 2000 years ago, we would have looked to music and musicians, along with physicians, for our total health care needs. The nature of musical perception itself remains imperfectly understood. Nevertheless, music has been found useful in working with people with a variety of disorders. Its clinical use has been used in the treatment, although not exclusively, of mental illness or mental deficits, or some type of mental disability.

Music therapy may include singing, playing musical instruments, dancing, clapping, using rhythm instruments, which all help to establish lines of communication. Of the various elements of music, it is RHTYHM that is acknowledged to be the vital therapeutic factor by virtue of its power to focus energy and to bring structure into the perception of temporal order.

Music is definitely an expressive vehicle for the release of emotional tension, bypassing difficulties of speech and language. Not only the person with Alzheimer’s, but the general nursing home population, as well, may benefit from its use. Therapy uses singing, various musical instruments such as bells, xylophone, piano, autoharp, as well as a variety of rhythm instruments.

Difference Between Music and Music Therapy

There is a difference between music therapy, music education, music lessons, recreation & entertainment. There are some similarities however; music therapy has specific treatment goals and approaches. Although residents can benefit from listening to an entertainer’s performance, they are simply assimilating sounds to which they’ll either enjoy or not enjoy. Music therapy goes beyond just having a person listen to different selections, and has them become an active participant, incorporating a holistic approach; that of listening and doing. Visit the American Music Therapy Association website for more information on Music Therapy and the qualifications of a Music Therapist.

The Benefits of Music and Music Therapy

We all know the power of music. Recreation Departments offer a variety of music programs to provide residents the opportunity for relaxation, cognitive stimulation, socialization, reminiscence, mental stimulation, and quality of life. Music programs are instrumental to a well-balanced program of activities and can be adapted to meet the individual needs and interests of residents with varying functional abilities in a variety of health-care settings. There are many benefits to music programs and music therapy such as:

  • Increased socialization
  • Enhanced self esteem and mood
  • Decreased behavior problems
  • Increased communication
  • Increased physical abilities
  • Increased endurance
  • Improved motor coordination
  • Increased attention span
  • Increase opportunity for creative-expression
  • Enhanced quality of life

Many residents I have worked with were seen tapping their feet, getting up to dance in time to the music, clapping their hands, singing, vocalizing, stomping their feet, etc. One particular resident, afflicted with ALS, participated by tapping one finger on the control of her battery operated wheelchair!

In addition, many of the residents had some degree of dementia or Alzheimer’s. They would use their hands and rhythm instruments, such as maracas, tambourines, and drums, and often times, keep the beat and rhythm! At first I thought that maybe it was just their intuitive instincts that kept the beat on target. However, I purposely would change the tempo of a song, and noticed that the shift in meter was also being felt and noted aurally by the residents, who in turn would change the beat to fit the tempo of the song. Once again, it reflects back to RHYTHM being acknowledged to be the vital therapeutic factor by virtue of its power to focus energy and to bring structure (meter and tempo) into their perception.

There are so many ways in which Recreation professionals can utilize music in programming.
Some examples include:

  • Sing-a-longs
  • Name that Tune
  • Music Writing
  • Rhythm Band
  • Music Videos
  • Karaoke
  • Guest Entertainers
  • Resident Choir
  • Music Appreciation
  • Music Games
  • Music Trivia
  • Talent Shows
  • Musical Theater
  • Sensory Stimulation to Music
  • Tone Chimes
  • Drumming Circles
  • Music and Movement
  • Music Bingo
  • Music Therapy Sessions
  • One to One Music
  • Cultural Music
  • Spiritual Music
  • Music and dining
  • Utilize music to enhance creativity during painting, arts,
  • Music and reminiscence

Music Programming Tips

  • Inservice Recreation staff frequently on how they can implement various musical activities
  • Experiment with various styles and eras and learn to appreciate what the residents appreciate
  • Have staff design their own sing-a-long format
  • Use Cassette tapes, CD’s, and DVD’s to increase your music library
  • Just sing! In the field of recreation, there is no time for the inhibited employee
  • Be actively involved with the residents
  • If an outside entertainer is performing, my staff is attempting to get the residents to clap, getting them up to dance, having them sing, and to interact anyway they can.
  • It’s vitally important to have fun and to see that those in their charge are having fun, as well.
  • Whether we are dealing with one person or a group of residents, we need to:
    • Face the resident(s)
    • Make eye contact
    • Take a hand while singing the words of a song
    • Take a hand(s) while swaying gently to the music
    • Initiate a clapping in time to the music. This should bring back a sense of rhythm.
    • Assist residents to stand, if at all possible, and do simple dance steps or some type of movement to the music.
  • I personally encourage resident-associations with particular songs. This enhances and enriches the hearing of the music with personal memory attachments.
    • “Do you recall dancing to a particular song?”
    • “Where were you?”
    • “With whom did you dance?”
  • Connect sensory cues to increase arousal and alertness.
    • Use sleigh bells with “Jingle Bells”
    • Use flags for Patriotic Music
    • Use a rose for “My Wild Irish Rose”
  • If a resident is in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and is engaged in self-stimulating rhythmic movement such as, rocking back and forth or rubbing the arms of a chair, or eliciting sounds, one can make a bridge to his or her world by mimicking these sounds and movements (in a constructive way). It may bring the person’s attention to you and provide an opportunity to introduce an actual song of a similar rhythm, and thus encourage vocalization. Make every attempt to elicit some kind of response from an individual or group.

Bob Lowden has an undergraduate degree in Music Education, Masters Degrees in Music History and Choral Conducting and a Doctorate in Music Therapy. He spent many years performing piano and vocals in various settings including long-term care. Contact Bob at or



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