The Magic of Music: Recreation Therapy Music Ideas

The power of music is amazing. Music reaches just about everyone. If you are searching for Recreation Therapy music ideas to make your program more effective, this primer can help you use music to its fullest potential.  

As a musician playing guitar and bass in bands for many years, I witnessed the impact music has on people’s lives. As a Recreation Therapist, I know music can be a powerful intervention helping participants cope with stress, express themselves, connect with others, and so much more.

I was lucky enough to connect with a seasoned professional using music to help participants for over two decades. Jeanne Lintner spent 18 years providing music appreciation programs on a continuum-of-care campus. During the last 6 years of her professional career she was the Director of Recreation for a dedicated team of ten professionals. After retiring from that career, she began traveling to different facilities bringing music and joy to the lives of many.

I asked Jeanne to give the Real Recreation Therapist Community some tips, advice, and Recreation Therapy music ideas from her experiences. I’m excited to share the article she wrote.

Jeanne Lintner Talks about the Magic of Music

In my many years of providing live music, I was thanked probably 100,000 times or more but asked to stop only twice that I recall.

Some of you reading this do not work with the elderly. There are so many wonderful outlets for recreation therapists, and I would never assume to understand the others as well as I do the long-term-care world. But I feel strongly recreation therapy music activities could easily be a focal point for all populations served by the profession. The genre of music would likely be unique in each setting, but its impact would be universal. My hope is that my comments will be helpful to all of you, regardless of your recreation outlet.

I’ve always liked to use each letter of a keyword to introduce as well as to summarize a presentation. Of course, my keyword for recreation therapy music ideas is MUSIC.

recreation therapy music ideas infographic

Make music a priority.

Utilize multiple tools.

Sing! (there’s no such thing as a bad voice!)

Include non-musical components within the music presentation.

Choose other activities to supplement the music activity.


Make Music a Priority

To illustrate M – make music a priority – I’d like to reprint here a blog entry I made during the 2016 Summer Olympics. (My blog is now closed.) It was written from an entertainer’s point of view (mine) with the well-being of music attendees in mind.


To Eat or Not To Eat: That is the Question (Originally Posted August 15, 2016)

While not as philosophical as Shakespeare’s lines in Hamlet, this question floated through my mind last week. Soaking up the Olympic coverage as often as possible, I heard many athletes mention that not only what they eat but also when they eat impacts their performance. If their event starting time is uncertain — the team playing before them may take much more or much less time than anticipated — they debate within themselves: should I eat or should I not eat?

It’s an easy link for me to ask this same question regarding elder care and recreation.

I have been blessed for over twenty years with opportunities to bring music into the lives of our elders. It has always been the piece of my recreation experience that has brought me (and my listeners) the greatest satisfaction. However, there’s a really easy way to spoil this: serve food during the program.

Please don’t serve food during the program! The residents on the care campuses where

I entertain are, I think, a typical cross-section of residents everywhere. My observation: they do not benefit from the sensory overload of (a) the music, (b) the questions from the servers (“Which would you like to drink?” “How many crackers with cheese would you like?”), (c) the chatter from others who are answering the servers, (d) the concentration required to not spill your drink, and/or (e) the apprehension that someone else will spill on you!

Eating together is one of the most important social events for our residents. Christening a food experience as Happy Hour or Food Fun or Appetizer Appreciation is a fabulous idea. Just please do not have live music during these gatherings. Recorded music can set the atmosphere and is very flexible as to the music’s genre and volume.

Save your limited entertainment budget dollars for a program where only the music stimulates the residents. They will be able to focus on the music and the entertainer with little else to distract them. When the music program concludes, serve food and drinks if you’d like. The residents will enjoy talking with each other about the music they’ve just heard, and they will be spared the feeling that they’ve been disrespectful to the entertainer because there was no need to answer questions about food or drink choices during the program.

Utilize Multiple Tools and Interventions

Use the many tools available online to enrich your recreation therapy music activities. When you type “music for the elderly” into Google search, you will find 67 million results! In addition, Recreation Therapy music ideas has over a million results.

Music & Memory is a very popular music activities tool used on many campuses. They describe themselves this way: Founded in 2010, MUSIC & MEMORY® is a non-profit organization that brings personalized music into the lives of people with cognitive or physical conditions through digital music technology, vastly improving quality of life.

If looking for a way to create playlists for your residents to enjoy, you can choose Spotify (listening only) or YouTube (listening and viewing). YouTube is free; Spotify is also free if the inclusion of advertising isn’t bothersome. To use the service without the ads, there is a $9.99 monthly fee. (As of this writing, Spotify is offering three months for $0.99, providing a trial run to determine if the $9.99 would be money well spent.)

For more “old school” tools, check your local library for DVDs and CDs. Although both will probably be obsolete soon, most care campuses still have the hardware necessary to enjoy these recordings during recreation therapy music activities.

In my many years of providing live music, I was thanked probably 100,000 times or more but asked to stop only twice that I recall. (One lady came over and unplugged my digital piano in the middle of a song – her opinion was clear.) Budgeting for live entertainment can be a tricky and often disheartening process, but there really is nothing that can match the excitement and personal touch of a live entertainer. (Keep in mind, please, the drawbacks to serving food during a live program.)

One last thought about live entertainers. My experience has been very positive when I’ve been able to visit a campus routinely rather than occasionally. Developing relationships with the residents enhances the experience for everyone. Although variety is also important – and achieved by inviting some entertainers only once or twice a year – you may want to offer one entertainer who comes each month so those relationships can develop.

Sing! Yes, Sing!

This one is easy. Just SING! You may feel that your voice sounds like fingernails on a blackboard – and maybe it does – but that is no reason to not sing! Many of your residents will say the same thing about their own voices. So … set the example of enjoying music even with a poor singing voice. Give them permission to use their voices by using yours during recreation therapy music activities.

Each spring, we had a Senior Prom on my campus, and every year there were residents who used this reason to decline the invitation: “I can’t dance.” After I displayed my worse than poor (what is worse than poor?) talent for dance, they changed their minds. My willingness to dance like no one is watching (let’s hope no one is watching!) had given them permission to participate even if their skill was minimal. It’s the same with singing. Just SING!!

Include Non-Musical Components for Music Activities

If you have a YouTube playlist running, pause it periodically for a little trivia about the song that just ended (ask for the name of the singer, or ask for a definition of a tricky lyric, or ask if anyone has seen the movie which introduced the song to the world), or use the message of the song to spark a little reminiscing or discussion (Shirley Temple singing Animal Crackers in My Soup might lead to this question: “What’s your favorite soup?”).

Why do this? It is one way to provide an activity that can be therapeutic for residents with different sensory abilities or needs. For example, someone with memory loss and aphasia may benefit by solely listening to the music, while someone with strong cognitive skills may find it boring to “just” listen and may need to speak now and then. Rather than random talking which would interrupt the experience for others, providing a chance to talk within the program in a more structured way helps to keep things on track.

Choose Other Activities to Supplement Music Ideas

Your playlist may celebrate the moon, for example. (July 20 is Moon Day – the anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s walk on the moon.) There are many, many songs which reference the moon. Begin the week with the playlist, schedule Apollo 13 or another movie about the moon to enjoy, make moon pies during a cooking activity, find a moon craft on Pinterest – you get the idea. As these other activities unfold, refer back to the music. The music is the centerpiece of the entire week. (And wouldn’t it be perfect if there happened to be a full moon in the sky to really tie it all together? Unfortunately, not this year.)

Music is more than sound. It’s a language. Memories. Found in our hearts. Most importantly, it’s a gift for all ages. You have the privilege of offering this amazing gift to those in your care. The rewards will amaze you!

Are you looking for new Recreation Therapy music ideas?

Jeanne created SingAlong DVD packets helping to expand your programming. The DVDs feature an hour of piano/vocal music with lyrics on the screen helping your participants experience the joy of singing along. In addition, the packets include a variety of activities based on the music theme–crafts, puzzles, trivia, and other Recreation Therapy music ideas.

Each packet is filled with great ideas and recreational opportunities based the PLEASURE principle she developed. As you know from above, Jeanne loves great acronyms. So how do her packets bring PLEASURE?

Patterns–practical craft ideas based on the packet’s theme

Laughter–funny jokes and stories to share

Eat–Recipes and food ideas based on the included songs

Act–Meaningful outreach ideas for the residents

Sing–Does this need explanation?

Understand–books and movies resources to help understand and revisit the theme

Reminisce–engage your residents with stimulating discussions

Enjoy–Puzzles and games to challenges and entertain your residents


Are you struggling to fill your activity calendar with new and engaging activity ideas?


Discover how Jeanne’s music packets give great recreation therapy music ideas and a whole lot more. The resources in her packet even inspired group ideas for my teen participants.

Fill Those Blank Spots in Your Activity Calendar Now!

By purchasing Jeanne’s products using the above link, the Real Recreation Therapist Blog gets a small commission to help with operating costs. 

Learn More About Jeanne

I live in a very rural area of south central Minnesota, right on the Iowa border. For the past 22 years, I have had the privilege of providing music appreciation programs on skilled nursing and assisted living campuses. For 18 of these years, I was an employee on a continuum-of-care campus, the last six years as the director of a recreation department of ten. After my retirement, I was able to create a rewarding contract arrangement with eight campuses. I now travel with my music and immerse myself in the piece I always enjoyed most. No more endless meetings or job reviews or scheduling of staff or payroll to process – only music. For me, it’s perfect.

Visit Jeanne’s Website to Learn More

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