7 Ways to Use Music at Home with Your Aging Loved One
This is a guest post by Alexis Baker, music therapist at Bridgetown Music Therapy
Did you know that music can be a daily activity for you and your loved one? Think of
music like a vitamin—a little bit everyday does wonders to nourish the heart, body, mind
and soul. If you and your loved one enjoy music, but you’re unsure how to utilize it as a
meaningful activity at home, we've got a few ideas to share with you! Music can be such a wonderful tool for connection and engagement. Let’s take a look at these 7 music-
based activity ideas for you and your aging loved one to do at home.
Sing – Even if you don’t describe yourself as a “singer,” we each have a voice and can
use it to sing. Did you know the activity of singing has a ton of benefits? In many ways,
singing is similar to exercise. It’s an aerobic activity, so it gets more oxygen into the
blood leading to better circulation which can cause improved mood. Singing causes the
release of endorphins, which give us that wonderful “lifted” feeling often resulting in
stress relief. Also, because singing requires deep breathing, a natural result is often
It's as simple as turning on a song and singing along. Take advantage of free or low-
cost resources like YouTube or Spotify. Create a playlist of you and your loved one’s
favorite tunes to sing together. Learn the lyrics of a few songs together so you can sing
a cappella (voice only) when you can’t conveniently turn on music. Another more formal
way to regularly sing would be for you and your loved one to participate in a choir
together, take voice lessons, or receive music therapy services.
Play – Do you or your loved one own any musical instruments? Pull them out and play
for fun. Don’t worry about sounding good or playing correctly. You don’t necessarily
need to know how to play. Start by exploring the instrument and see what sounds you
Instrument play is fun and can provide opportunities for playfulness and self-
expression as well as physical movement. You can play musical instruments alone or
with accompaniment music. Small percussion instruments like maracas are generally
easy to pick up and play without any previous knowledge or experience. Just turn on
some music, have fun and jam out with your instruments.
Some of our favorite and older-adult friendly instruments to use include maracas,
tambourines, jingle bells, eggs shakers and paddle drums (check
out WestMusic.com for quality instruments at reasonable prices). For a couple of more
unique instrument options, check out a Study 49 Easycussion pentatonic xylophone,
Suzuki QChord, or a Remo ocean drum.
Dance – Music is a natural motivator for the physical body. Most people can easily pick
up the rhythm of a song by tapping their toes or bobbing their head along to the beat.
Sometimes we do this without even thinking! Dance and movement are the body’s
natural response to rhythm. So, turn on some music and dance!
Choosing songs that are familiar or well-known can be helpful but don’t shy away from
exploring new-to-you and different types of music. You never know what new songs or
styles you’ll discover. To help get you thinking, here are some genres of music you
could dance to: big band, jazz, rock’n’roll, folk, bluegrass, country/western, classical,
rhythm and blues, gospel, pop, Broadway showtunes, soul, funk, disco…to name a few!
Don’t think that formal dances like the waltz, tango or cha-cha-cha are the only way to
move your body to music though. Try making up your own moves, or embracing and
swaying to the music together, or facing each other and doing seated movement to
music. Try stretching, exercising, or simply doing rhythmic body percussion like
clapping, snapping, patting, stomping, kicking, tapping, marching, shaking, waving, etc.
Listen and Reminisce – Listening to music can be an enjoyable activity all on its own.
Find a playlist you and your loved one enjoy, or create your own. Listening to music is
an excellent activity for relaxation or brain stimulation. It can be a passive, receptive
experience by simply listening. Or, it can be an active, engaging experience by
discussing the lyrics and various elements of the music, such as the sound, feel,
different instruments involved, etc. There is no right or wrong way to listen to music. Do
what feels best and what you enjoy most.
Listening to music also function as a great accompaniment to other activities such as
cleaning, cooking, running errands or doing an art project. One word of caution: beware
of over-stimulation using music in this way. Many activities require a great amount of
focus, and some types of music can actually lead to the brain having too much to
process at once. Try to match the musical energy to the energy level of the activity.
Instrumental (or music without lyrics) can work well for times when you and your loved
one will need to talk during the activity.
Music can also be an amazing catalyst for reminiscence. To start off, choose songs
associated with positive, meaningful memories. Observe your loved one as you listen
together and consider asking a couple questions about the song afterwards. For more
info and practical tools, I recommend the book Music, Memory, and Meaning written
by a few of my music therapist colleagues!
Relax – Music can be a wonderful tool for relaxation. We all find different types of music
calming for us, and the music we find relaxing can change throughout our lives. It’s
important for you to consider and choose music that’s calming for both you and your
We use music as a structured space for deep breathing, gentle stretching, guided
relaxation, and meditation. There are different techniques for each of these; however,
don’t get bogged down in the how-to. Begin by experimenting to see what it’s like using
music to assist in relaxation, and then go from there. If you’re at a loss as to what kind
of music to play for times of intentional relaxation, try looking up a playlist of the type of
music spas use during treatments such as massage therapy. Nature sounds or ambient
music can work beautifully to calm mind and body.
Write a song – Songwriting is typically a multi-step process involving several layers:
choosing a song structure, writing lyrics, composing a melody, and creating harmony or
accompaniment. However, you don’t need to be a musician to write a song, so don’t be
intimidated by this activity. Creating a song can be a fun, simple activity for anyone. For
example, try improvising a short melody to hum, or writing some lyrics, or taking a
preexisting song and replacing the words with your own (known as a song parody).
Don’t worry about music theory, song structure, chord progressions or any other
formalities with songwriting. Just allow your creative juices to flow! Be sure to record
your song in some way, whether by writing it down or recording a quick voice memo of
it. You can of course write a formal full-length song with your loved one. This could take
place over the span of a few hours or over the course of a few weeks or months as an
ongoing project. If one of both of you plays an instrument, that will help in creating the
melody and/or chords.
Capture/Record – This is a simple activity for you and your loved one. It’s a reminder to
capture those moments of making music together! You could use the voice memo app
on your phone, or your phone’s camera to record a video, or write down a special
moment in a notebook. To take it a step further, share it with friends and family. They
will appreciate it, and you will be grateful for capturing those special, memorable
A Few Tips – Sometimes we just need to be given permission to try something new.
So, I hereby grant you full permission to make music! Additionally, here are a few tips
that might further help you push through any initial discomfort or unfamiliarity:
Keep it simple – don’t feel like music needs to be a performance.
Don’t be self-conscious.
Don’t shy away from doing something simply because you’ve never done it before.
Something is always worth trying. You never know what you might discover or
the positive outcome that may result, so don’t write it off before you even give it a try.
Music is powerful and has so many incredible benefits. It can create connections and
spark joy. Music is fun and engaging. It’s a natural motivator for the mind and body.
Music truly can make a difference! For more information and resources, visit BridgetownMT.com
Alexis Baker is a licensed and board-certified music therapist with nearly 10 years of professional experience. She earned her Bachelor of Music Therapy degree from Marylhurst University in 2013.
Drawn to their wisdom and life stories, Alexis has always loved the older adult population and is passionate about making a difference in their lives using music, especially those living with dementia. In 2017, Alexis founded
Bridgetown Music Therapy to serve individuals and groups in senior care settings by sparking joy and improving quality of life through meaningful music engagement.