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What Do I Play?

Someone recently asked in an online music therapy group what songs they should learn for hospice. I’ll admit that I was pretty overwhelmed when I started. My guitar skills were never that great to begin with and I hadn’t played in the time I wasn’t practicing music therapy. Location and the type of hospice a music therapist might work for also makes a difference. We’re in a primarily agricultural area and the company I work for doesn’t take pediatric patients. That being said, as a music therapist, you probably can’t go wrong with Elvis. Ballroom dancing was popular in our area well into the 50s. Many of the older generation grew up watching cowboy movies so Gene Autry and Roy Rogers are pretty popular. The Beach Boys and Beatles are also good choices. I live and work in a religiously conservative area. Traditional Protestant and Catholic hymns have been one of my mainstays. My favorite resources have been the Daily ukulele books and Ultimate Guitar because they cover a wide range of music genres.

I’m trying to limit what I bring into facilities for infection control reasons but it helps that I have dabbled in a number of different instruments. Pre-covid, I would often play polkas and dance band tunes on clarinet. I’ve played country and American fiddle tunes on banjo. Classical and “relaxation” music work well on keyboard or harp.

While many of my patients are short-term, it’s also OK to say I don’t know that song but I will have it ready for our next visit. Depending on the genre of music, recorded music is a viable option as well. I feel like I have a pretty good base repertoire now but patient requests are always changing and that can be a fun challenge for me!


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