Learning repertoire is an ongoing process as a music therapist. Some songs you use a lot, some seasonally, and some are rare requests.

Over the years, a few special requests have become personal favorites. Others I file away hoping it will be a long time until they are again requested.

When adding a song to my repertoire, I try to use it more than once and in different ways. Getting more from a song saves me times. It means the time spent learning it applies to more clinical use and more effective use.

School of hard knocks

My only regret is I didn’t start this process earlier in my career. Initially, I’d learn a song. Sing it once or twice with that person. Maybe it would grow wings and spread into other things. More often than not, that wasn’t the case.

Taking a position as a nursing home activity director left little time for learning songs. If I was lucky, I might buy or record a song, copy it to a cassette, and play it on my drive to and from work to learn it. (Yes, I’m that old. Cassettes were considered wonderful technology at that time.)

Settling into my position, I found using themes for a week or month helpful in preparing other materials. Soon, I was applying the same to music.

The cool thing about a song is it can be more that just thematic material. You get more by going a little deeper.

How to get more from a song

How to get more from a songMJ Landaker, MT-BC is the owner of Music Therapy Work. She has a beautiful process to get more from a song. Looking at song lyrics with a client (or clients) in mind can allow you to uncover the therapeutic uses while more deeply etching the music in your mind.

Look at uses

  • Themes
  • Functions it can serve
  • Potential use for song writing
  • Potential goals and objectives for which the song can be used

Look at the lyrics

  • Is there a recurring word/phrase/hook?
  • Is there a refrain?
  • Emotional references in the lyrics



  • When was it popular
  • How does it reflect a period of history
  • Who recorded it

Other tidbits

  • Does it stay recognizable even if you change styles?
  • Level of familiarity to client
  • If new to client, how it relates to preferences

Get more by passing it on

Sometimes the finds of others have resulted in amazing session shares in my groups. Yes, share the songs that seem to appeal, to serve your clients. Whether you do it:

Here’s a little inspiration to “Pass the Music On”.