Plan Like a Pro: Part 1

I’m wearing my teacher’s hat today. And I’ll tell you up front - I have serious “hat hair.” I spent decades writing lesson plans as a teacher. Along the way I learned a thing or two. 

As a school administrator I observed that the best teachers were the ones who had good plans. (These same great teachers knew when to throw the plan out the window. But that’s a topic for another article.) 

Planning a good music session is a lot like planning a good lesson. 

You may not be a teacher, but chances are you have planned something! Maybe it was a party or a field trip or an art activity or even a meal. No matter what you plan, there are some key components that will help lead to success. 

So this week I kick off a new series: 
Plan Like a Pro 

Each installment will offer questions to ponder, food for thought and advice. 

Ready? OK - let’s get started with the most basic question you need to answer. Then watch this newsletter for future editions where we will work our way through the other components that make up a good plan. 

Who are the participants? What do they need? What do they enjoy? 

Is this a plan for an individual, a small group or a larger group? The answer to this question will help you know how much you can personalize the experience. For an individual you can create a personalized playlist. For a small group you may be able to add simple props or rhythm instruments. For a large group you may want to stick with singing old favorites that most people will know. 

Is this a mixed group of people with varying cognitive and/or physical abilities? Or are they all of a similar age and have similar interests and abilities? A mixed group can be challenging. But using simple songs with a chorus that repeats helps everyone have success. You might consider not using a songbook if some of the folks no longer read or people have arthritic hands. You may consider keeping movements focused on the upper body if some of the participants are using a wheelchair. Conversely, if all the participants are country music fans you might decide to do a full blown country music session. 

How old are the participants? What music was popular when they were between the ages of 10 and 30? It is the music of our youth that tends to “stick with us” and have the most emotional and connecting impact. Knowing how old the folks are will give you a head start as you choose music. There are song lists by decade on my website to help you get started. 

What do you know about them? Have they shown interest in a certain genre of music? For example – are they country music lovers or do they prefer show tunes? Or is it a mixed bag? In a mixed group you will want to play and/or sing a variety of songs from several genres. And then you need to be a good observer. Take note of songs that seem to reach people or that the group particularly enjoys. Don’t be afraid of repetition. If “Country Roads” is their favorite song, go ahead and use it often. 

What kind of attention span do they have? I plan my music sessions to be about 45 minutes. In general, it seems to be a sweet spot that engages people without tiring them out too much. But I’m a weekly visitor and a professional musician. If I were an activity director or staff member in a senior community, I might plan shorter more frequent music sessions and try to infuse music throughout the day. Don’t hesitate to start small with a much shorter plan. You could even pick just one or two songs to share. 

So there you have it. A few questions and a bit of advice to help you think about the participants, what they need and what they enjoy. 

Now it’s your turn. I’m still wearing my teacher’s hat. I hope you will all be good students and raise your hands to ask questions and offer opinions. There could be gold stars or even prizes in your future if you participate. Drop me a line. I’ll try to answer questions and share your insights in future installments in this series.