Tap into Rhythm, Tap into Success: A Foolproof Music Session Plan

Hello music friends! 
With a friendly smile on my face, I tap two rhythm sticks together. 

 “Today we’re going to play the drums - without the drum.” 

Circling the room, I gently slide a wooden stick into each person’s hands. 
Bill begins to rub one stick against the other. 
Sue gently taps the sticks together, barely lifting them off her lap. 
The staff warn me that Deb tends to put everything in her mouth.  And she does. (That’s OK – I sanitize everything after each session.) 
Fred shakes his head “no” when I offer him the sticks. “OK”, I say with a smile. 
Jill gets right at it. Tapping away enthusiastically. 
“Ready? Here we go!” 
First song up? Stars and Stripes Forever. Why? Everybody knows it and it’s a march with a strong steady beat. 
The room erupts with “on time, on the beat” drumming…without the drums. 
I tap along, sometimes marching around the room, checking in with folks and sharing smiles. 
Next up. Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. 
What? Why that song? 
First of all, because people know it and it’s fun. But it’s the rhythmic structure of the song that makes it perfect for our session today. Here’s why. After every verse and chorus, the music stops as they say “2,3,4, Tell the people what she wore!” 
I lead the group with exaggerated visual cues and one word directions. “Stop!”and “Go!” 
And yes, almost everyone can start and stop. They follow the music, as well as my visual and verbal cues. 
Why is it important to do activities like this? 
Because a sense of rhythm and the ability to keep a steady beat are retained skills. 
For people living with dementia, it’s an opportunity to do something that focuses on strengths rather than weaknesses. 
This sense of rhythm is so strong that sometimes people living with dementia can dance better than they can walk. And there is new research showing that people with Parkinson’s can often maintain a steady walking gait better when they are moving to music. 
Need more reasons? 
Does it create a sense of community when everyone is playing together “in the band?” Yes! 
Do people feel competent when we offer activities that call on retained skills? A resounding yes! 
Is it fun, for them and for you? You bet. 
Win, win, win. 
Give it a try.

p.s. After the first song, Fred changed his mind and decided he wanted to play too. Deb took the sticks out of her mouth and began to play as soon as the music started. 

p.p.s. Here’s where you can buy rhythm sticks and here’s a link to a playlist I made for you on my YouTube Channel for the music I used.