We all know a great song when we hear it, but sometimes, your own personal choice might not be that of someone else’s. I’m not a Beatles or an Elvis fan for example but I can still recognise what makes their iconic songs withstand the passage of time and still remain incredibly popular.

Music and songs as we know them now, in both popular and classical form are made up using six key components or musical ingredients. 

Compositions usually have a melody – a rise and fall of musical notes that make the outline of the picture that has been created. It is the melody line that gives the music it’s backbone and personality. This melody line will already have its own inherent rhythm, beat or time signature, but rhythm can be built on and developed to incorporate supporting instruments that further emphasise and define the heartbeat of the music. Rhythm gives music life and structure that allows everyone to follow and engage with it. 

Musical compositions all have their own unique tone colour or colour palette. The quality of a singer’s voice for example, can give the song a distinctive character, as can the use of certain instruments. Consider how the opening bars of ‘Delilah’ would sound if played on flute or classical guitar. The introduction would lose its attack and menacing intrigue. The song would also lose its character if the powerful operatic style of Tom Jones’s voice was replaced with quieter vocal tones of James Taylor for example. 

Music usually has harmony – accompanying notes or chords (two or more notes or pitches) that are played simultaneously. It is harmony that gives music its depth and richness of sound and has the ability pull a melody line in different directions. The same note played many times on the piano for example will sound completely different when played with different harmonies each time.

What of the dynamics of music? The crescendos and diminuendos, the quiet introduction that contrasts with a much louder middle section. The dynamics of the music can be what carries you along with it, taking you up on the crest of a wave and then back down to calmer waters, or perhaps is quietly consistent when relaxation is its fundamental aim. The dynamics of music develop the expressive quality and emotion of a piece or song.

Music also has texture or depth. A thin texture would involve one melody line – even if many voices are singing the same tune. Called monophony, this was the only style of music allowed in medieval times – using harmony was construed as the work of the devil!

Add different tonal voices singing independent melodies simultaneously and the texture of the music becomes thicker, more luxurious, denser and even more pleasurable for the listener.

These elements of music when put together well, make up beautiful works of art that affect us immediately, stirring something in us that no other medium can find, touching our emotions, feelings, memories and reawakening and enlivening sensitivities that were previously disengaged.

Apart from a well-crafted piece, I am looking for additional qualities to stimulate our clients. What else do I need from a song when putting together a therapeutic set list for our older clients?

Kiddleydivey always uses songs written in a major key. The major keys are the ‘sunny’ feel good keys. The songs don’t have to be in a major key throughout, but even if they touch upon some minor tonalities, the predominant key is major.

The tempo of most songs I choose is up-beat and fairly quick usually having a tempo of 140 – 150 bpm. Music has the ability to raise the human heartbeat, to excite and energise, and songs with this bpm achieve this the best. These are the songs that encourage movement, foot-tapping, swaying, twisting and jiving.

But even with all the musical elements working together in harmony, a song must connect with your group, be relatable and have relevant lyrics that are clear and understandable A good song is memorable and has withstood the passing of 25, 50 or even 100 years. 

Going back to the second world war is still relevant for most of our residents, and certain war songs portray the incredible emotions of camaraderie, hope, pride, patriotism and even the joy of the war years, these songs allowing a brief revisiting of time whilst holding up and supporting the memories they elicit. If age appropriate and chosen well, war songs always encourage a rousing enthusiasm.

Most importantly a great song put together with others in a well created therapeutic set list,  gives a voice to emotions and feelings that perhaps can’t be expressed anymore and rediscovers memories of good times that can be shared and supported socially in the growing friendship of a music group.