Music Game #2: Happy Memories Retirement Home (Playtime for Piano Teacher & Student)

Are you ready to play The “Home” Game? Truth be told, many music students, hobbyists, and professionals bring on the smiles playing for audiences in retirement homes. The power of music can be both healing and comforting. Famous singer Tony Bennett has been in the news of late as we witness him suffering Alzheimers disease, yet to see his face light up as he sings with amazing recall is incredibly inspiring. Aspiring musicians of all ages can test drive their upcoming concert material in front of receptive senior audiences. Teen piano students get not only performance experience, but may earn high school community service credit by playing in retirement homes.

Music Game #2 : “Happy Memories Retirement Home” is similar to the other Music Game #1: “Tip Jar”. (Compare it with my previous article.) In order to play either game, the student will need about a dozen pieces they can play reasonably well, either with or without the music. (Having handy access to sheet music or a fakebook is fine too.) Teachers will want to keep in mind the pieces each private student has studied in order to create playable tune “requests”. This helps both of you get the most enjoyment from the game.

I recently designed and classroom tested Happy Memories Retirement Home with 2 students: One is a 16 year old who is putting together sets to play for retirement home audiences as her music repertoire goal, the other is an adult student who keeps her piano skills active by entertaining her 94 year old father when he visits her home. Her dad recently needed a bit of extra health care at a retirement facility, where his daughter played the piano not only for his ears but for the other residents and staff too.  During a recent online lesson I was delighted to see my student’s father relaxing in a chair at her home, wrapped in a colorful blanket, waving to me over Zoom! She asked if it was OK if her dad listened in during her lesson, so I incorporated his participation.

How to play: The student acts as a pianist playing for a retirement home, with the teacher making requests, thereby earning Happy Memories Points like so:

10 pts if the tune is either recognized by the “residents”, makes them smile, or shed tears of joy!

5 pts if the music is just keeping ‘the staff’ satisfied (they can relax a bit more or take care of other business while residents are being entertained).

0 pts if a resident demands, “Nurse! Take me back to my room, NOW!!!” (This happened to me only once, when I began to set up the piano in front of a retirement home’s burning fireplace. It was a long dry summer and literally 110 degrees outside – my bassist partner and I asked staff to please turn off the fireplace. A lone man was dozing in his wheelchair right by the fire where we needed to set up, when a nurse asked him, “Don’t you want to stay for the nice music?” The man loudly asked to go back to his room ASAP! Perhaps it was a fireplace issue? I guess I’ll never know 😉

Back to how I recruited the dad’s help in scoring points: He was to hold up 10 fingers (both hands) if she did a terrific job. 5 fingers (one hand) if it was pretty good. No hands if he didn’t like my student’s selection of music or playing at all.

My student was enthusiastically engaging her father by talking about why she chose each tune, reminding him to hold up his hand or hands afterwards for his reaction. Here’s how that turned out, with my list of tailored requests:

  1. Play a tune by a living artist (She recently heard Van Morrison in concert, so selected Moondance) Dad gave a 2 handed clap – 10 pts!
  2. Play a Jewish tune (It could be any cultural, ethnic, or religious tune, depending on your student or the home audience) Her father loved this idea.
  3. Play a slow and pretty tune (She played a slow Israeli Folk Song, Evening of the Roses) At this point her father fell asleep – which can actually be considered a compliment to the music’s serene quality – However, she wanted her dad engaged, so she woke him up saying, “Dad. Dad! You’ve got to give me a score. Both hands 10 pts, one hand 5 pts, or what did you think?” Dad waved, 5 pts.
  4. Play an upbeat tune (did a Traditional Jewish Circle Dance) 10 pts, both hands!
  5. Play a Gershwin tune (She played a slow mesmerizing version of Summertime, and her dad fell peacefully back asleep) At this point, she let him dream on.
  6. Play a classical tune (She selected Brahms Hungarian Dance No. 5 from a classical composition fakebook) Note: In all my years playing piano bars, Beethoven’s Für Elise was the most requested “classical” number!
  7. Play a children’s song you sang when you were a kid (I suggested she pick out a simple version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by ear) Our 45 minute lesson time for that day was up. Consider also the list below of Happy Memories categories you might request of your students – if you have additional ideas please leave them in the comments section of this article!
    *Play a holiday, seasonal or patriotic tune
    *Play a tune with a certain word in its title (examples: “You”, “I” or “My”)
    *Play a tune (or whole set) based on common theme like “Water/Ocean/Sea”
    *Play a tune that names a person, place, or thing
    *Play something by a group like the Beatles, Beach Boys or a Motown artist
    *Play a dance number (Latin beats like Cha-Chas are pleasers – even if residents are sitting down – they can tap their feet or clap along. Also included in the dance category are Big Band Swing, Shuffle, 2 beat Foxtrots or Waltzes)

A great deal of Children’s songs, old familiar Camp songs, Holiday tunes, Patriotic pieces, Country music, Blues, Sunday School hymns, early Rock or certain well known Pop hits can be easily picked out by ear, then arranged for the piano in creative ways. This could even be a topic for the next piano lesson!  And if your audience falls asleep? Take it as a good sign you are providing peace, comfort, as they dream happy memories. 



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *