Musical memories

Here are a number of suggestions for using music in life story sessions. These ideas are suited to a group exercise but variations can be done with people in pairs or one-to-one.

Important points to note are:

1. Not everyone enjoys music or is able to recall memories from songs. It's as well to ask before suggesting a group music exercise.

2. Be aware that memories can be evoked quite quickly, especially when listening to music, and a piece of music may trigger an unpleasant memory for somebody. It's worth thinking in advance how you might manage this. Some people may feel the need to discuss the evoked memory whilst others may want to move on and banish it from their minds. It's not a good idea to close down a discussion without first checking with the person. They may need a safe space to process it. One option would be to spend time discussing the memories and then find a different piece of music which evokes new, more positive memories.

 If someone has shared a difficult memory, be aware of the effect that has on other members of the group and allow time for people to share their thoughts and feelings.

idea picture


Playing music

Materials needed: a computer with CD drive and speakers, or a tape and CD deck.

Idea 1  - Special Sounds 

Ask people to bring along CDs they like or that hold special meaning for them.
Sit in an informal group. Ask someone to say what their track or album is and why it's important to them. Check that nobody holds any difficult memories of the music. Play the track. Once it has been played, leave time first for the person to add anything to their memory of the music. Ask other people whether the track has any meaning for them or has provoked any memories. Be aware that music has the ability to provoke memories that people might not be aware of, and allow time for discussing any difficult issues that arise. Once people have had a chance to share, ask another member of the group to play their track.

Idea 2 - Random musical memories

This idea needs an internet connection and the availability of Spotify, or else a good selection of music in i-tunes, or some other internet programme to search music databases.
Themes could be:

  • Music that made them feel change was possible in their life
  • Music that holds an important happy memory of an event or occassion
  • Music that made them feel positive.

Choose a piece of music that someone likes (based on a theme, such as above).
Check that nobody has difficult memories of it.

Play the piece of music and ask some questions, for example:

  • What memories does it evoke?
  • What reminders does it have for them?
  • What do they associate with it?
  • When they listen to it now, how does it make them feel?

Ask other people in the group what it means for them.

A development of this could be 'musical associations'.  Ask other people whether the person's description of the music reminds them of other pieces of music.

For example:

Person A plays a piece of music that reminds them of a moment of positive change in their life. When Person A has described that positive change, Person B might have a track they recall evoked that very same feeling.  Using Spotify, or a similar music database, you can play Person B's music next. 

This could be done without having access to music with people just sharing their love for music or even with the group just singing or humming the tunes together.

Desert Island Discs

Over the course of a few sessions, each person brings in their favourite handful of tracks. The tracks are played and shared, and the player records why the piece is important to them or what it represents in their life. This could be a written account, or if you have access to a voice recorder, you could record the them speaking about their choice. One further step could be to make a CD or a podcast showcasing each person's favourite track interspersed with them talking about it.


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