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  • Chantise Hunt, MT-BC

Listen and Paint

In my work with Keynote Music Therapy, the majority of my clients around the Twin Cities are older adults with mental health/memory care needs. Residents in my groups also tend to range in age from 50 to 80+.

Recently, I have been interested in incorporating more art into my music therapy sessions but have struggled with the logistics of bringing art supplies into a facility (and cleaning up in a timely manner) and creating an intervention that can meet the needs of various abilities and ages.

Today, I am going to share a music and art intervention that is portable, relatively clean, and can be successful for residents with a variety of needs.


  • Bleeding tissue paper (Make sure it’s “bleeding” tissue paper...if you use regular tissue paper, like the kind used for gifts, the color won’t bleed on to the paper)

  • Paint brushes

  • Watercolor paper (I used 11x15 paper and cut it in half)

  • Water to dip brushes in (Consider using a container to hold the water that does not look like a cup so that residents don’t accidentally drink the water)

  • Newspaper (to put under the watercolor paper so that the dye doesn’t run on to the table)

  • Cleaning wipes (in case any dye leaks on to the table)

  • Portable speaker

  • Playlist of songs with colors in the title (Google, as always, was a valuable resource in my search for songs)


  1. Set up a table that all participants can sit around.

  2. Give each participant some newspaper to set underneath their work.

  3. Give each participant a piece of watercolor paper and a paintbrush.

  4. Place water near each participant where they can dip their brushes.

  5. Show participants one color of tissue paper (eg: blue).

  6. Tear off a piece of blue tissue paper for each participant.

  7. Instruct participants to place their tissue paper on their watercolor paper and use their paint brush to get the tissue paper completely wet.

  8. Play a pre-recorded song (or two) that have blue in the title (Blue Moon, Blue Velvet, Blue Bayou, Blue Skies, etc).

  9. Repeat steps 5-8 for the remaining colors.

  10. If time permits, allow the artwork to dry before peeling off the tissue paper. If time does not allow for that, let the artwork dry while listening to one or two songs and then peel off the tissue paper.

Helpful Tips

  • While this intervention could be facilitated using live music, recorded music worked best for me so that I could walk around throughout the session and provide hand over hand assistance when necessary.

  • Bleeding tissue paper can be purchased at an art supply store. I used a pack that had 20 different colors but only used pink, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple for the intervention.

  • The ink from the tissue paper may temporarily stain fingers.

  • Have the residents tear the tissue paper themselves to exercise fine motor skills.

  • Allow residents to guess songs that have a particular color in the title for an extra cognitive challenge.

  • If possible, ask for other staff members to join the session to help support residents who need hand over hand assistance to participate.

  • I used blank paper but you could also use watercolor paper with different shapes or images outlined for the participants to fill in with tissue paper.

This intervention not only allows residents to express themselves through art, but they also get to exercise their fine motor skills (manipulating the paintbrush, tearing the tissue paper) and cognition (guessing songs that have colors in the title). The recorded music provides structure to the intervention, supports orientation to the task, and provides opportunities for socialization related to the music. My older adult groups have loved this intervention and I hope yours do too!

Do you have a favorite art and music intervention that you use with older adults? Let me know in the comments below!

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