Singing for the Brain Training

On Sunday I attended a training day for people involved with Singing for the Brain. There were facilitators, volunteers, dementia support workers and fundraisers – over 60 in all. Great fun and it was useful to meet other people working in a similar field. Below are some reflections I wrote on the train on the way home…


It was exciting to arrive this morning and be greeted by a number of familiar faces. Facilitators who I had met when visiting their sessions, and at the recent meet-up at Old Basing.

Watching Sue Shapland go through the session structure was incredibly useful. As I’m now more familiar with some of the material she uses (I have previously visited the Old Basing group), I was able to focus on some of the subtleties: small gestures such as putting her hand to her ear to indicate she is listening and that it’s our turn to sing – the use of a recorder – for months I have been struggling with a tuning fork to pitch songs – brilliant! The pace of the warm-up was also great – taking time to focus on one sound. Previously I have felt anxious about this aspect: is it too childish? Is everyone bored?

I feel watching the different leaders today gave me permission to go with my instincts more and embrace the session structure as something to be played with. Something I would like to experiment with is the breaking up of the warm-up. Feedback from dementia support workers at one of the Singing for the Brain groups I run suggests that the warm-up goes on for too long, especially when coupled with a lengthy (depending on numbers) welcome song. Perhaps a way around this is to place some of the warm-up activities such as tongue-twisters into the main body of the session? I can however see the arguments for the warm-up section to follow a particular pattern, not least to develop a consistency to the opening of sessions. Evidence based practice anyone?

One of the strengths of today’s training was undoubtedly the variety of the facilitators we saw demonstrating different aspects of a session. I loved the Samba and the Rumba and the Cha-Cha-Cha (which I have temporarily forgotten and hopefully will remember in time for my next group on Tuesday) demonstrated by Joni from Castle Cary. I also enjoyed Faye’s session in which she had, I felt, high expectations of the group. This was a real positive. Singing for the Brain is not just about spoon-feeding, but offering a challenge to people. Finding the balance between nurture and challenge is an important part of the continuing development of Singing for the Brain practice. I really hope to use Faye’s action songs and rounds, as they were straightforward, rewarding and not at all childish. I particularly liked the action song ‘Tony Chestnut‘, and can see that this is something that ticks so many boxes in terms of language, swapping sides when doing the actions, and the actions reminding us of the words.

I think what I will most take away with me is the content of Chreanne’s talk at the beginning, that it isn’t ‘miraculous’ when someone withdrawn due to dementia suddenly ‘wakes up’ and joins in – this is the effect that music has on the brain. She also pointed out that people with a dementia diagnosis do not get ‘a fair crack at neuro-rehabilitation'; this is what Singing for the Brain is, and it shows people with dementia can learn to do new things: learn new songs, new skills and make new friends.

22 thoughts on “Singing for the Brain Training

  1. Emily (Singing for the Brain Co-ordinator)

    Great summary of the day, Rachel, and v. interesting reflections. Thanks.

  2. Rosanna Campbell


    I have just come across your blog and it was great to hear about your experience with Singing for the Brain. It sounds brilliant and something I will definitely look into. Please keep writing great blogs!

  3. Rachel Post author

    Hello Rosanna,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I’ve just looked up your website; it’s so good to see other people exploring the use of music for wellbeing.

    I would really encourage anyone to blog as a way of sharing learning and encouraging others- especially as so many of us are self-employed. It can be a method of reflective practice too.

    Best wishes for your work.

  4. Lisa

    Hi, Sounds like a great training day and one I really would have liked to attend as I’m involved in setting up a ‘Singing for the Brain’ group in Aberdeen. I would really appreciate any further advice anyone could offer me as we are hoping to begin a pilot next month. Advice regarding types of music, dance, instruments etc would be greatly appreciated. Many thanks.

  5. Rachel Post author

    Hello Lisa,

    Thanks for your comment – I’m glad you found the site.
    There is an online network for Singing for the Brain – I will send you the link (although the network is going to be moved over the summer.) Posted on the network site is a recording of Sue Shapland’s demonstration – it was posted by Emily Gerrard. You might find this helpful.

    Good luck with the pilot!!


  6. Maria

    Hi there
    Just stumbled across your blog. Thanks! It’s great to hear about some other groups. I run a session once a week at a care home for residents with moderate to severe dementia – we’re not part of the “singing for the brain” network so I don’t know much about the philosophy – but I was very keen to avoid the “sing along” model. I have been amazed and moved by our achievements – particularly our ability to learn new things and improve week after week.
    In response to Lisa – we have found that we enjoy folk songs like “Danny Boy”, “Cockles and Mussels”, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” etc. Particular successes were “Love Me Tender” and “Jerusalem” (tricky but so worth it!). We always end with “Auld Lang Syne”. Strangely, I don’t sing well (which causes great merriment) but play my flute as accompaniment.
    Could you send me the network link please – I’m in Cambridge and there doesn’t seem to be a “S for the B” group nearby – I would be interested in looking into setting one up.
    Thanks and good luck!

  7. Rachel Post author

    Hi Maria,
    Thanks for your post. Will send you the link.
    I really enjoy My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean – I quite often do actions with it (clap on the words beginning with B, make a big circle with your arms on words beginning with O, and point to yourself on me/my words) – this adds a bit of movement and much hilarity.
    I once was at a comedy gig where the comedienne got us all singing the words ‘Doe a Deer’ to the tune of Jerusalem. Again, this requires a fair amount of concentration, but also is quite fun.
    Have fun! Rachel

  8. Sheila Hardie

    Hello Rachel – I have read with interest your comments on the Training course you attended for Singing for the Brain. I was interested in the comments made by Lisa from Aberdeen. As I am in Edinburgh and have started up a group in June this year,I would be keen to make contact with Lisa. Could you pass on my contact details to her and ask her to contact me?

    Hope your group is going well.

    Best Wishes
    Sheila Hardie

  9. Elizabeth Little

    Hello Rachel! Thanks for your great blog. I have been running a Singing for the Brain group in Oban since June this year (after visiting the Old Basing group by chance!) and have been in email contact with Sheila Hardie in Edinburgh (who has now passed me the contact details for Lisa in Aberdeen) and also Tam Spaeth, who organises the group at the Day Hospital of the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley. I am keen to get hold of info about evaluating our group and the effectiveness of the whole activity and also the different aspects of it. We also include people with Parkinson’s Disease and also those affected by strokes and find that they are benefitting a great deal too!

  10. Joy Old

    I am a Community Support Worker for a Community Mental Health Team.I would like to start a Singing For The Brain Group and would be grateful for any information that anyone can give.
    Keep up the good work
    Joy Old

  11. Lynn Slater

    Hi Sheila ,

    i am an SLT assistant in Edinburgh who works primarily within/across two Dementia Units.
    As an avid singer/lover of music ( not brill but i get by :0) ) I would LOVE to know more about “Singing for the brain” – particularly about any groups here in Edinburgh. Can you tell me where it is held? How it is taught ..anything !!! ???!!! it sounds like something our residents would trooly love ! (me too !) Lynn

  12. Janno

    Hi Rachel

    I wonder if you could send me the relevant websites. I am a former SLT, I sing in a community choir and I currently run “Get Into Reading” groups which uses poetry to stimulate conversation and memories.

    I would love to know about any forthcoming training for S for the B.

    I have lots of songs I can share too!

  13. Elaine

    hello Joy
    Have you managed to start up a group?
    Drop me a mail – am interested in doing same.

  14. Eliza Langland

    Having been told about Singing for the Brain – and livng in Edinburgh and caring for my mother who is suffering from some dementia but who LOVES to sing – I’m very keen to contact Sheila and am unashamedly doing it through your blog, Rachel. Like Lynn, above, I would love to know more asap. Can you or anyone who reads this who can help, get in touch with me please? I’m emailable through my website. I see the email address will not be published. Very exciting work.

  15. MarjoryBrechin

    Hi Eliza. Having heard of Singing for the Brain I have finally got round to try to find out about it for my Mum. Notice you had no response to your request but wonder if you have found any information through other sources. I would be delighted to hear from you.

  16. Michele Vining

    Hi Rachel
    I am a student social worker currently on a placement with older adult mental health and am looking to get some information about Singing for the Brain as i am looking to help set one up in Alderney, C.I. I was looking for training courses and any other information that you may be able to point me towards which might help me to get started.

    Many thanks

  17. Pat Barnett

    I am searching the internet for info on Singing for the Brain as I have recently volunteered for a group locally. I have watched the dvd produced by Alzheimers Soc. and found it very useful, and can see I am going along the right lines with what I am doing, but need to find a source for more songs to use. I would be most grateful for any pointers.


  18. nickie

    Hi, I’m currently working for the local council at a day centre and we have not long discovered singing for the brain. I have attended a session with the Alzheimer’s society at another day centre to get some ideas.. I was just being cheeky and seeing if I could have the link to the site to get song ideas etc.. Also if anyone knows of any training/workshops in Hertfordshire I would be most grateful:)

  19. Gilly

    Hi, it was very interesting to read your experiences of SforB training. I am hoping to get my dream job as a SforB Leader, so I would like to know when and where these training sessions happen. Can you point me in the right direction please? I live in South Cheshire.

  20. Rachel Post author

    Hi Jack,
    interesting point – it’s been quite a while since I led a singing for the brain group – and I remember there was a slight tension when care home residents were brought along, but I think this was more an issue with a lack of communication about them coming. Generally they were welcomed with open arms and made to feel just as much at home as other participants. Just because someone lives in a care home, it doesn’t mean they are any less of a part of the community. What has any one else experienced?

  21. Jack Stone

    Dear Rachel

    After attending singing for the brain for about 4 years my mum went into a nursing home and suddenly after 15 months we were informed by the Alzheimer’s Society that she could no longer attend because funding was only for people in the community(meaning living in their own home). No notice was given and despite a lengthy correspondence which went right to the top her exclusion was not rescinded.

    All the best


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