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What’s on your Playlist?


by SarahRose Black, MMT, MTA, RP, CKN Music & Creative Therapies Editor

Whether I am discussing music with friends, family, patients or colleagues, a consistent trend seems to emerge. What we prefer is closely linked to our associations. When we associate a song with a particular time in our lives, that same song tends to hold ongoing significance. Perhaps a song that was played during a first dance at a wedding continues to bring up very vivid memories and feelings. A song from a childhood experience (perhaps a caregiver’s soothing voice before falling asleep) may continue to provide comfort and support well into adulthood.  Often, a sequence or combination of songs can elicit a pattern of feelings, or an emotional arc taking us from one mood to another, or holding us steadily in a specific affective experience for an extended period of time.


As a music therapist, I frequently put playlists together with and for patients, families and caregivers. The aim of the playlist depends heavily on the goal of the individual who will be listening. We may aim to create a playlist that evokes a sense of calm and overall relaxation, or perhaps focus exclusively on creating a cathartic experience that allows for deeply felt emotions to come to the surface through tears and reflection. Playlists can be created with friends, loved ones or family members, and listening to a playlist for a particular purpose can be a meaningful activity at any life stage.


Playlists can be created for any of the following reasons, and many more:

  • Life review and reflection
  • Evoking a specific mood or a feeling
  • Entertainment
  • Creating a sense of calm
  • Creating a sense of energy
  • Providing a cathartic experience through deeply meaningful and/or emotional songs
  • Background atmospheric music for a purpose such as a road trip or a work environment


Playlists can be created in any of the following ways:

  • Ask yourself (or ask a loved one) to make a list of meaningful songs. These songs could reflect important moments or milestones in one’s life
  • Make a list of songs that make you feel a specific emotion, such as joyful, peaceful, or energized
  • Make a list of your favourite songs that you can pass on to loved ones as a legacy piece
  • Look through old records, CDs, tapes, or even photographs to trigger memories of music that may have been meaningful at different times in your life
  • Connect with a music therapist to discuss significant moments as they relate to music in your life; a music therapist may be able to help you access free online resources to play music, or may have a collection of recorded music for you to borrow


The conversation around significant songs and the creation of a playlist can be therapeutic in and of itself, without even listening to the songs on the list. However, sitting with loved ones or in solitude while listening to the music you’ve compiled can be a way to process one’s emotions, reflect on experiences, and may even be used as a backdrop for journaling, creative writing, or visual art.


If you want to access music but do not have a recorded version, often recordings can be found online through resources such as YouTube or iTunes. Another option is to sing the songs you find significant, as singing and connecting to one’s voice holds great therapeutic value as well!


However you choose to approach compiling music, feel free to be as creative as possible, and enjoy the process of using music to evoke, sustain, change, or influence emotion, whether together with someone important in your life, or in the quiet presence of your own thoughts.




SarahRoseBlackSarahRose holds a Masters degree in music education from the University of Toronto, and a Masters degree in music therapy at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is the founder and coordinator of the first music therapy programs at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and Kensington Hospice in Toronto. Her clinical work and research is focused mainly on quality of life for acute palliative care, hematology, and hospice populations. She is also a Suzuki music educator, piano accompanist and singer/songwriter.



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