Music Therapy: A combination of art and science

  • Music therapy involves the skilled use of music and its inherent qualities to accomplish specific, non-music goals for a group or individual. 
  • Equally important to the use of music is the therapeutic relationship of a board-certified music therapist. 
  • Music therapy is an established health-care profession and evidence-based practice. 
  • Music therapy is appropriate for any age and many different populations.
  • It promotes health and improves quality of life by helping to restore, maintain, or improve various domains of functioning.

What is music therapy? 

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients' abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people's motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.” (AMTA, 2017)

What are the benefits of music therapy? 

Music therapy interventions are designed to improve quality of life by focusing on various areas of functioning, such as cognitive abilities, physical movement and social interaction. Music therapy helps boost overall health and well-being by targeting specific goals and objectives within these domains. Benefits and outcomes can include:   

  • Enhancing memory and recall
  • Reducing stress and anxiety
  • Increasing physical movement and circulation 
  • Decreasing agitation and combativeness
  • Alleviating pain
  • Improving, maintaining and restoring range of motion
  • Increasing self-expression 
  • Improving verbal communication
  • Supporting independence 
  • Promoting rest and relaxation 
  • Increasing social interaction
  • Stimulating cognitive function
  • Supporting caregivers and staff
  • Creating an overall calm, comfortable and relaxed environment
  • And much more! 

What does the music therapy process involve? 

  • Assessment: The client’s strengths and needs are assessed and documented by the therapist through observation and interaction.
  • Treatment plan: Once the assessment is completed, the therapist then creates a treatment plan to address the client’s needs through specific goals and objectives.
  • Implementation: Music experiences/activities that support the client in achieving their goals and objectives are designed and facilitated by the therapist.
  • Documentation & Evaluation: The therapist tracks client progress through session notes and data collection, then periodically evaluates treatment and progress.

What happens in a music therapy session?

Music therapy is a fun, interactive experience. Using music, the therapist seeks to engage each client and draw him or her in to participate in whatever capacity they can and then challenges them through music-based activities. Each session is different and depends largely on the needs of the client, the individual or group’s treatment plan, and client's musical preferences. Common activities during sessions include:

  • A greeting song
  • Singing
  • Instrument play, individually or with a group
  • Movement to music
  • Listening
  • Musical improvisation
  • Songwriting
  • Reminiscing
  • Music-assisted relaxation
  • Gentle stretching
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Musical games
  • A closing song

What instruments are used?

All kinds—the sky's the limit when it comes to the instruments used in music therapy. The instruments used are based largely on the client’s needs or preferences. Guitar, piano, and voice are considered the three main instruments. Other commonly used instruments are small percussion, autoharp, Q-chord, and tone chimes. Sometimes props such as scarves or a parachute are used. Note: Knowing how to play an instrument or being a 'musical' person is not required for participation in music therapy!

Quotes about music therapy

“Music therapy is a non-threatening form of intervention. It helps people open up. We've seen many people benefit, including those suffering from forms of dementia such as Alzheimer's. We've also seen evidence of music helping in neurological rehabilitation as people relearn a gait and learn to speak after a stroke.” –Al Bumanis, American Music Therapy Association

“Music therapy helps speech, but also motor skills, memory and balance. Also emotionally uplifting." –Dr. Sanjay Gupta

"When we look at the body of evidence that the arts contribute to our society, it's absolutely astounding. Music Therapists are breaking down the walls of silence and affliction of autism, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease." –Michael Greene, President & CEO of NARAS

"(Music therapy) can make the difference between withdrawal and awareness, between isolation and interaction, between chronic pain and comfort -- between demoralization and dignity." –Barbara Crowe, past President of NAMT