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Is It Music Therapy, Music Education or Music Entertainment?

Did you know that music activates every area of the brain? It's true, scientific researchers have observed that listening to music and engagement in music-based activities can affect all areas of the brain. Music activates the “feel-good centers” of the brain, and it can even help create new neural pathways. The benefits of music are abundant and far-reaching!

As a music therapist, one question I receive all the time is What exactly is music therapy?

The definition of music therapy can be broken into two parts:

  1. It involves the use of evidence-based music interventions designed to accomplish specific goals based on the needs of an individual or group.
  2. All of this happens within a therapeutic relationship, and that person is a credentialed professional music therapist.

To break these parts down further, evidence-based interventions are simply music-oriented experiences or activities such as singing, playing an instrument, moving to music, and songwriting, all of which have been studied and shown to be effective in promoting health and improving quality of life.

(Photo features Alexis Baker of Bridgetown Music Therapy providing music therapy at a memory care community.)

Next, music therapy is always goal-oriented. The focus is using music to achieve specific, measurable goals and objectives. A few examples of general, over-arching goals include improving communication abilities, increasing range of motion, reducing stress, or promoting social connections.

Finally, music therapy is based on a therapeutic relationship which implies there’s an established relational bond involving rapport and consistency. This person is a professional board-certified music therapist. As a side note: According to the Certification Board for Music Therapists, there are currently around 10,000 board-certified music therapists in the U.S.

It’s exciting to hear about what music therapy is, but many people struggle to recognize it as a clearly defined practice. They see anything music-related and want to call it ‘music therapy.’ It’s true, music can function therapeutically in a myriad of ways, but the formal practice of music therapy is specific and limited, so nowlet’s talk about what music therapy is not.

To put it simply, music therapy is not music education or music entertainment. It can involve aspects of education and entertainment. It can even sometimes look like education and entertainment, but music therapy is different from these two fields.

(Photo features John Van Beek of Music We Remember providing music entertainment at a rehabilitation center. Photo credit: Jaime Valdez)

Music education involves learning a musical skill or technique, learning to play an instrument, learning about music theory, etc. Music entertainment, on the other hand, is more of a receptive experience. It’s enjoying music for the value of being entertained. Both music education and entertainment have a place and purpose. They’re both good, and as mentioned there’s overlap with music therapy. But now that we know what music therapy is, we can also say what it’s not.

Shifting once again, here’s another idea to share with you. We now know there’s music therapy, there’s music education, and there’s music entertainment. All important, all serve a purpose. So, what about music engagement? Engagement is somewhat of a buzz word recently. Music engagement isn’t anything formal, but it is something that incorporates all three of the above. It’s the music therapy, education, and entertainment all wrapped in one. Music engagement is participating in music-based activities for the benefits of participating in music-based activities.

As a board-certified music therapist, I’m a huge supporter of music therapy services; however, having been in the field for the past 10+ years, I know that music therapy can often be expensive and inaccessible. There just aren’t enough music therapists to go around, especially within senior care, and it can be a cost-prohibitive service. This presents a problem for which I wanted to find a solution.

I created our virtual music engagement program for many reasons. At the center of it all is my passion and mission in life to use music to make a difference in older adult’ lives. Second, this program was created in response to the Covid. It started out as an alternative when the pandemic was limiting activities. It can still function in this way. While not formal music therapy, our virtual music engagement program is:

  • a cost-effective solution to life enrichment through music.
  • a non-pharmacological intervention in many different settings.
  • a turn-key activity for busy Caregivers and Activity Professionals.
  • accessible on demand 24/7 with unlimited use.
  • a high-quality alternative when other options simply don’t fit the budget or are inaccessible.

Finally, I created our virtual music engagement program for individuals and groups to ENGAGE with music for the purpose and benefits of engaging with music!

For more information about Bridgetown Music Therapy and our virtual music engagement program options, click here.

For more information about music therapy and dementia, visit this blog post.


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