What training does a music therapist have?

A music therapist has a university degree in music therapy, which includes training in psychology, counselling skills, improvisation with clients, clinical ethics, and population-specific techniques. A music therapist undergoes 1200 hours of supervised internships with a range of clientele. A music therapist can further specialize in a number of approaches depending on the clientele they work with.

What can I expect from a music therapy session?

A music therapy session can be individualized and tailored to meet the needs of each client. The client does not require any prior musical training to benefit from a music therapy session. Types of interventions include song-writing, singing, vocal or instrumental improvisation, listening to music, playing a variety of musical instruments, deep breathing, drum circles, guided imagery exercises, movement to music, and verbal processing. The session content is determined in collaboration with the client to meet their needs.

What populations do music therapists serve?

Music therapists work with:

  • Children with developmental delays
  • Adults with physical or mental disabilities
  • Elderly with Alzheimer’s disease or who have suffered strokes
  • Individuals with speech delays or other voice concerns
  • Individuals and families in need of support
  • Individuals on the autism spectrum
  • Individuals with mental health concerns
  • Individuals who have survived traumatic experiences
  • Individuals dealing with stress and/or anxiety

How does music therapy work for different clients?

Music therapy goals are sometimes developed by the music therapist or in collaboration with other therapists in a more team-based setting. For music therapists, these needs can be grouped into five different areas. They are:

promoting the use of voice, increasing oral motor control (wind instruments), or improving verbal and nonverbal communication
increasing auditory attention, promoting development of pre-academic skills (counting, colours, alphabet, turn-taking, etc.), increasing focus, imitation and synchrony, promoting rhythmic organization
Motor Skills
fine motor skills (holding mallets, striking drums, playing piano with independent fingers, strumming a guitar), gross motor skills (moving to music), oral motor skills (wind instruments)
Emotional Development
increasing self-confidence, encouraging creativity and self-expression, music for relaxation, managing anxiety
Social Skills/Development
promoting imitation, turn-taking, social cohesion (in group play), sharing, providing a framework for interaction

What are some techniques that music therapists use?

Music therapists use a variety of techniques to help clients including:

Call-and-response songs and lining out
leaving space for the client to finish a line in a song for developing communication skills and encouraging the use of voice
Song-writing or structured music creation
for developing emotional expression and cognitive skills
Listening to music
for relaxation and/or structure
Music performance
for developing self-confidence and social cohesion
Moving to music or action songs
for developing gross motor skills, creative expression, synchrony, imitation, and coordination
Improvising music
playing new music and sounds without written music for developing communication, social behaviours, cognitive skills, emotional expression, creativity, and imagination

How does improvising help?

When music therapists improvise with a client, there are several techniques used to elicit client responses and encourage more active engagement in the music therapy process. These include:

Playing back what the client just played after they have finished, like an echo. Can use rhythm or melody.
Determining the mood or emotion behind what the client has played and showing that emotion in what you play. For instance, if the client plays something very slow and soft, they may be demonstrating feeling tired. The music therapist could play something else back to demonstrate these feelings.
Playing something at the same time as the client and joining them in their music play.
Rhythmic Grounding
Playing a steady and predictable pattern to help the client organize what they are playing or to help them regulate what they are doing..
Playing a supportive but independent role in the client’s music making, e.g. The client is singing a song and the therapist plays harmonies to support that song.