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What degree should I get to become a Music Therapist?

drum-2187_640Who doesn’t like music? Music soothes, excites, reduces stress, and helps people relax. Music really is universal. Everyone relates to it.

We let it move us. A song can bring you back to another time, flood your mind with memories of yesteryears; a school dance, a sunny beach day, first live show of your youth. Maybe a road trip album, or maybe an album you played as your labored with your first child. Music marks our time in life. And what better medium than music to use in a therapeutic health profession?

A trained Music Therapist applies music to help improve an individuals emotional, social, behavioral and educational development. According to the American Music Therapy Association website, Music Therapy is defined 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.


Becoming a Music Therapist requires a bachelors degree in Music Therapy. The AMTA currently lists 73 schools that their association approves as accredited.

Coursework will include the following:

Music Theory, Therapy Techniques, Biology, Psychology, and Human Development.

It is possible to enter the field from a different major; however you will need to add additional coursework from the Music Therapy department. A 1,200 hour practicum in a clinical setting is required for all students.

In order to be a practicing Therapist, you must sit for a certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. This is a required step for all who wish to practice Music Therapy.

A Master’s and Doctorate degree are available in Music Therapy. Coursework would include specializing in specific modalities and techniques, research, administration or teaching.

Work Environment

Music Therapists may work in:

  • nursing homes or rehab clinics
  • correction institutes
  • child and adolescent treatment centers
  • private practice
  • psychiatric institutes
  • medical hospitals
  • schools

Often times a Music Therapist will be part of a greater therapy team. They may work alongside Psychologists, Medical Doctors, Occupational Therapists, and Art Therapists. They will implement Music Therapy as part of a complete treatment plan. They often work with all age groups, from babies to the elderly. They also work with both able-bodied as well as disabled clients. They address and assess emotional, physical and mental needs. Music Therapy can be administered individually or in groups.

The Music Therapist will use instruments and encourage his or her clients to both play and listen depending on different factors that is determined during early assessment. A Music Therapist will need to be proficient in several instruments in order to implement their practice.


Music Therapy officially began in the 20th century when musicians were called to play for veterans across hospitals in the U.S. during World War I and World War II. Although you won’t find Music Therapy listed on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, it is a field often lumped into Recreation Therapy because of the relatively few practicing this therapy. However, the AMTA tells us there are currently over 5,000 Music Therapists in the U.S. and the number is growing every year.


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