Most counselor and therapist roles require a minimum of a master’s degree or specialist degree, but music therapy is unique. In this field of clinical practice, an undergraduate curriculum isn’t just preparation for further studies in graduate school. A bachelor’s degree in music therapy meets the education eligibility requirements needed to obtain board certification and become a practicing music therapist in a variety of work environments ranging from hospitals to clinics to private practices.

Life as a Practicing Music Therapist

A bachelor’s degree is the minimum education candidates need to work in the field of music therapy, and it’s the highest level of study that most music therapists – 75 percent – report having. Among the degree requirements of any program approved by the American Music Therapy Association are fieldwork experience. Students must complete practicum and internship training adding up to a minimum of 1,200 hours during their studies.

Through your coursework in a bachelor’s degree program in music therapy, you will achieve competencies in technical musical performance and cultivate the skills required for professional clinical practice. You will learn to gather relevant data through client assessments and observations and how to use that data to create a treatment plan that encompasses evidence-based therapy methods – duties that will be critical to your job role as a music therapist. You will practice these skills, as well as leading therapeutic musical activities, while you work with real clients during your fieldwork experiences.

Although a bachelor’s degree makes you eligible to seek the nationally recognized credential of board certification, states can set their own requirements for licensure – and some, like New York, require a master’s degree.

The Benefits of a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy

A bachelor’s degree in music therapy is the most direct route into the music therapist occupation. Not only does this program make students eligible to seek board certification immediately upon graduating from college, but it also offers the ideal balance of coursework in music performance, clinical practice and music therapy theory and methods. Although it’s common for students of music to decide that a career in music therapy would provide more stability than the life of an aspiring musician, candidates in this position must take extra coursework to become qualified, ultimately requiring more time and more college tuition costs. Additionally, majoring in music therapy allows you to pursue sufficient studies in musical performance that you can choose to leverage your knowledge of music in other professional capacities, including giving music lessons or performing music yourself.

Because music therapy fieldwork is an integrated part of a bachelor’s degree program, students have the opportunity to really experience the profession before they graduate. They may have the chance to work in, or shadow established professionals working in, many different clinical environments and experience treating several diverse client populations.

Under the American Music Therapy Association’s standards, courses in musical foundations should account for 45 percent of a student’s studies, while clinical foundations and specialized music therapy coursework each account for 15 percent of the curriculum.

Considering Graduate School

Among music therapists in clinical practice, 13 percent report having a master’s degree. This figure encompasses established music therapists who went back to school to further advance their existing skills in the field as well as aspiring music therapists with a different educational background. Whether graduate school is worthwhile really depends on the individual’s goals and background. If your bachelor’s degree is in a field other than music therapy, then furthering your studies are the only way you can break into the profession.

Among bachelor’s-level music therapists, going back to school is completely optional, but the value of an advanced education can vary. If you want to work in a senior-level or leadership role in music therapy, having a master’s degree can give you an advantage over less educated job contenders. A master’s degree also may be beneficial for music therapists in private practice, who may require a more impressive background to attract clients. Certain master’s in music therapy programs are tailored toward private practice therapists and include course sequences relevant to this specific student audience. On the other hand, if you like working as a traditionally employed music therapist in a regular, non-supervisory capacity, graduate school may not offer you much value professionally.

Around 11 percent of music therapists have completed a post-baccalaureate certificate program. Often, these programs are intended for music majors who want to become qualified as music therapists.

Additional Resources

What Degree Do I Need to Be a Music Therapist?

Are There 2-Year Degrees in Music Therapy? Are They Worth Getting?

Should I Get a Master’s Degree in Music Therapy?

Who Should Consider a Post-Master’s Certificate in Music Therapy?

Will a Ph.D. Help Me in the Field of Music Therapy?