Before you sign up for a major in music therapy, you should have a clear expectation of what you are getting into as it relates to coursework. The curriculum of a music therapy program requires discipline in learning technical music skills. It also encompasses a lot of coursework in the theories and practices of psychology and counseling – both within the context of using music therapeutically and as a distinct field of study.

Coursework in Music Foundations

Under the educational standards set by the American Music Therapy Association, nearly half of your undergraduate coursework will fit into the category of musical foundations. Since most aspiring music therapists choose the career path because of their love of music, this emphasis on the study of music is popular with students as well as being practical for success in the career. Although you will study musical performance extensively during college, you must already have sufficient talent and knowledge of music to perform well during an audition to gain admission into most bachelor’s degree programs in music therapy.

What Classes Will I Have to Take for a Degree in Music Therapy?

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Musical foundations include studies in music theory, history and composition and arranging as well as performance-based practice that allows you to develop your skills in singing and playing musical instruments. Although students of music therapy should understand the foundations and basic technical skills needed to play multiple instruments, you may be asked to choose a primary instrument to focus on during your education in musical foundations. Most music therapy students will know how to play piano, keyboard, guitar and percussion instruments by the time they graduate.

As you practice in the field of music therapy, the clients you work with may have little to no experience making music. They will rely on your expertise as you find ways for them to use music therapeutically even without having knowledge of the subject themselves.

Studies in Clinical Foundations

Despite the specialized focus on music, the field of music therapy is a clinical practice. That’s what separates the program from fine arts degrees in musical performance or from music education programs that prepare you to work as a teacher. The American Music Therapy Association requires undergraduate programs in the field to devote 15 percent of their curricula to the study of clinical foundations used in mental health treatment. Some of the clinical foundations coursework you may complete include the principles of therapy and counseling methods, the therapeutic relationship and how to build rapport.

Music therapy programs often cover both normal human development, through classes like developmental psychology, and exceptionality and psychopathology, through courses in abnormal psychology. Don’t be surprised if you have to take a few to several psychology classes as well as a course or two in research methods and statistical analysis methods.

Your general education courses should make up 20 to 25 percent of your curriculum. The classes you will take to meet general education requirements typically include non-major studies in math, physical and social science, English, art and the humanities.

Developing Your Art Therapy Knowledge in and Outside the Classroom

The significance of art therapy is the integration of music into medical and mental health treatments as a therapeutic tool. It’s not enough to know about music and about therapy. You must have a thorough understanding of how they work together and develop the skills you need to use music as an effective treatment tool. This is specialized knowledge that you must gain both within the classroom and within clinical environments.

Your major coursework in music therapy will include studies in the principles and foundations of the field, the assessment and evaluation tools used in observing patients and the methods and techniques used in carrying out music therapy activities and treatment plans. Common classes also include music therapy research, the psychology of music and the influence of music on behavior. You may take classes that focus on how to use music therapy with specific populations, ranging from different age groups and mental health concerns to the distinctions between one-on-one versus group therapy sessions.

Although the American Music Therapy Association requires just 15 percent of your coursework to be in core music therapy classes, it has a demanding requirement for fieldwork. Before you can graduate, you must complete at least 1,200 hours of clinical training. This training includes experienced gained through both practicum courses and internships and can be completed in many different medical and mental health care settings, under the supervision of a board-certified music therapist.

This considerable fieldwork requirement is often met through full-time internships that can last six months or more. As a result, many bachelor’s programs in music therapy require four years of coursework plus an internship, taking four and a half years in total.

Additional Resources

What Does a Music Therapist Do?

What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy?

Do You Need Clinical Experience to Become a Music Therapist?

What Is the Difference Between Music Therapy and Music Education?