Does a Music Therapy Degree Make Sense for You?

The field of music therapy has been growing significantly as a result of its positive impact on babies in neonatal intensive care as well as people with Alzheimer’s disease, PTSD, depression, substance abuse, pain, autism spectrum disorders, dementia, and other life challenges.

Universities began establishing academic programs in music therapy (MT) in the 1940s, the first national association formed in 1950, and certification in MT began in 1983. As of 2011, there were 72 colleges and universities accredited by the American Music Therapy Association, offering a music therapy degree on the undergraduate and/or graduate level.

How can you tell if music therapy is a good fit?

In our recent article, Becoming a Music Therapist, Dr. William Davis, director of the undergraduate program in music therapy at Colorado State University, states “A prospective music therapy major must be an excellent musician and willing to learn a variety of instruments such as guitar, piano, autoharp, hand percussion as well as be comfortable with singing.” Also required is a level of comfort in interacting with people with disabilities, chronic pain, and/or debilitating mental health problems. Dr. Cathy McKinney, Music Therapy Program Director at Appalachian State University’s Hayes School of Music adds that music therapists must commit to lifelong professional development since the profession is continuing to grow and evolve.

To get a hands-on sense of whether a music therapy degree is your calling, the American Music Therapy Association suggests contacting them (301.589.3300) and asking for a list of music therapists in your area who would be open to job shadowing. Brian Wilson, director of music therapy at Western Michigan University, also suggests volunteering with Special Olympics, hospitals or nursing homes, where you can gain experience working with the populations likely to benefit from music therapy.

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Comments

  1. Michelle K

    I am a freshman studying harp performance. What would be the next best step to take for music therapy? Minor in psychology?

    • We encourage you to read all of the articles on MajoringInMusic.com about music therapy – pay particular attention to the Equivalency Programs article. It speaks to what anyone with an undergraduate degree in music but NOT in music therapy will need to do in order to become a music therapist. Also visit the website of the American Music Therapy Association to learn more about this wonderful profession.

      And per your question: a minor in psychology would be great but is not required. The most relevant psychology background needed is included in the Equivalency Program. Any experience you can get working with the populations for which music therapy has been shown to be especially useful would help you determine whether indeed this is the right field for you to pursue.

  2. I am currently in my second year with a music Major with a minor in psychology because the school I attend does not have the full music therapy degree. I have been thinking about switching my major and minor, but Im not sure where that will put me in finding an equivalency program after graduation. Which is the best route?

    • If you want to become a music therapist and attend a school that doesn’t have a music therapy bachelor’s program, then what you are doing now should set you up well for getting into an Equivalency Program.

  3. Karrl

    I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Kinesiology, and I’ve gained experience working with patients in nursing homes and medical centers, with physical or mental disabilities. I want to know which schools have an equivalency program that would fit me, because I read that . I have a background working with people in terms of music teaching, as a youth and music ministry leader, but I don’t have school classes taking music other than vocal ensemble. Would schools consider Kinesiology similar enough that I would be able to take the equivalency program, even if I do have a lot of experience being exposed to music and teaching it?

    • Make sure to read our Equivalency Program in Music Therapy article.

      The schools we work with all require that you have an undergraduate major in some area of music in order to apply to the Equivalency Program in Music Therapy. A degree in kinesiology would not be considered an alternative to a degree in music. Look at curricula on websites of schools with music therapy programs to see the requirements. Then look at Equivalency Program curricula to understand how those programs are set up to bridge the gap for music majors who did not major in music therapy. With that said, if you said you were a highly proficient musician with a strong music background, we’d recommend visiting the American Music Therapy Association’s website to see if there are others schools that would consider you without an undergraduate music degree.

  4. Erin

    I am interested in pursuing a career in music therapy. I play the violin, piano, guitar, mandolin, bagpipes and I’m currently learning the tenor drum. I enjoy working with children with special needs. As much as I love playing my instruments, I don’t really like to sing. Is singing always required with this career?

    • Passing the voice proficiency exam is required, and voice classes are a part of the music therapy curriculum. According to the American Music Therapy Association, …”a music therapist must be versatile and able to adjust to changing circumstances and many different instruments may be used within a therapeutic context. There is not one single instrument every music therapist needs to play in every session, but rather, music therapy students choose one instrument to be their major instrument of focus during their educational course of study and are given basic training on a variety of instruments. The choice of instrument or musical intervention used in a music therapy session is dependent upon goals and objectives, the client’s preferences, and the music therapist’s professional judgement.”

  5. Mark D

    I am a musician with a Bachelors degree in psychology, and I am interested in pursuing a career in music therapy. I did not actually study music in school, but I have a lot of music experience (+10 years playing percussion, collegiate A Cappella singing, guitar proficiency). Is it possible to apply for a Music Therapy Equivilancy program with a psychology degree or do I have to complete another 4 year Bachelors degree?

    • Every school with a Music Therapy Equivalency Program is different. Some require you to have an undergrad degree in music, others will allow those with a strong music background to apply. We suggest you choose some schools that would meet your criteria and contact them directly.

  6. Crystal

    I am in the process of getting my degree in music, and then getting my master’s degree in music therapy. Are there some music therapists in my area? I would love to job shadow.

  7. Kathryn

    Can I restrict the kinds of clients I accept? I would love to have this career, but the only thing I really can’t handle is autistic meltdowns.

    • Kathryn, we suggest you read more about the purpose of music therapy and the nature of the work itself. Not everyone is a good fit for this profession, and in view of your comment, we would encourage you to look very closely at what kind of work really makes sense for you to pursue.

  8. Cassandra

    I am currently studying occupational therapy, it is my 2nd year. In my bachelor’s degree I hold a music minor and really wanted to explore music therapy after I am done with my OT degree. I wanted to know how would I go about doing that without having to get a 2nd bachelors degree.

    • The Equivalency Program at most music therapy schools allows students who were undergraduate music majors but NOT music therapy majors to gain the education they missed in approximately 2 years instead of getting another undergraduate degree. Check with schools you might be interested in attending to see what classes you would need to take as a music minor in order to qualify for the Equivalency Program. Every school is different!

    • Our understanding is that music therapists do not work under occupational therapists, but you would need to check the hospital system you’re exploring to know how they administer their program. You can also check with the American Music Therapy Association to learn more.

  9. deckardm

    Would someone with a bachelors in Music and a doctorate in Occupational Therapy be able to work in the Music Therapy field?

    • With a bachelor’s degree in music, you will be able to take the 2-year equivalency program at schools offering music therapy degree programs, without having to repeat another bachelor’s degree. Talk with schools you’re interested in for specifics about their programs.

  10. saurym

    What is the main difference between a special education degree and a music therapy degree with emphasis on education?

    • According to our contact at the American Music Therapy Association, “A degree in special education is an education degree. There would be no music component. A music therapy degree is a music degree which is divided into three parts: music foundations, clinical foundations, music therapy foundations.” If this does not answer your question sufficiently, contact the American Music Therapy Association directly.

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