Music Therapy Equivalency Program

Music Therapy Equivalency Program

If you didn’t major in music therapy as an undergrad, the music therapy equivalency program offered at many of the schools providing music therapy training allows you to gain the competencies necessary for becoming a certified music therapist. Since music therapy is often a profession that isn’t discovered until students are partway through college –– or even long afterwards — the equivalency program is designed to remedy the gap in training.

If you have a bachelor’s degree in music

According to the American Music Therapy Association, students complete “only the required coursework necessary to satisfy professional competencies in music therapy without necessarily earning a second baccalaureate degree. The equivalency program consists of all core music therapy courses at the undergraduate level, all clinical training requirements including the internship, plus any related coursework in science and psychology (i.e. anatomy, abnormal psychology, and other related courses).”

Note that students or graduates who received a BA instead of a BM in music may need to spend additional time taking music credits they’re missing.

If you do NOT have a bachelor’s degree in music

Many music therapy schools require an undergraduate degree in music to qualify for the music therapy equivalency program. There are some that will accept students with a degree in education or psychology plus a minor in music or a strong background in music. Since every school implements its music therapy program differently, make no assumptions. Check the AMTA website to see which schools will allow you to apply with your background.

Additional considerations

  • Some schools offer the equivalency program as a certification-only option, which means students won’t qualify for school-based financial aid.
  • The music therapy equivalency program is implemented in conjunction with a master’s-level music therapy degree program at a number of schools (“combined equivalency master’s”).
  • To get an idea of how your background compares to that of someone with a bachelor’s degree in music therapy, look at your transcript in comparison to the AMTA Professional Competencies.
  • After reading the websites of schools you’re interested in, if you are unsure about how to proceed, contact the program director of those schools. If those schools are on (see sidebar on this article), you can use the forms on their pages to ask your questions.
  • At the present time, only one school, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, offers a distance music therapy equivalency program; see more information in sidebar.
  • Most music therapy programs require an audition to qualify for the equivalency program.

These participating schools on offer music therapy programs:

Arizona State University School of Music

Berklee College of Music

Colorado State University
School of Music, Theatre & Dance

East Carolina University School of Music

Florida State University College of Music

Mary Pappert School of Music, Duquesne University

Southern Methodist University Meadows School of the Arts

Temple University
Boyer College of Music & Dance

West Chester University Wells School of Music

Link Here for More Information
about Music Therapy


  1. Tucker

    Hi! I have a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education, but I’m looking into the equivalency program for music therapy. Can this happen online or are all of them in person with required admission?

  2. Chris

    I am a clinical social worker who is a child therapist. I also have been a lifelong musician and was a professional musician for about 15 years. I too am dismayed that I would not be allowed to gain a board certification in Music Therapy without going back and getting a music degree. All the music training and performance in the world means less than a piece of paper, it seems. This excessively stringent requirement will make it so Music Therapy will be an underused modality in treatment and will prevent many kids from getting services that may be best suited for them. It also seems that a music degree has a higher value placed on it than the therapeutic skills that are necessary to properly serve clients, which feels completely backwards. There should be some path for clinical mental health specialists to add Music Therapy to their toolboxes, like we can with every other modality.

    • Your comment about music therapy is one we’ve heard from a number of people over the past several years. In fact, we posted Music for Comfort or Healing a few years ago to support those who feel shut out of music therapy because they do not have an undergraduate degree in music.

      We’ve heard that there may be a few schools willing to make exceptions for really strong musicians who did not get an undergraduate degree in some area of music but who wanted to go on for an Equivalency Program but you’d have to contact schools you’re interested in to see if any of them offer any wiggle room and are willing to work with you. While we have no influence over how the American Music Therapy Association sets policy, we will send your comment on to our contacts there because it’s important that they hear input like yours. We trust you will find a way to utilize your passion and skills in music for the benefit of current and future clients.

  3. Norma

    Hello, I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Music in piano performance and am interested by music therapy, which I just recently discovered. I have no background in psychology, sciences, or medicine. What difficulties could this present to me if I chose to pursue it after getting my B.M. and how would the training be different for an already proficient musician? Thanks!

    • The equivalency program, as the article you wrote in from explains, will prepare you with the music therapy background and skills you did not receive as a piano performance major. It will take approximately two years. Since your piano skill level will already be high, you will likely take a test to exempt any piano classes needed. You will need to gain a basic level of proficiency on voice and guitar through the equivalency program, along with required psychology and other background deemed important to the profession of music therapy. You will also take an extended internship in advance of taking the music therapy credentialing exams. Note that many music therapists go on to attend graduate school at some point, to gain more background and skills in a specific area of interest.

  4. Crystal

    I graduated last spring with a bachelor’s degree in general music. I am currently working part time as a music specialist at a nursing home. So, same duties as a music therapist, but without the music therapy degree. Is it worth going back to school to get a degree in music therapy at this point?

    • We encourage you to check the salary, hours, and opportunities for music therapists in your area. That will give you insight into some of the differences. With an undergrad degree in music, you can apply for an equivalency program that takes less time than a degree in music therapy. And many equivalency programs lead directly to a master’s degree, which opens more doors for music therapists and often at higher pay.

    • You would need to apply to Music Therapy Equivalency Programs such as those offered by the schools linked on this article. Check the American Music Therapy Association’s website for additional Equivalency Programs.

  5. Myesha

    Hello! I’m graduating from Community College soon and I want to pursue a career in Music Therapy. I’ve taken choir in high school, but the college that I’m in now does not offer Music Therapy. I wanted to know where do i go from here school wise? What are the necessary steps that I need to take? What school(s) do i consider?

    • Per the article you wrote in from – you will need an undergraduate degree in any area of music in order to pursue the Equivalency Program. The Equivalency Program acts like a “bridge” for those who did not receive an undergraduate degree in music therapy. It provides the classes and internship you would have missed and also prepares you for the exams you need to take to become a music therapist.

  6. Joyce

    I’m currently a senior in high school and I am in the process of choosing my college for next year. All the colleges that I have been accepted into do not have a music therapy major and all my majors are either music education or vocal performance. I still would like to pursue a career in Music Therapy. However, someone mentioned Music Education as being a good preparatory degree for music therapy. How can I focus my courses towards music therapy? Is there anything I can do to help me become a music therapist?

    • As long as you major in any area of music, you can take an equivalency program when you graduate to get the skills, training and experience you didn’t get as an undergrad. Many of these programs lead directly to a master’s degree in music therapy. Since psychology, basic guitar, basic keyboards, and basic vocal skills are all required in music therapy, these are areas you may want to delve into if you decide you do want to go on in music therapy. Do read all of the articles about music therapy on to learn more about this amazing field.

  7. CLW

    Rosie and Lisa, I hear you. I’d like to comment on a couple of different things through telling my own story. Music therapy is a second career for me. I had a BS in a science. In my late 30s I began learning how music affects human physiology. I didn’t like the idea of getting another bachelor’s degree. So, I enrolled in the Music for Healing and Transition Program. I completed the training but already knew I wanted additional training. Because music therapist’s receive considerably more training, their scope of practice is much broader than that of the MHTP’s music practitioners, who, very generally speaking, aim to provide a healing environment. In contrast, music therapists are allied health professionals, just like physical therapists and speech therapists are. In the US music therapists are board certified (MT-BC) and in some states are also licensed. Our certifying body is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, which accredits other national certification boards such as those for nurse practitioners, occupational therapists, and counselors. We work holistically with clients/patients to promote achievement of clinical goals. We prefer to work as part of a treatment team, addressing things like end of life concerns, pain management, cognitive skills, motor skills, communication, social skills, emotional/mental health needs, academic skills, and quality of life. Music can have a strong effect on people and music therapists have the skills and knowledge to know when certain music interventions are contraindicated and know what to do when someone has a strong reaction to music, whether it’s a sad memory or a trauma brought to the surface. It’s because music therapists are in fact Therapists, healthcare professionals, that so much education is required.

    Anyway, I did pursue the second bachelor’s degree. Technically I didn’t need a 2nd degree but by the time I took the required courses I had earned a BM. Since core credits from my first degree transferred, I completed the coursework in 2 years (3 is more common), then did my internship. I paid about $20k in tuition. Since tuition is so high in your area, Lisa, check to see if there’s a community college that provides many of the courses you would need; perhaps you could take enough courses to meet requirements to enter St Mary of the Wood’s distance equivalency program. Rosie, this might be an option for you since you already have a BS.

    There are many music therapists who were “older” when they became certified. I met a person who was in their 70s when they completed their music therapy program! Similarly, I know an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) who was in her 50s when she began a bachelor’s program, then did a social work masters. It’s tough to decide whether the time and financial commitments are tenable.

  8. CLW

    Allison, also consider whether it makes sense to double major in music performance and music therapy. Speak with the director of the program about this. Neither program is easy, so figure out what is the best fit for you. Some students do decide ahead of time to get a bachelor’s in music, but not music therapy, and then complete a music therapy “master’s equivalency” program (equivalency + master’s). The combined equivalency + master’s program is typically 3 years + and approximately 6 month internship.

  9. CLW

    Brianna, St Mary’s of the Woods offers a distance-based music therapy equivalency program that only requires a few days on campus. With your music ed degree you should have the required educational background for the program. After completing the coursework and internship, you will be able to sit for the national music therapy board exam, and also decide if you want to continue on with a master’s degree.

  10. CLW

    Chrystal, no, you do not have to receive professional instruction in piano in guitar. Music therapists have to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency on these instruments, including improvising, sight reading, and playing from lead sheets. The structure of the music therapy program you choose will be a factor in whether you will be able to test out of courses in voice, piano, and guitar. Look into some music therapy programs and speak with the directors regarding how the courses you have already taken for the BLS could transfer to their program. Often, it is stated that one must have a bachelor’s in music to enter into a music therapy equivalency program. However, technically you only need a bachelors degree in anything. In the equivalency program you will take any additional courses you need, including an internship. Some equivalency programs only accept students who have earned a certain number of music credits.

  11. CLW

    And Grayson, you will find some differences between universities in what courses you can test out of, depending on how their program is structured. For example, in my case I tested out of 4 semesters of music proficiency courses and it sounds like you could have tested out of 7 courses. However, now that program is structured differently and if I entered the program now I would only test out of 2 courses. My point is, you might look into multiple programs to see what best suits your professional and financial needs. Oh, and you will find many music educators in music therapy equivalency masters programs.

  12. CLW

    Kate, to become a music therapist in the US you would have to take all of the courses/topics required for a bachelor’s in music therapy. If you think you would like to do this after completing your bachelor’s in nursing, then you would enter a music therapy equivalency program (or “equivalency only”, it’s not uncommon for equivalency + master’s programs to simply be called “equivalency”). There you would NOT have to earn a 2nd bachelor’s degree. You would only take the requirements you have not completed. So, for example, you will have already met the biology and anatomy & physiology requirements through your nursing program. THEREFORE, if you’d like to do that, choose courses now that will meet requirements for your current degree AND music therapy. If you know what school you would like to attend for music therapy, contact them to talk about requirements. You will need courses like Psych Intro, Abnormal psych, Sociology, but there are some differences in what courses a particular school uses to cover the topics required for a music therapist.

  13. CLW

    Naej, music psychology is different from music therapy although there can be overlap. Music psychology is a very broad field. For example studying the effect of music on physiology and psychology, which can be a branch of neuropsychology, e.g. neuroscience of music; or it could be about how music can be used to influence purchasing decisions; or many other things.

  14. Naej

    Hello I graduated with a Bachelor in Psychology and I am interested in the music psychology program. Will I have a harder time getting into a program because I didn’t major in music ?

    • In the U.S., the Equivalency Program acts as a bridge between what a non-music therapy music major learns and what a music therapy major learns. Look at the application requirements at schools with Equivalency Programs. You’ll see that an undergraduate degree in an area of music is required. Occasionally there are exceptions made by some schools for applicants who did not major in music but who have very strong backgrounds in music. Note that music therapy is more than music + psychology.

      You might find additional options here: Music for Comfort or Healing

  15. Kate

    I am part-way through getting my bachelors degree in nursing. Is there a program, or any other way to easily switch over to becoming a music therapist once I finish my bachelor’s degree?

    • You would either need to have an undergraduate degree in Music Therapy or have majored in another area of music and taken the Equivalency Program in order to qualify to become a music therapist.

      We encourage you to read this article to learn about other ways of using music for therapeutic and healing purposes: Music for Comfort or Healing.

  16. Melanie

    I’m currently a sophomore in college that is interested in pursing a career in music therapy. My primary instrument is not one of the instruments traditionally used in music therapy, but I have become interested in learning how to play piano and guitar. As for my vocal background, I participated in choir in elementary and middle school. The school I attend currently does not have a music therapy program, but I was thinking of majoring in music and minoring in psychology. I plan on attending graduate school eventually, but I was wondering what would I have to do to achieve this. Thank you!

    • If you major in music, you can take a music therapy equivalency program at schools that offer it. You can see several of these linked right on this article. A minor in psychology would be a great background for becoming a music therapist. All music therapy students must reach a required level of proficiency on guitar, keyboards, and voice in order to gain their music therapy credentials, regardless of their primary instrument. So getting some experience as you go through college will set you up well for when you graduate and take an equivalency program. Note that many of the equivalency programs do lead into a master’s degree.

  17. Grayson

    Hi, thank you for all the information here. I’m wondering, what courses would I have to take in order to get a music therapy certification? I hold a BME in music education, I’ve been a vocal music teacher for 5 years in the public schools, and I’m proficient on piano and guitar. Is there any way I could test out of some of the requirements?

    • Look at websites of schools you’d be interested in attending. View the required classes. Then contact the admissions director at those schools to see whether there are any classes you can exempt. Chances are you’ll be able to test out of the piano and guitar components.

  18. Chrystal

    I have been interested in music since the 1st grade and have been in choirs and singing programs ever since. I have graduated college with a B.L.S. in Music and Psychology. However, it was focused strictly on vocals. I am interested in becoming a music therapist. I read in your other articles that I would need to learn how to play at least a guitar and piano. I have access to teach myself both of them. My question is, in order to become a music therapist, do I need to be professionally taught both instruments or can I teach myself the instruments?

    • To become a music therapist, you will be required to demonstrate your proficiency in voice, keyboards and guitar. Music therapy programs including Equivalency Programs for those with a bachelor’s degree in an area of music other than music therapy, are geared toward helping you meet the necessary qualifications. The American Music Therapy Association spells out what they’re looking for under “AMTA Professional Competencies” on their website.

  19. Longy is delighted to collaborate with the Music for Healing and Transition Program™, Inc. this summer to offer an intensive, scientifically-based summer institute, through which musicians can become Certified Music Practitioners (CMPs)®. Students will gain in-person experience with teachers and medical professionals in the historic, cosmopolitan, and intellectually stimulating city of Cambridge – right across the river from Boston.

  20. Brianna

    I would like to finish my Bachelor’s in Music Education and am curious if there are any schools that do Bachelor’s in Music Therapy that have online courses? I’ve seen one that does the Master’s program online but no Bachelor’s as of yet.
    Please let me know!

  21. Shirley

    I am currently doing my undergrad majoring in family studies and minoring in music. What would be the best way to go about trying to get a masters in music therapy? Would it be possible?

    • Many schools will require you to have majored in music rather than minored in order to proceed with their Equivalency Program. Best thing to do is to look at websites of schools you’re interested in, check out their requirements for their Equivalency Programs, and then contact them directly if you don’t find the information you need. Also find out if there are classes you could take now or even when you graduate to be considered for their Equivalency Program.

  22. Allison

    Hello I’m a junior in high school. I’m interested in persuing a degree in Music Therapy through a equivalency program such as the University of Miami’s program. I want to get an undergraduate degree in Music Performance with a minor in Psychology. Is this is a good choice to become more proficient in music and guitar skills in order to take the board exam? Thanks.

    • If you know you want to be a music therapist, you could look for an undergraduate program that offers a major in music therapy. Look at the links on all of our music therapy articles to get started. But if you think you may also want to be a performer in addition to being a music therapist, the plan you have should work well for you. It could also open the door to other career options such as teaching music on the K-12 level (you’ll need to take a program offered by many universities to get the pedagogical training for this). If you do take an Equivalency Program after you graduate from your undergrad program, you’ll probably want to look for an Equivalency Program that leads to a master’s degree.

  23. Lisa

    I am very much dismayed at the requirements and stringent degree pre-requisites it now takes to “become” a music therapist. I have been a lifelong musician, and for years, have performed as a soloist and in groups, not needing to previously have a degree.

    I have previously taken college courses years ago in music theory and music business, and now I find out that in order to even be any kind of music practitioner you need the bachelors in Music Therapy at the very least. This not only costs over $40,000 but is tough when you’re older to travel daily to school without an online option there. I know my local college music therapy course here would be around $40-50,000, which is impossible for me to consider.

    I would appreciate your comments on this!

    • Music therapists must complete a comprehensive course of study in music, biology, psychology, and social and behavioral sciences. Regardless of their primary instrument, they must also become proficient enough on other instruments: singing, piano, guitar. These have been shown to be the most useful instruments in music therapy. And music therapists must be qualified to work with people with physical, emotional, cognitive, and social/behavioral problems and those who might be on the Autism Spectrum, have Alzheimer’s Disease, or are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Music Therapy training is geared toward helping students become adept at working with these populations. You can learn more by viewing articles on this website and by visiting the website of the American Music Therapy Association. The training in Music Therapy also includes a lengthy internship. And you’re right – more often than not these days, a master’s in Music Therapy is required in order to work in a number of settings.

      Another option would be the Music for Healing and Transition work – you can learn more about therapeutic music here.

      • Rosie

        I would like to echo the sentiment that the requirements are very stringent. As a mature student at 50 I am back to the drawing board as to pre requisites for music therapy qualification. I was a Registered Nurse. For 15 years up to the birth of my third child. I have taught music together classes to 0-5 year olds for ten years. I have taken private singing lessons since the age of 16 and am in auditioned choral groups with singers who have masters in music, who teach music for a living. I took piano lessons to Grade 7 in the U.K. And teach both piano and singing privately. I am regretting not taking a music degree from the outset and wish my experience counted for credentials. I am going to take an undergrad, and wonder if an online degree in Psychology or in Human Development and Family Studies would be best to lead towards a potential degree in music therapy.

  24. Derek

    Hello and thank you for the info. I received my undergrad in multidisciplinary studies from Stony Brook University with concentrations in music, history and sociology (a few psych and education classes too).I currently write and perform music of different styles and have been largely focusing on electronic music production (which seems to have it’s own niche in the therapeutic community, binaural beats, meditative music, trance, etc.) I was wondering what courses/courses of action would be required to pursue a combined equivalency Masters degree in music therapy with my current background and skills. Perhaps a meeting with the head of the department/program? I imagine requirements vary based on the school. Any information would be helpful and much appreciated.

    • Start by looking at the schools we work with that are linked on this article. Check their application requirements. Some will require that you were a music major as an undergraduate. Others won’t. Use the forms on the participating school pages to ask the question you’ve asked us below. You can then visit the American Music Therapy Association’s website to look for other schools. And yes, a follow up with the music therapy department chair could be helpful but make sure you do your homework first by seeing what you can learn from their websites.

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