by Karen D. Goodman
Are you wondering how to choose a music therapy program? Here are several suggestions:
Read, Read, Read
The website of the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) is a great place to start. Then you can move on to numerous books and articles concerning music therapy. Reading will continue to inform you, through case example and theoretical explanation, what the work is really all about. Reading also forms a basis for intelligent questions when you meet with faculty interviewing you for their programs.
Observe Music Therapy
Contact AMTA for regional information where you can find music therapists to observe. Seeing is believing, and you may even want to volunteer with a music therapist for a period of time to decide if this is truly the profession for you. That was what I did many years ago.
Consider These Criteria:
Proximity to clinical facilities is particularly important during training in a music therapy program. You do not want to be in the middle of nowhere no matter how beautiful it is.
• Strength of music school
Your admission through a music audition and your training as a musician are integral to your role as a music therapist. The strength of the music school in terms of faculty, students, ensemble offerings, and curriculum is key, no pun intended.
• Strength of academic offerings
Music therapy is truly an interdisciplinary art and science. You want to be at a school with competitive academic entry criteria, a strong general education component, opportunities for developing your writing ability, and connections with a strong psychology department.
Accredited academic music therapy programs are indicated on the AMTA website. Programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Don’t let a school advise you that you can become a music major and a psychology minor and go on to practice music therapy! Music therapy has been a specific academic field and training program since 1950.
• Faculty and leadership
Look for a music therapy program where there is diversity of faculty: at least two full-time faculty who can present varied theoretical approaches and a minimum of five years of full-time clinical experience, preferably supplemented with adjunct faculty with definitive areas of expertise and clinical experience. Many training programs thrive on rotation of leadership positions in order to provide fresh perspectives.
• Clinical training opportunity
Ask specific questions about how much clinical training opportunity each program provides and if you will receive both on-site and faculty supervision with experienced clinicians. Ideally you will have clinical opportunity for six successive semesters with different ages and challenges; the supporting practicum classes should be taught by faculty with a minimum of five years of clinical experience in those areas.
• Class size
Music therapy is an intensive and demanding curriculum that requires a smaller class size, ideally no larger than 20.
• Class format
Although the COVID-19 epidemic necessitated online learning, has the program adapted to offering safe face-to-face instruction? If not, what would the pros and cons of online or hybrid learning be?
• Research opportunities
What kind of research is being done in the music therapy programs you’re looking at? In 2019, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $20 million over a five-year period in order to move music therapy and neuroscience initiatives forward. This research builds on the Sound Health Initiative, an NIH-Kennedy Center partnership in association with the National Endowment for the Arts. Approved grants in music therapy initiatives are quantitatively based, where the collection and analysis of data are numerically based.
There is no legitimate ranking of music therapy programs on the internet. It is up to you to investigate the possibilities!
• Preparation for CBMT exam
In order to practice music therapy in the United States, you must pass the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) exam to become board-certified following the completion of your internship. The current pass rate is 70% (2021). Does the program provide any guidance or support for this?
• Alumni successes
Does the program keep a database of graduates and their success in finding jobs?
Karen D. Goodman, Professor Emerita, Music Therapy, Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, is a seasoned educator, clinician, supervisor, administrator and author. Publications include Music Therapy Groupwork with Special Needs Children (2007), Music Therapy Education and Training (2011), and International Perspectives in Music Therapy Education and Training (2015).
For More about a Career
in Music Therapy
- Is Music Therapy Your Calling?
- Becoming a Music Therapist
- How to Choose a Music Therapy Program
- Music Therapy: Making a Difference One Note at a Time
- Music Therapy for Children with Autism: A Rewarding Career Path
- Music Therapy Addresses Trauma – Careers That Change Lives
- Music for Comfort or Healing
- Music Therapy Practitioners and Educators Reimagine Their Profession
- American Music Therapy Association
- World Federation of Music Therapy
According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), if you have a bachelor’s degree in music but not in music therapy, you can apply for a 60-credit, 3-year combined equivalency/master’s degree program. For a complete list of music therapy degree programs, visit AMTA’s website.