What is music therapy?


Music Therapy is simply a therapeutic process in which individuals improve health by interacting in music experiences with a music therapist. So what are music experiences? Good question and below is the answer.

In order to understand music experiences, let me first ask you a question. Are you involved with music? Do you attend concerts/broadway shows, play an instrument, have a CD/MP3 collection, go dancing, play in a band, or sing in a choral group? Most people have given me a “yes” to at least one of these answers. If you have identified with any of these answers, then you have “experienced” music.

For example, when you play your favorite CD, you usually do this to “listen” to your favorite song. This can be classified as a receptive music experience. Receptive music therapy experiences are defined as the processes of listening to or sensing music/sound. Receptive music therapy experiences can include song discussion, lyric analysis of song, guided imagery with music, or song reminiscence.

How about those of you who answered that you play an instrument, are in a band, or sing in a choral group? Maybe your band/choral group chose to play their favorite cover songs or sing a Mozart choral work? When you have played or sung this music, then you have recreated the music. Recreative music therapy experiences are processes of reforming a pre-composed piece of music. Recreative music experiences can include reading precomposed music notation and symbols or playing and singing an entire piece of music from memory.

When you listen to or play your favorite music. It was usually written by composers. Have you ever wondered how they formed the music? What did these composers do to their music to sound so good? The composers usually wrote captivating lyrics with catching melodies, pleasing harmonies, and supportive rhythms. This was done by creating music ideas with notation, symbols, or cues and were then transferred into an organized form such as scores, lyrics, or lead sheets. The same process happens during music therapy composition experiences. However, compositions can also be transferred into stories, pictures, or imagery.

Have you ever started humming or whistling while walking, working, driving, etc.? Or, have you played a beat on your desk at work with your favorite pen? Maybe you did not realize you were doing this and the sounds came out of you without any thought? This is similar to improvisation. During music therapy, improvisation music experiences are used to spontaneously create sound with music instruments, voice, body, or non-musical instruments (e.g. toys, chairs, etc.). As a result, improvisations form organized and unorganized sound structures in real time.


So how can these four therapeutic music experiences help my child with their needs?


The answer to the above question lies here. A music therapist can help turn all four music experiences into enjoyable, safe, and supportive therapeutic activities. For example, receptive music therapy experiences can be designed to improve auditory and motor skills, increase or decrease stimulation and relaxation, explore thoughts and ideas, promote reminiscence and memory, create imagery to explore unconscious issues, and change affective states.

Recreative music therapy experiences can be transformed to help increase attention span, increase active target behavior, improve reality orientation, improve cognition, increase awareness of others, improve memory skills, improve role behaviors during interactive situations, improve social skills, improve gross and fine motor coordination, and improve listening skills.

Composition music therapy experiences can be devised to help improve problem solving, increase goal orientation, increase self-esteem, organize thoughts, improve independence, and help identify, explore, and treat unconscious issues stemming from musical themes and lyrics.

Improvisation music therapy experiences can develop into therapeutic activities that create non-verbal communication, encourage and improve verbal communication, express unconscious thoughts and emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and improve social skills.

Clinical examples of how music therapy help children with their therapeutic needs?


1. Music Therapy can treat children and adolescents with special education needs:

A child or adolescent with history of ADHD who has difficulty sustaining attention for long periods of time can increase their attention span by playing a repetitive rhythm on drums while the music therapist plays a familiar recreative song. The music therapist can increase the duration of the song. The music therapist can also increase the child’s selective attention by instructing the child to play another instrument on certain parts of the song. This can help the child listen to a teacher and follow their directions during school.

2. Music Therapy can treat children and adolescents with pervasive developmental disorder:

A child or adolescent with history of PDD who has difficulty making eye contact with people can increase their eye contact with others by following the movement of a music therapist while the music therapist simultaneously sings and plays familiar song. This can help the child become aware of others in their environment and increase appropriate interaction.

3. Music Therapy can treat children with cerebral palsy:

A child or adolescent with history of CP who has difficulty with fine motor skills can play finger grasping manipulative instruments ( e.g. mallet instruments, piano) for sustained periods of time in order to increase strength and flexibility. This can help the child appropriately grasp pencils, correctly use their fingers when operating a computer, and increase their overall independence.

4. Music Therapy can treat adolescents with depression:

An adolescent with history of low self-esteem can rewrite lyrics to familiar song or compose music. In turn, this can help identify and express hidden thoughts and emotions that are causing low self-esteem. This can also help recognize a sense of achievement by creating and completing an original idea. As a result, this can help increase self-confidence, brighten mood, and promote independence.


The ultimate goal of music therapy is to help accomplish your child/adolescent’s therapeutic goals.
This process takes time, patience, dedication, and determination.