Music Therapy Degree Programs with Career Information

Students interested in music therapy can pursue degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These degree programs combine courses in music with instruction in psychology, biology and behavioral sciences to examine various types of music therapy. Graduates at any level are eligible to become certified in music therapy.

Essential Information

Music therapists treat and rehabilitate clients with physical, mental or emotional illnesses or disabilities. Music therapy can improve people's well-being and engage them creatively through playing instruments, singing, songwriting and guided imagery. Programs are designed to train students to apply critical problem-solving techniques and treatments. A solid understanding of the theory and practice of classical music is combined with practical training in a primary instrument, which may include guitar, piano or voice. Strong interpersonal, communication and critical thinking skills are also emphasized as part of the clinical component. Master's-level programs usually have a research component.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's and master's
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent for undergraduate programs. Graduate programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field. Some programs may require a live or recorded musical audition.
  • Program Specializations: May include special education, gerontology, mental health and addiction management.
  • Program Length: Bachelor's degree, 4 years. Master's degree, 2 years.
  • Other Requirements: Professional internships, theses or final projects are often required for graduate degrees. Graduates should consider getting certified through the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy

A bachelor's degree program in music therapy is based on a multifaceted and experiential curriculum that combines scientific therapies with the art of music. Applicants are required to have a high school diploma or GED and may be required to demonstrate musical proficiency through live or previously recorded vocal or instrumental auditions.

Most bachelor's degree programs in music therapy include clinical internships or fieldwork opportunities to prepare for the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Courses blend musical study with specialized training in the areas of behavioral sciences, psychology, anatomy, biology and physiology. A variety of therapeutic approaches is discussed, such as neurologic music therapy and instrumental improvisation. This degree generally requires four years of full-time study to complete, and core coursework may include the following:

  • World music survey
  • Psychology of music
  • Introduction to conducting
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Aural comprehension and perception skills
  • Voice techniques and vocal improvisation

Master of Arts in Music Therapy

Some music therapy programs require students to select concentrations, which may include special education, gerontology, mental health or addiction management. Applicants must hold baccalaureate degrees in a related field and may be asked to submit standardized test scores, a resume, statement of purpose, and a letter of recommendation in addition to a demonstrated proficiency in music history, theory and performance. Submitted performance tapes or live auditions may be required to demonstrate musical ability.

The completion of a clinical internship under the supervision of a certified music therapist is a requirement for board certification and included in most music therapy programs. Graduates are eligible to sit for the CBMT exam to become certified music therapists. Students and practicing clinicians can broaden the depth of their clinical skills and contribute original research to the field of music therapy in a graduate program. A creative music therapy project or original thesis project may also be a requirement. Common coursework includes the following:

  • Abnormal psychology
  • Child and adolescent music therapy
  • Qualitative research methods for music therapists
  • Theory, application, and analysis of clinical improvisation
  • Developmental psychology
  • History of musical styles

Popular Careers

Music therapists use a variety of music and therapeutic techniques to help treat and rehabilitate clients with psychiatric disorders, physical or developmental disabilities, speech impediments and hearing impairments. Graduates work with clients from all age groups in the following environments:

  • Community centers
  • Schools
  • Nursing homes
  • Prisons
  • Psychiatric hospitals
  • Private medical practices

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the American Music Therapy Association, employment opportunities for music therapists are slowly increasing because of a growing awareness of the field and the benefits that it has to offer. Music therapists are employed in a variety of settings, with an increasing trend towards self-employment and private practice. Recent research documenting the effectiveness of music therapy in pain management, physical rehabilitation and the treatment of Alzheimer's disease, suggests a promising future for the field (www.musictherapy.org). According to Payscale.com, the median annual salary for music therapists was $38,983 in June 2015.

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