Music Therapy Degree Programs with Career Information

Get information on bachelor's and master's degree programs in music therapy. Read about required courses, explore career options, and learn about national certification standards.

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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. Students interested in this field can pursue degrees at the undergraduate and graduate levels. These degree programs combine courses in music with instruction in psychology, biology and behavioral sciences. Students examine various types of music therapy. Master's-level programs usually have a research component. Graduates at either level are eligible to take the exam to become certified in music therapy.


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. Such programs are designed to train students to apply critical problem-solving techniques and treatments. 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.

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. Graduates of qualified programs are eligible to take the examination to become certified music therapists through the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT).

Educational Prerequisite

The most basic requirement for a bachelor's degree program in music therapy is a high school diploma or GED. Applicants may also be required to demonstrate musical proficiency through live or previously recorded vocal or instrumental auditions.

Program Coursework

Most bachelor's degree programs in music therapy include clinical internships or fieldwork opportunities in preparation for board certification. This degree generally requires four years of full-time study to complete, and core coursework may include the following:

  • World music survey
  • Music in therapy
  • Psychology of music
  • Introduction to conducting
  • Music theory
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Aural comprehension and perception skills
  • Voice techniques and vocal improvisation
  • Technology in music therapy
  • Music therapy for mental health

Career Information

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

Master of Arts in Music Therapy

Master's programs in music therapy are based on the educational requirements put forth by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Students and practicing clinicians can broaden the depth of their clinical skills and contribute original research to the field of music therapy. Some music therapy programs require students to select concentrations, which may include special education, gerontology, mental health or addiction management. Graduates are eligible to sit for the CBMT exam to become certified music therapists.

Educational Prerequisites

Students enrolling in master's degree programs in music therapy must hold baccalaureate degrees from accredited institutions, preferably in related fields of study. Applicants may also be asked to demonstrate proficiency in music history, theory and performance. Submitted performance tapes or live auditions may be required to demonstrate musical ability. Finally, admissions requirements often include a resume, statement of purpose, minimum GRE scores or recommendation letters.

Program Coursework

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. A creative music therapy project or original thesis project may also be a requirement. Common coursework includes the following:

  • Music therapy group dynamics
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Child and adolescent music therapy
  • Guided imagery in music therapy
  • Qualitative research methods for music therapists
  • Theory and application of clinical improvisation
  • Music therapy for adults and the elderly
  • Developmental psychology
  • History of musical styles
  • Analytical techniques for music therapists

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 $42,747 in October 2013.

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