About Music Therapy Learn more about Music Therapy

What is the History of Music Therapy?

Throughout history, music has been associated with healing. In ancient Egypt (5000 BC), music was referred to “medicine for the soul.” It was believed by the ancient Greeks that music should be a part of healing for mental disorders. Writings of the great scholars Aristotle and Plato also referred to the healing power of music and its effects on the emotions and on behavior. From the Renaissance, to the Baroque period, and into the 18th century, physicians actually prescribed music to their patients as preventative medicine. (Music Therapy Perspectives, “A Historical Perspective”)

As a profession, music therapy began in the 1940’s, in response to the profound physical and emotional effects of music that were observed in the Veteran’s hospitals after WWII. During the war, musicians began volunteering and were eventually hired as physicians noticed the benefits of music for the hospitalized veterans. The need for training of the musicians resulted in the first music therapy program at Michigan University in 1944. This same year, Frances Paperte founded the Music Research Foundation. Since that time, the profession of music therapy continued to grow.

In 1950, and National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) was founded to increase clinical training and education of music therapists. This organization began publishing a The Journal of Music Therapy, in 1964, which is still in publication as a prominent music therapy research journal today. In 1998 The NAMT became the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). The AMTA represents over 5,000 music therapists, and is the largest professional association for music therapy. There are now over 70 colleges and universities that offer music therapy as a degree. There are also Master’s and Ph.D. programs available for music therapists.


What is a Music Therapist?

According to the American Music Therapy Association www.musictherapy.org , a music therapist must obtain a credential from the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) www.cbmt.org . This credential may be obtained after completing the requirements of a bachelor’s or master’s degree (or equivalent) in music therapy, which include courses in music, psychology, specific courses in music therapy, and extensive practicum or clinical training. A music therapist must also complete an accredited music therapy internship, and be proficient in piano and guitar, before graduation. After all course requirements are completed, the music therapist may register for the board certification exam to earn the MT-BC, music therapist, board certified, credential. A music therapist is re-certified every five years by earning 100 continuing education credits for music therapy, or taking the exam again in the fourth year.


Who Benefits from Music Therapy?

Music therapy is relevant to a wide variety of populations and benefits individuals of all ages. Music therapy programs can be implemented with patients or clients in the following populations:

Alzheimer’s/Dementia Mental Health Needs Terminal Illnesses
Aging-related illnesses Mothers in Labor Substance Abuse
ADD/ADHD Neurological Impairment Special Needs
Autism Physical Disabilities Premature Infants
Acute/Chronic Pain Sensory Impairment Hospitalized Patients
School-Aged Children


Where do Music Therapists Work?

Music therapists can implement programs for groups or individuals in medical, clinical or educational settings including:

Hospitals Schools
Children’s Hospitals Social Services Programs
Rehabilitative Facilities Nursing Homes
Outpatient Clinics Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation
Mental Health Facilities Hospice Programs


“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe,
wings to the mind, flight to the imagination,
a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.
It is the essence of order and lends
to all that is good and just and beautiful.”~ Plato


Therapeutic Qualities of Music

There are many reasons why music is an effective and powerful tool in therapy.  Let’s take a look at a few:

  • Music has been called a “universal language,” implying its ability to facilitate communication, responses and experiences.  This is not only accomplished through words, but through vibrations and sounds as well.
  • Because music is so versatile, music therapy interventions can be easily and quickly adapted to meet the immediate needs of the individual. This flexibility allows those with no musical experience to participate in making music or experiencing it in the context of the music therapy session.
  • Music offers a medium that is non-threatening, which allows the individual a positive, safe environment for self-expression. It also helps the music therapist build rapport with the individual.
  • Music is familiar, which increases the comfort of the individual who may be in an unfamiliar setting or situation.
  • Music can also be a structure for learning because of its ability to contain and organize information within the words or the actions associated with the particular song or piece. (Think about how we all learn the ABC’s!)
  • Finally, music can be used as a motivation or a reward for learning, to help an individual complete or engage in a task.


Benefits of Music Therapy

The benefit of music therapy as a professional service is that the music therapist is trained to incorporate music, which has inherent therapeutic qualities, into specifically designed music therapy interventions.

Some of general benefits of music therapy across populations include its capability to:

reduce stress promote wellness decrease perception of pain
increase communication increase self-expression enhance memory
increase social interaction increase self-esteem utilize fine/gross motor skills


Some of the common interventions used in music therapy include:

song-writing instrumental improvisation music and imagery
lyric analysis vocal improvisation music for reminiscence
music for relaxation music and movement rhythm interventions
receptive listening music to structure learning music performance


The music therapist has training and experience to adapt these interventions based on client needs, and to create new interventions for treatment. The interventions are chosen in order to allow for the maximum success and benefit to the patient or client. Each intervention has the capacity to address multiple goals, and may elicit a wide range of responses. The music therapist is also trained to instantly modify the session based on client responses.

Music affects the mind, body, emotions and spirit.  Music therapy allows the individual to have control, to create, to share, to move, to relax, to experience and to express themselves in a positive and safe environment.