Process versus product. Generally when I give an introductory talk about Music Therapy, I begin by making the comparisons between Music for Leisure, Music Education, and Music Therapy. Music for Leisure is a passive type of music which I am going to leave alone today. Music Education and Music Therapy are active processes and very different from one another. Music Education is mainly concerned with the product. How does the product (music) look, sound, and is it done correctly? Music Therapy is not concerned about a product, but rather a person and the process that they are going through, where is the person headed, what are they going through and/or what are they now becoming?

I think in our society today, this concept is difficult for some people to comprehend. People understand the definition but have trouble applying it. Misinformed comments such as “We’ll just let the kids bang on drums and call it Music Therapy,” are made by people who just do not know what Music Therapy is. Music Therapy is the process of using music and/or its elements to assist health, growth or development.  I think in today’s society that being focused on the process is so foreign to some people (or for foreign to their concepts about music) that they have difficulty grasping this. This idea of not being focused on the product, the “correctness” of the music takes some getting use to. Society does not function this way today. To be the best, to do better, to rate higher than our peers to be successful is contrary to being better than I was yesterday or to be the best me I can be.

One must always ask why: why is this important, what is most important in this situation. What does the person involved in the music need, what might they be hoping to gain? Is it perfection of an instrument, their voice? That belongs in a music lesson. Is it growth, connection, security, or development? That is for Music Therapy.

In school, it matters whether you hold a note for 8 beats or not. It matters in a lesson whether you are holding a guitar correctly or not. It matters in school whether you hit all the right notes or not. School is a place where your skills need to be judged as worthy enough or not. In Music Therapy it matters a great deal if some sound comes out of a silent child or not. It matters when the teenager who normally will not participate in a group comes in and picks up a guitar and thoughtfully plucks random strings. It matters when a child who stays isolated bangs on a drum to his heart’s content as he enjoys engaging with another human being.It is going to be very difficult to get enough research to convince a society who measures success in dollar amounts, in awards, and in the degree of power which an individual attains . An adjustment of perspective may need to be attained before a priority is given to the importance of the individual’s well-being. Then the process will be important and easy to comprehend.  .  .  “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” -Maya Angelou.

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6 Replies to “Beautiful Music, Is It What You Think?”

  1. Thank you so much for your apt definition of music therapy. I work in a local nursing home doing misic therapy and have observed both health and relational benefits. Music programs add to their physical, mental, and emotional well being.

  2. Hi, Barbara. You have explained Music Therapy very clearly, and accurately. I always encourage my patients to explore the instruments, and remind them that “this is not music school”. I work with psychiatric patients, and music therapy really helps them come out of their isolation and socialize with peers.

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