5 Part Series; Music Therapy, From Attentiveness to Functional Skill and Optimal Health

                                                                        PART 1: MUSIC THERAPY

This week’s blog is the first part of a 5 part series, Music Therapy from attentiveness to functional skills and optimal health.

I had been supervising a Music Therapy student this week and posed a question to her.  A little behavioral problem arose with an age group that she had been working with.  I was very familiar with this population and knew why the behavior occurred, but many times especially with clients that we are not familiar with yet, we do not know why things are happening.  So I posed the question to her “what musical elements could you have employed to re direct the situation”?

People around where I live are not yet very familiar with Music Therapy.  The conclusions that people tend to draw are “well if speech therapists work on speech and physical therapists work on strengthening our bodies, then Music Therapists… must teach music?”

Each of the above disciplines works to repair or improve something very specific.  All therapists in all disciplines however are confronted with why and how.  Music Therapists are trained with a tool, Music.  The elements that put organized Music together are rhythm, tempo, dynamics, timbre, pitch, texture, and meter; these are our tools.  Our tools don’t always tell us why or how but with observant planning can take us from point A to point B.

To get back to my student – she gave me the answer I was looking for, there were two obvious elements that she could have used and she described how.   I went on to tell her that depending on where you work, you may have a quick turnover of clients or have to switch populations for one reason or another.  However, no matter how well acquainted you are or not, when you focus solely on the individual or group, when things start falling apart, follow the client and use the elements to facilitate.  When you are fully focused on your client and meet what they are presenting you with, the pathway that you will take will be outstanding. My best work has evolved out of watching my clients.  I have been very surprised musically at what I have done and the results.  Music is the universal language, maybe not always able to convey specific ideas however, vitally able to convey our deepest emotions.  It can motivate, relax, energize, comfort and express.  After careful watchful assessment, siting needs and strengths, no matter the difficulty, Music Therapists make use of the elements to illicit, redirect, accompany, reflect or meet a client where he or she is.  The music carefully composes a pathway utilizing strengths to aid needs.  The Music Therapist will adopt or alter the musical elements to help a client towards health or growth.

Since music is the universal language, it speaks to individuals of varying cultures, religions, backgrounds, abilities or disabilities.  Our tool, music, is processed over both sides of the brain.  With recent research findings on the plasticity of the brain, music is probably the most malleable tool to utilize or aid those not only with neurological disabilities but physical and emotional as well. The elements of music can also act as a unifying agent, bringing a group together, focused yet meeting individual needs. Music, in and of itself, can provide therapeutic effects, however when people are trained in applying the elements of music, and basing their use upon what they are presented with in their clients each time they work, the results can be astounding. I have witnessed speech out of non-verbal clients, children who appeared unable to bear weight or balance their bodies, sit erectly as the music begins, individuals who gave no eye contact, look directly at the music therapist first.

If speech Therapists work at gains in speech, physical therapists work on strengthening bodies, music therapists utilize their tool and what a client already posses to gently meet or facilitate the clients greatest need. As with anything else, when all team members are working together with a focus, any situation, group or individual receives it’s maximum benefit. Music Therapy, a therapy without negative side effects, in one that promotes a clients already existing strengths to achieve optimal results.

As was mentioned in the beginning, this is the first part of a five part series, tracking Music Therapy from it’s ability to elicit attentiveness, organize, aid in clients gaining self regulation abilities to functional skills and optimal health.Music Therapy is not about teaching musical skill, although that may be a by-product, it is about a gentle process of adapting music in order to elicit gains in health and wholeness.



Very well explained. Thank you I work with kids with autism and I know how effective music can be to communicate with them.


Is music therapy something that one has to get certified in or has to go to school for?


Yes Shamou, you need to obtain a bachelors degree in Music Therapy following with a six month internship before you may take your certification exam.If you choose to further your education , there are also masters levels programs and programs for PHd level.

Tom Gerni MT-BC

Antoinette – I will be sharing your series with my supervisor, LCSW, not a music therapist, whom I have invited to co-facilitate my social skills OP groups, elementary, also middle/HS students w broad range of strengths and deficits including ASD.
For the first time he is seeing that it is not just the music I am presenting, but more importantly the relationship within a structured, safe and fun learning environment.

Hermanean Laauwen

The avaenue you have chosen to enetr the child’s world is fascinating. I think it has implications for remedial work in the scholastic field . i have a friend in South Africa that has done music therapy with DEAF children.



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