What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is a therapeutic approach that utilizes music to help foster health and well-being. It can involve making music, singing, dancing, listening to music, or talking about music. It has been used in adults, children, and even infants. Music therapy is generally not used on its own to treat illnesses but as an alternative therapy that's a part of a larger treatment plan.

In this article, you’ll learn more about what music therapy is, the different music therapy approaches, and what it can help treat.

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What Is Music Therapy?

The American Music Therapy Association defines music therapy as “the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship.”

Music therapy is provided by a credentialed therapist who has also completed an approved music therapy program. Today, there are over 9,000 credentialed music therapists in the United States and abroad.

The idea of music being healing has been around for centuries, but in the late 1700s, it started to be explored as a therapeutic tool. In the 1940s, music therapy started developing as a clinical field, and the first music therapy college programs were established.

Music Therapy vs. Sound Therapy

Although music therapy and sound therapy can overlap in various places, they're not the same thing.

What Is Sound Therapy?

Sound therapy uses sound, music, and certain instruments played in therapeutic ways, combined with self-reflection to improve well-being.

Music therapy training is more standardized and clinical than sound therapy.

Sound therapy is often done in private practice or as part of a complementary and alternative treatment plan, whereas music therapy can be utilized in hospitals, treatment centers, or private practice as part of standard care.

How It Works

Music therapy is a kind of therapy that uses music as a part of the therapeutic relationship to treat physical, psychological, cognitive, and social needs.

After you're assessed and your individual needs noted, the music therapist may use different tools like creating or singing music, dancing to music, and/or listening to music.

Music As Communication

In music therapy, music can help facilitate communication or be a form of communication. It can also highlight your strengths and help you to utilize those strengths in your everyday life.

Clients of music therapy can create their own “language,” so to speak, through music, to help express themselves.

A music therapist can also use music to help encourage positive changes in mood, improve self-confidence and self-awareness, and help improve attention skills. Sometimes it's used to relax a client, and other times it is used to elicit specific responses or memories.


There are different kinds of music therapies. Different approaches include:

  • Analytical music therapy: This relational model uses music to explore relationships between the self and others and music. It's a type of psychotherapy rooted in analytic traditions and encourages self-exploration through music.
  • Benenzon music therapy: This type of nonverbal psychotherapy uses body-sound-non-verbal techniques to process and analyze the relationship between the therapist and client to develop the client’s well-being.
  • Cognitive-behavioral music therapy: This combines cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with music, introducing clients to CBT concepts using music as a nonverbal facilitation tool.
  • Nordoff-Robbins music therapy: This approach holds that everyone has a sensitivity to music that can be used to foster personal growth and development.
  • The Bonny Method of Guided Imagery and Music (GIM): This is a type of transformational psychotherapy that uses selected parts of classical music to encourage and support the processing of experiences through guided imagery.


There are many different benefits to music therapy, including:

What It Can Help With

Music therapy can help with many different illnesses and conditions, including:


The benefits and efficacy of music therapy have been well-noted for a variety of conditions.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Compared to placebo therapy, music therapy has been shown to be more effective in improving social interaction, non-verbal communication skills, social adaptation, happiness, and parent-child relationships in people with autism.

Neonatal Care

Music therapy and music-based interventions have been found to improve food intake and sleep in infants, reduce heart and respiratory rates, reduce maternal anxiety, and even shorten NICU stays.

Test Anxiety

A CBT-music therapy program was found to significantly improve students’ test anxiety. More research is needed, but this is promising and follows previous research about music’s effect on anxiety.

Talk With Your Healthcare Provider

If you’re looking for specific information about music therapy and a certain condition, talk with your healthcare provider. Music therapy has been used in many different treatment settings. Your provider will be able to share more information with you specific for your needs.

What Is A Music Therapist?

A music therapist is someone who has completed an approved music therapy program, as well as an internship. After that, they can sit for a national examination by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. When completed successfully, the person is then music therapist-board certified (MT-BC).

They can work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, nursing homes, senior centers, correctional facilities, schools, rehabilitation facilities, and private practice, among other places.


Music therapy is a therapeutic approach that utilizes music to help foster health and well-being. It can involve making music, singing, dancing, listening to music, or talking about music.

Music therapy is provided by a credentialed therapist who has also completed an approved music therapy program. In music therapy, music can help facilitate communication or be a form of communication. It can also highlight your strengths and help you to utilize those strengths in your everyday life.

Music therapy can help with many conditions when used alongside medication and other treatments. The benefits of music therapy include improved memory and communication, stress management, and pain reduction to name a few.

If you're considering music therapy, reach out to your healthcare provider. They can help determine if music therapy is the right fit for you and how to get started.

A Word From VeryWell

Before starting music therapy, talk with your healthcare provider. They might have some suggestions or guidelines to help keep you safe, especially if you have hearing issues, wear hearing aids, or live with a movement disorder.

While music therapy has been effective for many people, it's usually part of a larger treatment plan that can include medications, medical treatments, and psychotherapy.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • When was music therapy invented?

    Although music has been considered a healing tool since Plato and Aristotle, the field as we know it today developed during the 1900s. During World War I and World War II, community musicians would play for veterans with trauma from battle. The patients’ responses were so notable that the staff would request the musicians to come.

    Musicians needed further training to better address the needs of patients, so a curriculum was formed. The first music therapy program in the world was created at Michigan State University in 1944.

  • What are some quotes on music therapy?

    "I would teach children music, physics and philosophy; but most importantly music, for the patterns in music and all the arts are the keys to learning." – Plato

    "Almost all children respond to music. Music is an open-sesame, and if you can use it carefully and appropriately, you can reach into that child's potential for development." – Dr. Clive Robbins, Nordoff-Robbins Music Therapy Clinic

    "I regard music therapy as a tool of great power in many neurological disorders— Parkinson's and Alzheimer's—because of its unique capacity to organize or reorganize cerebral function when it has been damaged." – Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist

  • What is a music therapy degree?

    A music therapy degree is a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from a program approved by the American Music Therapy Association and 1,200 hours of clinical training. The degree involves studying psychology, medicine, and music.

  • How do you get music therapy training?

    There are approved music therapy programs at various colleges and universities. They also require internships, which help provide hands-on, clinical training in music therapy.

  • How much does a music therapist make?

    The average salary for a music therapist in the United States is about $48,220 per year. This can vary, depending on where you live and where you work. On the high end, music therapists can make nearly $78,000 yearly.

16 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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