How are music therapists educated?

Actually, let’s start with how I became interested in Music Therapy as a profession. At the time, I was auditioning for a bassoon scholarship at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, TX, in 1989 as a high school senior. It was my intent to go to SHSU to get a photojournalism degree and thought a minor in music and a bassoon scholarship may help pay for my education.

At that audition, I was invited to meet with the Director of Music Therapy, Dr. Mary Ann Nolteriek. Upon hearing her description of music therapy, I knew that was the career for me. (I later realized that I don’t have as much talent in photography, so it was a good choice!) I don’t remember exactly what she said, but after meeting with her, a music therapy major seemed like a good merge of helping people, medicine, science, and healing with music. She also said, “Don’t change majors. Decide what you want to do and stick with that. You’ll save lots of money that way.” My parents liked that advice.

Music therapy students must have a major instrument (voice, piano, guitar, or symphonic instrument). I recommend that anyone wanting to major in music start piano lessons early! Not only will piano training help acquire a broad range of musical skills, but it is also MUCH easier than trying to learn how to play piano in a classroom of 30 people over 4 semesters in college. Even taking lessons in the summer before you begin your degree would be preferable to first learning piano in college.

There are competencies that entry level music therapists must demonstrate in the areas of Musical Foundations, Clinical Foundations, and Music Therapy Foundations. So music therapists must complete a bachelor degree in music therapy. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, you can apply for an equivalency degree, where you take only the courses needed to make your education the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in music therapy.

In this degree program, music therapy students study not only music, but also human behavior, psychology, anatomy & physiology. They receive extensive musical education because music therapists must know how to use their tool. So music therapy students study music theory, history, composition, performance, conducting, instrumental skills, voice, piano, and guitar.

They also study music therapy history, theory, assessment, treatment plans, implementation, documentation, termination, and techniques. There are clinical contact hours, including practicum experience (fieldwork with various populations) and a clinical internship. I completed my internship at The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, TX with Kiran Montegue. In my internship, my musical and therapeutic skills matured, and I developed the theory and education I received at SHSU into practical skills.

After graduation, I was eligible to take the certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists, and passed to receive the credential Music Therapist – Board Certified (MT-BC). There are some universities offer a master’s degree in music therapy (I received mine from Texas Woman’s University in Denton, TX, in 2001), or doctoral studies.

For more information about music therapy training, contact me.