CM’s Guide to Music Therapy Major

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Instead of traditional rehabilitation, music therapists find success with behavioral therapy through music education. By introducing the opportunity to express creativity through music, singing and playing as a form of rehab now breath new life into those once hindered by mental illness.

What You’ll Be Doing

Music therapy majors go beyond the principles of music and learn how to use it for therapeutic purposes, above all keeping the patient in mind. Each individual reacts differently to various approaches and methods, making it necessary to develop a strong background in psychology, biology, medicine, music history and music theory to acquire the skills needed to practice music therapy. The major also requires that students learn to assess clients and document their progress. Beyond the bachelor’s, pursuing a career in music therapy requires certification with the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. Certification includes intensive training requirements in addition to passing an exam, ranging from a minimum of 560 hours at a supervised internship to five years of experience in a related full-time paid position.


1. “A few weeks ago, a patient’s daughter took videos while the patient played his harmonica with me. He died days later, and I know his family will always cherish those last moments. Patients and families thank me every day for the work I do, and I consider it a privilege.” – Laura Hagerty, Music Therapist at Big Bend Hospice

2. “I worked extremely hard during internship. It was one of the most difficult gigs I’ve ever had. But when I came out on the other side, 6 months later, I had experienced everything from an older adult telling me she was calling the sheriff on me to a student repeatedly grabbing the glasses off of my face to playing kazoos in a preschool. It built me up as a better practitioner and allowed me to develop my ability to respond in the moment to the unexpected. This is a skill that cannot be learned from books.” — Emma Byrd, Neurologic Music Therapist at Coast Music Therapy

3. “I don’t think there is anything I learned in studying music therapy that I couldn’t use to help others. There is an inherent respect for those with whom you interact in the practice of music therapy, and the relationship you share through music is the very essence of its effectiveness. That unconditional positive regard and compassion for others has carried into each aspect of my life.” — Stephen Choate, Music Therapist at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida


1. “One of the first thoughts I encourage any prospective music therapy student to consider, or anyone interested in clinical or psychosocial work, is: How do you feel spending time around people in need – the sick, the elderly, the downtrodden, children with chronic illnesses, the dying? What about those with a history of substance abuse? Those who need counseling? People who are deaf or blind? Part of the reason I ask this question is because there is a distinct difference in wanting to serve people in these populations and actually being equipped – academically, intellectually, physically, emotionally or spiritually – to do so.” – Stephen Choate, Music Therapist at Community Hospice of Northeast Florida

2. “Because music therapy is a small profession, each music therapist takes on a lot of responsibility in educating and advocating. There are many misconceptions about music therapy. Many think we are entertainers, or that music volunteers (though valuable) are an adequate substitute, or they don’t know the extent of our education and training.” — Laura Hagerty, Music Therapist at Big Bend Hospice

3. “Music therapy is still an emerging field so I have to spend a lot of time educating people regarding what MT is and is not. A lot of times I’m referred to as ‘The Music Lady’ or ‘The Music Teacher’ which is pretty far from what I am. I think right now, music therapists across the country are struggling to be taken as legitimate health care professionals and/or members of IEP teams.” — Emma Byrd, Neurologic Music Therapist at Coast Music Therapy

Career Opportunities

1. Pediatric Music Therapist

Music can be a companion in young lives burdened with physical and emotional distress as a risk-free way to unlearn self-harming behavior and cure physical ailments. A pediatric music therapist can work one-on-one with patients, assessing their needs and regulating dosage, improving speech problems and eliminating anxiety and depression.

2. Senior Care/Retirement Home Music Therapist

Music therapy rebirths the simplest joys we take for granted every day. Musical genres from the patient’s era are especially effective to restore seniors back to their original selves. Families that don’t have the time or financial means to devote time to their elderly loved ones rely on medical staff that in a way becomes the patient’s new family. It can be difficult to cope with a new scheduled life lacking relatives around. The comfort of their favorite music turns even the most introverted residents excited to participate in activities.

3. Psychiatric Hospital Music Therapist 

With psychotherapeutic therapy, certified music therapists teach patients how to communicate by means of music. A few of the positive outcomes include relaxed muscles, lowered anxiety and strengthened personal relationships. The ultimate goal of music therapists in a psychiatric setting is to lessen a patient’s symptoms. Music therapy benefits even the most serious of illnesses, from schizophrenia to Alzheimer’s.

4. Rehabilitation Facility Music Therapist

Music therapy helps victims of addiction reach their individual recovery goals. By scheduling music practice with a therapist, a certain time is devoted to purging negative emotions and taking a break from the more stressful steps to recovery. Patients open to this new type of therapy work together with the music therapist to find an instrument or genre of music and keep a journal to record how each genre makes the patient feel.

5. Professor of Music Therapy

Education plays a vital role in the music therapy career preparation. Offered at universities nationwide, professors engage students by teaching them the science behind music therapy and how they can help change the lives of those around them.

Gabriela is a nocturnal, spiritual, eccentric 21-year-old on a mission to meet people who share her passion for life. She is a junior at Florida State University (Nole Nation, baby!) and a Creative Writing major. Next year, her dream of living in France will come true and hopefully the culture-shock she will experience will make for a fantastic screenplay one day.

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