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Careers in the Arts – Music Therapy

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

March is Music Therapy Awareness Month!

Music Therapy May Include Listening, Discussing, Creating, or Moving to Music
Music Therapy May Include Listening, Discussing, Creating, or Moving to Music

What comes to mind when you picture a “professional artist/musician?” Do you picture painter Claude Monet skillfully capturing the changing light on canvas or vocalist Maria Callas singing a high-A? Or maybe you envision James Cameron in his director’s chair? Or Ansel Adams photographing the rising moon? While these are all certainly all rewarding careers for the creatively-minded person, a career in the arts also includes many other careers that may not be in the spotlight but are equally rewarding and valuable.

In today’s post, we are beginning a series of posts highlighting Careers in the Arts. Since March is Music Therapy Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to learn about the music therapy profession.

What Is Music Therapy?

While other musical careers are focused on creating or capturing a meaningful musical performance, the music therapist focuses on using music not as the end but as a tool to facilitate therapy that aids in emotional or physical recovery and healing. Music therapy is a type of recreational therapy. According to the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, that means "activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being.”

What Is the Difference Between a Music Therapist and a Sound Healer?

A music therapist helps people manage the effects from a disability, injury, or illness through music. Music therapists hold a degree in the field of music therapy and receive a professional certification, and they must use evidence-based practices with their patients. They are not the same as “Sound Healers” who are sometimes also music therapists and who also use music and sound in ways that they believe benefit people’s health. However, a sound healer may not have the same level of training as a music therapist. Also, they are not licensed and their methods may be derived from a non-evidence-based sources such as spiritual traditions. However, there are organizations and schools that offer a certification in sound healing.

What Is the History of Music Therapy?

The benefits of music for well-being have long been established. Shamans and other traditional practitioners have included music in their healing practices since pre-history. Many traditions continue to use musical activities such as singing, chanting, drumming, and dance as part of their therapeutic practices. To learn about the physical, emotional, and intellectual benefits of music and the healing potential of music, see the Music for Life series in this blog.

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), music therapy has been a practice since the 1800s. It became part of the Veteran’s Affairs approach to helping veterans in 1945 when they started to include music therapy in the treatment plans for veterans returning from World War II. Since 2005, the VA has been dedicated to doubling the number of music therapists that they employ in its clinics around the U.S.

Where Do Music Therapists Work?

Music therapists work in a variety of locations. They may work with or in schools, retirement centers, veteran’s centers, and other community-oriented centers. They will often also work in clinics, residential treatment facilities, hospitals, or medical offices with other therapists or other practitioners. They may also work independently in private practice and may even offer remote therapy via the internet.

What Do Music Therapists Do?

Music therapists use a variety of musically-related activities to help people recover from physical or emotional difficulties. A music therapist may lead group sessions or one-on-one sessions. Whether they are working with a group or with an individual, therapy is structured according to therapeutic plan. Activities may include discussing music, listening to musical recordings or performances, dancing or engaging in other movements along with music, or either the therapist or the patient creating music by playing, singing, or even composing. While a music therapist is not a performer, they each may sing or play as part of a session. Many programs require a prospective music therapist to be able sing and play piano and guitar with proficiency.

Some music therapists, focus their work on instructing others in music therapy. These music therapy educators often work for university programs. Some music therapy educators may use their blend of teaching and therapeutic skills to help other musicians who may not be music therapists themselves in ways that they can integrate the therapeutic aspects of music into their careers as performers, composers, or educators through workshops and other continuing education opportunities.

How Does Someone Become a Music Therapist?

To become a music therapist, you need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree in the music therapy. Many students go on to earn a master’s degree in the field. A music therapy degree includes many science, social science, and education courses along with the music courses. You can search for schools on the AMTA’s website.

Music Therapy Requires Collegiate Education
Music Therapy Requires Collegiate Education

According to the AMTA, the courseworks will also include 1,200 clinical hours of real world experience fieldwork. Once you have completed all of the educational preparation, you must take a certification exam (MT-BC) from the Certification Board of Music Therapists (CBMT). After you pass the MT-BC exam, you will receive a certificate from CBMT indicating your MT-BC credential. The credential is valid for five years and must be renewed. To retain your certification, you’ll need to complete 100 recertification credits and certified music therapists have to pay an annual certification fee as well.

What Is The Future Outlook for Music Therapy?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of recreational therapists which includes music therapists along with art, dance, and other types of therapy, is a growing field with an expectation of 2,200 positions becoming available in the field by 2030. The median annual salary for a music therapist is about $47,710 as of May 2020 with the average therapist earning $22.94/hour.

Some Questions to Consider If You Are Interested in Becoming a Music Therapist

Music Therapists May Work With People of All Ages
Music Therapists May Work With People of All Ages

Do you enjoy an ever-changing work environment?

Do you feel motivated to help others?

How comfortable are you singing or playing in front of others?

How do you handle challenging situations?

Do you plan on attending a four-year university program?

Do you mind pursuing continuing education after completing your degree?

Would you feel comfortable working in a medical setting?

Would you feel comfortable working in an educational setting?

Would you feel comfortable working in a behavior health setting?

Would you feel comfortable working in private practice?

Would you feel comfortable working with the elderly?

Would you feel comfortable working with the disabled?

Would you feel comfortable working with veterans?

Would you feel comfortable working with children?

Would you feel comfortable working with adults?

Do you love music and want to share it with others?

What roles does music fulfill in your life?

How has music been therapeutic for you?

So, what do you think about music therapy? Has it piqued your interest? What other arts-related careers would you like to learn about? Let us know your thoughts by emailing or commenting below.

For Further Information

“About Recreational Therapy.” NCTRC. Accessed March 14, 2022.

“American Music Therapy Association.” American Music Therapy Association | American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Accessed March 14, 2022.

Burkett, Hindi, Maris Panjada, and Adam Lee. “” Certification Board for Music Therapists. Hindi Burkett, June 17, 2021.

Cooper, Chad. “Music as Medicine for Veterans: VA Northport Health Care.” Veterans Affairs. Accessed March 14, 2022.

H., Jared. “What Does a Music Therapist Do? (Jobs, Salary, Degree, & More): LN.” LedgerNote, August 17, 2021.

Korb, Christine. The Music Therapy Profession: Inspiring Health, Wellness, and Joy. Page Turner Press and Media, 2019.

“March Is Music Therapy Month.” Sensity, February 26, 2021.

“Recreational Therapists : Occupational Outlook Handbook.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 14, 2021.


Janae J. Almen is a professional music instructor, composer, sound artist, and writer. She has a BA in Music/Education from Judson University and a MM in Computer Music/Composition from the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University. She is the founder of Perennial Music and Arts and is passionate about sharing her love of music and arts.



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