I answer this question daily!

Typically I will be walking down the hallway of a school, guitar and other instruments in tow.  A random teacher, parent, or student says, “you play music here?”  and I say, “Sure do, I’m the music therapist.”

Predictably, “What’s that??” is the question that nearly always follows.

There are a million ways to explain music therapy. Let’s start with THE number one go to source for music therapy information: The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

A definition from the American Music Therapy Association:

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.

Music Therapy is an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. After assessing the strengths and needs of each client, the qualified music therapist provides the indicated treatment including creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in the therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives. Music therapy also provides avenues for communication that can be helpful to those who find it difficult to express themselves in words. Research in music therapy supports its effectiveness in many areas such as: overall physical rehabilitation and facilitating movement, increasing people’s motivation to become engaged in their treatment, providing emotional support for clients and their families, and providing an outlet for expression of feelings.

Now let’s break it down.

  • Music therapy is a healthcare profession.
  • Music therapy has a body of research to support its use.
  • A music therapist has a degree in music therapy and is credentialed.

AND (most importantly!)

  • Music therapy uses specially designed music strategies to help others  with physical, cognitive, social, language, and/or emotional skills.

How does Music Therapy Work?

Music is motivating

Here at Sound Starts, I primarily work with children who have Autism spectrum disorders or other developmental disabilities. Music therapy in my clinic often looks like “fun.” And it is fun! That’s how children learn! Often, the music strategies are so motivating that my clients don’t realize they are “working” on their speech or comprehension skills. They are “working” on increased motor skills. They are “working” on their social skills!

Music can carry information

How did you learn your ABCs? Or the states and their capitals? By pairing a melody with targeted information, music therapy can help my clients retain that information when they otherwise might not be able to remember.

Music uses the whole brain

We won’t get technical today, but music is processed on both sides of the brain. When a person is engaged in music activities, the brain is actively firing more neurons and increasing the opportunity for development and learning.

Would your child benefit from music therapy?

Music Therapy Services in Cincinnati, Ohio, discusses in detail when to refer a client for music therapy services (information taken from the following text: Hanser, Suzanne B. The New Music Therapistʼs Handbook. Boston: Berklee Press,1999. Print.).

Since I specialize in working with children who have special needs, I have highlighted the most pertinent referral points for this population.

When there is strength in auditory learning styles

Some people learn new subject matter most efficiently when they see visual cues or read written material about it. Others learn better or faster through listening. People in this latter category are sometimes called auditory learners. Their strength in the auditory modality may allow them to succeed in tasks which involve responding to verbal instructions or auditory cues.

It is useful to know the preferred learning style of children who have special needs so that they have greater opportunity to succeed when approached with new information. Children who display finer abilities in the auditory modality are already more at ease taking in information while listening. They may be particularly good candidates for music therapy.

When there is responsiveness to sound or music

It is not necessary to have musical ability or experience to benefit from music therapy. However, people who enjoy music may be predisposed to use it as therapy.

Some people are exposed to a song once or a few times, and are able to recall the words. They may be able to precisely hum a melody they heard recently. They are particularly responsive to music. Sometimes, children who show little awareness of their environment demonstrate a propensity towards musical expression. They may hear jingles on radio or television and sing them back although they are unable to articulate simple speech. At the other end of the life cycle, older adults with dementia may perform music, demonstrating a preserved ability even when they are disoriented in time and place. These individuals are demonstrating through this behavior that music provides a channel to reach them and to develop their hidden potential.

When there is limited cognitive capacity

Individuals who have limited cognitive ability may be restricted in the type of therapies from which they benefit. Music therapy is ideal for people who find verbal therapy unproductive or who cannot participate in therapies which require higher brain function. Some musical experiences activate neural pathways which are distinct from those which are excited during intellectual activity. These experiences generate spontaneous behavior which can then be recognized, shaped, and modified, when appropriate. This is particularly important in children with pervasive developmental disorders and adults with dementia.

When compliance is a problem

Many music therapy techniques have an element of fun attached to them. Most people who attend music therapy enjoy it while they reap other benefits. Because it applies methods which focus on the personʼs abilities and preferences, compliance is easy.

When there is difficulty communicating or expressing thoughts, feelings, or ideas

Music therapy is indicated for individuals who cannot express themselves freely. Music offers alternative ways of communicating by augmenting a personʼs repertory of expressive skills. In music therapy, people learn new ways of making themselves heard through music. They can respond in their own unique way, without concern of being judged right or wrong. For the individual whose emotional capacity is limited, music therapy taps into a world of feelings which may be accessed immediately and unconditionally.

Sound Starts People

The points above are not meant to be an exhaustive list but a starting point or guide for parents or caregivers wondering if their child could benefit from music therapy.  I am always happy to answer questions, so if you are wondering if this service might be right for your child, you can reach me at or 469-443-6224. Also be sure to sign up for the Sound Starts Newletter below to stay in touch and receive updates, free songs, and other exciting resources!

Til Next Time,