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What Are The Intersections Between Music Education & Music Therapy

The Intersections Between Music Education & Music Therapy

classroom management exceptional learners music teachers Jan 06, 2021

This post is based on a podcast interview with Lauren Marcinkowski, MT-BC, M.Ed.. To listen to her episode, click here.

What is music therapy and why is it important?

      Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individual goals within a therapeutic relationship. This is done by an accredited music therapist, referred to as a Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC). 

      There are so many misconceptions about music therapy, such as people thinking that music therapy could be any musician singing to a client that has Alzheimer's, or a parent who's letting their child listen to music on their iPad. People might think that's music therapy, but they're all really a little different.

      These are all wonderful things that should be applauded for having to do with music. Any way you can use music is wonderful. However, music therapy is a systematic approach to using music in an evidence-based way with clients.

      So it's a little bit different than singing to clients and making them feel good, which is great and has its purpose, but it's different from music therapy. It's important to know that music therapy is an evidence-based practice with a separate credential. There are tons and tons of research to back up music therapy. And it's really a science-based approach just like any related service such as occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, etc.

How does someone become a Board-Certified Music Therapist?

      So to become a Board Certified music therapist you will have to go to an accredited school. At the end of a music therapy program, you are able to test to get your board certification in music therapy. A lot of music schools around the country have these now, but not every music school does.

      Music Therapy is similar to a traditional music route, usually ending with a Bachelor of Music or something similar. The first two years are very similar to other music degrees, like performance or education. You have music theory, conducting, and other classes that other music majors would take, but you don't necessarily take all the methods courses that music educators do such as strings methods and classes like that.

      Instead, you end up taking methods courses in what they call medical methods class, like music therapy in a medical setting, psychiatrics and music therapy in a psychiatric setting, and then an educational methods class. These are some of the more focused music therapy courses that you get into like as you go further along in your degree. Every program is a little bit different, but you have these different methods courses where they teach you different evidence-based methods and what you should use with different populations.

      Music therapists can work with children in an educational setting, but they can also work with the elderly in palliative care or a nursing home. Music therapists can work with individuals in mental health hospitals and psychiatric settings as well. Music therapists also have some ethics courses and have to take psychology courses as well.

      To end your training you get fieldwork hours, which are kind of sprinkled through those different three domains: educational, psychiatric, and the medical field, so you get experience and a little bit of each. Finally, you are placed in an internship where you need 1000 hours of clinical experience working under a Board Certified Music Therapist.

      Once you have completed your internship you are eligible to sit for the board certification exam. Once you're done that, you can get your board certification. However, you need to continue your education through training and continuing education courses to keep your certification valid. So that's kind of one of the reasons why music therapies, board. It's not like a one and done thing, just like in education.


Where do music therapy and music education intersect?

      The biggest connector between the two fields is that both therapists and educators have a goal for their students or clients. Sometimes there are intersections in these goals.

      If you are lucky enough as an educator to be able to work with a music therapist, they can assist you in the classroom with helping students that may need may have special needs that may have disabilities and reaching their IEP goals within your classroom. They can also help you reach your educational goals for those students within your classroom. Music Therapists can be a huge resource for educators.

      Least Restrictive Environments are really important for students that have special needs, and when they're in the music classroom music therapists can be a really big asset for educators in allowing students to be best served in their LRE.

How can music educators and music therapists work together?

      Music therapists can assist music educators, in a lot of ways and vice versa. Music therapists can help music educators either as a consultant by assisting educators in designing or implementing music education experiences that are appropriate for students with disabilities. Music therapists know the best practices to engage these students and to get them making music. 

      If you're able and lucky enough to work with a music therapist within your classroom, they can help you in the regular music classroom or self-contained classrooms, or even outside the classroom if you're seeing private students like they can help you in those settings as well. A music therapist could accompany students that have disabilities in your classroom to a general music class and assist them during those classes.

      Music therapists also have a musical mind and a degree in music, so they know what educators are trying to do and what goals you might be trying to reach for their students. If you have a musical goal that you want your students to reach, a music therapist can sit there with those students and really work with them to try to reach that goal in a way that an educator may not be able to do because they’re teaching the class and don't have the time to sit there.

      In a self-contained classroom music therapists can work with educators to coordinate or develop some best practices to work with those students. Sometimes educators can get caught up in wanting their students to be able to meet a certain benchmark. But with students with disabilities, even our students that have higher-incidence disabilities might not be able to meet the same. A music therapist can be incredibly helpful in modifying goals and expectations in a way to set up students for success.

What do people get wrong about music therapy?

      A lot of people assume music therapy can be just somebody singing to a sick person by their bedside or that it can be music as a therapeutic tool. This is a wonderful thing, but it isn't music therapy because it isn’t evidence-based. Music therapy is very focused on goals.

      While many music educators and music therapists would agree that music can be incredibly therapeutic,  it’s also important to remember that there is a line between music being therapeutic and music being used for therapy through an evidence-based approach.

While both are great, they serve incredibly different purposes.

How can music educators better serve their students with exceptional learning needs?

      Educators each out to the case manager and/or intervention specialist. Ask these educators what some of the biggest goals these students have are. Additionally, music educators should ask how they can best help the student be successful in the classroom.

      As music educators, as people who create content and deliver content to the students, we have the obligation, and the access to these students IEP s. There is a lot of information in these documents that probably will not be super helpful at all in the music classroom, but there are some things that are incredibly helpful in the classroom.

      Some schools and some districts and some teachers sometimes don't realize that music educators are part of that music educators or people that need to have this document, but music educators are just as obligated to follow a students’ accommodations as a non-music teacher.

Music educators are a part of the IEP team and it's a legal document they need to be aware of.


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