How to Become a Music Therapist

by Kimberly on July 28, 2009 · 182 comments

So, you interested in music therapy? Think you have what it takes?

A music therapist’s training is fairly unique as it incorporates coursework in music (obviously!), psychology and therapy, anatomy and physiology, the biological, social and behavioral sciences, and disabilities. I like to say that, as a music therapist, I am a musician, scientist, and therapist rolled up in one.

Currently, there are over 70 colleges and universities in the states (and one in Canada) where you can receive music therapy training. Of those, over 30 also offer graduate music therapy programs.

University

Music Therapy Training

If you are being trained as a music therapist, you must first finish your basic collegiate coursework. Following that, you complete a six month clinical training internship at an approved training site. Finish your internship and you can sit for the national board certification exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Pass the exam and you are now a board certified music therapist, or “MT-BC.”

Types of Music Therapy Degrees

At the collegiate level, there are a couple of different types of program options available:

  1. Bachelor: This is your most basic training, often combining music therapy coursework with basic education classes (e.g. english, math, etc.).
  2. Equivalency: For students who have a Bachelor’s degree but want the music therapy training. Students in an equivalency program will only take classes they need to meet music therapy education requirements.
  3. Master’s Equivalency: Students in this program have a Bachelor’s degree but are not yet music therapists. In this program they will take graduate coursework on top of the music therapy training requirements. They will still need to complete an internship and, depending on the university, may or may not need a thesis. Graduates of a Master’s equivalency program may have an MM, MA, or MME degree (some colleges incorporate music therapy into their music education programs).
  4. Masters: The board-certified music therapist will be enrolled in this program. Simple, straight-forward graduate school. These programs offer the same degree options listed in #3.
  5. Doctorale: There are a small handful of schools that offer music therapy specific doctorale programs…but not many. However, music therapists have other options, the most common being a philosophy doctorate (PhD). Other music therapy “doctors” have earned an education (EdD) or a psychology doctorate (PsyD).

And that’s it. For more information about music therapy training, visit the American Music Therapy Association or the Certification Board for Music Therapists websites.

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{ 176 comments… read them below or add one }

Kimberly June 20, 2013 at 1:02 pm

Hello Christian,
Good question and I’m not sure that it will make a difference! You’ll be trained in music, then will receive special clinical musicianship training as a music therapy major. Best of luck to you! ~Kimberly

alicia allanson June 25, 2013 at 5:05 am

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Modern Art August 7, 2013 at 7:18 pm

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Hassan Moiz October 18, 2013 at 4:44 am

I live in Lahore, Pakistan. I have a BSc(hons) degree in Applied Psychology. I am interested in becoming a music therapist, although I know i lack the basic prerequisites. I know how to play the guitar and I am currently learning to read music and play the piano. Can someone pleas guide me as to how I might pursue this field without obtaining another bachelors degree? I would appreciate any help.
Thank you!

Kimberly October 22, 2013 at 2:31 pm

Hello Hassan, I recommend you reach out to the World Federation for Music Therapists (www.wfmt.info) to locate a music therapist in your area who might be able to help. Good luck! ~Kimberly

Jason October 23, 2013 at 5:57 am

What are the further requirements to becoming a musical therapist since I already have obtained a BSW? Would it make sense to first become a MSW then work on becoming a musical therapist? How extensive and expensive is the coursework for music therapy?

Jason Z October 24, 2013 at 9:26 pm

I have a Bachelor’s of Music in Education with K-12 certification and an MBA. What would the course work entail to become a music therapist? How long would it take to get the degree?

Kimberly November 1, 2013 at 8:55 am

Hello Jason, It sounds like you would be looking for an equivalency program. Depending on the university, it would take you approximately 3 years to complete the training and you may or may not have the option to get a Master’s degree with it. The specific coursework will again depend on the program, but would likely include coursework in music therapy, science, and psychology. Good luck! ~Kimberly

Kimberly November 1, 2013 at 8:57 am

Hello Jason, It sounds like you would be looking for an equivalency program, which would provide you with the addition requirements, such as coursework in music therapy, music history, music theory, anatomy and physiology, and more. Depending on the university, it would take you approximately 3 years to complete the training and you may or may not have the option to get a Master’s degree with it. The specific coursework will again depend on the program. Good luck! ~Kimberly

Victoria November 19, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Which schools exactly offer the doctorate program in music therapy?

Kimberly December 3, 2013 at 9:39 pm

There are several in the US: University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Kansas, University of Iowa, Florida State University, University of Miami, Temple University, Drexel University. Good luck! ~Kimberly

Hoc Weng December 22, 2013 at 3:23 pm

Hi Kimberly,

I’m a student from Malaysia, planning to study Music Therapy in Germany. I’m going to complete my Edexcel Advance-Level programme by July/August 2014. My question is, must I first take a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Therapy before I can study for the Master’s Degree? On the other hand, I had a list of Universities in Germany which provide Music Therapy training programme. I’d like to know if you have any recommendation of the leading Universities in Germany for me.

Hope to hear from you soon, as a response would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

Andrea Gonzalez March 19, 2014 at 12:09 pm

Hi Kimberly, I am a music education student and I want to do my masters in music therapy. I was wondering if I had to take some more courses like regarding psychology or I don’t know. How does the music therapy masters program works?

Dan April 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm

Hi Kimberly, I was hoping you could provide some advice for me, I am from Australia and I am a Psych graduate. I really want to study Music Therapy but there are only 2 masters programs here in Australia and they are very exclusive. If you could recommend anywhere to study in the world, where do you suggest? Also as a music therapist, what do you believe are the most important skills as a potential student? I personally cannot read music but I am a guitar and percussion player and very passionate to commit to learning whatever I have to!

Cassie April 19, 2014 at 6:00 pm

Hello, Kimberly. I was wondering if I could major in Psychology and Minor in music and still become a music therapist? What would you suggest for that?

Kimberly April 23, 2014 at 11:57 am

Hello Dan. Thank you for your note! You ask a rather big question that I’m not sure how to answer. I am only familiar with the music therapy training programs in the United States, many of which are very fine. But there are other systems in other countries such as Australia and England that are options, though they are options I am not familiar with. I’m sorry I cannot be of more help and wish you the best of luck in your search! ~Kimberly

Kimberly April 23, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Hello Cassie. You do need a degree in music therapy to be a music therapist. However, you do have the option of obtaining your music therapy degree as a master’s student. Furthermore, it is likely that many if not all of your psychology and music classes can transfer as credit for the music therapy degree. Best of luck! ~Kimberly

Elise April 27, 2014 at 11:27 pm

Hi,
I’m about to graduate highschool and I’d like to become a music therapist. I’m not really sure how to start in becoming one. Would you mind giving me some direction?

Lindsay Fultz May 16, 2014 at 9:05 am

Kimberly,
I have a Bachelor’s of Business Administration with an emphasis in Hospitality Management and I would like to get my degree in Music Therapy. Would I be able to do an equivalency program?

Kimberly May 30, 2014 at 12:06 pm

Congratulations Elise! And of course . . . please visit the American Music Therapy Association (www.musictherapy.org) where you can find information about universities in the US that offer a degree in music therapy. You will need to apply and get accepted into one of those degree programs to begin your music therapy journey. Best of luck! ~Kimberly

jef June 1, 2014 at 2:57 am

hi kimberly, im from the philippines, a small urbanized city here, me and my business partners are about to open a small music school here. looking at the advantage of being the first school here to open with music therapy, im very much interested in adding music therapy as part of our curriculum. are there music therapy activities that can be added to our present curriculum that does not require a bachelors degree? thank kim, more power!

Brady June 1, 2014 at 6:40 pm

Hi Kimberly,
I am about to get a bachelors degree in psychology in the US and am wondering how to become a music therapist. I’ve read about equivalency programs but most people in them were majors in music. I am wondering if it is still possible to do a Masters/Equivalency even though I have no official degree in music. I play a lot of guitar and have taken music courses but I am worried that that won’t be enough.

Kimberly June 11, 2014 at 7:11 am

Hello Brady. Thank you for your comment! The best person to talk to about this would be a music therapy adviser at a school you are interested in attending. He or she will be able to best guide you on how you can obtain an equivalency with a bachelor’s degree in a non-music major. Perhaps it will be as simple as needing to test out of or take extra coursework in the necessary core music classes, such as music theory and music history. I hope this works out for you! All the best, Kimberly

Kimberly June 11, 2014 at 7:14 am

Jef, it sounds like you have quite a vision planned! I am not sure about the training and certification requirements in the Philippines, but it looks like St. Paul University Manila may be offering something in this area? I recommend connecting with the professors there for their recommendations on how to go about hiring or consulting with a local music therapist. Here’s a link: http://www.spumanila.edu.ph/ Best of luck! ~Kimberly

Jeff Oster June 25, 2014 at 6:18 pm

Kimberly,

My name is Jeff. I hold a Bachelors Degree in Church Music and have 12 years experience in leading worship at my church as the Worship Pastor. The last 5 years I have worked at an assisted living community as the activity director. I started a music class there and have really enjoyed working with the residents, some who have dementia and other memory issues. I have enjoyed it so much that i now do it at other communities as well and am considering pursuing the idea of Music Therapy and not really sure how to proceed. Money is tight these days and the idea of adding more debt to my current student loan isn’t very appealing and there’s no guarantee that there will be a job for me when I finish. All this to say, I absolutely love doing this and continue to share in all these facilities but would be interested in finding out how to get certified. Thank you for your help.

Kimberly July 2, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Hello Jeff. Thank you for your note! I recommend that you click through this link for more information about how to become certified: http://www.musictherapy.org/careers/employment/. The first step is to earn a bachelor’s or equivalency degree in music therapy from a program approved by the American Music Therapy Association. I recommend you connect with a professor at the school of your choice to help you determine your options. Best of luck! ~Kimberly

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