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Secrets to being a Successful Music Therapy Student

by Kimberly on August 10, 2011 · 12 comments

I got a great question recently from Maven reader and music therapy student Caitlyn W. (@caitlynmarie123), who wrote:

I would love if you would write posts directed toward music therapy students. I know that as a college student, I love to hear other people’s stories of their college experience, how they balanced all the classes, internship tips and stories…Basic starting out facts BEFORE starting your own business.

Caitlyn’s question hit close to home because I, too, am about to become a student again! And even though this blog is more geared for the professional music therapist, perhaps it’s time for a little change of pace…

So, with that in mind–and thanks to the wisdom of many other music therapists–here are some top-notch secrets to help you great a successful student experience for yourself:

Save Your Class Notes

I forgot about this until music therapist Amy K. (@AmyMTBC) reminded me. She wrote: Save all your music therapy books, class notes, music, practicum folders–you never know where you’ll end up!

Amy’s right! Believe it or not, I still refer to my old class notes from graduate AND undergraduate school. So put a plan in place to process and file your class notes after each semester. You never know when they’ll come in handy.

Learn from All Your Classes

Most of you are probably going to receive a liberal arts-type of education that includes english, history, science, and math training. Don’t underestimate how useful and important those classes are, even if they’re not part of your core music therapy training. Apply yourself in all these classes.

Why? Because you never know when the knowledge will come in handy. I remember a story one of my mentors shared where she was able to understand and “crack” a client’s behavior based on information she remembered from a history class. Turns out she was right–and her esteem grew in the eyes of the doctors and other treatment teams members who were struggling for months with this problem.

Start Networking…Now

You can–and should–start networking as a student. How do you do this? The primary way is to get involved. Join and be active in your school’s music therapy association. Attend workshops and conferences. Even you you can’t make the national conference, attend a local, state, or regional event. There are many friends and colleagues I collaborate with today that I first connected with as a student. It’s never too early to start!

Learn from the Best

If at all possible, make sure you take a class with a really good teacher…even if the class is not within the scope of your training. Most college programs provide opportunities for you to take electives. Don’t fill them in with an “easy” class. Fill them in with a class taught by the best, most inspiring, most thought-provoking teacher on campus.

Be Diverse

This tip came from music therapist JoAnn J. (@JordanEM)…and many, many music therapists agreed with it! She wrote: Accept practicums with as many different populations as you can. It will help you find your niche.

She’s right! AMTA has designed your clinical training in a way that allows you to work with different ages, different sites, and different clinical populations. Even if you go in to music therapy “knowing” what population you want to specialize in, this is your time to branch out and try something new, different…and possibly scary. And who knows? Perhaps that will turn into your favorite one.

Stay with the Music

Rachelle N. (@RachelleNorman) wrote: Get as many varied music experiences in college as you can, then keep making music for yourself once you graduate.

Remember that you are a musician first. And, believe it or not, it can get harder and harder to stay involved and invested as a musician after you leave school. So don’t ignore the musical side of who you are…and plan to nurture that after you leave, too.

Enjoy the Journey

Being a student provides you with a unique opportunity to learn and grow as a professional and a person that likely won’t ever happen again. So, as best as you can, enjoy all parts of being a student. The learning, the social aspect, the opportunities…everything. Or, put another way my music therapist Michelle Erfurt (@michelleerfurt): Enjoy it while it lasts! 🙂

Final Thoughts

Sharon G.: Adapt, adapt, adapt! 🙂

Healing Sounds Music Therapy: learn to trust your intuition. And keep all your stuff. 🙂

Marie C.: Keep on going with music and don’t change course…….stay focused on music therapy and all its applications that will be expanding in the future!

Erin B: Jump in as early and as soon as possible. Be as fearless as possible.


If you’d like to learn more, there are some great blogs outs there geared for (and often by) music therapy students and interns:

Diary of a Wimpy Music Therapy Student

Music Therapy Backpack

Music Therapy in Thailand

Music Therapy Source

MTI in the ATL

Musicworx Inc

The Eclectic Guitar


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle Erfurt August 10, 2011 at 4:14 pm

Here’s another one… don’t let your friends borrow your MT text books. You might not get them back later. Trust me 😉

And thanks for including me, Kimberly!

Kat Fulton August 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm

Great words of wisdom for students! And yes, I agree with Michelle. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve had to re-buy or just forget about because I love to give them away.

When something is sooo good, I think there’s a natural tendency to give it away. But don’t forget about yourself in the giving. =)

Kimberly August 11, 2011 at 12:59 pm

@Kat and Michelle Good point! That’s like a “part B” to the keeping your class notes. Thanks for the idea! ~Kimberly

Michelle Strutzel August 11, 2011 at 3:07 pm

I like this post! My advice is to jump at any and every MT opportunity by learning to say “Yes.” Especially if you are asked to do something out of your comfort zone.

Amy Kalas August 11, 2011 at 8:06 pm

What a great idea for a post Kimberly! Thanks for using my suggestion – I try to pass on the wisdom to other students because I certainly wish I had saved everything! You never know what population you may work with! 🙂

Kimberly August 12, 2011 at 11:24 am

@Amy Isn’t that the truth! I appreciate you participating and sharing your wisdom and insight! Thank you 🙂 @Michelle Great idea! Thank you for sharing. It’s good practice for post-graduation to step outside of your comfort zone…a good “life skill.” ~Kimberly

Laura C. August 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm

When I was in grad school, I found it very easy to get overwhelmed by the world that IS grad school and the studying and the teaching and the writing. Sometimes, you have to remember that it can be a narrowing experience for a while, but it will give you a whole new perspective. Granted, I wasn’t in for music therapy, but I have a feeling it could be a similar sensation.

Kimberly August 15, 2011 at 2:21 pm

What an interesting and wonderful observation! I absolutely agree that it gives you a whole new perspective. Definitely worth the experience for me! ~Kimberly

Barcelona Publishers February 5, 2015 at 4:40 am

Know your GUITAR. Know what the individual string notes are and what they would be if you tuned to an open G chord ect. Know how to read guitar chords written out on a chart.

Abdul Alim March 26, 2016 at 6:13 am

I agree with michelle.

Liz Haley September 1, 2016 at 11:01 am

My piece of advice is to do your own personal work in therapy (verbal therapy, music or other creative arts therapy, etc.). We can only take our clients as far on their journeys as we have been on our own.

This is a terrific post–I just shared it with my Intro students!

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