What is a typical music therapy session like?

by Kimberly on February 9, 2011 · 12 comments

See the title? That’s a question that can’t really be answered.

There is no such thing as a “typical” music therapy session. A music therapy session will look vastly different depending on who we work with and where we work with them.

That said, there are certain components that are inherent to a music therapy session. Although these components will loo different depending on client age, clinical population, and setting, as a general rule, you can spot them in almost any music therapy session.


There is often some formal way a music therapist will open the session. Examples include:

  • Singing a “hello song” when working with children
  • Starting a group session by going around the circle and inviting everyone to answer a question about how they are doing in that moment (sometimes called a round or a check-in).
  • Beginning with a review of what occurred in the previous session

The opening helps transition our clients to the music therapy “space” and helps set the tone for the session. If appropriate, the therapist may use the same opening week after week (e.g. sing the same “Hello Song”). This provides familiarity for the client and, after time, can “prime” them so they know that music therapy starts when that song is sung.


The bulk of the session will consist of the music therapy interventions. These are experiences the music therapist facilitates that are meant to target the client’s non-musical goals and objectives. Generally speaking, there are four types of music-based interventions:

  1. Performing/Playing. This can include singing or instrument playing.
  2. Composing. This includes any group or individual songwriting process and can be as simple or complex as needed.
  3. Improvising. Improvisation means creating music on the spot or in the moment.
  4. Receiving/Listening. This can include a music and relaxation-type of experience, a lyric analysis intervention, and a “moving to music” type of experience (as in gait training).

A “typical” music therapy session may incorporate multiple interventions or just one long, in-depth one. The key is that each intervention is designed to target a specific therapeutic goal and objective.


The closing is like the opening…a major transition point the gets the client ready to leave the music therapy space and “re-join” the outside world. Similar to the opening, this can include a “good-bye song”, a closing check-in or round, or a summary of what happened during the session.


Although the closing and opening are the main transition points, other transitions that happen during a session are key to it’s success. A transition generally occurs in between interventions (or components within an intervention) and are meant to help the client move seamlessly through various points in the session.

A transition can be as simple as a sentence or two. It can include “cleaning up” from the previous intervention (e.g. putting away instruments). Sometimes we transition through a song.


This may seem like an odd component to add, but the environment or setting the therapist creates in the room can help or hinder the therapeutic process. In some ways, it’s like the silent fourth player in the therapeutic process (the three key players being the therapist, the client, and the music).

Environmental factors that are important to consider include:

  • Lighting
  • Outside noise/sounds
  • Set-up of the chairs (I’m partial to a circle)
  • Instrument/Prop storage (needs to be accessible to the therapist and not distracting to the client)
  • Smells in the room
  • Visual distractions (such as pictures and posters on the wall)
  • Tactile distractions (are the instruments within reach?)

I’d like to thank Maven reader Elise Ivey for the inspiration behind this post. Elise was curious about how I plan a “typical” music therapy session. I hope this post helped give you some insight, Elise!

P.S. I am exciting to announce that the Music Therapy Maven is about to turn 2! Woo-hoo!!! Stayed tuned next week for an exciting announcement related to this anniversary. Want to know the announcement sooner? Simply put your name and email in the box below to find out later this week.

As a bonus…you’ll also received a free copy of my Productivity Primer, which includes instant access to 7 tips that will help you do more in less time.


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