What Does It Take to Be a Music Therapist?

First of all, in order to become a music therapist, one needs to have the desire to help and the skill to become a highly skilled musician and a proficient therapist. If you think you have what it takes, then you can start looking for the appropriate training. The requirements to be a board-certified music therapist work vary from country to country. In the United States there are three important requirements that you need to meet:


  1. You need to complete an approved music therapy program
  2. You need to complete 1200 hours of required fieldwork as part of the degree program
  3. You need to successfully take and pass the exam administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists


The curriculum for music therapy involves studying not only music but also psychology, biology, social and behavioral sciences, and general studies, among other things. After finishing the program and successfully passing the board certification exam you earn the title MT-BC.

What Is The Training Like?

The minimum requirement is to have a bachelors degree in music therapy. This is a four-year degree and it’s divided into three parts: music foundations, clinical foundations, and music therapy foundations. Clinical skills are developed throughout the 4 years, including an internship in either a clinical or healthcare facility. The music therapy bachelors degree is only offered at one of the 74 AMTA approved schools throughout the United States. There are also master and doctoral degrees in music therapy. In Ohio for example, Ohio University offers a program supported by a scholarship that Sam’s Fans started this year! 


If you already have a bachelors degree in music you can do a certificate program (music therapy equivalency) and only take the courses needed to complete the music therapy degree. Individuals with a bachelors degree in other related areas could also be eligible for these programs but they would have to contact the people administering those programs. You can also do a combined equivalency masters degree. This takes about 60 credits and 3 years to complete.


For more information on AMTA-approved schools and next steps for you to take visit AMTA’s website.

Appreciation for Music Therapists

It is important to recognize that a music therapist is not just somebody who can play and sing songs that make people feel good. Being a music therapist takes a lot of training and experience. This training allows a music therapist to be able to make therapeutic decisions for the benefit of the patient. In a hospital context, these decisions include song selection, the manner of performance, instrument selection, and more. At Sam’s Fans we think that it is important we raise awareness about the degree of skills that music therapists have. Next time you encounter a music therapist we hope you have a better appreciation for what they do!


It is also important that parents understand and are informed at hospitals about the benefits of music therapy. It is one thing to have some volunteer come play songs for your kids and it is another to have  an employed music therapist work with a child to achieve important milestones.


How NOT to become a music therapist

  • Do not say you offer music therapy services simply because you think you’re a good musician! You can still offer your music as a service through volunteering at different places such as nursing homes and hospitals, but this is NOT music therapy.
  • Do not say you practice music therapy if you give counseling and have music in the background! Music can help clients become more relaxed, but that does NOT make you a music therapist.
  • Do not forge a license and pretend you are a music therapist. We know this is a great field and you would love to be called a music therapist, but you need to go through the appropriate channels!


A few extra thoughts

*The next comments are only the opinions of the author and are not anybody else’s claims or generalizations*


“The music therapist ‘must be a highly skilled musician capable of musical creativity with clinically directed aims.’”

-Andrew Wilson-Dickinson


Wilson-Dickinson writes that a music therapist should be a “highly skilled musician” and not just an “OK musician.” Are four years enough to become a highly skilled musician and a talented therapist? Or does the fact that music therapy combines two demanding fields mean that a music therapist should have more training than what is currently required? For somebody who already starts college with strong musical skills, it might be possible to strengthen those skills enough and learn to be a therapist in four years. But talking from the perspective of somebody who completed a four-year degree in music performance, this seems a little bit too hopeful. Furthermore, a music therapist is expected to have at least some skills on piano, guitar, voice, and percussion. Are these too many requirements to be completed within four years? Or is it enough? Would love to hear your comments! But remember, a music therapist already has a lot of training, do not underestimate that!


The other thing I would like to discuss is the idea that a music therapist needs to be credentialed by a certification board. This is necessary in ensuring that music therapy as a profession remains a reputable practice. The problem arises when we consider other countries which do not have an organization like the AMTA or a way to have standardized and approved music therapy programs. That should not discredit what they do. Thus, it is necessary to recognize this fact and to strive towards accreditation and recognition that is encompassing of the wide variety of music therapists around the world.


Furthermore, it is possible that those who are not informed about the practice of music therapy might look at musicians or other professionals using music and call them music therapists. Music can be by itself a therapeutic agent, which begs the question, why training in music therapy? This situation could be compared to the way in which most people can offer advice to their friends about life situations. They offer something that therapists claim they can offer, too, but they are not called therapists. A music therapist then, has special training on the best way to use music to accomplish therapeutic goals and can offer further insights and knowledge.

L. Samuel Gracida

L. Samuel Gracida

Samuel is Sam's Fans Operating Director and our primary blogger!

1 Comment

  1. […] As you know if you have been following our blog, being a music therapist requires specialized traini…. A music therapist must have at least a Bachelor’s degree in music therapy. They must also complete a clinical internship and they need to pass the board certification. The training that music therapists undergo is in the fields of psychology, neurology, biology, and more. This training helps music therapists understand how the brain processes music. It is also important for them to know how different musical interventions have different outcomes for different populations. In other words, the training that music therapists get is directly geared towards the use of music in therapeutic settings. […]

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