Music therapy is an evidence-based profession in which board-certified therapists use music, music activity, and the relationship that develops through shared musical experiences, to address goals in the physical, cognitive, communication, social and emotional domains.
Board-Certified music therapists (MT-BCs) work in such areas as special education, medical care, psychiatric treatment, and gerontology. Research supports the use of music therapy in education and medicine, including the treatment of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, with people who have autism and developmental disabilities, and in cancer and hospice care. Music therapy also can be found in addiction recovery, forensic psychiatry, and wellness programs.
Music therapists are musicians, using vocal and instrumental skills to connect with their clients through singing, playing, and moving to music that is both familiar and new, composed and improvised. They are also clinicians, basing their plans on individual assessment, and documenting results. Music therapy is an art -- and a science.
Music therapy education and clinical practice is directed by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). The independent Certification Board for Music Therapists administers both the certification exam and continuing education programs through which MT-BCs stay qualified to practice.
While the term "creative arts therapy" is often used in a general way to describe music, art, and dance therapies, New York State Office of the Professions defines Creative Arts Therapy as a specific mental health practice, like Marriage & Family Therapy, or psychoanalysis. In N.Y. State's definition, any music therapy or art therapy practice that includes psychotherapeutic assessment or methodology (such as counseling), is creative arts therapy. Because creative arts therapy includes skills that require at least a master's degree in any other profession (like counseling), a person who wants to practice creative arts therapy in New York must have a master's degree and obtain a license from the state.
Learn more about our Music Therapy Master's Degree.
Music educators teach people about music and how to perform it. A music education degree prepares people to teach choral and instrumental music to children and young adults, from pre-school through high school.
Music therapists use music and music strategies to address health and education goals. Music therapy students prepare to work with people of all ages, from premature infants to elders in residential care.
There are job opportunities in both fields, as long as graduates are willing to go where the work is. There are areas of the country where both music therapists and music educators are desperately needed.
Students trying to decide between the professions should consider the following:
What if I'm not sure which profession I want to choose?
When you audition, list both degrees in your interests, so that the appropriate faculty can hear you play and talk with you.
Then, if you are accepted, let the faculty know you haven't decided, and they will be sure you take courses in your freshman year that will enable you to pursue either degree starting in your sophomore year. Our program directors can provide more information and clarification.
First, learn about the music therapy profession. The best ways to do this are to visit the American Music Therapy Association website and to observe board-certified music therapists (each will have the designation MT-BC) in their jobs. AMTA can direct you to MT-BCs in your area.
Next, it is important to know that you are comfortable and eager to work with people who have educational and medical needs. Volunteer at local nursing homes, hospitals, schools, shelters, or camps.
In terms of musical preparation, it is important to have a good grasp of music theory, to be accomplished in your major instrument, and to be ready to sing basic melodies. If you are a high school student, consider a class in music theory, or study online. If you are at a two-year college, remember that a year of music theory there may not translate into a year of music theory at a four-year school. Consider additional preparation, in class or online.
If you don't have any experience singing, begin practicing on your own. You do not have to have a professional-sounding voice; you simply need to be able to sing in tune. Ask someone (perhaps your school music teacher/instructor) to help you make sure you can "match pitch" and sing back short phrases that you hear.
The music therapy degree in itself is similar to a double major in that the student is completing a music degree as well as training in music therapy. Music therapy students have the lesson time and the performance opportunities afforded to all music students, so there is no need to pursue a performance degree simply to get those opportunities.
Students who decide to pursue a performance track in graduate school generally will find that it is the audition at that institution, and not an undergraduate degree title, that will determine acceptance.
No -- for practical and policy reasons. The music theater degree is a Bachelor of Science. The music therapy degree is a Bachelor of Music. Nazareth College policy doesn't allow completing two different types of degrees simultaneously. Furthermore, Musical Theater commitments, based in the theater department. conflict with courses and ensembles required in the Music Department.
Yes. The music therapy undergraduate degree includes all but one of the courses you need for a minor in psychology, so it is fairly easy to complete that minor. And, if you bring some liberal arts credits with you to Nazareth, or take some courses in the summer, you may have room for a different minor in your schedule, such as gerontology, or a foreign language. Talk to your advisor.
To become board certified in music therapy, students must complete a bachelor's degree program (or its equivalent) at a school approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), then pass a national exam.
Clinical training is an essential element of any music therapy degree; each student must complete 1,200 hours of clinical training to be eligible for the certification exam. Approximately 180 hours of that comes during a student's eight semesters of on-campus coursework. The remainder is completed during an internship.
Internships are usually full-time. Some internships are arranged locally by the College, but students also may apply to an AMTA "Roster" internship at sites around the country, and many Nazareth students choose the latter option. During the internship period, students at Nazareth College are classified as full-time students, though there is no tuition obligation during this time as the internship is a "0" credit course.
When a graduate is willing to go where the work is, excellent jobs in music therapy are available immediately after graduate. Employment openings are announced on a regular basis in schools, long-term care for older adults, veterans' hospitals, medical centers, hospice programs, and psychiatric care, for example. Job openings are not necessarily in western or upstate New York, because of the number of degree programs in the area. When new MT-BCs are flexible, the jobs are there. Some Nazareth graduates stay in the area, but many choose jobs in other states. There are recent graduates working in hospice care in Florida, autism treatment in Connecticut, and psychiatric hospitalization in California – as well as in special education and long-term elder care in the Rochester area.
An undergraduate degree in music therapy is a great preparation for other careers as well, such as counseling, social work, health care administration, and neuroscience.
Currently, board certification (MT-BC), is an undergraduate-level credential and qualifies the holder to practice music therapy in the United States. Some employers prefer that their employees, including music therapists have additional education and training and require a master's degree. Some music therapists choose to return to school. Some choose a graduate degree in music therapy, expressive arts therapy, or creative arts therapy. Others choose related degrees, such as counseling, special education, social work, or neuroscience.
New York State has adopted legislation that defines and requires licensure for the practice of what it calls creative arts therapy. Music therapists in New York whose practice includes psychotherapeutic aspects (counseling, psychological assessment, etc.) must be licensed as creative arts therapists by the state – and this requires a master's degree with content approved by NY State.
Nazareth College's Master of Science in creative arts therapy (48 credit hours) is approved by the state of New York as a "licensure-qualifying" program. Students who complete the program are eligible to apply for a provisional license and are eligible to become an LCAT after a period of supervised practice. Nazareth also offers a 60-hour comprehensive program program for students who have an undergraduate degree in music, but not music therapy.
To be accepted into the Music Therapy program, you must be accepted by the college and, most importantly, by the primary instrumental or vocal instructors here. Your audition on your primary instrument/voice is just as important as it is for someone coming into any other music degree.
Although all music therapists will learn to use piano, guitar, voice, and percussion, it is not necessary or even an advantage to audition on these instruments. You should audition with your primary instrument, whatever that may be.
Nazareth's Music Department focuses on a classical repertoire, from "early" music to contemporary. We do this for several reasons, but most importantly because we believe that studying this repertoire builds listening and interpretive skills and fosters a strong discipline for preparation/practice. Yes, you will learn lots of songs in various genres during music therapy studies – but simultaneously you will be deepening your musical knowledge and ability in your instrumental/voice "primary" lessons
After you play and sing for us, you will have a short interview with voice/instrumental and music therapy faculty members. The primary teachers will want to know about your private lessons, who you admire as a player/singer, and your performing experience. The Music Therapy faculty will want to know why you are interested in music therapy and how you have researched the field to be sure it's right for you.
To have the best chance at acceptance, visit the American Music Therapy Association website and read as much as possible. Read articles and/or books about music therapy, and if you can, shadow an MT-BC at his/her work. Volunteer or other experience with people who have special needs or medical conditions is very valuable, especially if you don't have the chance to shadow a music therapist.
There are two features of the Nazareth music therapy program that are enormously beneficial to students, but require a high number of credits and study:
The minimum credit load for full-time status at Naz is 12, and the recommended maximum for all students other than music is 17. Music students are allowed an additional 0.5 credit for their ensembles. Naz music students are busy and need good time-management skills. Naz music therapy students have choices only in some of their liberal arts coursework; otherwise, every course is a requirement and many must occur in a specified order.
Many of our semesters are "fully loaded" at 16.5 to 17.5 credits The junior year has a lighter credit load, because this is when you start individual clinical training and take more challenging courses, such as statistics. Adding credits to the junior year is possible, but it isn't something that many students want to do.
What does all this mean? If you transfer to Nazareth and have to make up some coursework, it may be difficult for you to finish only having taken a total of 8 semesters (at both schools) + internship.
Music Therapy Sequence
The Music Therapy sequence at Nazareth College includes an introductory course in the freshman year, then 6 semesters of music therapy coursework. This means that students with a two-year associate's degree must still complete 6 semesters at Nazareth. In rare cases, it may be possible for an outstanding student who demonstrates immediate success and consistent excellence in clinical training to finish in 5 semesters – but this determination cannot be made at the time of transfer.
For students who wish to do one year at another school and then transfer, we recommend taking our online MTR 103: Music Therapy introduction course to have the same knowledge base as our freshmen. Other Intro to Music Therapy courses are also acceptable as long as they are taught by a board-certified Music Therapist at the college level. We also recommend folk guitar lessons, Introduction to Psychology, and all the standard music courses for freshman including music theory and piano class.
Yes, pending your acceptance at Nazareth and the results of your audition and interview with the music department.
The most important thing to know about transferring for Music Therapy is that you should plan to spend at least six semesters at Nazareth College before starting your internship, even if you already have two years of college credit. The reason is the sequence of clinical training that is a part of the music therapy curriculum. Those courses are taken as a sequence over six semesters and not meant to be taken simultaneously.
Nazareth has a core liberal arts curriculum, and our admissions counselors may note that you have liberal arts courses that transfer. However, because of professional requirements, the music therapy curriculum specifies certain choices for some of the core. For example, music therapy students must take Introduction to Psychology as their social science core course, and Abnormal Psychology as the follow-up. If you are transferring sociology courses, they will fit the College's core in the social science slot, but not the music therapy requirement. You will still need to take Introduction to Psychology and Abnormal Psychology.
Nazareth College offers a 60-hour graduate program that combines "equivalency" work in music therapy with a Master of Science in creative arts therapy. Twelve hours of equivalency coursework cover the undergraduate-level music therapy material you need to be eligible for the national board certification exam.
The other 48 hours are courses in the master's program and qualify you to apply for New York State licensure as a creative arts therapist.
This comprehensive program includes late afternoon/evening courses in the fall, winter, and summer semesters, 200 hours of pre-internship clinical training, a 1,000-hour internship, and a thesis or professional project.
To qualify for the national board certification exam (required for practicing music therapists), you will need solid music skills, including competency in music theory, music history, music performance, and functional music. If these courses are not on your transcript, you must take them in addition to the 60-hour program described above.
The two primary challenges for transfer students are Music Theory and Piano/Guitar/Percussion skills for music therapy students. As a transfer student, you may have a certain number of credits, but unless they cover the knowledge our students gain in their first (or first and second) years, you must "back up" and take those courses.
Music Theory: If you take a two semesters of college Music Theory at another school, and you want to pass out of those two semesters (Music Theory I and II) at Nazareth, you cannot simply transfer the courses. You have to demonstrate that at a rudimentary level, you know and can determine key and time signatures, can write major and minor scales, and notate simple rhythms. To pass out of Theory I & II, you must pass a placement exam in which you:
There are accompanying aural skills to our theory sequence, including the ability to sing major and minor triads, sight read using solfège, take dictation, and imitate more complex rhythms.
Music Therapy Instrumental Skills:
All music therapy majors at Naz take two semesters of functional ("folk") guitar and two semesters of class piano in their freshman year. These basic guitar and piano skills are necessary in the sophomore music therapy classes, so if you transfer to Nazareth without these skills, you may not be successful in your initial music therapy coursework.
The guitar skills required at the end of the freshman year include:
All guitar skills are demonstrated while singing songs appropriate to a variety of age groups.
In the sophomore year, music therapy majors take two semesters of percussion — one with music ed peers and one semester specifically for music therapy. The latter semester will be required for almost all transfer students, regardless of their percussion background. The sophomore year also includes two more semesters of class piano, which are preparation for the junior year's critical functional piano coursework. Transfer students will want to try and have the background to be placed ahead in the piano sequence without having to go back and catch up.
Some of the skills our students demonstrate after Class Piano (end of sophomore year) are:
As a transfer student, you will be evaluated at your audition to see if you will be ready to perform a senior recital in your senior year. Typically, for music therapy transfer students, this means that we expect you to have only 6 semesters (not 8) of lessons. Your audition should reflect at least a year of focused college-level study and repertoire.
Nazareth focuses on a classical repertoire. You will need to prepare at least two classical pieces for your audition (see our auditions page for specific requirements).
The Nazareth College Music Therapy Program receives many requests each year from agencies and facilities that would like an student/intern to come and work with patients or clients. This information will help you determine if your agency/facility can meet the clinical training requirements specified by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) and the Nazareth College Music Therapy program.
There are several ways that music can be part of health care and educational settings. All are important and some require special training and education.
Naz Music Therapy Students Can:
Naz Music Therapy Students Cannot:
*Clinical training sites are selected by our clinical director according to the experience needs of our current students; not every site is appropriate every semester and some sites may not provide the experience our students need.
Under no circumstances should your agency/facility/school use the term "Music Therapy" to describe services offered by anyone other than a Board-Certified Music Therapist (MT-BC).
If your agency/facility/school meets the requirements for clinical training (an MT-BC on staff), contact Professor Laurie Keough, LCAT, MT-BC at email@example.com.
If your agency/facility/school is appropriate for Naz Music Therapy students to participate in your programs (paid or as volunteers), email a description of your request and contact information to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will post it on our student forum.
If you would like information about hiring a music therapist (PRN, part-time, full-time), please contact email@example.com.