Music Therapy FAQs

What is music therapy?

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.

What is creative arts therapy?

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.

What's the difference: music therapy vs. music education?

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:

  1. Music education and music therapy are significantly different professions. After the first year of college (emphasizing musical skills), music therapy and music education students follow different paths. Music education students want to teach music skills to children, direct choirs, conduct bands and orchestras. Music therapy students are preparing to work with children, but also with adults and older adults. Music education students prepare detailed lesson plans to teach a variety of instruments or voices, and they often work towards a successful musical performance. Music therapy students learn to be spontaneous in their sessions, then take detailed data for post-session documentation – sometimes their sessions will turn out quite differently than expected.
  2. In New York, music educators must get a master's degree within 5 years after beginning their career to receive professional certification. Students who get a bachelor's degree in music education can pursue a "Master's/ Equivalency" 60-hour degree at Nazareth that both fulfills the music ed master's degree requirement and qualifies the student to become Board-Certified in music therapy and licensed in creative arts therapy.  Conversely, students who complete an undergraduate degree in music therapy, can do a "Masters-Certification" program in Music Education and become qualified to be a music educator in NYS.

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.

What is the best way to prepare to pursue a music therapy degree?

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.

Can I double major in music therapy and performance?

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. 

Can I double major in music therapy and musical theater?

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 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 School of Music.

Can I minor in psychology?

Yes. The music therapy undergraduate degree includes all but two 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. 

What is an internship in music therapy?

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 Nazareth, 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 are classified as full-time students, though there is no tuition obligation during this time as the internship is a "0" credit course.

What are the job prospects in music therapy?

When a graduate is willing to go where the work is, excellent jobs in music therapy are available immediately after graduation. Employment openings are announced regularly 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.

Some Nazareth graduates stay in the area, but many choose jobs in other states. For example, Nazareth music therapy grads are working in medical settings in Massachusetts and California, hospice in Florida, psychiatric treatment in Virginia, women's forensics in Ohio, and community music therapy in Indiana.

An undergraduate degree in music therapy is great preparation for other careers as well, such as counseling, social work, health care administration, and neuroscience.

Is it important to get a master’s degree?

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'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.

Audition and Interview Process

Acceptance into the program

To be accepted into the Music Therapy program, you must be accepted by Nazareth and, most importantly, 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.

Musical knowledge and ability

Nazareth's School of Music 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

  • If you play an orchestral instrument, you have probably already studied pieces based in the classical repertoire. For your audition you should pick pieces you can play well, even if they aren't the most advanced you have studied – and we would rather you play more slowly and play in tune. Prospective music therapists must have a "good ear" and demonstrate that they have practiced methodically and carefully.
  • If you play guitar or percussion or another instrument and have played more often in jazz or rock bands than you have in classical ensembles, you will need to study classical repertoire for a time before auditioning with us. Our faculty can advise you, and our auditions coordinator can put you in contact with them. We have often accepted instrumentalists like you who have shown solid, dedicated practice in basic playing.
  • If you are vocalist, you are auditioning in one of our most competitive areas. It is important that, if at all possible, you have studied some classical repertoire with a private voice instructor – and not just in preparation for your audition. You need to have developed good vocal techniques and have an understanding of how to sing in an art or opera style. Many students do not audition on an instrument they play well because they want to sing in college. Be assured that you can sing in our choruses even if your "primary" is another instrument. You can audition on both voice and an instrument on the same audition day.
Interview and preparation

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.

Transfer Students

About the program

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 liberal arts core, which provides our music therapy students with skills in critical thinking, problem solving, and cultural perspectives; all of which help an MT-BC (board-certified music therapist) connect with a broader range of potential clients and employers; and
  • The full music core experience. Many music therapy programs cap lessons at a half-hour, and/or only require 2 years of lessons. At Naz, music therapy students have the same experience as all music majors: 4 years of hour-long lessons with a senior recital, 4 years of ensemble, 2 years of theory, and 2 years of music history — all of which build intrinsic music skills and knowledge that the MT-BC will use for his/her entire career.

The minimum credit load for full-time status at Naz is 12, and the recommended maximum for all students other than music is 18. 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 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.

I have an associate’s degree/college credits in music. Can I transfer into the undergraduate music therapy program at Nazareth?

Yes, pending your acceptance at Nazareth and the results of your audition and interview with the School of Music.

The most important thing to know about transferring for Music Therapy is that you should plan to spend at least six semesters at Nazareth 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.

What else should I consider regarding a transfer into the music therapy program?

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 Nazareth'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.

What if I already have a bachelor’s degree, like a Bachelor of Music, or Bachelor of Arts, but not in music therapy?

Nazareth 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.

What if my undergraduate degree is in something other than music?

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.

How do I transfer successfully?

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 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:

  1. Determine the key implied by a melodic line.
  2. Harmonize a soprano melodic line with alto, tenor and bass lines, following the rules of voice leading according to the Common Practice.
  3. Use roman numerals and figured bass to indicate harmony.
  4. Indicate cadences: perfect authentic, imperfect authentic, half.
  5. Add tenor, alto, and soprano lines to a bass line, following the rules of voice leading according to Common Practice, and creating a soprano line that is complementary to the bass.
  6. Use and indicate passing and neighbor tones in harmonization.

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:

  1. Knowledge and facility with all root position chords and ability to transpose songs using I, IV, vi, and V chords.
  2. Ability to play and incorporate bar chords, and to explain their construction.
  3. Ability to use both syncopated strums and basic pick patterns.
  4. 12-bar blues
  5. Playing by memory while looking at others in both standing and sitting positions.
  6. Use of a capo.

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:

  1. Basic accompaniment of an instrumental or vocal solo.
  2. Ability to create simple improvisations over three chords in waltz, ballad, and march styles.
  3. Reading from a lead sheet.
  4. Performing standard repertoire, such as the National Anthem, Happy Birthday, and familiar folk songs.
What are the audition expectations for transfers?

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).

Organizations Seeking Student Interns

How can music be used in health care and education settings?

The Nazareth University 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 University 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.

  • Music therapy is an evidence-based health care profession in which board-certified music therapists (MT-BCs) use music and the musical relationship to help clients meet non-musical goals in the physical, cognitive, communication, social, emotional, and/or behavioral domains. Music therapy is individualized, assessment-driven care and uses familiar, specially-composed and improvised live music that is adapted, moment-to-moment, by the MT-BC to meet the specific needs of the client. MT-BCs have at least a bachelor's degree from an AMTA-approved music therapy program and have completed, at minimum, 1,200 hours of supervised clinical education. MT-BCs take data and document their work in accordance with AMTA and agency/facility standards. Music therapy students can not yet provide music therapy, because they are not yet Board-Certified Music Therapists (MT-BCs). [See next question.]
  • Therapeutic music is provided to create a pleasant and generally healing atmosphere. Some providers are "certified music practitioners," musicians who have completed weekend non-degreed training over 2 years and have spent approximately 45 hours of time in a medical setting that they have logged for a mentor. Others are skilled musicians who can play in requested genres. Therapeutic music does not attempt to address domain-specific goals/progress.
  • Recreational music enhances the quality of life through entertainment and activity. It can be provided by anyone who loves to play and sing and involve others.
  • Music education focuses on teaching and learning music and musical skills. Music educators have at least a bachelor's degree in music education. They have spent at least a semester as a student teacher, along with observation of and assistance to established music educators throughout their education. Most of today's music educators have courses in teaching people with special needs and know how to adapt a music education curriculum. Music education may influence non-musical areas such as concentration, listening skills, and motor coordination, but the primary goal remains the achievement of music learning.
What can student music therapists do (and not do)?

Naz music therapy students can:

  • Provide recreational music activities, as volunteers or paid staff.
  • Provide therapeutic music (defined in previous question), with the permission of their faculty, as volunteers or paid staff.
  • Provide adapted music lessons, with permission of their faculty, as paid staff.
  • Gain clinical training hours by providing music therapy under the direct supervision of an MT-BC that you employ.*

Naz music therapy students cannot:

  • Provide music therapy without the supervision of an MT-BC that you employ. 
  • Provide clinical documentation for their work at your agency/facility/school.
  • Provide therapeutic music as volunteers if your agency/facility/school is publicizing the use of therapeutic music.
  • Be identified as "music therapy" students when providing recreational music, therapeutic music, or adapted music lessons. They can be identified as musicians or music students.

*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 Prof. Missy Reed at

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 Laurie Keough at and we will post it on our student forum.

If you would like to share information about an open music therapy position (PRN, part-time, full-time), please contact Laurie Keough at