Why You Don’t Have to Be Musical to Benefit From Music Therapy

Music therapy, like all other therapeutic disciplines, begins with an evaluation to determine if a patient qualifies for services and to assess their areas of need. Often times while asking preliminary questions and conducting the evaluation, the family of the patient will tell the music therapist about any musical experience the patient may have. While music therapists are eager for any and all information we can learn about patients, a musical background doesn’t necessarily ensure qualification for services or success in treatment. Here’s why!

Music Therapy sessions are a measure of functional progress, not musical progress.

Music is essentially the tool by which progress is made and measured, but the goal is not to increase musical skills or excellence. For example, a piano activity done in an evaluation or in a music therapy session is not for the purpose of teaching the patient the piano, but is used to assess and strengthen a functional skill. The instrumental activity could be addressing attention, direction following, imitation, turn-taking, or even fine or gross motor skills. Simply put, music therapy is the functional use of music for non-musical goals.

Being musical doesn’t guarantee qualification or success

Music is a powerful motivator and has the ability to engage multiple parts of the brain at once, making it a great catalyst for therapeutic progress. Due to the way music is utilized in music therapy sessions, a theoretical knowledge or classical music training doesn’t necessarily ensure that music therapy will be any more successful than it would be with someone who has no musical abilities. The improvement the patient may make in sessions is not related to doing well at playing an instrument but is a result of where and how the music cues the brain to help the patient make progress in targeted goal areas.

Too much focus on being musically perfect can detract from the goals of music therapy treatment

Loving to sing or having a good sense of rhythm are qualities that your therapist will likely use and incorporate into music therapy sessions. However, too much emphasis on the technical aspects of the music can take focus away from the purpose of the activity. The concerns that a patient might have about their timing or pitch not being musically perfect may cause the patient anxiety, which could alter progress. The functional therapeutic goals are always the priority, with music being the measuring stick against which progress is measured.

Music therapy treatment success doesn’t require a musical knowledge base. While musical abilities and preferences are likely to be incorporated into treatment to highlight strengths to address goal areas, the focus of therapy is still functional, non-musical progress. The music is there to motivate, cue, strengthen new connections in the brain and provide the structure for you on your therapeutic journey as well as help the music therapist measure your progress.