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Music Therapy or Music Lessons—What’s the Difference?

by on 23/01/2021 3876

If you’ve never heard of music therapy before or observed a session, you might be tempted to think that it’s quite similar to music lessons. You might even imagine it’s a class where children sit around and just sing songs, or play with instruments for fun. Well, music therapy is a lot more than that—and today we’ll tell you how it differs from those weekly piano or guitar lessons.

What is Music Therapy?

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy can be defined as “an established health profession in which music is used within a therapeutic relationship to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals.

So, music therapists aren’t there to teach your child musical goals, like mastering scales or Ed Sheeran’s latest single. They’re there to help meet a whole bunch of other needs outside of music, while using music as a tool to achieve them. Still, that doesn’t mean that kids won’t pick up some musical skill along the way!

With that in mind, let’s further explore the ways that music therapy differs from music lessons:

1. Objectives are therapeutic and carefully planned for individuals

Music Therapy or Music Lessons—What’s the Difference?

Activities in a music therapy session are planned according to the needs of a particular child. Both group and individual sessions exist. Most children who join music therapy are there because they need specific assistance that can’t be found in mainstream classes or music lessons.

A music therapist will typically work with parents, teachers and other experts involved in the child’s education plan, to develop specific therapeutic goals for the student. Only through joint effort and consistency can a child see real and sustained positive outcomes.

Students with autism, Down’s syndrome, ADHD, and other special needs can benefit from participating in music therapy. Other than that, it is also conducted in hospitals, where children with chronic illnesses may need emotional support and help with pain management.

2. The primary goal is to aid the development of non-musical skills

Music Therapy or Music Lessons—What’s the Difference?

As mentioned earlier, music therapy’s main goal isn’t to develop musical skill. If a child actually becomes more musical from a result of therapy, it is seen as an extra reward.

Music therapists work hard to support the formation of non-musical skills like fine motor movements, heightened focus, or social competency in students. The building of these different areas helps the child achieve a better quality of life.

Here’s an example of a group music therapy session, with the aim of teaching kids to be patient, take turns, and appropriately ask for an item:

In this session, the kids may sit in a circle with one instrument to share between them. The therapist might prepare a simple song with lyrics about sharing, where each child can improvise a beat out of a hand drum.

The therapist will first demonstrate an example, then the kids will take turns, passing the instrument around so all can have a go. The therapist may teach kids simple lines such as, “May I have the drum please, (name of student holding the drum)?” Furthermore, she can use this opportunity to teach students how to maintain eye contact when talking.

3. Music therapists are certified professionals

Music Therapy or Music Lessons—What’s the Difference?

Being a music therapist means you need to be certified (this qualification is separate from those held by music education teachers). Not anyone with musical skill can easily become a music therapist, as it requires a very different skill set and know-how.

The journey to becoming a therapist is long and requires a lot of expertise—so make sure to seek out a certified music therapist for your child.

Have you ever wondered how yoga can help kids with special needs? Read more here.