music therapy Degrees

Music therapy (MT) is a health profession lying at the fruitful intersection of psychological wellness and the arts. Exposure to music is an evidence-based means of promoting well-being and psychological health. As a non-pharmacological, non-invasive form of clinical rehabilitation, music therapy is broadly applicable to clients of all ages and backgrounds.

Although the major is often offered through Music departments, music therapy is considered a mode of clinical psychology and is practiced in settings where psychologists and counselors work, such as hospitals, psychiatric facilities, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and schools. Many music therapists offer services in private practice, as well. To become a music therapist, students need a college education at least to the bachelor's level, including an AMTA-specified number of hours of coursework, clinical fieldwork, and an internship.

MT programs should be accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) and approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). Successful graduates who meet eligibility requirements can take the national examination administered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT). Certified therapists may identify themselves with the MT-BC (Music Therapist-Board Certified) credential.

Bachelor's Degree in Music Therapy

A bachelor's degree in Music Therapy is the first entry-level academic degree for music therapists. Four-year undergraduate MT programs consist of diverse classes in music, music therapy, psychology, social science, and biology, plus general education. Academic coursework is complemented by at least 1,200 hours of clinical experience, including a clinical internship and, in most cases, fieldwork placements.

The AMTA says the bachelor's internship must be at least 900 hours, or more as needed to complete the total clinical requirement of 1,200 hours. The internship involves direct patient contact, treatment planning, supervision of patients, and the development of team relationships with fellow clinicians. Students work in close consultation with a supervising music therapist.

Music therapists are not just clinicians, but also musicians. They are expected to have voice and instrumental performance skills. Most programs thus expect applicants to complete a successful musical audition to gain admission. A faculty interview may also be required. Each school has its own accompaniment, repertoire, and memorization requirements. Students should review these requirements before applying to any institution.

A student with a bachelor's degree in an area other than Music Therapy who wants to become an MT-BC may enroll in an "equivalency" program to qualify without having to earn a whole new bachelor's degree. An undergraduate equivalency in Music Therapy is an abbreviated program that includes core MT coursework, clinical requirements including the internship, plus science and psychology classes, such as Anatomy & Physiology and Abnormal Psychology.

Here are a few real-life examples of bachelor-level Music Therapy courses:


  • Introduction to Music Therapy

  • Gerontology I & II

  • Piano for Clinicians

Master's Degree in Music Therapy

Although a bachelor's degree in Music Therapy remains an acceptable entry level of education, many employers expect a graduate degree of new hires. About 1 in 4 music therapists have a master's degree, says the University of the Pacific. Graduate Music Therapy students may earn either a Master of Music Therapy (M.M.T.), a Master of Arts, or a Master of Music (M.Mus.), depending on the program and the student's undergraduate studies.

Two years of graduate school brings the music therapist's education to an advanced level of knowledge and clinical competence. Graduate school is also a chance to specialize in a specific area, like Music Psychotherapy or the Nordoff-Robbins approach. Specializations tend to focus on a particular technique, clinical method, or special population.

At many schools, students with a bachelor's degree in a subject other than Music Therapy can enter abbreviated equivalency training at the master's level to become a board-certified music therapist. There may be subject restrictions for this track, however. Many programs, for instance, expect equivalency applicants to have an undergraduate degree in Music, Psychology, or a related field. Equivalency tracks often take longer to finish.

Auditions and/or interviews are often required for graduate applicants. To get into graduate school, students may need to submit their Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores. A thesis and comprehensive examination will be required for graduation.

Master-level Music Therapy classes may include:


  • Qualitative Research in Music Therapy

  • Theories of Music Psychotherapy

  • Music Therapy Ethics

What can you do with a master's degree in Music Therapy?


  • Music Psychotherapist

  • Creative Arts Children's Therapist

  • Expressive Therapist for Seniors

Doctorate in Music Therapy

Music Therapy doctorates typically focus on quantitative or qualitative research within a highly targeted area of specialization, such as Clinical Improvisation or International Music Therapy. Doctoral programs vary widely in terms of available specializations. Many doctoral candidates participate as apprentices in a clinical or teaching practicum as part of their studies. To finally earn a Ph.D. or Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) in Music Therapy, candidates must defend a lengthy research dissertation.

Doctoral seminars in Music Therapy could include, for example:


  • Qualitative Field Research: Design and Analysis

  • Methods of Qualitative Research for Music Therapists

  • Psychology of Music

What kind of job can you get with a doctorate in Music Therapy?


  • Professor of Music Therapy

  • Arts and Music Services Coordinator

  • Medical Director — Pain Management