What is Music Therapy?

Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. Music Therapy is a well-established allied health profession similar to Occupational Therapy and Physiotherapy. It uses music therapeutically to address physical, psychological, cognitive, behavioural and/or social functioning. Because Music Therapy is a powerful and non-threatening medium, unique outcomes are possible. With young children, Music Therapy provides a unique variety of music experiences in an intentional and developmentally appropriate manner to effect changes in a child’s behaviour and facilitate the development of his/her communication, social/emotional, sensory-motor, and/or cognitive skills.

Music Therapy enhances the quality of life. It involves relationships between a qualified therapist and a child; between one child and another; between child and family; and between the music and the participants. These relationships are structured and adapted through the elements of music to create a positive environment and set the occasion for successful growth.


How Does Music Therapy Make a Difference with Young Children?

  • Music stimulates all of the senses and involves the child at many levels. This “multi-modal approach” facilitates many developmental skills.
  • Quality learning and maximum participation occur when children are permitted to experience the joy of play. The medium of Music Therapy allows this play to occur naturally and frequently.
  • Music is highly motivating, yet it can also have a calming and relaxing effect. Enjoyable music activities are designed to be success-oriented and make children feel better about themselves.
  • Music Therapy can help a child manage pain and stressful situations.
  • Music can encourage socialization, self-expression, communication, and motor development.
  • Because the brain processes music in both hemispheres, music can stimulate cognitive functioning and may be used for the remediation of some speech/language skills.

What Do Music Therapists Do?

Music Therapists involve children in singing, listening, moving, playing, and creative activities that may help them become better learners. Music Therapists work on developing a child’s self-awareness, confidence, readiness skills, coping skills, and social behaviour and may also provide pain management techniques. They explore which styles of music, techniques and instruments are most effective or motivating for each individual child and expand upon the child’s natural, spontaneous play in order to address areas of need.

Often working as a part of an interdisciplinary team, Music Therapists may coordinate programming with other professionals such as early intervention specialists, medical personnel, child-life specialists, Psychologists, Occupational and Physiotherapists, Speech-Language Therapists, adapted Physical Education specialists and Art & Dance/Movement Therapists. Music Therapists may also furnish families with suggestions and resources for using music with the child at home.

Music Therapists develop a rapport with children. They observe the child’s behaviour and interactions and assess communication, cognitive/academic, motor, social/emotional, and musical skills. After developing realistic goals and target objectives, Music Therapists plan and implement systematic Music Therapy treatment programs with procedures and techniques designed specifically for the individual child. Music Therapists document responses, conduct ongoing evaluations of progress and often make recommendations to other team members and the family regarding progress. Music Therapists will also often make recommendations to team members and the family regarding ways to include successful Music Therapy techniques in other aspects of the child’s life.

What Can One Expect from a Music Therapist?

Since Music Therapy may be listed in the child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program) as a “related service” or may be provided to children under the age of three as part of the IFSP (Individualized Family Service Plan), Music Therapists must be able to assess the needs of the young child as well as those of the family. They design individualized programming, monitor progress, evaluate, and provide documentation related to the child’s goals and objectives.

A Music Therapist who works with young children should possess a strong knowledge of relevant music and materials, early childhood development, and specific needs of the child, and developmentally is able to adapt strategies to a variety of settings and across disciplines, thus individualizing Music Therapy interventions to meet children’s specific needs. In addition, he/she may provide structured or semi-structured opportunities for children with and without disabilities to interact together in a music setting. Music therapists are creative, energetic, and positive. They demonstrate strong oral and written communication skills and work well with families and other professionals.

How Does Music Therapy Help Families?

Music Therapy can provide enjoyable yet purposeful activities and resources for families to share with their children. Families can learn to use music through meaningful play and nurturing experiences. Music Therapy may serve as a positive outlet for interaction, providing fun activities that can include parents, siblings, and extended family. Often Music Therapy allows a family to see a child in a new light as the child’s strengths are manifested in the Music Therapy environment.

Why Music Therapy?

Music Therapy may address several needs simultaneously in a positive and exciting medium: it may provide pleasurable learning that promotes success. Furthermore, Music Therapy can greatly enhance the quality of life of the young child and his/her family. Music is often the first thing to which a child relates. It is a “universal language” that crosses all cultural lines. Music occurs naturally in our environment in many settings and is a socially appropriate activity and leisure skill. Music provides a predictable time-oriented structure while offering opportunities for participation at one’s own level of functioning and ability. Not only may music activities be opportunities for a child to “shine”, but they may also be used to reinforce nonmusical goals. Most people, especially children, enjoy music – therefore, Music Therapy can be the therapy that reinforces all other therapies.

“The inclusionary preschool music therapy sessions gave children an opportunity to make new friends and learn things about themselves and others. I saw major gains in the children’s social skills and in their attention spans. I wholeheartedly endorse the program and think that every child could benefit from Music Therapy.”

A Director of Educational Services for a public school system

“I love having a Music Therapist on our interdisciplinary team. When we co-lead sessions, I notice that the children are much more motivated to push themselves when working with such things as fine motor control and range of motion activities.”

Occupational Therapist

“Music Therapy has helped my son to learn turn-taking, sharing, listening skills and some colors, animals, part of the body and clothes.”

Mother of a 6 1/2-year-old child diagnosed with Down Syndrome

“Music Therapy has helped my son to increase his concentration and attendance. His eye contact has increased since participating in Music Therapy. Moreover, I believe that in part his increased use of language may be attributed to attending Music Therapy. Finally, he has developed an interest in music.”

Father of a 5-year-old child diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

“For one son Music Therapy seems to have reduced an extreme sensitivity to sound. For both boys, the therapy has been a catalyst for improved sociability. Much of the time the boys seem to exist on parallel universes, but on the drive home from therapy they usually have a conversation.”

Mother of 7-year-old twin sons, one diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome and one diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder

“Music Therapy has (1) helped my daughter’s spontaneous speech; (2) allowed her to use her hands with many different textures and independently of each other; (3) expanded on her natural musical ability; and (4) helped her to learn to focus and develop patience with music as the motivator.”

Mother of an 8-year-old with Apert Syndrome and Attention Deficit Behaviours

“Music Therapy has been a tremendous benefit not only for my child but also for our family. During Music Therapy time, my child is able to do fun things that help him forget about his pain. We are grateful to share some time with him doing things that bring back a smile to his face.”

Parent of a hospitalized child undergoing treatment for cancer