Types of Music Therapy

According to the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), there is no "typical" music therapy session. Since clients' needs differ greatly, it is impossible to standardize music therapy for everyone. Music therapy sessions are designed according to the music selected, the therapist's style, and most importantly, what the client expects to achieve in therapy.


The client is free to create his or her own original music. The client may sing or play whatever comes to mind. The therapist can either guise the spontaneous generation of sound or they can allow the client to express themselves without guidance. The goal is for clients to produce sounds that reflect their feelings about people in their lives or recent life events.

Improvising is used with clients who need to develop creativity, freedom of expression, communication skills, and interpersonal skills. Clients can range from children with learning disabilities to adults with psychiatric disorders.


In this type of session, the client performs precomposed music. The client may learn how to mimic vocal or instrumental sounds, imitate phrases of music, learn to sing by rote, participate in sing-alongs, take music lessons, perform a piece from their memory, interpret an already written composition, or participate in a musical show.

Re-creation can help clients learn adaptive behaviors, practice role behaviors, learn to identify with others, and work cooperatively with others. When the client is asked to follow along and copy the already existing music, it helps them learn to relate. Additionally, this type of therapy can help people with speech impairments improve their articulation.


When a client composes music as a form of therapy, he or she can write lyrics, instrumental pieces, entire songs, or any type of musical product. There are no limits on the client. The therapist usually helps the client with any aspect he or she may struggle with. This usually involves the therapist taking responsibility for the technical parts, such as harmonization and notation. The client is responsible for creating the lyrics or melody to the musical piece.

Composing allows clients to express themselves to the fullest. The melodies and/or lyrics a client creates probably reflect their innermost feelings and desires. Song-writing is an excellent way for terminally ill children and adults to release their final thoughts and can also be beneficial for adults with addictions.


Listening is another type of music therapy. Clients listen to live or recorded music and respond through activities such as relaxation, meditation, structured movement, free movement, perceptual tasks, free-association tasks, story-telling, imagining, drawing, etc. Any type of music can by used in this type of music therapy. It is up to the therapist to decide what is appropriate given the type of activity the client will engage in.

Listening to music provides clients with a mode of relaxation. Listening can be used to help clients with a variety of both physical and psychological ailments. This type of music therapy has been found to sooth a person emotionally, spiritually, physically, and intellectually. When coupled with relaxation techniques, listening to music can help manage pain, reduce stress, and regulate body functions. Listening can also be used to evoke certain feelings and desires a client may be repressing.

Other Types

Verbal discussions that resemble traditional therapy can also be used to supplement any use of music in therapy. Clients may be asked to give their opinions of the music, explain what it means to them, or simply describe how the music makes them feel. Music therapy can be combined with other types of therapeutical activities such as drawing, painting, dance, or poetry.

Music therapy for children is similar to that for adults. However, children are usually asked to play a game or complete an activity while listening to music and the therapist observes.


1. Frequently Asked Questions about Music Therapy. Boyer College of Music and Dance, Temple University. 12 April 2009 [http://www.temple.edu/musictherapy/home/program/faq.htm#d]
Frequently Asked Questions about Music Therapy. American Music Therapy Association. 12 April 2009 [http://www.musictherapy.org/faqs.html]