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What are the best schools for studying Music Therapy?

Music therapy training has been formalized since 1950. Music Therapists enjoy a wide range of practice, from neo-natal to hospice. Music Therapists are employed in hospitals (medical and psychiatric), schools, outpatient programs, nursing homes, and private practice.

It is tempting to try to find definitive answers to your questions about choosing a “best” school for studying Music Therapy but, like any other important decision, it is very individual. In the United States, music therapy programs are offered in thirty-five states and the District of Columbia. Of the ninety schools approved by the American Music Therapy Association and therefore offering accredited music therapy programs, forty-eight offer the undergraduate degree only, another forty-two also offer the MA or only the MA (i.e. predominantly in New York State) and eight offer the doctorate in either music therapy (2), music education with an emphasis on music therapy (4), or expressive arts therapy (2).

Entry-level practice requires the undergraduate degree, 4.5 years. In New York State, the master’s, as well as the License in Creative Arts Therapy, is required. For an overview on music therapy education and training, consult Music Therapy Education and Training: From Theory to Practice (Goodman, K. 2011, Charles C Thomas).

For initial information about education, training and practice abroad, see World Federation of Music Therapy and European Music Therapy Confederation. There are also numerous Facebook pages involving music therapy which can be good places for informally engaging with other music therapy students and professionals.

For a brief introduction to music therapy, see the American Music Therapy Association.

Frequently Asked Questions About Music Therapy Careers

What does it take, in terms of educational requirements, to become a Music Therapist?

Karen D. Goodman (Professor Emerita, Music, Montclair State University, Music Therapy Educator, Author, Editor, Clinician, Supervisor)

Initial music therapy courses should include a core of music courses (i.e. music theory, music history, study on primary and secondary instruments, instrumental ensembles), core music therapy courses, practicums, and psychology courses. (See “Strength of Curriculum” below).

What majors are good for music therapy?

Karen D. Goodman (Professor Emerita, Music, Montclair State University, Music Therapy Educator, Author, Editor, Clinician, Supervisor)

If you know that you want to study music therapy as an undergraduate, you should study on a primary instrument for several years, be comfortable with singing, take music theory in high school if possible and participate in musical ensembles throughout school. If you are not sure about music therapy as an undergraduate, I would recommend studying music education as a primary career and take a minor in psychology. Some students inquire about double majoring in music education and music therapy but the overload of work is not realistic for an undergraduate.

Are Music Therapists in demand?

Karen D. Goodman (Professor Emerita, Music, Montclair State University, Music Therapy Educator, Author, Editor, Clinician, Supervisor)

While the field of music therapy has become more well-known, both in the media and in the job market, it is not necessarily mainstream. Hopefully, as government funding for research continues, insurance practices shift to allow for insurance reimbursement for private practice music therapy services and the needs of aging boomers require more music therapy services in eldercare, both the job market and salaries will increase. For more information regarding the current job placement and salaries of Music Therapists, based on annual surveys, contact the American Music Therapy Association at [email protected]

Ask Yourself These Questions Before Choosing a Music Therapy Degree Program

Before searching out music therapy programs, ask yourself a few questions:

1. Are you entering as an undergraduate, equivalency or graduate student?

See the AMTA for details relevant to each level of study.

2. What are your financial resources?

3. Can you move in order to study?

4. After completion of coursework and practicums, can you take off 6 months to do a full-time internship or 9 months to do a part-time internship?

5. Are you prepared to audition (see audition requirements for each program online) and interview for a music therapy program?

6. What is your motivation to apply for admission to a music therapy program?

Have you read about music therapy? Observed music therapy? Spoken to a Music Therapist? Have you had any hands-on experience with challenged persons? For an inclusive list of publications in the library on music therapy see and type in “music therapy.” For a sample of the available full-text publications, go to Google Scholar and type in search words.

7. How much research and questioning are you willing to do?

In order to even begin to list the “best” schools, one would have to tease out multiple factors, much of which is not found on program websites, considering the following:

  • Tuition/fees/housing that you can afford or be granted scholarship for.
  • The academic strength of the university in terms of both undergraduate and graduate offerings. See Forbes‘ “America’s Top Colleges.” Note: Twenty of the ninety universities offering music therapy are identified on this 300-member list. Those found within the top 100 include NYU (private), University of Minnesota, University of Miami (private), and Florida State.
  • The academic/musical strength of the music department. Note: This list tends to prioritize music schools rather than music departments within universities. The music schools housing music therapy programs on this list include Berklee College of Music (note: geared to popular musicians and not within a university), University of Miami (Frost School of Music), and Shenandoah University, all private.
  • The number of, clinical experience of, diversification of and qualifications of the music therapy faculty
  • The strength of the curriculum. See the AMTA for curriculum advice.
  • The nature of the curriculum. Is it eclectic or partial to one theoretical orientation (i.e. psychodynamic, behavioral, neurologic)?
  • The sizes of the classes. (ie. 20 maximum)
  • Support for students who are identified as disabled.
  • Data on the local practicum placements. (The number of placements in the facility, ratio of students to facility; experience of on-site supervisor.)
  • Data on the internship placements. (In-state and out of state.)
  • Data on the number of students who enter and the number of students who graduate.
  • Support for students to prepare for the board certification exam.
  • Data on the number of students graduating who pass the board certification exam vs those who do not.
  • Data on the job placement after graduation.
  • Is there anything that distinguishes this program from others you are looking at?

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A Sampling of Interesting Music Therapy Degree Programs

In response to my last consideration, “Is there anything that distinguishes this program from others you are looking at?” I might call your attention to the following programs, in no specific order:

Western Michigan University

Housing a music therapy program that started in the 1950s and an on-campus music therapy clinic in the ’70s. Undergraduate, certificate equivalency and graduate levels. Features the laboratory for Brain Research and Interdisciplinary Neurosciences; graduation data available on website.

Western Michigan University

Florida State University

Housing a music therapy program that started in 1950 with the tradition of teaching music therapy within a behavioral psychology context. Undergraduate, equivalency certificate, and graduate levels. Offers music major undergraduates a living-learning community.

Florida State University

Colorado State University

Includes the method of neurologic music therapy. Master’s program available online; Ph.D. in music therapy with teaching assistantships. Music therapy includes the Brainwaves Research Lab, an interdisciplinary lab focused on understanding neurological aspects of cognition.

Colorado State University

Berklee College of Music

Dedicated to popular musicians, Berklee College of Music, a private music school rather than a university, is recognized as a Best College for Music. It features faculty with a wide range of clinical experiences and some courses which are unusual: Assistive Music Technology for the Visually Impaired, Mind-Body Disciplines for Musicians, and Community Music Therapy. Boston itself offers a wide array of practicum possibilities. The music therapy program, offering the undergraduate and graduate programs, hosts symposium annually which draw good attendance.

Berklee College of Music

University of Miami

Recognized within the top 100 by both the Forbes “2021 Best Colleges” (#105) and the “Best Colleges for Music”, previously cited in this article, University of Miami, a private university with a well-known music school, offers the undergraduate, certificate equivalency, graduate and Ph.D. in Music Education with Music Therapy emphasis.

University of Miami

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