Studying Music Therapy at Berklee

Students in the music therapy program learn to apply music's enormous power to improve the quality of life of individuals with special needs.

The goals of the music therapy program are to:

  • Enable students to integrate musical and interpersonal talents with the latest technology and today's music;
  • Build careers devoted to helping others achieve their goals regardless of their personal limitations or challenges;
  • Train savvy professionals in an interdisciplinary clinical team that can serve people through the life cycle, from infancy to older adulthood; and
  • Apply the art and science of music therapy in assessing the effectiveness of therapeutic interventions.

What Is Music Therapy?

Music therapy is the functional and scientific application of music by a trained music therapist to enhance an individual's social, emotional, educational, and behavioral development. The music therapist is a credentialed, professional therapist and trained musician who generally functions as part of a treatment team in a medical, educational, or community-based program. He or she may also work as a private practitioner in a variety of clinical settings by developing contractual arrangements with therapy providers in diverse human service agencies and schools.

Where Do Music Therapists Work?

Music therapists work in a variety of clinical settings, including but not limited to psychiatric settings, general hospitals, skilled nursing and intermediate care homes, child and adolescent treatment centers, schools, and forensic and corrections centers. They are hired as music therapists, rehabilitation specialists, expressive arts therapists, recreation therapists, and activity directors.

Does Being a Music Therapist Require a College Degree?

The music therapist studying in the United States must complete a degree in music therapy at an institution whose music therapy program is approved by the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA). This program must include a clinical internship. The candidate must then pass the national examination offered by the Certification Board for Music Therapists.

The college offers an accredited baccalaureate degree in music therapy to talented musicians of any age who are interested in the study of contemporary music such as jazz, blues, popular music, rap, and hip-hop. The Berklee program is unique among music therapy training programs in that the musical center of the program is contemporary music and improvisation rather than classical music study. Students admitted to the music therapy major must demonstrate musical promise and a potential for working effectively with people, using music as a therapeutic medium.

Student music therapists studying at Berklee come from all over the U.S. and many countries throughout the world. The student body is characteristically diverse, musical, creative, and academically capable. Students who prefer to "learn by doing" within the context of a sound academic base will excel in the music therapy program at Berklee.

What Is the Music Therapy Curriculum at Berklee?

Berklee's AMTA-approved curriculum combines the theory and practice of music therapy. It supports comprehensive training in the application of music therapy to children and adolescents with special needs, adults with psychiatric disorders, medical patients, and older adults. Students progress through five levels of supervised clinical practica in which they assist qualified music therapists from over 50 clinical settings in the metropolitan Boston area. These experiential placements are in such highly respected facilities as Children's Hospital, Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, McLean Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston and Cambridge public schools, Perkins School for the Blind, and local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Each practicum course is paired with an academic class that provides corresponding music therapy instruction in special education, clinical assessment and evaluation, research, psychotherapy, and medicine.

Other specialized courses include instruction in the theory and in the technology behind music as therapy. The Introduction to International Music Therapy class provides an overview of this unique field from the perspective of those shaping it. Psychology of Music tickles age-old questions like "Why do lullabies put us to sleep?" and "How can music distract us from pain?" Technology for Music Therapists includes faculty demonstrations of state-of-the-art adaptive and medical hardware and its interface with music software. In addition, courses in guitar, keyboard, percussion, voice, exceptional children, anatomy and physiology, abnormal psychology, and the psychology of aging are designed to support the development of the essential knowledge and practical skills required of the highly trained music therapist.

Anthropologist A.P. Merriam, a student of music in culture, in a text entitled The Anthropology of Music (Northwestern University Press, l964, p.209), said of music, "We wish to know not only what a thing is, but what it does, and how it does it." The music therapy curriculum at Berklee is the applied study of the intricacies of music, its meaning, and its applications to improving quality of life and promoting health and wellness. The curriculum further includes the study of research methodology designed to assisting students in identifying, understanding, and documenting the contributive role of music in medicine, education, and mental health care.

What Are the Classes Like in the Music Therapy Major?

Courses in the music therapy curriculum at Berklee are taught by faculty members, each of whom have teaching and practical experience in their particular area of expertise. Trained and credentialed music therapists also supervise experiential practicum courses. Class size for practicum and specialty courses within the music therapy major range from eight to 12 students. Introductory lecture courses range from 20 to 30 students. Individual attention to students is a value of the music therapy faculty and chair.

Who Becomes a Music Therapist?

If you are...

  • a creative musician
  • a problem solver
  • an insightful helper
  • an empathetic listener
  • a keen observer
  • a verbal and musical communicator

...then music therapy may be for you!