Music Therapy Degrees: Bachelor's, Master's & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a music therapy program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of bachelor's and master's degrees and potential careers.
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Music Therapy Bachelor's and Master's Degrees at a Glance

Music therapy is a subset of creative arts therapy in which music is used by the therapists in a number of therapeutic ways. Therapists are trained to assess patient health on a number of levels through responses to music. Their work includes a number of music-based therapies, including listening, song writing, imagery and performance. Music therapists are also trained to work with teams regarding patient care and evaluation.

Although aggregate numbers for music therapy are not published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it is part of the wider field of health practitioners engaged in diagnosing and treating patients. According to the BLS, this broader field is expected to grow at a rate of 26% in the years 2010-2020, which is well above the average rate for all occupations. Licensing of music therapists is done through the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working as music therapists Individuals looking to enter the music therapy field or further develop their credentials
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Music therapist ($40,000)* Same as bachelor's, plus:
- University music therapy teacher ($62,000- aggregate salary for all music and art teachers - may require further PhD)**
Time to Completion 4 years full time 1-2 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 40-45 courses
- 1200 hours of clinical experience
- Roughly 16-20 courses
- Master's exams
- Thesis
- Clinical hours (if not already completed with bachelor's)
Prerequisites High school diploma Bachelor's degree in music or music therapy
Online Availability None found at this time Yes

Source: *American Music Therapy Association (2011 aggregate median salaries), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Bachelor's in Music Therapy

A Bachelor in Music Therapy (BM) degree is a professional degree offered in schools of music. These programs train you in the use of music as a tool of healing and therapy, with approaches spanning from movement therapy to the discussion of lyrics as a way of drawing out the patient. All aspects of music might be used, from composition to performance. Music therapy combines knowledge of the field of music with therapeutic sensitivity, and programs train you in multiple aspects and approaches. Programs also prepare you for taking the certification exams necessary for national certification.

Pros and Cons


  • Music therapy programs train you in a specific application of music in changing people's lives
  • Some applications of music therapy may be remunerated by insurance programs in some states
  • Programs combine professional musical training with therapeutic approaches and clinical knowledge


  • The relative rarity of these programs means that you may need to relocate to fulfill your educational and career goals
  • Music therapy, while recognized by the American Medical Association as an allied health profession, is not recognized and remunerated consistently by all health insurance providers
  • Music therapy programs that are not recognized by the AMTA will not be sufficient for those seeking the professional credential

Courses and Requirements

The course topics needed to complete a certified music therapy bachelor's program are defined by the AMTA. They cover musical, therapeutic and clinical training. In addition to the completion of coursework and a demonstrated high level of proficiency in musical performance, students must complete 1200 hours of clinical practice before seeking to be credentialed.

  • Clinical training and practice
  • Music and gerontology
  • Music and movement therapy
  • Music therapy approaches for children
  • Musical composition
  • Therapeutic approaches

Online Degree Options

Perhaps because of the extensive musical training required for this degree, at this time there are no online or hybrid programs in music therapy at the bachelor's level. For those who have already completed a bachelor's degree in music, however, equivalency programs that prepare students for sitting the national music therapy exam do exist.

Stand Out with This Degree

If you are looking to stand out with a degree in music therapy, you may want to develop work-related skills through internships. While certification will entail to engage in a certain amount of clinical practice as part of training, if you are in this type of bachelor's program, you may want to take the opportunity to engage in internships or even shadow practitioners to learn both the skills and the daily practices of being a music therapist.

Degree Alternatives

As an alternative to a BM degree program, you could consider completing a 4-year music program, and then follow this with a specialized course of music therapy classes. These classes may be offered online, as they cover the coursework that differentiates a music therapy degree from a music degree. If you access the music therapy completion program online, you will also need to search out opportunities to complete the necessary clinical hours outside of the school.

Master's in Music Therapy

A master's in music therapy is usually an option for two distinct groups: graduates of bachelor's degree programs in music may seek out a master's program as an extension of the equivalency programs that usually lead to credentialing; and graduates who are already credentialed as music therapists, and who may seek these programs as a way to deepen their understanding of the therapeutic process, learn new methods or prepare themselves for doctoral programs.

Pros and Cons


  • You may enter a master's program in music therapy after completing a bachelor's in music or music therapy, though program requirements may vary based on previous training and experience
  • For students not already credentialed, master's programs are designed to assist in completing the credentialing process
  • Master's programs also prepare you to begin taking part in research and publication


  • Music therapists tend to make less money than other postgraduate-educated medical professionals
  • Becoming a music therapist requires a combination of both strong musical and therapeutic talent
  • A master's degree in music therapy is generally considered only an intermediary step necessary for teaching at the postsecondary level

Courses and Requirements

Music therapy master's degree program prepare you for both deeper therapeutic understanding and research responsibilities. As such, these programs straddle the line of academic and professional development, targeting both professionals working in the field and professionally trained musicians. There is a significant amount of overlap in course topics with the bachelor's programs, especially initially. Nonetheless, these programs also provide for a deeper understanding of therapeutic approaches.

  • Data analysis and design for music therapy research
  • Human physiology
  • Music therapy composition
  • Music therapy history and theory
  • Music therapy research methods
  • Neuroscience and music

Online Degree Options

While the bachelor's degree is not available through online delivery, master's programs in music therapy are available online for those who have completed a bachelor's degree in music or music therapy. The requirements for students who have completed their bachelor's in music therapy may be different, especially as the clinical hours performed during the BM program do not need to be repeated.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

If you are looking to get ahead with this degree, you will want to be certain that the program in which you enroll is recognized by the American Music Therapy Association. While all aspiring music therapists are required to have a certain amount of clinical training at the undergraduate or graduate level for certification, you may seek to take advantage of these opportunities to go above and beyond. Such efforts may be of benefit in terms of practical training. Further, you may look to work with interdisciplinary teams at this early stage, as this is one way that music therapy modalities are applied in therapeutic settings.

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