The difference between music therapy and music education (and why your child can benefit from both!)
By Kelly Surette
Many people who have children with special needs automatically assume or are misinformed that music therapy is an acceptable substitute for music education. I would assert that although there are many benefits to music therapy for students with special needs, there are also an equal number of benefits to music education. One cannot replace the other because they are just so different!. Would you replace gym class with physical therapy? Probably not!
All school aged children, regardless of special needs, should have the right to a music education that is designed to help them succeed. If a student needs additional support and would benefit from music therapy, then music therapy can be added into their IEP or included in their therapies outside of school. It is a fantastic complement to any music education experience.
Here and now, let’s dispel any myth you might have heard that music therapy is the same thing as music education. They may sound alike, but they are totally different! Let’s take a look at the primary differences between the two so you can understand why your child deserves a music education as well as access to music therapy as needed.
Healthcare profession vs. academic profession.
Music therapy is a healthcare profession. Music education is typically an academic profession. Additionally, music education or “music class” falls under the category of enrichment and recreation.
Nonmusical goals vs. musical goals.
Music therapy uses music interventions to address nonmusical goals. Music education addresses musical goals such as the comprehension of music theory, music performance, instrument proficiency, music appreciation, and music history. In music education, the nonmusical goals that are inadvertently addressed are associated with the benefits of music enrichment, such as empowerment, increased self-confidence, and self-expression.
Therapeutic Relationship vs. An Academic Relationship.
Although music education can elicit therapeutic benefits and music therapy can elicit musical benefits; a music therapist builds a therapeutic relationship with their client and a music teacher builds an academic/teacher relationship with their student.
Individual vs. Group.
Although music therapy can be taught in a group setting and music education can be taught individually, the majority of music therapy sessions are one on one. Most music education classes are taught as a group.
Documentation vs. minimal documentation.
Music therapists are required to document their sessions. Music instructors may take notes as to what happens in a particular class, or write progress notes at the end of each quarter for parents, but typically they do not have to complete anywhere near the amount of documentation music therapists do.
Data driven vs. cultural.
Music therapy is an evidence based clinical practice deeply rooted and supported by both quantitative and qualitative research. Music education is a specific academic field of study that is considered to be a fundamental component of human history and culture.
Music therapy is often practiced in medical hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, other medical rehabilitation centers, schools, in recovery programs, etc. Music education is taught predominantly in schools, both public and private, as well as in local community music schools.
IEP vs. Fundamental Element of Education.
Many music therapists are referred to families and schools through IEP’s or by the special needs team. Music education is a fundamental element of a well-rounded, humanistic education.
In summary, both music therapy and music education have something different to offer your child with special needs, but some children may need and benefit from both in congruence. If your child does not have access to a music education that is set up in a way that your child can succeed, or they have no access to one at all, I encourage you to advocate for a change in quality or the addition of a adaptive music education program. Your child is missing out on a fundamental aspect of their education if they are not exposed to music education. If you child does not have access to a music therapist, but may benefit from their services, speak with your child’s special needs team, advocate for the addition of a music therapist in their IEP, or seek out private services of a licensed music therapist in your area.
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Kelly Surette is the author of Creative Miracles: A Practitioner’s Guide to Adaptive Music Instruction (coming soon.) She is a speaker and adaptive music educator in the New England area. Kelly is dedicated to enhancing the lives of those with special needs and those who are Deaf and Hard of Hearing with multiple disabilities through music. Connect with Kelly at www.kellysurette.com.