The word “music” is so often used that one may hardly think about what it means anymore. Indeed, the form of art has a slightly different meaning for everyone. In our work as a music therapist, we are sometimes referred to as the “music teacher” or the “music person/musician”. We are quick to defend, naturally, but in the eyes of our colleagues and members of the public, how are music therapists different to music teachers and musicians?
Musicians perform music for a living, for a variety of reasons. Some musicians choose to perform as they enjoy the process of making music, whilst some enjoy the process of sharing music with others. The key factor in a musician’s job is the performance. Was the music good? Did the performance touch the audience? Did the rendition do the composer or songwriter justice?
Music teachers, on the other hand, choose to enable others to be able to play music. They may also enjoy sharing music, but through allowing others to be able to understand and play as well. They teach and share with students the meaning of the music, the technicalities of playing various instruments and some even teaching students to understand the historical and cultural context under which different styles of music are written and brought to life. The key factor in a music teacher’s job is the impartation of musical knowledge and skills to others. Does the student understand the background behind this piece of music? Can the student count different rhythmic patterns? Can the student distinguish between 2 beat and 3 beat music? Can the student sing in tune? Is the student able to hold his breath long enough to play through this melody on the flute? Can the student coordinate his hands and foot movement when playing the piano with pedal?
A music therapist’s primary job is to improve a person’s health and well-being through music. This can be done in a very varied range of ways and methods. As such, every music therapist does his/her job differently, not unlike musicians and music teachers. If one sees a music therapist in action, he/she may think that the music therapist is giving a performance to an individual or a small group, but in a very actively engaging manner. Another music therapist may appear to be playing musical games, or reminiscent of instrumental teaching. Yet another music therapist may appear to be doing something similar to what a psychotherapist will do, with an individual sitting or lying down in a quiet environment, listening to recorded music and the therapist guiding him/her through breathing exercise or imagery exercise. All these different methods are planned and executed with the primary goal of improving health and well-being in mind. This can include functional rehabilitation goals, psychosocial goals, emotional management goals etc. A music therapist will always do an assessment of the client to establish the therapeutic goals, plan and design the music best used to achieve these goals that are non-musical.
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Registered Music Therapist (Australia)