For the musically talented, finding a professional role that offers both a viable career path, and the chance to indulge your musical side, can be a challenge. Attempting to make it as a professional musician can be especially difficult, due to the highly competitive nature of the industry and the ever-growing list of demands – from the entrepreneurial flair required to promote your music to a working knowledge of the various tech tools and programs for composing music. Many musicians turn to other options, but even among these alternative career paths, the field of music therapy is all too often overlooked.

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Here, we explore the growing field of musical therapy, and how it can form a rewarding alternative career path for musicians.

What is Music Therapy?

The idea that there is a link between music and our overall health and wellbeing, and that the former can even be used to improve the latter, has existed for almost as long as music itself. In recent years, however, a growing body of evidence has begun to emerge that supports this from a firmly scientific basis.

Studies have found that, with the right music experienced in the right conditions, music can act as everything from stress and pain relief to a sleeping aid. In fact, some research has even suggested that music therapy can help to alleviate symptoms of a range of serious medical concerns, from mental health conditions and depression, to Parkinson’s disease.

These beneficial effects of music, and in particular shared musical experiences, are at the heart of music therapy. In the UK, the field was pioneered during the 1960s and 70s by the French cellist Juliette Alvin, who introduced the country’s first music therapy training program in 1967. A music therapist uses a combination of music-making exercises and shared musical experiences to help patients who have been affected by illness, injury or disability. This can involve working closely, one-on-one, with anyone from young people and children who have difficulty communicating verbally, to elderly patients requiring palliative end-of-life care.

Becoming a Music Therapist

While it may not be the career path for everyone, music therapy can prove to be a rewarding and worthwhile pursuit for musicians with the right disposition, and a desire to help others through their music. A music therapist must be able to properly utilise music’s potential to create a communicative relationship with their patients, even in instances where verbal communication is limited.

The exact entry requirements for a role in music therapy will vary from institution to institution, but all roles require you to be trained to postgraduate level by an academic institution that has been approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Naturally, a high level of musical proficiency is also required. A music therapist doesn’t necessarily need an in-depth knowledge of advanced music theory or an awareness of the best scoring software on the market, but you will need to be able to demonstrate a high level of practical musical ability.

Becoming a music therapist is a significant undertaking, encompassing extra training and a special responsibility towards your patients. But for those who want to combine their musical gifts with a desire to help others, the field of music therapy offers a great deal of creative freedom, and can be a rewarding career path for musicians to follow.