10 Questions Every Person Should Ask About Music Therapy

Music therapy has shown itself to be a powerful and effective treatment of a wide variety of chronic or acute physical, mental, and emotional disabilities, ailments, and conditions including anxiety, pain, muscle strengthening, and emotional, social, and behavioral health challenges.  If you are considering trying music therapy, here are ten important questions you must ask about before deciding whether music therapy is right for you.

1 . What is the History of Music Therapy?

The healing effects of music are cited in numerous texts throughout history, including the bible, the writings of Rumi, and Einstein. We know of the use of music both in secular and sacred settings. We can find references to music and healing eloquently expressed in many ancient texts such as Plato who wrote, “Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the Universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, gaiety and life to everything.” However, the earliest medical citation of the use of music therapy appeared in 1789, in an article in Columbian Magazine titled “Music Physically” and the first recorded systematic experiments in music therapy occurred in the 1800’s.

” “I live my daydreams in music,
I see my life in terms of music.”
~Albert Einstein

2. Is There a Music Therapy Organization?

Several music therapy associations formed during the 1900’s, the first being the National Society of Musical Therapeutics, in 1903, followed by others such as the National Association for Music in Hospitals, the National Foundation of Music Therapy, the National Music Therapy Association, and the American Association for Music Therapy.  The National Association for Music Therapy (NAMT) and the American Association for Music Therapy (AATA) merged in 1998 to create the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA), which is currently the largest music therapy association in the United States. It represents music therapists in over 30 countries in the United States and around the world.

3. Who is a Music Therapist?

Is there a difference between a sound therapist, a dance therapist, a musician, a music teacher, and a music therapist?

There are a number of different certified professionals working in the field of music. Is there a difference between a sound therapist, a dance therapist, a musician, a music teacher, and a music therapist? A music therapist shares qualities of all of the above. Most often these professionals work together, with the adjunctive arts therapies, however they may or may not share the same professional goals, purpose and intention. Registered Music Therapists, (RMT) Certified Music Therapists (CMT), and Board Certified music therapists (MT-BC) must complete years of studies, training, and certification.  A professional music therapist must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in music therapy from one of over 70 approved college and university programs from the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).

These academic years of study are followed by an internship in music therapy at a certified facility. Past certification entitlements for music therapists were RMTs and CMTs, The current certification entitlement of music therapists is MT-BC, and is by the Certification Board for Music Therapists (CBMT) created in 1983.

4. What Happens During a Music Therapy Session?

There are two basic types of music therapy sessions:  passive or receptive music therapy and active or expressive music therapy. Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based use of music to accomplish specific physical, emotional, or social goals using music listening or performing.

Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based use of music.

Music therapy can include:

  1. listening to music
  2. singing
  3. rapping
  4. playing musical instruments
  5. composing music
  6. lyric writing
  7. discussing lyrics
  8. tapping or patting out rhythm

5. Who Can Benefit From Music Therapy?

Music therapy can be beneficial to people of all ages, races and cultures, including

  1. infants
  2. children
  3. adolescents
  4. adults
  5. senior citizens

Music therapy has clinically demonstrated to be effective with those having physical, mental, emotional, social or developmental challenges.

It has clinically been shown to be effective with those having physical, mental, emotional, social or developmental challenges such as juvenile delinquents or prison inmates, diseases of the aging and elderly, those with developmental disabilities, attention deficit disorders, brain injuries and neurological disorders, depression, grief, and mental health challenges, substance abuse problems, physical disabilities, and acute or chronic physical pain. 

6. What Are the Fundamental Elements of Music?

Music consists of four fundamental elements. Each element has an influential effect on us.

The four elements of music are tempo, rhythm, melody, harmony and timbre. Each element has an influential effect on us.

  1. Tempo – The speed at which music is played or performed. Tempos are measured by beats per minute (BPM). Tempos range from larghissimo (the slowest tempo of about 19 BPM or less) or prestissimo (the fastest tempo of 178 BPM or more ) and many other tempo designations in between. Tempo changes can occur within the music with an accellerando (increase in tempo) or ritardando (descrease in tempo).
  2. Rhythm – The systematic arrangement and periodic stress of strong, regular, repeated sound patterns. Alternating note values and rests determine rhythm such as eighth, sixteenth, or quarter notes and rests.
  3. Melody – The sequential pattern of musical notes, arranged in a particular, and often repetitive, memorable, and pleasing manner.
  4. Harmony (or Disharmony/dissonance) – The simultaneous production of two or more combinations of musical notes to create chords (or intervals) resulting in pleasing or displeasing sounds.
  5. Timbre – The  unique characteristics of a distinct musical sound or voice, respectful of it’s particular instrument family (for example, the trumpet has a distinctive timbre in comparison to the drum or flute).

7. Why Does Music Affect Our Bodies?

Each of us is a rhythmic being. Music is innate to us. We have a heart beating inside of us and our lungs rise and fall, rhythmically with each breath. Scientific studies have shown our heart rate speeds up or slows down to match the pulse of the music. This is phenomenon is  called entrainment. 

Entrainment is the synchronization of organisms to an external perceived rhythm. Every human being experiences this.

As we listen to the music, and match the sound of the music, every unique musical element has a different psychological, sociological and physiological effect on our bodies. Entrainment is a biomusicological experience. It is the synchronization of organisms to an external perceived rhythm. It occurs exclusively in  human music and dance. Humans are the only species in which every member of its species experiences entrainment. Other living organisms (yet not ALL in one species) have been known to demonstrate the biomusicological entrainment, although it is rare within any other species.

8. How is Music Effective as Therapy?

Music will bring about physical, psychological, behavioral, and emotional changes such as

  1. increasing or decreasing blood flow
  2. raising or lowering the heart rate or pulse
  3. improving sleep
  4. stimulating one to do physical exercise, such as running or dancing
  5. reducing pain
  6. elevating the mood
  7. boosting motivation
  8. reducing stress
  9. inducing relaxed muscle tension
  10. decreasing abnormalities or impairments in the regulation of metabolic, physiological, or psychological processes
  11. stimulating every area of the brain
  12. improving cognitive skills
  13. developing motor skills
  14. increasing spatial-temporal learning
  15. increasing neurogenesis (the production of neurons in the brain).

9. Can Music Have a Negative Affect?

Research shows that listening to lyrics that involve guns, violence and descriptive acts of aggression can have a negative influence on our emotional and mental health.

Yes, studies have shown that listening to lyrics that involve guns, violence and descriptive acts of aggression can have a negative influence on our emotional and mental health. A study published in the “Journal of Personality and Social Psychology” (2003), showed that aggressive and violent lyrics increased aggressive thoughts and feelings in adolescents.

Music therapists sometimes choose lyrics to help evoke an emotional response. However, this decision must carefully align with each person’s unique, individualized goal. Music doesn’t necessarily need to have lyrics to evoke a negative response. Music without lyrics, but with a rapid tempo, can raise the heart rate or pulse, overly stimulating or exciting someone who needs to relax.  A hyperactive child, a person having a panic attack, or someone with generalized anxiety disorder, for example, shouldn’t be saturated with overly stimulating music, when the goal is to relax or calm the person.

Doctor and patient

10. How Do I Find a Music Therapist?

If you are interested in locating a music therapist you can discuss this with your trusted doctor or healthcare professional. It would be wise to ask a music therapist to show you their credentials and registrations, degrees, and certifications. You can check with the American Music Therapy Association to contact local or regional chapters. Music therapists can be discovered through online searches and sometimes music therapists conduct therapy sessions online (such as on TalkSpace). 


Jean E. Dart

Jean Dart, is a published author, speaker, and life coach, and has written hundreds of health articles as well as hosting a local television program, “Making Miracles Happen.” She is a Registered Music Therapist (RMT), Sound Therapist, and Master Level Energetic Teacher, and is the Executive Director, founder, and Health and Wellness Educator of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance, a 501(c)3 health education nonprofit organization. To find out more about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance visit www.montereybayholistic.com

Disclaimer: The Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance is a charitable, independent registered nonprofit 501 (c) 3 organization and does not endorse any particular products or practices. We exist as an educational organization dedicated to providing free access to health education resources, products, and services. Claims and statements herein are for informational purposes only and have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The statements about organizations, practitioners, methods of treatment, and products listed on this website are not meant to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. This information is intended for educational purposes only. The MBHA strongly recommends that you seek out your trusted medical doctor or practitioner for diagnosis and treatment of any existing health condition.

The BEST Natural Treatments for Depression

Are you feeling blue? Temporary feelings of depression are normal healthy reactions after a life-changing or traumatic event such as isolation, health challenges, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, etc. However, if a person suffers from chronic depression, melancholia or dysthymia, this is a major depressive disorder. What is the difference and what steps can you take right now to help with your symptoms of depression? Continue reading

30 Tips for Reducing Stress Naturally

Are you feeling worried or stressed? Wondering how to avoid family conflicts? Feeling hopeless about managing your finances? Feeling overwhelmed, tired or fatigued?  Looking for a way out?  It’s the time of year when most of us are experiencing heightened feelings of anxiety and worry. Here are 30 safe and quick tips that have shown to be effective in reducing stress and anxiety any time of the year. Continue reading

The Healing Power of the Drum

Shamanic DrummingHow Can Drumming Heal the Body?  The healing power of the drum has been known throughout the ages. Ancient shamans used drums and other rhythm instruments to induce trance states. In the trance state, the shaman contacts other realms of consciousness and returns with information to help heal the patient. The vibration of the drum also induced healing reactions in the patient. These practices are still being used to today.

Energy healing is about bringing the client’s energy systems back into order. The healer can work directly on the energy centers or chakras by using hands on techniques or music and sound can be utilized. Some healers often place the drum over blocked energy centers and drum with the intention of bringing that chakra back into harmony. The beauty of this is that nothing is forced and the chakra naturally makes a shift.

Shamanic Drumming

Why Is Drumming Effective in Healing? When we are healthy we have a lot of energy. When we are sick our energy is low or depleted. Just listening to music with an upbeat can energize a sick person. When we exercise we feel energized because the energy of our bodies has been activated through breath, movement and rhythm. This is what the drum can do.  All cultures, including Western European, had traditions of using drums in their cultures. The advent of the Judeo Christian ethos and the suppression of the Goddess in both Western and Eastern cultures began the decline of the use of the drum and the healing power of the shaman. Drums can be found in the Druid tradition of the Celts, the tribal nations of pre-colonized America as well as throughout the tribal nations of Africa.

Who Were the First Drummers? In her book, When the Drummers Were Women, Layne Redmond provides evidence that the first drummers were most likely women. Over 3,000 years ago, drums were used for healing purposes as well as for ceremonial occasions such as births, deaths and marriages. The use of drums for individual and community healing pervade the African Culture.
African Drumming

It would take volumes and a library of CDs to discuss African drumming. Each tribe had its own type of drum and its own use of rhythm. In the African culture, specific rhythms are used for healing specific illnesses. Other rhythms are used for births and for the transition of death. Some of these traditions are still alive in Africa. Drumming was used for communication among African tribes. Later, in pre-Civil War America, slaves used drums to communicate to each other and lead each other out of slavery. When the drums were taken away, they used their feet and invented tap dancing. The preservation of African drumming is due to such drum Masters as the late Baba Olatunji (Drums of Passion) and Guinean Drum Master Mamaday Keita.

Shamanic Drumming
Such widely spread indigenous people as the tribal nations of North America, Siberians and the Finnish (as well as others) used the frame drum that we associate with shamanic drumming. A shamanic drum is constructed to produce a precise response. When struck, the drum produces several tones. These simultaneous tones known as harmonics stimulate both alpha and theta waves in the brain. The mind in brought into a meditative and dreamlike state. At the same time, the mind focuses upon the monotonous and repetitive drum beat. The chattering monkey mind quiets. In this state, the Spirit expresses itself through image, symbols, song/chant, tones, colors, and sensations! This is the essence of the Shamanic Journey.

Buddhist DrummingWhat is Tibetan Buddhist Drumming? The Tibetan Buddhists have employed drums as part of their religious rituals for over 3,000 years. In addition, Buddhists use the harmonics produced by the Singing Bowls for healing purposes. These harmonics act in similar ways to the shamanic drum. It is made of specially smelted metals that create specific vibrations and frequencies. Everything in our body has a vibration or frequency. This includes our heart beat, our breath, or circulation, our craniosacral fluid and our cells. So it is no wonder that drumming along with meditation can change the cellular structure and bring the body back into balance.

What Does Research Say About Drumming?
Recent medical and scientific studies are documenting the healing power of the drum. These studies have shown that drumming lowers blood pressure, improves the immune system, eases depression, and ameliorates the symptoms Alzheimer’s. For example, a landmark controlled scientific investigation by Bittman and colleagues, (Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine, January 2001) demonstrated “statistically significant positive cell-mediated immune system changes that correlated with one-hour group drumming sessions”(International Journal of Nursing Education Scholarship, July 9, 2004). And so science is catching up with the mystics and the shamans.

Group DrummingFinally, drumming is fun…and fun, as we all know, is healing. Laughing, dancing, and chanting with a drum releases endorphins and lowers cortisol (stress hormone) levels. Drumming is expressive. When you pick up a drum you have a chance to express your own unique rhythm. There will never be another one like it and not one can replicate it, not even an identical twin. Drumming connects us. When we drum in a group we listen to other people. The rhythms we play together connect us energetically and emotionally. Drumming teaches us to communicate better.

The world is hungry for rhythm and harmony. In the last century this hunger emerged as the blues, jazz, rock and roll and now rap. The commercialization of the rhythm can distort it though. We need the individual rhythms to be heard. We need to make our own music. The world needs to hear and know your rhythm while you are among us. So go out and find your drum. The one that speaks to you. Then proceed like this. Take your hands and gently beat it to your own heart rhythm – one one – pause – one –one pause.

Some good reading: When the Drummers Were Women, by Layne Redmond, Planet Drum by Mickey Hart, The Way of the Shaman, by Michael Harner.  There are plenty of good CDs out there. Check out Baba Olatunji’s “Drums of Passion,” and Mamaday Keita, Layne Redmond, Mickey Hart, and Glen Velez among others.

This article is written by Carole Pink, Shamanic Drummer, Cranio-Sacral, Energetic Practitioner, and Holistic Health Educator for the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance.  For more information about the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance or to join us and have your health article printed here on our blog, Contact us. 

Prescription Drugs – Mind/Heart Wisdom

Do we use abuse prescription drugs? Can we reduce the incidence of prescription drug use and drug abuse in our country? Are there other alternative and holistic health options besides prescription drugs?

Buon pomeriggio, friends and health enthusiasts!

Today mind/heart wisdom, drug use, pain and stress relief is the MBHA topic and focus. Although this is a time to be grateful and filled with love, holiday shoppers can be seen frantically grabbing  hot deals, and family members can overeat, overwork, lose their tempers, and experience pain and fatigue. It’s a reminder that holiday stress often brings aches and pains, financial worries and debt, and drugs are often the chosen remedy and quick fix.  Using the mind/heart wisdom is so important during these times. Let’s check out some current statistics about the drug dilemma here in the United States.

Here are a few startling facts.

Prescription Drugs

Click to enlarge photo, and copy and share with friends. According to a recent report by the NIDA, 25% of adults who started abusing prescription drugs at 13 years of age or younger met clinical criteria for addiction later in life.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), unintentional death from overdose of opioids has quadrupled steadily since 1999 and now outnumbers those deaths from heroin and cocaine combined.  Between 1991 and 2010, prescriptions for stimulants increased from 5 million to nearly 45 million and for opioid analgesics from about 75.5 million to 209.5 million, or about 36% increase.

The medication most frequently abused is pain relievers.

Out of the more than seven million people abusing prescription drugs, more than five million people abused pain relievers in the past year.

The good news is that while cannabis use has risen in the United States, prescription drug abuse among youth and adolescents has dropped in the past year, but prescription drug abuse and death from prescription drugs, still remains a major concern. Social, emotional and mental stress, physical injuries, acute and chronic illnesses, environmental toxicities, poor diet, lack of sleep, and other situations can cause severe body pain.

So what can we do?

The  often used phrase “Mind/Heart Wisdom” comes to mind. As a holistic health nonprofit,  it is the mission of the Monterey Bay Holistic Alliance (MBHA) staff and volunteers to share alternative and complimentary approaches to healing.  The list is long  (energetic healing, naturopathic, homeopathic, acupuncture, herbal remedies, yoga, Tai Chi, aromatherapy, essential oils, hypnotherapy, light therapy, music therapy, and much more, too numerous to name).

Certainly there are situations where prescription drugs are necessary.

A health education nonprofit, such as MBHA acknowledges each individual’s right to choose his or her way of healing.  Like many educational service organizations, we are  here as to offer solutions when one way has failed and a person is seeking other options. However, we as a nation and as a world, can choose to use Mind/Heart Wisdom.  We can choose to listen to that inner guidance and higher wisdom within each of us, to know how to care for our bodies.  Of course, that’s easier said than done. If we are deep in depression, Mind/Heart Wisdom is hard to hear.

Let us remember those 5 million people and make wise choices this holiday season. 

This holiday season, we at MBHA plan to continue to nurture and nourish ourselves and share this information with you, as a health education nonprofit.  When the head, knees and back are aching, we’re  going to try to listen to the Mind/Heart Wisdom and ask, “What can I do to love my body?”   Prescription drugs and pain killers are certainly important for the survival and comfort of many people around the world, yet there might be times when we can do some stretching exercises, change the diet, get more sleep, or visit an alternative therapist before considering taking more pain medications.  We invite you to share with us. Let us explore ALL health options, and listen and learn together on this journey in life.

Sending love and best wishes,
The MBHA Staff and Volunteers