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Danielle Gomez

Music Education vs. Music Therapy: Should there be a line?

September 29, 2009 at 7:55 AM

 I studied music therapy in college.  At the end of my four years I decided to forgo the internship necessary to become certified and took up teaching the violin.  I mention this only to make clear that I have exposure to the field but am not a certified, practicing music therapist.

What was interesting to me in my therapy classes was the emphasis placed on drawing the line between the fields of music education and music therapy.  In many ways this makes perfect sense to me.  Music therapists must define their role in order to "sell their product." They wish to work in a therapist capacity rather than be hired to direct the high school band or teach an instrument.

About three months ago I took on a special ed violin student.  He has ADHD and occasional anxiety attacks.  He's doing really well on the violin and his mom commented to me that playing the violin has improved his fine motor skills and has really helped him to organize and focus his thoughts.  That comment made me start to think.  Is the line between music education and music therapy really all that clear cut?

The way I see it, the process of learning or participating in music is therapeutic by nature.  It has been scientifically proven that musicians develop certain areas of their brain that non-musicians do not.  Even those who do not play an instrument will use music to affect their mood.  For example, people will listen to certain music to make themselves excited or to relax. 

I would be interested to see everyone's opinion on this matter.  Does anyone have any experience with music therapy?  How do you think that compares to a more traditional music lesson setting?  Do you think people take away different things from these two environments?

From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on September 29, 2009 at 5:12 PM

Well, it works on me!!!   I have my music (most efficient for me are the two bach concertos from Oistrakh) that I plug in my ears each time I become angry and fuming over my bad practices (these days where you play as if it was the first time or... almost : )   It always makes me happy in a few seconds and works way better than a psy  (I think).  Is this considered music therapy???   Also, for someone who comes from a family where some are severly affected by coordination problems and followed by OT's (I don't have any "official" problems but since it's in my genetic... ) let's say that violin is a therapy for me.  My general postured improved and my shoulder and back muscles are stronger. I think my poor coordination has improved (at least in violin!) And  with violin as a hobby, I bacame less shy and more confident, it gave me dreams and a life purpose which I didn't have.  Performing learns me nerves control, how to be a better person etc.  I think it's a psychological therapy in itself, no? 

So, I don't know if you were refering to psychological or physical therapy but it's good for the two!!! The line is very thin if there is any!

I know a teacher that has an authistic student and it does wonders to insert him socially. I also have heard of some programs to prevent criminality and delinquence in kids.  All this by only following music lessons...


From eugene cantera
Posted on September 29, 2009 at 8:47 PM

The saddest part of this post is that our only options upon graduation is 'to be hired to direct the high school band or teach an instrument'.  Our profession (music education) has done a woeful job of promoiting itself and it's no wonder why a 'sect' like music therapy would want to set itself apart - probably as far as it could from music education.

That being said, I teach in a private, for-profit music education facility and have over the years worked with students with head trauma, hearing loss, blindness, cerebral palsey, ADD and ADHD as well as emotional stress disorders.  They came to us not because we have faculty with degrees in music therapy, but because we have over the years been a true community school, working with students of all ages and ability and because we are compassionate as well as passionate music educators.  These families already understood the power and importance of music and what it can do as part of a holistic healthy curriculum

Perhaps we shuld borrow a page from the therapists playbook andcreate for-profit music facilities in all communities. Then we could hire therapists (they should work for us) and provide future music educators with more options upon graduation.  We need to get the profession healthy through entrepreneurial thinking and marketing - then perhaps we can  truly 'save the music'.

Posted on September 29, 2009 at 11:53 PM

'sect' like music therapy would want to set itself apart - probably as far as it could from music education.

MT is a most laudable profession. However, the vast majority of therapists that I have met and yes, worked among have this lofty ego, until they must play an instrument...very, very weak on playing ability.

From Danielle Gomez
Posted on September 30, 2009 at 4:19 AM

 Well my intention was not to sneer at any one profession.  I don't think that music education people can only become band directors.  That was merely an example.

Mostly I was trying to question the... I don't even know the best word for it.... wisdom? validity? Of trying to separate these two aspects of music.  As I mentioned before, music is therapeutic by nature.  To me, the best kind of educator is one that uses all aspects of the subject material to convey a point.  And the best kind of therapist is one that uses every resource at their disposal.  Why can't teaching an instrument or leading a band be a part of that?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on September 30, 2009 at 4:38 AM

I think it's a very valid question. I've had a number of adult students who seemed to turn to the violin to do something constructive with their energies during a mid-life crisis, or to get over a divorce. Certainly, learning to play the violin can be therapeutic in many ways: the slow building of a real skill, overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles, the music itself.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on September 30, 2009 at 7:36 AM

I have one student who is an autistic man in his twenties.  Teaching him music probably does not affect his autism, but it adds richness to his life, a life limited in many ways.  Teaching him is a very enjoyable challenge.

I agree with Laurie.  Everyone has problems.  If we establish good rapport with our students, we can talk to them in ways that make them feel better about themselves, stronger, more able to weather storms, and enable them to have some fun, too.  Never underestimate the importance of fun.  I've often had adult students thank me for being caring and supportive.  I've had parents of my students thank me for helping their kids psychologically.  To my surprise, I've recently had a few parents of my students thank me for being compassionate and helpful to them (the parents themselves).

I love what Ricky Skaggs, one of the best folk musicians alive, has to say on the subject.  "To minister to someone through music is a wonderful be able to make someone feel better than they did before they came [to one of my performances]...Music comes from heaven."

From Ann Marie Cordial
Posted on September 30, 2009 at 7:10 PM

I truly believe that music can affect mood and various parts of the brain.  I always listened to classical music...long before I even thought about playing the violin.

My own personal experience on the matter........just a year ago, I was a competitive fencer. (I gave up fencing to devote more time to music).  I remember going to a rated tournament and listening to Saint-Saens on my iPod beforehand to calm my nerves.  Well, it worked like a charm. 

I was so "relaxed" during the tourney that my attacks and parries were, to say the least, very zen.  Very...ho hum. 

I was competing with highly rated competitive fencers, and ended up on the receiving end of one of the most brutal defeats ever.  By the time the "zen" wore off, the tournament was over.  I never let that happen again. 

---Ann Marie

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