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Top 5 Goals Addressed In Music Therapy

Updated: Dec 8, 2022

As a music therapist, I often take for granted that people understand what I do. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, as music therapists are almost constantly advocating for the efficacy and amazingness of what we do. We use music to help people achieve their goals…. What could be better?


We use music to help people achieve their goals…. What could be better?


Because music is motivating and effective in addressing goals across numerous populations, music therapists can be found in schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, private practices, and more! Are all of those music therapists addressing similar goals? While the needs of our clients’ vary, the goals that music therapists work on are generally broken down into five domains: social, emotional, cognitive, communication, and physical.


When working in the social domain, music therapists are addressing specific goals like taking turns, making eye contact, interacting with a peer, or participating in group discussion. We address these skills through music interventions such as instrument playing and lyric discussion.

What might that look like?

A music therapist hands out handheld percussion instruments to children in her music therapy group. She begins singing a song with lyrics which narrate what is going on and encourages all the children to play together (i.e. "We're making music with our friends..."). Suddenly, the music changes and the music therapist is singing... "Share an instrument with your friend...." This musical cue prompts each child to switch instruments with a peer, therefore encouraging turn taking and peer awareness!


Clients may also come to a music therapist to work on goals relating to emotional needs. With children, this might look like learning and distinguishing between different emotions like sad, mad, happy, angry, worried, etc.. With adults, this could look like having a safe space to express feelings, such as grief or anxiety, with the support of a therapist. Music interventions to address emotional goals might consist of improvisation, instrument playing, or lyric analysis.

What might that look like?

During an individual session with a teenager, the music therapist asks if the client would like to sing a song that the client had brought up during the previous session. The client and the therapist play and sing through the song together. The lyrics refer to feelings of loneliness and depression. When the song finishes, the music therapist asks the client what they think the song is about. The music therapist continues the discussion by asking general and then specific questions about the lyrics and how they may relate to the client's own feelings. This provides the client with the opportunity to express emotions he may be feeling without having to talk about his own experience.


Music therapists also use music to address cognitive goals, like sustaining attention to a task or increasing short term memory skills. These goals might be addressed through music interventions like active instrument playing or musical storytelling.

What might that look like?

A 7 year-old girl is struggling to recall details from learning activities she participates in at school. During her music therapy session, she and the therapist sing a song about a dog and the dog's adventures with her owner. After each verse of the song, the therapist stops and asks the girl a question about what happened in the story, reinforcing the information that was just given in the song. After the song is done, the therapist assists the girl in recalling details from the story that was sung. The music therapist might use the music to assist in recalling those details by playing through a line or verse again as needed.


Clients might come to music therapy to work on communication skills, such as learning and implementing appropriate conversational skills, interpreting facial expressions, or pronouncing consonant sounds. These goals can be addressed through music experiences like singing, instrument playing, and writing story songs.

What might that look like?

A teenage boy with autism comes to music therapy to work on social and communication skills. His current objective is to implement conversational skills like taking turns and speaking at an appropriate volume. The music therapist engages him in a drumming experience in which he and the therapist take turns leading a call and response. The music therapist plays a rhythm and the client repeats it. After a few measures, they switch and the client leads by playing a rhythm that the therapist repeats. During this experience, the therapist might also encourage the client to be aware of his volume by musically prompting him to play louder and then softer.


Because music is an intrinsic force, it has the power to aid us in relaxation, motivate us to move, or to help us establish an internal tempo. When working in the physical domain, music therapists might address anything from pain management in cancer patients to gait training in adults with Parkinson's disease. Music interventions used to reach these goals might include music listening, movement to music, or instrument playing.

What might that look like?

A man participates in group music therapy at his assisted living facility. As the group is singing a familiar song, the music therapist comes up to him and prompts him to play the drum. The man reaches up and plays with his dominant hand. As he continues playing, the music therapist moves the drum a little further away and encourages him to reach farther, increasing his range of motion and addressing gross motor skills.



There are simple ways that you can use music to support your loved one's growth at home!

1. Try playing freeze dance with a preferred song to reinforce impulse control and sustained attention.

2. To practice turn taking and strengthen relational skills, you might take turns coming up with "drum beats" on your kitchen table.

3. For little ones, use fingerplay songs to develop and practice fine motor skills!


Isn't it awesome that music can be used to address so many goals!?

Click here to download a free checklist to see if music therapy is right for your family.

If you're interested in learning more about how music therapy can work for you, let us know!

Schedule a free consultation today with Noel

~ Kristin Wright, MT-BC


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