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  • Writer's pictureCarla Tanguay, MA, MT-BC

Music Lessons with a Music Therapist

At Modulations Therapies, we provide both music lessons and music therapy services to people of all ages and abilities. What is the difference? Simply, our goal.

Music therapy uses music as a tool to address challenges and goals that are not musical in nature, but rather are related to physical, cognitive, emotional, and social functioning and wellbeing. Clients may play instruments in sessions, but they also might not. Music lessons hold learning about music as the central goal. Other, non-musical benefits likely occur (strengthening areas related to physical, cognitive, emotional, and social wellbeing), but they are not the primary focus.

As a board-certified music therapist with an undergraduate degree in music education and graduate degree in music therapy, I bring both clinical and educational skills to all of my work. Therefore, both my music therapy sessions and music lessons reflect my core beliefs and hold the flexibility to adapt in the moment to each person's unique strengths and needs.

My Approach and Beliefs

My approach to music lessons is whole-person, rather than instrument-specific. I am interested in my students as people first, and as musicians second. My first question to students each lesson is typically, "How are you doing today", or "How is your week going", rather than "What did you achieve on your instrument this week?"

My approach to lessons is strengths-based, meaning I aim to amplify each individual's skills, strengths and successes, rather than focusing on deficits or "problems". A strengths-based approach gives control and agency to students, and empowers them to realize their own potential.

Questions to Explore

Why are you studying music?

When assessing if I am the right teacher for a prospective student, I ask what is the primary goal of lessons. If the answer is mastery of a specific instrument, then I refer them to another teacher. If the answer is to foster a love of music, to explore music-making, for brain benefits or cognitive health, for general wellbeing, or for fun, then we are likely a great fit.

How do you best learn?

My approach adapts to each person's own learning style and physical abilities. It doesn't require reading music, perfect posture, or traditional technique. Students who are visual learners get additional visual supports. Students who need help focusing incorporate sensory breaks and structural supports. If a student is dyslexic, we might use colors or sound maps to represent music. If a student is missing a digit or has motor impairments, we can use physical supports or alternative tunings. One of the benefits of music lessons with a music therapist is that we specialize in partnering with people who have different physical and learning needs.

What is YOUR goal?

It is my job to bring skills, expertise, and adaptations that help each student meet their own individual goals and needs. It is the job of the student to define what their goals are, what they hope to get out of lessons, and how we will work together.

What kind of music do you like?

Most people who take music lessons do so because they love music. But that doesn't mean they love all music. I work to incorporate whatever musical styles, themes, and interests motivate each student. Lessons are guided by student's musical preferences, without any agenda or expectation from the teacher to play a certain style or genre of music.

What are the benefits of music lessons?

Music lessons encompass so much more than simply learning to play an instrument. Music is a whole-brain activity, and whether or not a music teacher has extensive training in music therapy or music psychology, students receive a wide range of benefits from studying music.

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