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

Music Therapy in Schools

Music therapy is utilized in school systems across the country to help students meet physical, emotional, social, cognitive, and academic goals. Board certified music therapists (MT-BCs) work with classroom teachers, special services departments, and other licensed therapists to help students thrive. Some school districts have music therapists on staff, others contract with a local MT-BC, and others use music therapists in consultant roles.

Modulations Therapies provides group and individual music therapy, adaptive music lessons, and music enrichment programs to public schools, private schools, and early intervention programs throughout Hancock County, Maine. Some of these programs are grant funded, some are part of the school’s operational budget, and others are IEP-based services. Our most successful programs are long-term, voluntary partnerships with schools who have seen the benefits of music therapy with their students and work with us on creative funding approaches.

Music therapy has many benefits within a school system. Music therapists work together with principals, educators, and therapists to identify individual or groups of students who could benefit from music therapy. These are often students with complex needs or who are not reaching their potential through traditional instruction or therapy services. Educators who see students thrive in response to music therapy interventions frequently become our strongest advocates.

Music Therapy and IEPs

When music therapy services are not offered by a school or district, IEP committees (including parents) can request a music therapy assessment be administered by a board certified music therapist. This assessment will determined if music therapy qualifies as a related service.

According to IDEA, related services are additional services that are deemed necessary by the IEP team for a child to benefit from special education. Related services include common therapies, such as occupational, physical, and speech therapy, counseling, and school nurse services. Music therapy may also be one of these related services.

Students qualify for music therapy as a related service on their IEP if:

  • Music is a primary motivator or learning strength of the student

  • The student shows increased progress towards IEP goals when music therapy interventions are utilized, or

  • The IEP team is supported in a unique way through music therapy


What is the best way to access music therapy services at my school?

Our most successful programs are long-term, voluntary partnerships with schools who have seen the benefits of music therapy and work with us on creative funding approaches. We recommend that you express your desire to see music therapy services available to students at your school and ask your adminstrators to reach out to us. We can provide evidence-based research on the benefits of music therapy, help explore funding options, and develop a plan to bring these services to students.

What if my school says music therapy is not available or allowed?

Some school systems are not aware that music therapy is an allowable related service, and by law parents or teachers can make a request for a music therapy evaluation through their IEP team. A request for a music therapy evaluation cannot legally be denied due to budget constraints or because a student receives music education.

One of the positive things that came out of Covid-19 is that many music therapists in Maine are now offering remote/virtual services, so even if there is not a music therapist in your county, you may be able to access services online. If you need additional support or clarification, contact me or the Maine Music Therapy Resource.

What is IDEA/IEP?

The Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) is a federal law that governs school services for children with disabilities. The purpose of IDEA is to provide free, appropriate public education to all students (0-22 years old). IDEA provides guidance to states on what services are to be provided to students with disabilities. IEP stands for Individualized Education Program and it is the guide for what programs and services a student with an identified disability will receive.

What does IDEA say about Music Therapy?

“If a child’s IEP Team determines that an artistic or cultural service such as music therapy is an appropriate related service for the child with a disability, that related service must be included in the child’s IEP under the statement of special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child or on behalf of the child. 34 CFR §300.320(a)(4). "

How to I get music therapy added to my child/client’s IEP?

The process for getting music therapy added as a related services is similar to other related services. The IEP team would request an evaluation/assessment from a board-certified music therapist. The music therapist will then assess the student and compile a report comparing responses during music therapy intervention to other situations. Once the IEP team receives the completed assessment, they will determine if the results indicate that the service should be added.

What is the SEMTAP?

The Special Education Music Therapy Assessment Process is a published, standardized assessment tool utilized across the country to determine if music therapy is a necessary service for a student to benefit from their education. It includes a review of IEP records, observation and interview, clinical assessment by a board-certified music therapist, and a written report.

References and Resources

Coleman, K. & King, B. (1999). Special Education Music Therapy Assessment Process (SEMTAP). Prelude Music Therapy; Grapevine, TX.

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