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

The 5 Ws of Music Therapy

As a music therapist, I frequently get asked questions about my work. People are genuinely excited to learn more about such a curiously-named profession. "Is it like therapy for musicians?", "What do you actually do with people?", and "Does it work for ..." are discussions I have on a daily basis. Here are answers to your frequently asked questions about music therapy. If you learn something, share this with a friend!

WHO is Music Therapy For?

Music therapy is for anyone looking for a creative, personalized approach to therapy that you’ll actually look forward to!

We serve quirky kids, older adults, people with chronic health problems and serious medical conditions, and anyone seeking personal change or growth. Our clients are persistent and open-minded, with high expectations. They want the best services available, from a healthcare provider who really cares. They are looking for a positive approach that values their strengths and individuality while using science-backed techniques that really work.

Music therapists work on the same goals and with the same populations as other therapists, like physical and occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, and psychotherapists. We help people with problems related to gait and movement after a stroke or TBI. We work on goals related to speech, diction, and non-verbal communication. We help people process grief, express their feelings, and cope with mental health issues. We work with pre-school and school-aged children on goals related to academics, social skills, and developmental milestones. We help people with Parkinson’s Disease and dementia recall memories and connect with loved ones.

Music therapy is not just for musicians, and you don’t need to be “musical” to benefit. Most of our clients are not musicians at all. Music is the tool used for therapy, not an outcome or performance by the client. Your music therapist is a trained musician (and trained therapist), so you don’t need to be!

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WHAT happens in music therapy?

Just like there is no “typical” individual, there is no “typical” music therapy session. Our clients range in age from 1-101 years old and have a wide variety of abilities and needs. Sessions look very different depending on the person and reason we are meeting. Yet, common elements in all sessions include 1) music and 2) a goal or purpose.

When meeting a music therapist for the first time, you can expect us to spend time getting to know you and conducting an assessment, just like other therapists do. We will gather information about your strengths and needs, identify goals, and develop a plan to meet those goals. Your therapist will learn what types of music you enjoy and explore how music can be used to help meet your goals.

For example, a music therapy session with a young child will likely involve exploring a wide variety of instruments that the therapist brings to the session. These instruments become the tools for therapy, as a way to work on motor skills, practice communication, or reinforce learning. We will share songs, incorporate puppets and other visuals, and use the engaging nature of music to target specific goals in a fun and motivating environment.


Sessions with older adults often involve their favorite music from the past. We may sing old favorites together, or share memories evoked by the songs. For clients working on movement goals, we might pair music with exercises. Singing is used to practice breath control and improve certain speech problems. I typically arrive with my guitar, large repertoire of music, and a few percussion instruments and see where the day’s needs and energy levels lead.

Other sessions may include songwriting, just listening to music together, guided imagery, drumming, or responsive live music provided by the therapist. If a client wants to learn an instrument, that can be incorporated into our goals. If the client is medically fragile or has sensory sensitivities, music therapists adapt to their needs. Sometimes, sessions include family members and caregivers. Other times, music therapy is provided as a group service.

Music therapy sessions are designed to be supportive, non-threatening, and enjoyable. If you’ve never seen a music therapy session, it may sound awkward to have someone come to your house to share music. I assure you, it isn’t! Music therapists are experts in making music accessible for everyone, no matter their age, experience, or preferences.

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WHEN and WHERE do sessions take place?

At Modulations Therapies, we provide music therapy sessions in homes, schools, and facilities throughout Hancock and Penobscot Counties. Most private clients are seen in their own homes, allowing them the comforts of home and eliminating the need to travel to yet another appointment. Schools and facilities contract with us to provide both group and individual sessions with their students and residents at the location of their choice. This allows us to collaborate with other healthcare and education professionals and serve as part of the treatment team.

Most commonly, sessions last an hour and occur on a weekly basis. This varies based on individual needs, age and attention span, financial considerations, and scheduling availability. Some clients with ongoing needs use our services for months or even years, while others see us for just a few sessions. Your therapist will work with you on a schedule that meets your needs and goals.

WHY Music Therapy?

Music therapy offers an enjoyable and accessible way to reach measurable developmental and healthcare goals while feeling valued and supported.

Music therapy is both an art and a science. It is touchy-feely and evidence-based. It is creative and spontaneous, yet deliberate and measured. Music therapy is one of the few approaches to treatment that honors and recognizes our whole range of needs, including the physical, social, cognitive, emotional, and spiritual.

Music is our tool for therapy because of the way music impacts our brains and bodies. Music makes us feel good. It triggers emotions, brings back memories, motivates us, and connects us to one another. It can also change our heart rate, blood pressure, and even how our brains process information. We know this not just because we see it in our work every day, but because decades of research and study have proven that music therapy is an effective treatment approach. Music therapists study the science and psychology behind music and use evidence-based techniques in our practice.

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HOW do I set up an appointment?

The best way to figure out if music therapy is right for you or your loved one is to meet with a music therapist. Your therapist will be able to answer any questions you have and help you determine if it is a good treatment approach for you.

If you are looking for a therapist in the Hancock, Penobscot, or Washington County Maine area, contact us here or call us at 207-812-8662 to get answers to your questions and schedule a meeting or appointment. 

If you are in another part of Maine, visit the Maine Music Therapy Resource to find information about board-certified music therapists in your area, including a helpful "Find a Therapist" tool. You can locate music therapists in other parts of the country by visiting the American Music Therapy Association website

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