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Music Performance

What are Creative Therapies SERIES


Aiko Leung 


The British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) defines music therapy as follows

‘Music therapy is an established psychological clinical intervention, which is delivered by HCPC registered music therapists to help people whose lives have been affected by injury, illness or disability through supporting their psychological, emotional, cognitive, physical, communicative and social needs.’


The BAMT also mentions the role of music therapists as assisting clients to achieve better emotional and 
mental wellbeing, and development of communication skills through using music as a medium. BAMT

believe that music speaks to all, thus music therapy could assist a wide range of individuals to develop higher self-
confidence, better communication skills, social skills and become more focused. Clients are mainly children,

adolescents, disabled people and autistic individuals.


According to the American Music Therapy Association, the first-ever reference to music therapy dated back to 1789. It was popularized mainly during the early 1900s, in which music therapy associations started to emerge. Associations established include the National Society of Musical Therapeutics in1903, the National Association for Music in Hospitals in 1926 and the National Foundation of Music Therapy in 1941. All these associations however were not recognised as clinical professions.

Prominent figures who strived to link music therapy in relation to medical and therapeutic use include Thayer Gaston, the ‘father of music therapy’, Edwin (1804), Mathews (1806), Dr. Benjamin Rush, Ira Altshuler and Willem van de Wall. The first-ever recorded music therapy was conducted in the 1800s at Blackwell’s Island, while Music Therapy was proposed to be categorized as a clinical profession in the 1940s. In 1944, the first-ever academic music therapy program was offered at Michigan State University.



Music therapists often use natural musicality styles and free improvisation during sessions to interact with clients. To conduct a session, therapists have to be creative and flexible, so that they can tailor thesession in accordance to the clients’ needs (Thompson & McFerran 2015). A warm-up activity is usually used to kick-start the session, often in the form of a greeting song. Clients will then be exposed to various instruments or music alongside with specified strategies to encourage interactions as the main part. The session often comes to a close with a closing song that dim in volume to signify an end.


Interaction is reached through the use of rhythms, tone, beats, sound, thus obtaining a mutual music creative experience. Therapists encourage interactions through various strategies, such as repeating clients’ name as the improvised song lyrics, changing the tempo, pausing and modifying the volume (Thompson & McFerran, 2015). Clients often respond through voice, physical movement, facial expression or instruments, in which the professional therapists are able to interpret and respond to musically (Graham, 2004).


American Music Therapy Association. (n.d.). History of Music Therapy.

British Association for Music Therapy. (2017). What is music therapy.

Edwin, A. (1804). An inaugural essay on the influence of music in the cure of diseases. Philadelphia.

Graham, J. (2004). Communicating with the uncommunicative: music therapy with pre-verbal adults. British Journal of Learning Disabilities, 32, 24–29.

Mathews, S. (1806). On the effects of music in curing and palliating diseases. Philadelphia.

Thompson, G. A. & McFerran, K. S. (2015). Music therapy with young people who have profound intellectual and developmental disability: Four case studies exploring communication and engagement within musical interactions. Journal of Intellectual and Developmental Disability, 40(1), 1–11.

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