What is music therapy? Music therapy is a clinical and evidence-based practice that uses music and music activities to accomplish goals within a therapeutic relationship between an individual and a therapist. It is an established healthcare profession in which music therapists create individualized goals and treatment plans based on client strengths, needs, and musical preferences to address physical, emotional, cognitive, communicative, and social areas of need. Treatment may include passive and active music activities such as creating, singing, moving to, and/or listening to music. Through musical involvement in a therapeutic context, clients’ abilities are strengthened and transferred to other areas of their lives.
Benefits of group music making. Social skills, interpersonal communication, and emotional skills are specifically addressed in group music therapy. Interacting musically can be safe and fun way to learn interpersonal communication and appropriate social behaviors. Singing and/or playing instruments in a group can help individuals learn cooperation, sharing, turn-taking, eye contact, attention, and appropriate greetings. For example, playing instruments within a group can assist an individual in learning the concept of turn-taking. During instrument play activities individuals can play solos, as well as play together as a group which addresses the act of having a conversation with others. One must take turns and wait for their turn to play, but still remain focused, listening to others while they are playing for the group. Learning and practicing social interaction skills can assist an individual in feeling more comfortable about initiating conversations and communicating with others. A research study on music therapy showed that music-based activities increased unprompted interactions between four adults with developmental disabilities by 62% (Hooper, 2001). Group music therapy provides individuals with the opportunity to express themselves with others in a therapeutic environment. Individuals can express themselves verbally or through music during structured and/or spontaneous activities. Experiences within a group, can lead to increased comfortability which can increase an individual’s self-esteem and decrease anxiety in social situations.
“Music is an active social phenomenon that can be used to help create flourishing communities in which the diversity of individual difference is celebrated, and support is shared” – Steele, 2016
Music therapy in a community context provides the opportunity for individuals with disabilities to collaborate with other members of their community to develop and strengthen community relationships through a shared musical experience. These community musical experiences occur within a safe environment, free of judgement where all individuals are encouraged to express themselves and participate in authentic interactions to create community connections. Making music accessible to the larger community can greatly contribute to societal integration of individuals who face various challenges as it allows them to partake in experiences of beauty and sharing (Vaillancourt, 2012). Music therapy in the community provides a space for community members to come together in a way that transcends differences and provides a sense of equality. Individuals with disabilities are interacting with others physically, musically, and socially through shared community music experiences which build friendships, strengthen relationships, and extend social networks. Clarkson and Killick (2016) stated, “the quality of life and well-being of participants in [community music] groups improved because of the shared experiences of mutuality, understanding, and empathic exploration within whole group music making”.
While community music therapy fosters relationship building and extends social networks, it also increases self-esteem and provides the opportunity for individual strengths to be showcased. Individuals are given the opportunity to feel empowered as they perform and share their musical talents with others. Client strengths are celebrated and they are free to express themselves musically to their community. The performance process has been shown to lead to individual pride, along with increased autonomy and self-esteem (Rudd, 1997). Therefore, music therapy in the community benefits the individual and communal well-being of an individual.
Get Involved! Spotted Rabbit Studio’s Community Music Program offers quality music making experiences with a focus on music skill building and performance training. The program aims to improve social skills, communication, and self-esteem with the goal of bringing participants into the community in which they live. Personalized music activities will assist participants in developing collaborative and interactive performances to bring into their community. Participants will work together to choose musical pieces to create and perform. The program is open to individuals age 18 and older who have an interest in pursuing music making in a collaborative capacity. It is open to individuals of all ability levels. Click here to learn more!
Article written by Emily Silco, MS, MT-BC. She has her master’s in Creative Arts Therapy where she completed a thesis on music therapy in the community. Emily is working toward NYS licensure as a mental health professional at Spotted Rabbit Studio where she is accepting individual clients, as well as group clients in the Community Music Program.
References & Resources
Clarkson, A. R. & Killick, M. (2016). A Bigger Picture: Community Music Therapy Groups in Residential Settings for People with Learning Disabilities. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 16(3), 1-15.
Hooper, J. (2001). Overcoming the problems of deinstitutionalization: Using music activities to encourage interaction between four adults with a developmental disability. Music Therapy Perspectives, 19(2), 121-127.
Rudd, E. (1997). Music and the quality of life. Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 6(2), p.86-97.
Steele, M. E. (2016). How can music build community? Insight from theories and practice of community music therapy. Voices: A World Forum for Music Therapy, 16(2), 1-17.
Vaillancourt, G. (2012). Music therapy: A community approach to social justice. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39(3), 173-178.