Music therapists use music and sound to help improve people's emotional wellbeing, relieve stress and improve confidence.
If you have a high level of musical ability and would like to use your communication skills to help people improve their lives, this could be the job for you.
In this role you will need to be able to relate well to all kinds of different people. You will also need to be non-judgemental and enjoy helping people.
To get into this job you will need a master’s qualification in music therapy. To do a master’s course you will need a diploma or degree in music, or a degree in psychology or education.
As a music therapist, you would encourage clients to explore sound and communicate through music, which can help them to:
- express themselves
- develop insight and create ways of relating to other people
- become aware of their feelings
- interact with other people more confidently
- bring about positive changes in their lives.
Before starting the music therapy, you would agree on a programme of activity with your client which you would review at regular intervals.
You would hold group and one-to-one therapy sessions to encourage your clients to explore sound and music. These sessions would involve you and your clients playing musical instruments, singing, listening and improvising together.
Your clients could include children or adults with learning disabilities, emotional or behavioural problems, speech and language difficulties, mental health problems, and those recovering from addictions.
You would monitor the effectiveness of the therapy sessions, and write case notes and reports.
Many music therapists work in the NHS, although there are opportunities for work in private practice. You could also be self-employed as a freelance music therapist.
If you are a music therapist within the NHS, you would work closely with other health care professionals such as nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists and speech and language therapists.
Your typical working hours would be between 9am and 5pm, Monday to Friday, although some jobs may involve evening or weekend sessions. Part-time and freelance work is common.
Your work would usually take place in a specially equipped music room.
You would normally see the same client or clients, in the same place at the same time each week.
Depending on the client group you were working with, you could work in various settings such as schools, hospitals, prisons and day centres. You may need to travel between different locations during your working day.
The pay system in the NHS is called Agenda for Change (AfC).
Music therapists usually start on AfC band 6, earning between £25,783 and £34,530. With experience you could progress to band 7 and earn up to £40,558.
If you became head of a music therapy department, you could earn up to £47,088 on band 8.
Fees in the private sector would be similar to NHS salaries.
To work as a state-registered music therapist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions council (HCPC). You can only register if you have completed a master’s qualification accredited by the British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT) and recognised by the HCPC.
Check the BAMT and HCPC websites for details of approved courses.
To get on to a master’s in music therapy, you will usually need a three-year diploma or graduateship from a college of music, or a degree in music from a university. You may be accepted with a degree in education or psychology, as long as you have a high standard of musical ability. Check with course providers for exact entry details.
Many institutions will also expect you to have experience of working with children, people with mental health issues or learning disabilities. Contact Volunteering England for details of local volunteering opportunities.
With some NHS Trusts, you could start out as an assistant therapist. For this role, you may not need any qualifications, but relevant paid or voluntary experience would be useful. Check NHS Jobs for vacancies.
You may have an advantage if you have a background in teaching, community or social work. A career as a professional musician would also be helpful.
Training and development
Once you are on an approved course, you will cover areas such as psychology, early infant development, psychodynamics, psychiatry, and the theory of music therapy. You will develop clinical music skills and attend work placements in hospitals, schools and other centres in the community, working with adults and children.
Courses will take two years if you are studying full-time, and three to four years if you do it on a part-time basis.
Once you have completed the course and registered with the HCPC, you can begin practising as a music therapist. In your first role, you will receive regular supervision from an experienced therapist who is trained as a supervisor.
You can keep your professional skills and knowledge up to date by attending short courses or workshops and becoming involved in research.
Skills, interests and qualities
To be a music therapist you should have:
- a high level of musical ability and knowledge of different styles of music
- a genuine desire to help people
- excellent communication skills
- creativity, intuition and imagination
- the ability to relate to people from all backgrounds
- a non-judgemental attitude
- emotional strength and the ability to cope with challenging situations
- an interest in psychology.
Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM)
10 Stratford Place
Tel: 020 7629 4413
PO Box 376
Tel: 0345 60 60 655
Health and Care Professions Council
184 Kennington Park Road
Tel: 020 7582 0866
British Association for Music Therapy (BAMT)
24-27 White Lion Street
Tel: 020 7837 6100
Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150850
You will find most opportunities in the NHS and local authorities. You could also find work with voluntary organisations, the Prison Service, or in private practice.
Some posts are part-time or temporary, and often depend on organisations gaining funding for particular projects. This could mean that you combine work as a music therapist with another job, or have more than one employer.
With experience, you could go on to lead a team of therapists or manage a music therapy unit.
You could also find a job in research, supported by a charity or a university.
There are also opportunities to work in education, by teaching other music therapy students on one of the recognised training courses.
You may find the following useful for details of vacancies and further information.
Related industry information
The health sector is represented by Skills for Health Sector Skills Council, which comprises three sub‐sectors:
- National Health Service (NHS)
- Independent Healthcare Sector (such as private and charitable healthcare providers)
- Third Sector (healthcare) (such as small local community and voluntary groups, registered charities, foundations, trusts, social enterprises and co‐operatives)
The health sector is made up of hospitals, doctors’ surgeries, dental practices, the ambulance service, nursing homes, residential care homes, complementary medicine and a huge range of other health related activities, from sight tests in opticians to research in medical laboratories. Most people in the health sector work in the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS), which includes:
- primary care (organisations which the public goes to first) – Doctors/General Practitioners (GPs), NHS Walk in Centres, NHS Direct, Out of Hours Emergency Care
- secondary care (organisations which the public are referred onto) – Ambulance Trusts, NHS Trusts/hospitals, NHS Foundation Trusts/hospitals, Mental Health Trusts, Care Trusts (provide joint health and social care activities)
NHS policy in England is directed from the centre by the Department of Health. Local organisations, known as Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), are in charge of providing and commissioning services, controlling the majority of the budget. PCTs are overseen by 10 regional organisations called Strategic Health Authorities (SHAs).
The independent sector includes companies and charities that offer hospital and specialist services usually after referral from a doctor. Operations and other work are carried out in private hospitals, independent treatment centres, mental health units and hospices.
- The health sector is the largest employer in the UK, representing 5.5% of the working age population of the UK and 7.3% of the working age population that are currently in employment.
- It is estimated that the sector employs over 2 million people, including:
- over 1.5 million people in the NHS (72%)
- over 0.5 million people in the Independent Healthcare sector (26%)
- almost 40,000 in the voluntary sector (2%)
- 56% of the workforce has a higher education qualification (or equivalent).
- The age profile for the sector shows an older than average workforce, which is due in part to the fact that it takes some professions a long time to train and can mean that people enter the sector later.
There is a varied list of jobs in the sector ranging from a diverse number of clinical roles, to support and infrastructure staff, for instance: Allied Health Professionals (AHPs); Ambulance Staff; Dental Staff; Doctors/Medical staff; Nursing staff; Midwifery Staff; Healthcare Scientists; Health Informatics Staff; Management; Wider Healthcare Team; Complementary Therapists.