• Stephanie Kaiser

Music Therapy vs. Music Lessons: What's the Difference?

Though music lessons and music therapy sessions can have a lot of similarities, they are different types of services. So what's different between them? And what would be most appropriate for you or your loved one? Let's break it down!


There are 4 central differences between 1:1 music therapy and music lessons: The types of goals addressed, how instruments are used, the qualifications of the provider, and how progress is documented.

1. Types of Goals Addressed:

This is a big difference between music lessons and music therapy. In music lessons, it's all about getting an education on a specific instrument, whether that be guitar, piano, or bassoon, etc. These musical education skills might include:

  • Technical Skills: Improving how well you play

  • Reading Music: Learning to interpret musical symbols

  • Music Theory: Understanding the language of music

  • Playing with Others: Playing an instrument in a group

  • Performance: Playing your instrument in front of an audience​

In music therapy, the person receiving services will focus on specific goals that are usually non-musical. What does that mean? It means that we address skills that are used in everyday life, but we use music to work on them! These skills might include:

  • Physical Skills: Skills related to the body, such as improving movement, strength, and coordination

  • Cognitive Skills: Skills related to the mind that are used to think, learn, read, remember, pay attention, organize information, and solve problems

  • Communication Skills: Skills related to speech and language, including non-verbal language

  • Social Skills: Skills related to behavior and interaction with others

  • Emotional Skills: Skills such as identifying, expressing, and exploring feelings, and addressing areas such as coping skills and self-esteem

Music is used as a tool in music therapy by playing, creating, listening, and interacting. Though the overall goals are different, no musical experience is required for either music lessons or music therapy.


2. How Instruments Are Used

In music lessons, the student must have their own instrument so they can practice at home and bring it along to lessons. A music student will usually focus on taking lessons for one instrument at a time.

In music therapy, there is no requirement for a personal instrument unless the client would like to get one. Also, in music therapy, sessions may incorporate any number of instruments, which the music therapist will supply for the duration of the session. Sometimes, music therapy sessions don't use instruments at all! (the voice is a powerful thing!)

3. Qualifications of the Provider

This is another central difference between music lessons and music therapy. In lessons, there are no specific requirements of the teacher, though it is common to have several years of experience playing or a music degree.

In music therapy, sessions are provided by a Board-Certified Music Therapist. A Board-Certified Music Therapist has undergone extensive clinical, musical, and academic training to provide music therapy sessions. This includes over 1200 hours of supervised music therapy practice, a minimum of a Bachelor's Degree in Music Therapy, passing the Board Certification Exam, and maintaining their knowledge of research and practice through continued education.


4. Documenting Progress

In music lessons and music therapy, it's common for the teacher or therapist to keep track of the student or client's progress:

  • A music teacher tracks student progress by keeping notes of the student's assignments and songs they have learned

  • A music therapist tracks client progress on goals with thorough documentation that uses session data, observations, and an ongoing assessment of the client's interests, strengths and needs

Depending on what you are trying to accomplish, either music lessons or music therapy may be the appropriate choice. Still not sure? You can take a short assessment quiz here, or contact me for a free trial music therapy session or music lesson here!

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© 2021 by Stephanie Kaiser