Music Therapy Techniques, Exercises, And Outcomes

Updated January 26, 2023by ReGain Editorial Team

Somehow, amid our busy, harried lives, most of us find time to enjoy music. Whether you play an instrument, sing, write music, or listen to your favorite songs, music can make you feel better and more positive than you did before. Since Aristotle’s time, music has been used to help people heal. Then, following the World Wars, musicians working with veterans developed a new kind of therapy – the art and science of music therapy.

What Is This Kind Of Therapy?

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This kind of therapy is a type of intervention for various mental and physical challenges and conditions. It is based on the results of research studies and clinical reviews. The goals of this therapy depend on the needs of the individual and the setting where this therapy is taking place. A credentialed music therapist conducts therapy sessions where clients participate in music-related activities to enhance their physical and mental well-being.

This therapy is used to help people with conditions like:

  • Asthma
  • Brain injuries
  • Depression
  • Dementias, including Alzheimer’s
  • Disabilities, including cognitive, developmental, and physical
  • Mental health conditions
  • Pain
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • Substance abuse

Therapy Vs. Passively Listening to Music

Just passively listening to music can be very pleasant, but therapy is something very different. If you’re in a therapy session, you’re actively engaged with the music.

Even when the exercise you’re doing is receptive listening, it’s listening with a purpose. The therapist frames the musical experience before listening and leads a discussion afterward to help you gain new insights and perspectives.

Passive listening isn’t a structured music experience. That’s fine for what it is, but therapy is carefully designed to elicit specific outcomes. You may listen to music while you’re in the hospital to pass the time and feel more at home. However, therapy offers more benefits for your physical and mental health.

Therapy Techniques

Music therapists use a variety of techniques, including both creative and receptive interventions. People with physical and mental illnesses often find it hard to talk freely about their challenges and emotional pain surrounding their condition. Expression becomes an important factor in their recovery.

The strong emotions that often come with mental and physical conditions can be hard to deal with, too. People often feel stressed as they go through various therapies designed to help them work on their problems. When this happens, people sometimes need to receive therapy that soothes them and makes sense of their treatment.

Musical therapy has also been proven to help patients build motivation to get more involved in all aspects of their treatment. Most patients find it easy to become engaged in therapy. That engagement tends to translate into more cooperation with their overall treatment for whatever condition or illness.

Creative/Expressive Music Interventions

Creative music-making gives you the chance to express yourself in comfortable ways. You can improve your self-esteem when you create or perform music. You develop your cognitive skills when you take on the challenge of expressing yourself through music. Also, as you work with other patients to create and perform music, you can build better relationship skills.


When you improvise in music performance, you call on your cognitive skills to create music you’ve never heard before. You become more mentally flexible as you participate in this in-the-moment experience.

Improvising can take many forms within the context of music therapy. Your therapist may give you simple instructions to get you started. They might play music themselves and even start the improvisation exercise. Or, you might work from basic chords to improvise a melody or harmonize.

Song Writing

There are two main types of song-writing therapy techniques. The therapist can guide you and a group in writing song lyrics. This is a relatively simple task that nearly anyone can do. If you’re more musically inclined, the therapist might work with you to create the melody and harmony, too.

Songwriting is a technique that allows you to deal with your emotions constructively, which is an important skill to have when you complete your therapy. It gives you a chance to do mental work that’s not only fun and enjoyable but also improves your mental capabilities.


Drumming is typically a group exercise. The therapist offers various kinds of drums to patients, and they play together with or without accompanying music. The therapist uses drumming to get patients involved in their therapy and help them engage with each other. Drumming is especially helpful for people who have difficulty communicating in a social situation. The drum beats give them away from interacting with others on a nonverbal level.

Music Performance

Using music performance in musical therapy is a great technique for building self-esteem. With the therapist there to support them through the performance, patients have a chance to build their self-confidence.

Music performance techniques can be used within the group setting, with or without an additional audience. Deciding to perform and then preparing for the performance allows patients to make a concrete plan, follow through with it, and achieve success.

Movement to Music

Moving to music could be considered both an expressive and a receptive therapy technique. It helps patients feel a deep connection between their minds and bodies. It helps them relax and reduces their stress. With the therapist’s support, they feel more comfortable with who they uniquely are.

Reflective/Receptive Interventions

Receptive listening therapy techniques are designed to improve your engagement with the music. As you become more engaged in the music experience, you become more motivated to participate in your treatment.

Receptive Listening

Receptive listening in therapy means that you listen in a focused way. The receptive listening technique allows therapists to help people talk about and come to terms with problems they’re facing. As they build a framework for a better life, the music provides periods of respite from the work of getting better.

Lyric Discussion

Therapists can use the lyric discussion to help patients identify their specific problems or understand them better. Musical lyrics often bring up intense feelings, giving the therapist a chance to help them deal with them.

Lyric discussions can be done in group sessions to assist in relationship issues, shall they arise. When someone disagrees with another person’s interpretation of lyrics, the therapist can teach assertiveness and empathy skills.

Another way to use the lyric discussion technique is for the therapist to focus on the lyrics’ technical aspects. This may prompt patients to interact more freely since the subject is not usually rooted in the problems they’re in therapy for. Along the way, the therapist can identify problems and work with the patient more indirectly.

Music and Imagery

Music and Imagery is a specific therapy technique developed by Helen L. Bonny, Ph.D. If you see a therapist trained in this technique, they’ll talk to you about your current situation before guiding you in a relaxation technique. Finally, they play music while you talk about whatever comes to you as you listen, whether that’s images, thoughts, feelings, memories, or all of those.

This technique aims to integrate all aspects of your being to become physically, emotionally, cognitively, and spiritually healthier.

Mood and Music

Music has a great impact on mood. Often, music therapists use specific music styles to help people experience their feelings and improve their moods. This technique is often helpful when something unsettling has happened at the treatment center or an individual has had a crisis at home.

Therapy Exercises

Basic techniques are only helpful as therapists bring them to life in specific therapy exercises. The exercises are designed to be enjoyable, engaging, and serve some purpose in your therapy. If you’re in therapy for very long, you come to expect the unexpected since each session can be very different from the last.

Progressive Singing Tasks

One exercise used for people with speech problems, often due to brain injuries or other physical problems, comprises a series of progressive singing tasks. You might start by humming along with a song. As you become comfortable with that, the therapist suggests trying singing using a simple sound like “la.” Each task builds on the last, with the primary goal of helping you speak or speak more confidently.

Improvising with Simple Instruments

Playing simple instruments is a fun exercise that anyone from toddlers to seniors can enjoy. Music therapists can lead this exercise in a way that builds social skills. Each person usually gets a chance to choose their instrument. The therapist leads the exercise with instructions and suggestions and may improvise along with the group.

Writing Your Lyrics for an Existing Tune

You can explore your issues, express your feelings, and improve and display your verbal skills through a write-your-own-lyrics exercise. Either you or your therapist chooses a song for the tune of your creation. Then, you write lyrics.

After you finish the lyrics, you can share them in group therapy or with your therapist in a solo session. Again, you have another opportunity to deal with your problems in a way that acknowledges who you are and how you process things.

Drumming Along with Recorded Music

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A therapist might choose a recording as background for a drumming exercise. For example, they may choose a song identified with a certain culture and tell you how people in that culture deal with problems. After a discussion of the differences in cultures, the drumming experience begins.

The therapist tells everyone to think of a rhythm they want to drum. The therapist starts the drumming. Then, they signal each person to join, one at a time. Soon, everyone is drumming, each with their rhythm. After the song ends, the therapist leads a discussion about how each person contributed to the experience.

Therapy Outcomes

This kind of therapy promotes several positive outcomes. Different techniques and exercises focus on producing different results. However, any or all the following outcomes can come from one single therapy session.

  • Improved communication
  • Feelings expressed
  • Identifying problems
  • Resolving psychological issues
  • Regaining prior physical abilities
  • Improved emotional well-being
  • Pain management
  • Improved social functioning
  • Increased cognitive skills
  • Learning relationship skills
  • Stress management
  • Increased engagement with the overall course of treatment
  • Motivation to get better

Therapy does offer many benefits. This therapy is very helpful to many people suffering from physical and emotional problems. At, you can choose the type of therapy you prefer. What’s more, you can have that therapy on your schedule, from wherever you choose. Music therapy is one modality of many, but whatever you choose, one thing is certain. If you are interested in gaining the skills you need to build a better life for yourself, the right therapist can help you sing that tune!

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