A terrific article differentiating music education and music therapy.

Why Music Therapy Versus Music Education?

What is the difference?

A traditional music educator teaches attainment of musical knowledge and skills with an emphasis on developing performance abilities. Standard curriculum tends to be the focus. In most cases, music education teachers do not have sufficient experience or training in educating special needs children. According to the American Music Therapy Association, published research studies indicate that music educators often report lacking adequate training regarding the educational needs of students with disabilities and limited knowledge of effective strategies to meet those needs.

As special needs students attend traditional music education class they are typically taught by traditional, rigid methods with no adaptations to meet the child’s specific needs and learning style.
Music Therapy, however, is highly adaptive. A music therapist is trained and experienced in recognizing that each child has different strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. Music therapy focuses on the development of non-musical skills. Musical activities are custom designed to promote specific cognitive, motor, perceptual, communication and behavioral goals that address a specific individual or group. Musical “talent”, “aptitude”, and/or “ability” are not prerequisites for progress.

Music as a medium is powerful. It often facilitates a connection to children with special needs that in many other circumstances cannot be made. Music is transformative in its effect. It positively alters mood and processing, which in turn produce fertile ground for progress in many areas.

Music therapy as a discipline is becoming more and more established, validated by broader and increasingly recognized research. As a result, special education professionals are beginning to realize that the traditional music ed. setting is not sufficiently appropriate for special needs children. It does not cater to their needs. Furthermore, the setting does not leverage the power of music as a medium hindering the potential progress that music therapists are well equipped to deliver.

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