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Music Therapy vs. Music Activity

February 16, 2018

"Music activities that provide enjoyment can be therapeutic because they contribute to a person’s quality of life.  *These are activities that I like to refer to as FUNCTIONAL MUSIC* These music activities are pleasant diversions from daily routines or struggles.  Diversional activities are valued because they are meaningful, motivating, and enjoyable, and because they provide opportunities to practice skills developed within therapy sessions.  Outcomes of diversional activities may be measurable, but these activities differ from music therapy interventions in their design and primary intent for enjoyment, rather than for the development of life functions.

A sing-along with a group of older adults in a community living residence can illustrate the difference between music therapy and music activity.  Singing can be used for either activity or therapy, depending on the intent for implementation, the number of participants, and the evidence collected to substantiate the outcomes.

For example, if singing is used as a therapeutic intervention to improve the quality of the spoken voice, an individual can be assessed prior to implementation, for example, with ratings for loudness level and/or degree of breathiness, or ratings for duration of vocal sound production.  Following the initial measurement, singing would be implemented to encourage progressively louder singing and/or longer sung phrases.  Following a 15-minute singing intervention, the quality of the spoken voice would again be assessed to determine changes in vocal quality from the first to the second measure.

For using singing as a diversional activity, the participant would be encouraged to sing along, perhaps in a large group of other singers.  Expressions of pleasure would be noted, such as smiles, positive comments about preferred songs, and associated memories described verbally by the participants.  This singing experience would provide, in this case, an opportunity to engage in a pleasurable community activity." §


§ Davis, W. B., Gfeller, K. E., & Thaut, M. H. (2008). An Introduction to Music Therapy Theory and Practice(3rd ed.). Silver Spring, MD: The American Music Therapy Association, Inc.


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