15 Must-Read Music Therapy Books

The List Your Bookshelf Has Been Waiting for

1. This is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession by Daniel J. Levitin

Green book cover of This is Your Brain on Music with music notes
This is Your Brain on Music. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Daniel J. Levitin is a neuroscientist, musician, and author.

His best selling book, This is Your Brain on Music, addresses questions such as:

  • Are our musical preferences shaped in utero?
  • Is there a cutoff point for acquiring new tastes in music?
  • What do PET scans and MRIs reveal about the brain’s response to music?
  • Is musical pleasure different from other kinds of pleasure

While exploring music’s range in culture, rare disorders, and studies of pitch. Ultimately, Levitin looks at how nature and nurture affect the human obsession that is music.

Reviews

  • “Every musician, at whatever level of skill, should read this book.”—Howie Klein, former president, Sire, and Reprise/Warner Brothers Records
  • “Can't put this down. Answering so many questions I had. Very easy to read, not highbrow but well researched. A must for any music lover. No, I will rephrase that because we are all music lovers. A must if you want to understand how it all works” (Ishora, Amazon Customer).

2. Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks

Book cover with an elderly man listening to music
Musicophilia. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Oliver Sacks was a physician, best-selling author, and a Professor of Neurology at the NYU School of Medicine. He is known as the “poet laureate of medicine,” according to The New York Times.

In Musicophilia, Sacks looks at where music collides with the brain and how it affects the human condition. He does this by showing fascinating case studies, or what he calls “musical misalignments.” These include stories of people who are musically gifted and those who lack the ability to appreciate music in its entirety.

Reviews

  • “Powerful and compassionate. . . . A book that not only contributes to our understanding of the elusive magic of music but also illuminates the strange workings, and misfirings, of the human mind” (The New York Times).
  • “Oliver Sacks is truly one of the greats. This book can interest psychologists (me) and musical enthusiasts (also me, but who isn't) and just regular people who are interested in learning about some of the fascinating parts of the human experience and mind” (Grace Crowell, Amazon Customer).

3. Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament by Kay Redfield Jamison

Red and orange book cover of Touched with Fire
Touched with Fire. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison is the Co-Director of the Mood Disorders Center and Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at John Hopkins Medicine.

In Touched with Fire, Jamison turns speculation into reality by exposing the links between manic-depression and creativity. Manic and depressive states were once thought to accompany genius, but we now know these are the signs of manic-depressive illnesses. Jamison analyzes artists such as Lord Byron, Vincent Van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf in order to better understand the underlying illnesses they may have harbored.

Reviews

  • “For anyone who wrestles with Bi-polar disease or mood disorders, this is a wonderful source that shares research about some of our most creative writers, composers, creative geniuses, and the ‘downside’ of that genius. They wrestled with deep depression and mania which led many into asylums during and at the end of life. It confirms the struggles of mood instabilities. The gifts that are born in a space where most people do not go and the deep cavernous black holes where no one wants to go” (True Amazonian, Amazon Customer).

4. How Music Works: The Science and Psychology of Beautiful Sounds, from Beethoven to the Beatles and Beyond by John Powell

Pink and white book cover with a large music note on it.
How Music Works. Courtesy of Amazon.


John Powell is best known as a Film Score Composer. He has worked on several popular movies like -- Solo: A Star Wars Story (2018), How to Train Your Dragon (2010), and Rio (2011).

Powell engages the reader with his entertaining descriptions of the scientific and psychological aspects within music. He includes animated discussions about timbre, harmony, keys, chords, loudness, composition, and anything else a musician wonders about -- well almost.

Reviews

  • "By reading Powell's book we can gain a more solid knowledge of the foundations of music and therefore be better able to appreciate it" (Amanda Mark, New York Journal of Books).
  • “An outstanding explanation of, as the title says, how music works. Practical easy to follow and understand with plenty of smiles and laughs as a bonus. I use it as a reference and have read it more than once, that's how good I think it is” (CLeach, Amazon Customer).

5. Music, the Brain and Ecstasy: How Music Captures Our Imagination by Robert Jourdain

Music The Brain, and Ecstasy. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Author Robert Jourdain touches several topics among science and technology while integrating his joy of playing the piano and composing.

For those who value entertainment while learning, Jourdain’s Music, the Brain and Ecstasy will not disappoint. He explores how music speaks when words fail and why it is so powerful while fascinating his audience with exotic characters.

Reviews

  • "Jourdain's deep love for serious music...gives his book a moral force and passion rare in science writing” (Boston Phoenix).
  • “This book explores in depth how the brain processes musical information, from composition to consumption. It's the best book on the subject I have found” (G. Sollner, Amazon Customer).

6. The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It by Philip Ball

Beige book cover with a man whose head is a music note.
The Music Instinct. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Philip Ball is a British Science Writer. Before going freelance, he worked at Nature for 20 years.

Ball dives into questions such as:

  • Why can music excite deep passions?
  • How do we make sense of musical sound?
  • Why do all cultures seem to make music?

Which had previously been almost untouched until The Music Instinct was published in 2010.

Using the latest research in music psychology and neuroscience, Ball explains how music seems to make its way into every aspect of life.

Reviews

  • "Ball is to be applauded for the range and aptness of the musical examples he does choose - from Albinoni to Led Zeppelin, Bach to The Sound of Music - as well as for his attention to music’s outside western traditions....the book is impressively engaging for one so dense with detail and argument....fascinating" (The Guardian).
  • “This book was fascinating, thought-provoking, and well-written. I bought it after having taken it out of my wonderful public library because it's worth re-reading” (Miriam Steinbock, Amazon Customer).

7. The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body by Steven Mithen

The Singing Neanderthals. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Steven Mithen is a Professor of Archeology at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. In writing The Singing Neanderthals, he combines his knowledge with the properties of music.

Mithen introduces his own theories and scientific data in order to support the notion that all humans share a musical and linguistic heritage. He focuses on the Neanderthals, their habits, and the mark they made on the world.

Reviews

  • “Granted this is a pretty biased book full of opinions, so it may not always be absolutely factual, but this is still a fascinating dive into the prehistoric mind and the arguments are solid. Great read” (Valentin Angrand, Amazon Customer).

8. Tune In: A Music Therapy Approach to Life by Jennifer Buchanan

A white book cover with a red title of Tune In.
Tune In. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Summary

Jennifer Buchanan is a Music Therapist, Author, Health Entrepreneur, and Speaker.

Buchanan’s Tune In combines personal stories, case studies, exercises, and tips for those who want to improve their mood through music therapy.

Reviews

  • “Fantastic information about music therapy and also listening to music intentionally. Jennifer Buchanan 's book Tune in was informative and I enjoyed reading the inspirational experiences that music has had on others including Jennifer's own life. I now also find myself more tuned into the music I listen to and how it affects me. A book worth reading” (Becky Zales, Amazon Customer).
  • "Jennifer is a great storyteller who effectively captures moments, making them fresh to the imagination." - The Rebecca Review

9. Group Music Activities for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities by Maria Ramey

A blue, black, and orange book cover with a rainbow piano and other instruments on it.
Group Music Activities. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Maria Ramey is a Flutist and Music Therapist who provides individual and group therapy for both children and adults.

Her 2011 book, Group Music Activities for Adults with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, was written with adult therapy in mind -- commonly group music activities are written for children. She includes 100 group music activities, each with clear instructions and a therapeutic goal behind it. Whether you are a music therapist, caregiver, or other professional working with adults, this book will inspire you to try new musical activities.

Reviews

  • “Wonderful!! Well written and easy to follow!! The format is perfect for a lesson plan, and the ideas can also be used with people with no disabilities (ages 4 to 104)” (Maritza Sadowsky, Amazon Customer).

10. Music Therapy Handbook: Edited by Barbara L. Wheeler

White book cover with colorful music notes.
Music Therapy Handbook. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Summary

Dr. Barbara L. Wheeler served as the past president of the American Music Therapy Association, and she has since accomplished great clinical and scholarly feats.

A more recent publication, 2015, Music Therapy Handbook gives its readers a complete overview of music therapy -- from basic concepts to clinical approaches. The book involves experts’ opinions and research on psychodynamic, humanistic, cognitive-behavioral, and developmental psychology in relation to music. Other topics include music therapy’s role in childhood development, autism spectrum disorder, brain injury, school interventions, and trauma.

Reviews

  • “This welcome volume stands out because of its breadth of coverage and applicability. The choice of topics and their scholarly treatment will engage readers, whether they are novices to music therapy or very experienced. It will also be useful to professors and students at both graduate and undergraduate levels” (Robyn Flaum Cruz, Ph.D., BC-DMT, Division of Expressive Therapies, Lesley University).

11. The Music Therapy Profession: Inspiring Health, Wellness, and Joy by Christine Korb

Black and white book cover with a piano on it.
The Music Therapy Profession. Image courtesy of Amazon

Summary

Christine Korb is the director of the Music Therapy Program at Pacific University, Oregon, and a published composer, as well as author.

In her book, The Music Therapy Profession: Inspiring Health, Wellness, and Joy, Korb gives a general overview of the music therapy profession through 26 of her former students’ audition essays. Each essay shares a student’s motivation to “do good in the world through music.” Korb has inspired many to fulfill their service as music therapists through this book.

Reviews

  • “Christine Korb is a brilliant teacher, her love for this therapeutic process shines through her writing and her clarity makes it a fascinating read whether you are interested in becoming a therapist or are just interested in what music therapy is” (ymzadi, Amazon Customer).

12. Rhythm, Music, and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications by Michael H. Thaut

Blue and white book cover with music notes and a face on it.
Rhythm, Music, and The Brain. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Dr. Michael H. Thaut is a former professional violinist and an international leader in Neurologic Music Therapy -- the therapeutic use of music applied to sensory, speech, cognitive, and motor functions after a neurologic event or disease.

Rhythm, Music, and the Brain: Scientific Foundations and Clinical Applications expands on modern cognitive neuroscience and its relationship with music, specifically rhythm. Thaut shares important data on brain function during music-related activities in order to bring science and art together.

Reviews

  • “This book was an exciting resource for me. It answered my questions regarding recent experiences of sudden dream recalls after practice singing Baroque music, intensely. When we get older, we start noticing this and that, diminishing or lost. So the good side of this state is that when it changes there is a chance of awakening! Great new discovery! Very happy to find this book. Thank you” (Sachiko Taki Reece, Amazon Customer).

13. Case Studies in Music Therapy: Edited by Kenneth E. Bruscia

Purple book cover with a white design.
Case Studies in Music Therapy. Image courtesy of Amazon.


Summary

Kenneth E. Bruscia is an Emeritus Professor of Music Therapy from Temple University and an accomplished author of 61 publications.

His work, Case Studies in Music Therapy, contains 42 case histories that show the process of music therapy from start to finish. Bruscia edits the work of nine authors from around the world, showcasing their techniques and helping their unique takes on music therapy to be shared with other cultures. The cases range from children to adults, individual to group therapy, and medical to educational practices.

Reviews

  • “I bought this book because I was interested in the field of Music Therapy. I was also doing a project on the topic and this book says it all. It introduces the reader to the field of music therapy in a very understandable way. Case studies are great learning tools as well. I highly suggest this book to anyone interested in learning about Music Therapy” (Sara Garrett, Amazon Customer).

14. Music Therapy Research Edited by Barbara L. Wheeler

Navy blue book cover with gold tire Music Therapy Research.
Music Therapy Research. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Summary

Published in 1995, Music Therapy Research is considered to be the first and most comprehensive textbook on music therapy research. The book includes 24 chapters, written and edited by scholars, of qualitative and quantitative research regarding music therapy. Serving as a standard reference book for music therapists, Music Therapy Research includes faults in music therapy research, research designs, the process, and philosophical and historical modes of inquiry.

Reviews

  • “This is a magnificent volume. You couldn’t ask for more when doing music therapy research” (Angela Fenwick, Amazon Customer).

15. Music and Soulmaking: Toward a New Theory of Music Therapy by Barbara J. Crowe

Black book cover with an orange thermo person walking.
Music and Soulmaking. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Summary

Since 1981, Barbara J. Crowe has been the director of the music therapy degree program at Arizona State University. In her book, Music and Soulmaking: Toward a New Theory of Music Therapy, she connects music therapy and nature.

Crowe theorizes that nature is part of a dynamic system in motion that is inter-related to the healing abilities of music. This relationship is what she coins as “Soulmaking,” or music’s power to heal what makes us vital, whole, alive, and balanced. Crowe provides Music Therapy case studies that feature patients diagnosed with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Down’s Syndrome. Along with tangible evidence of healing, Crowe addresses music’s effects on the mind, body, emotions, and spirit.

Reviews

  • “This is a marvelous book and I congratulate Barbara...on its completion. It is a major contribution to the field of music therapy―but also more broadly to all those who are interested in the healing nature of music” (Carol Hegedus, Senior Advisor, Fetzer Institute).
  • “This is not a light read, but it is well worth every minute. Wonderful innovative ideas!” (Jodi Delgado, Amazon Customer)

Hopefully this post has helped you on your mission to learn more about music therapy. Books are a great way to visualize what is normally heard through our headphones, instruments, or voices. Go ahead and take some time to read and decide on your own reviews.

***Please Note: Books 1-7 on the list are not written by a music therapist, and are not specifically about music therapy. The books have been included on this list because they describe important aspects of music and contribute to not only one's understanding of how music can impact us, but also the foundational arguments as to why music therapy is effective. ***

Jessica Fortunato
Jessica Fortunato is a writer who also enjoys photography, music, and hiking.
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