Starting Music Therapy? Here’s What You Should Expect From Your First Music Therapy Session

If You Are New to Music Therapy, You Might Be Unsure About What Your First Session Will Be Like. Here Are All of Your Music Therapy Questions Answered.

Starting new things can be intimidating, but starting a new type of therapy can seem especially overwhelming. Even though it’s natural to feel apprehensive about new experiences, it’s important to remember that the best way to familiarize yourself with something is to learn more about it. 

If you’re starting music therapy and are unsure what will happen at your first session, don’t worry. Here are all of the things you can expect from your first appointment. 

a person with a saxophone and a notebook on their lap writing music
Understanding the clinical definition of music therapy can help individuals conceptualize the goals that music therapists have for each session. 

What is Music Therapy? 

Before getting into the specifics of what happens during the first appointment, it can be beneficial to establish what music therapy actually is. 

According to the American Music Therapy Association, music therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program. 

As an established health profession, music therapy uses music to address physical, emotional, cognitive, and social needs of individuals. Just like other forms of therapy, music therapy sessions are centered around specific goals and targets for patients. After a qualified music therapist assesses the needs and strengths of their clients, they will provide a corresponding treatment plan, involving creating, singing, moving to, and listening to music. 

By becoming involved with music therapy, patients strengthen their abilities and transfer these abilities to other areas of their lives. Additionally, music therapy gives clients avenues of communication to better express emotions that are difficult to put into words. 

While the American Music Therapy Association encourages the efforts of all individuals to incorporate music into their lives, the organization stresses that clinical music therapy is a professional, research-based discipline that applies science to the creative, emotional, and energizing experiences of music for both health treatment and educational goals.

two people sitting on opposite sides of a desk shaking hands
An individual’s first music therapy session will involve a music therapy assessment, which is an evaluation of the client’s individualized needs. 

Music Therapy Assessments: What Are They, and How Do They Work? 

Participating in your first music therapy session involves having a music therapy assessment — a means of evaluating client developmental behavior within the context of the music therapy session. Developmental behavior can refer to functioning in socialization, communication, fine motor, gross motor, or cognitive behavior. 

Essentially, a music therapy assessment is the first meeting between the client and the therapist where the therapist begins to gather information about the client. The goal of these assessments is to provide both the therapist and the client with information that will establish behavioral baseline levels, in addition to the client’s current level of functioning.

Prior to setting up a treatment plan, music therapy assessments can serve as the initial intake for prospective clients. These assessments can help therapists and clients set physical milestones, as well as developmental and cognitive objectives that can be achieved through instrumental, listening, and singing activities. Assessments can also aid in determining if a client will benefit most from a one-on-one session, a group session, or a combination of the two. 

What Does a Music Therapy Assessment Involve?

Although assessment procedures may vary from therapist to therapist, music therapy assessments typically involve a client presenting preliminary information that is relevant to their background, to their therapist. From there, the therapist reviews this information — including reports from any of the client’s (if any) neurologists, physical therapists, speech language pathologists, psychiatrists, or occupational therapists. This information is used to set up a music therapy session that will deliberately evaluate and address the client’s relevant issues. 

a book of sheet music on an antique piano
No two music therapy sessions are identical, but there are some fundamental commonalities that are present in all sessions. 

What Does a Typical Music Therapy Session Look Like? 

Similar to a music therapy assessment, no two music therapy sessions will be exactly the same. Still, there are certain components that are present in all music therapy sessions, even if these components vary slightly based on a client’s age, the clinical population, or the setting. 


Typically, music therapists will open a session in a formal way. These formal openings can include:

  • Singing a “hello song” if the therapist is working with children
  • Beginning a group session by asking everyone in the circle a question about how they are doing
  • Starting a new session with a review of what happened in the last session

Through these openings, the tone of the meetings is set, and clients are able to transition to the environment of the new music therapy session. Sometimes, a music therapist will use the same opening for each session. This way, a sense of familiarity is created, and the client will form a routine of adjusting to the start of each session.


The main part of a music therapy session involves music therapy interventions. Interventions are experiences facilitated by a music therapist that target a client’s non-musical objectives and goals. A music therapy session can incorporate multiple interventions or a single, in-depth intervention. Regardless of the number of interventions, the most important thing is that every intervention targets a therapeutic goal or objective. 

The four types of music-based interventions include: 

  • Performing and Playing (recreative) — including singing or playing instruments
  • Composing — including both simple and complex songwriting processes
  • Improvising — creating music in the moment
  • Receiving and Listening (receptive)  — this type can include relaxation experiences, lyric analysis intervention, and musical movement activities


The goal of the closing in a music therapy session is to help the client transition out of the music therapy space and into the outside world. Some closings can include:

  • A “good-bye song”
  • A closing, around-the-circle check-in 
  • A summary or recap of what happened during the session
a person looking at a piece of music
For individuals who are unsure what their first music therapy session will be like, doing some preliminary research can help with answering any questions they might have. 

It’s normal to have questions as you are starting or considering starting music therapy. Fortunately, there are many resources for learning more about what your first music therapy session will entail. With this information, clients will be able to go into their first music therapy sessions with comfort and confidence. 

Annabeth Collis
Annabeth Collis is a writer from Buffalo, NY.
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