10 Musicians Who Would Make Great Music Therapists

On Wednesday, I wrote about the most important personality trait of successful music therapists, which is without a doubt problem solving skills.

But let’s have some fun with this idea: what famous musicians would make good music therapists, and what would their music therapy specialty be?


1. Bob Dylan – Lyric analysis


Dylan’s a masterful lyricist, though the message of his music is often up to interpretation. Lyric analysis is one of the most popular music therapy interventions centered around counseling objectives, as it allows clients to use a song to analyze their current situations and explore possible solutions.


2. Lady GaGa – Self-Advocacy through musical expression


Lady Gaga, the champion of individualism, to me represents someone who would be an excellent counselor. Her music often conveys a message of being proud of who you are and not feeling the need to conform to societal norms. Plus, she is an excellent advocate for mental health issues! She recently offered free mental health counseling on her tour! Fans could meet with a therapist for free before concerts. What a creative idea that makes mental health counseling more approachable and less intimidating.


3. Tom Waits – Therapeutic Instrumental Musical Performance (TIMP)


Tom Waits is one of my favorite musicians. His music has such a unique quality to it, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever heard. Often spooky and haunting, one of the signatures of his style is the use of mallet percussion instruments like xylophones, vibraphones, and marimbas of various types. These types of instruments are staples of any music therapists’ arsenal, as they have a low learning curve, can be set-up to allow instant success for clients, and allow clients to address important motor goals like grip and range of motion. Mallet instruments work particularly well with the Neurologic Music Therapy technique "Therapeutic Instrumental Musical Performance (TIMP)."


4. Justin Timberlake – Gross motor exercises through dancing


Man, I love me some JT. Dude’s got moves. Creative moves at that. I think Justin Timberlake would be excellent at developing music-based motor exercises for his clients.


5. Jackson 5 – Music to teach academic skills


“ABC! Easy as 123!” Need I say more? The Jackson 5’s catchy lyric, simple lyrical compositions would be great for teaching elementary academic concepts to musical learners.


6. Hanson –  Oral Motor and Respiratory Exercises (OMREX)


Poor Hanson. A victim of their own success. In 1996, you couldn’t escape the song “Mmm Bop” no matter how much you may have wanted to (admit it, in retrospect, it’s a dang catchy song).

But cheer up, Zac, Isaac, and Taylor! You guys would be excellent at two Neurologic Music Therapy techniques, Therapeutic Singing (TS) and Oral Motor and Respiratory Exercises (OMREX). These techniques involve the unspecified use of singing and other music exercises to support speech skills such as articulation and breath support. Hanson’s smash hit is chock-full of opportunities for clients to work on bilabial sounds (speech sounds that involve the use of both lips, such as “P,” “B,” and “M”). All together! “Mmm bop! Dop by dooooo wop!”


7. DJ Casper – Teaching activities of daily living through music


Teaching skills through music involves what we call task analysis. When you need to teach a skill to someone, it’s best to break the task down into the smallest steps possible. Open cabinet, grab toothbrush, place toothbrush on counter, grab toothpaste, remove cap, place cap on counter, place tube opening on brush bristles, squeeze, etc. We often take our ability to accomplish these tasks for granted, and breaking tasks into such tiny steps seems unnecessary, but if you lost the ability to do these tasks, tracking each and every one of these micro-steps is vitally important to re-learning these daily living skills.

Enter DJ Casper and the “Cha-Cha Slide.” Everybody knows how to do the “Cha-Cha Slide.” You don’t need any prior experience, you don’t even need to know how to dance. Just get on the dance floor and listen to his simple steps. “To the left!” “1 hop!” Easy peasy. Next wedding, prom, bar-mitzah, or Presidential inauguration you attend, join the fun!


8. Nicki Minaj – Collaborating with other therapists

I’m not sure Nicki Minaj actually has a solo album, but I do know I hear her unique voice every time I turn on the radio. I feel like there must have been some law passed that a song cannot enter the Billboard Top 40 without featuring Nicki Minaj in a guest rap.

So Nicki Minaj’s music therapy super power would undoubtedly be the power of collaboration with other therapists. It’s important that music therapists communicate with a client’s interdisciplinary team in order to provide the highest quality services. At The George Center, we’re fortunate enough to share space with the wonderful Cobblestone Therapy Group, a speech-language pathology and occupational therapy practice. Many of our clients receive their speech, OT, and music therapy services all in the same building! This allows us a level of communication and collaboration that is simply unavailable elsewhere.


9. Bach – Adaptive lessons


Music therapy focuses on using music to address non-music goals. Adaptive lessons are similar, with the exception that music goals are often incorporated. For many students, particularly those with learning differences, a standard private instrument lesson is difficult. As music therapists, we’re trained in adapting to these learning differences and are able to teach these students music skills, while simultaneously addressing important non-music skills such as time management, focus of attention, and management of frustration.

Johann Sebastian Bach, one of the most famous composers in the history of mankind, was also a teacher. He was an avid student of music, and passed on his knowledge and experience to many pupils. I could see him relating well to differently-abled students and firing up their passion for music and learning.


10. Rockwell – Observing and recording behavior


As a music therapist, it’s not enough to simply engage a client musically, have a good time, and send them out the door. Our work is dependent on observing the behavior and performance of our clients, recording this data, and tracking it over time. How else would we tell if what we’re doing is effective? We know our services require a commitment of time and resources from our clients, and we strive to provide our clients with evidence-based interventions as a result.

The artist Rockwell was famous for the song “Somebody’s Watching Me,” and I can’t think of a better musical representation of a music therapist's watchful and observant eye than this tune (well, except for maybe “Every Breathe You Take,” but that song is terrifying. Not really what I’m going for here.)


Can you think of any musical artsts to add to this list? Who might experience success in a career change as a music therapist?

Interested in learning more about any of the music therapy techniques listed here and how they can help? Let's talk!


Image credit:http://www.flickr.com/photos/85217387@N04/8388333552/