Music Therapy and Special Education – Harbor School Music Therapy

Music Therapy and Special Education Work Well Together

For music therapy to be used effectively in special education, the educator cannot simply be an expert in one or the other. That person must be proficient in using one in concert with the other. 

  • How can general music education and individualized methods help a student with self-expression? 
  • How can music therapy tie into speech or occupational therapy?

These are but a few important questions to answer when seeking to understand how music therapy is used in special education. Here are some more.

Music Therapy at Harbor School, Eatontown, NJ

What is a music therapist?

A musician is not a music therapist. It takes a bachelor’s degree from one of 72 accredited schools and 1200 hours of clinical training to become a music therapist. There are required credentials and licenses. Treatment can involve singing, listening to music, moving to music, creating music, using and even creating various instruments. Music therapy has proven to facilitate movement, provide avenues of communication, increase motivation and provide a way to express feelings. It can take place in school, at home, or in the hospital. It can be done in groups or individually.

What is the relationship between music and special education?

First and foremost, music therapy is not meant to replace special education curriculum. It is intended to complement it. Music helps students with special needs to behave appropriately, interact with others, relax the muscles, and distract them from pain, anxiety, and discomfort. The therapy truly proves its worth when it is used to meet the educational goals set by an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

What is the importance of helping a special needs student with self-expression?

Being filled with emotions yet feeling unable to express them might as well describe the motivation of any musician. That also happens to be how many children with disabilities feel. Their frustration, combined with the challenges faced by parents and educators, creates a need that music therapy is uniquely suited for.

To say a student needs help with self-expression is to say they have problems with speech, language, and motor skills. They have difficulty verbalizing what they feel and what they need. Their self-confidence and social skills suffer. Music and art, in general, teaches life lessons through a therapeutic method. Students learn to develop plans, follow steps, adjust a course of action as the plan plays out, accept results and even find insight through failure.

How is music used in speech therapy?

Music can be essential to children who need speech and language therapy. The combination of motivation, familiarity, and rhythm stimulate a variety of senses. Just the calming effect alone can make it easier for a child to learn, listen and attend. Visual cues, like hand motions or gestures, can be used along with lyrics to help reinforce concepts in a motivating medium. Words and concepts are easily reinforced through repetition.

How is music used in occupational therapy?

There are three ways that music benefits occupational therapy. It increases group cohesion toward common goals. It increases socialization. Most importantly, it tends to empower individuals to enhance and embrace wellness and recovery.

Many PT/OT treatment plans are complemented with a musical component. Who doesn’t exercise to music? With music, the mind is distracted from feeling fatigued. It uplifts! It motivates! However, this power must be used responsibly. Music is a powerful stimulus to the brain. One must understand the implications and contraindications of using music in therapy.

Insufficient knowledge in one, the other or the relationship between both can make the treatment less effective than using no music at all. Even worse, it can make no difference or even cause more harm.

erik glazer principal harbor school

Harbor School a private special education school in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Our mission at Harbor School is to help all of our special needs students with learning, social, language, behavioral, and other disabilities. Our highly skilled staff are committed daily to helping each student reach their full potential.

We would be more than happy to discuss your child's specific needs and challenges, so please call us at 732.544.9394, or request a tour at Harbor School in Eatontown, NJ. We are located just minutes off of the Garden State Parkway at exit 105 and conveniently located off of Route 35 and Route 36 in Monmouth County, NJ.

Erik Glazner, 
Principal-Harbor School, Eatontown, NJ