So What Does That Look Like Exactly? Part I: Receptive Music

Most people I meet don’t have a clue what I do as a Board Certified Music Therapist. It’s hard to conceptualize something you’ve never seen or experienced before, and because music therapy is used in such broad populations (medical, psych, school, special needs, veterans, all ages, etc.) and for such widespread goals, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of it all! 

When I was in college, my teacher broke down music therapy interventions into four main categories to help us keep it all straight: 

  • Receptive Music
  • Re-creative Music
  • Composition
  • Improvisation 

In receptive music therapy interventions, a music therapist works toward a desired goal by manipulating the qualities of the music which a client or patient receives non-actively. Because the intervention does not require action from the client, this method can work well for end of life comfort care, individuals with severe medical conditions, patients who are non-responsive, or simply for individuals who do not wish to participate actively in the moment. 

Common receptive goals could be to promote relaxation, decrease anxiety, affect and stabilize heart rate or respiratory rate, or decrease pain.

So, classical music, right? 

Well, no. Not necessarily. While it is commonly believed that only a specific kind of music can accomplish these goals, the music therapy literature does not support this theory. Many classical pieces are filled with complexly moving parts, rich textures, dissonance, tension, and syncopated rhythm–none of which would specifically work to address any of the aforementioned goals.

Instead, a music therapist would assess the client’s needs, then provide appropriate music to meet them in their current state. From there, the therapist would slowly guide the client into a more desired state by adjusting the music in anticipation of and response to change in vital signs, facial affect, body language, and breath. 

Because music therapists most commonly provide live music, the therapist can quickly adjust to individual needs to provide the best mixtures of harmonic tension and release, instrumentation, meter, tempo, and dynamics.

Due to COVID-19, we have currently suspended our in-person contact, but you can check out some of our relaxation videos on our Harmony Garden YouTube Channel!