Widgets Magazine


Jobberish: Play that funky music

This has been an amazing week. And not just because of Halloween or the USC game, although both of those were great. I’m talking about something even better: Glee is finally back. The TV show returned after a completely unnecessary month-long hiatus, and with it, joy and light have come back in to my life. In celebration of this exciting event, I wanted to dedicate this column exclusively to Glee. Unfortunately, this column is about jobs and not TV, so I will have to settle for discussing a career in music instead. Now just to be fair, I’m not a musician. When I was a child, I was forced to take piano lessons, but I hated the piano so much that I terrorized my teacher until she quit. As a third-grader, I was the drummer for a Beatles cover band called the Blue Bears, but we only played one show for a select audience of parents and babysitters. I could go on and on about my musical failures — a month of fifth-grade chorus, an unsuccessful stint in the San Francisco Opera — but that’s really not the point. My non-musical background makes me an exception on Stanford’s campus, where so many students are incredible musicians. But music doesn’t have to be just an after-school hobby — there are many options besides becoming a rock star that will let those of you with musical talent use those abilities to build a successful and rewarding career. One such option is becoming a music therapist, which is this week’s topic.

I had never heard of music therapy until a few days ago, when a friend suggested it to me (for a column topic, not my personal use). As my friend and the Internet taught me, a music therapist functions somewhat like a regular therapist, but uses music in combination with traditional therapeutic techniques to help people with a variety of mental and physical health issues. Music therapists are more than just glorified versions of Pandora Radio — while playing music for patients is a small part of the job, most of the healing powers of music therapy come from assisting patients in creating music of their own.

The applications of music therapy are incredibly wide and varied; it can be used to help those suffering from terminal illness cope with their situation, improve recovery rates among stroke patients and — perhaps most impressively — elevate adolescent moods. New research shows that music therapy can even be helpful with memory recall in Alzheimer’s patients. By playing songs from different time periods in a patient’s life, a music therapist can actually trigger memories from the patient’s past.

Music therapists often hold degrees in psychology and/or music, as well as advanced degrees in music therapy. Beyond the basic educational requirements, music therapists must also be certified through a national board test. Last but not least, being a talented musician helps. I know it almost goes without saying, but as appealing as this career sounds, those of us who lack musical talent might want to focus our job-searching efforts elsewhere.

Given the range of ways music therapy can be used, there are numerous employment options for a music therapist. Some choose to work in hospitals, both general and psychiatric, while others set up private practices. Although most music therapists choose to work in clinical settings, there is a growing contingent focused on research. Generally, this research aims to better understand the relationship between the human brain and music and informs the way music therapy is used in the clinical setting. While this does require attending medical school, it is a great option for someone interested in psychology and music but not so much in interacting with actual people.

Becoming a music therapist might not be as glamorous as winning a Grammy, but it is an incredibly rewarding way to use your musical talents to help people — and make Mr. Schuester proud.

Are you one of Stanford’s talented musicians? Amanda would love you to serenade her (bonus points if the song was performed on Glee). Contact her at aach “at” stanford “dot” edu to set up a date.

  • I’m a board-certified music therapist currently practicing in San Diego. And I have to say . . . being a music therapist is *more* glamorous than winning a Grammy 😉 Seriously, I get to make music and watch “non-musicians” feel like rockstars all day long. I get to witness Alzheimers patients come to life, dance, and sing for the first time in front of their families in years. I get to witness kids who are troubled, come together and offer support to one another through drumming and writing songs.

    There is nothing better, Amanda! =) Thanks for writing up this article on the field!