Comparisons Of And Collaborations Between Music Professionals

By Hadley Rentz, MusicWorx Intern

[blockquote text=”“Oh yeah I do music therapy all the time!”
“Music is my therapy!”
“I practice music therapy jamming in my car every morning.”
“So you just play your guitar for people and they feel better?”
“I feel like I’d be good at that, I wouldn’t need to go to school for it or anything, right?”
“My grandma does music therapy – I bought her an iPod and she listens to it all day.”” width=”100″]

What great conversation starters, right? Any time I’ve heard something along these lines it seems to come from a place of excitement, connection, and good intention. As music therapists, our ears might naturally perk up when we hear phrases like these. We might unintentionally assume a defensive attitude in needing to explain our profession for the thousandth time. We’re taught, and constantly experience first-hand, how unfamiliar many people are with our scope of practice. Advocacy becomes part of the daily routine. As we dive into the “Comparisons Of And Collaborations Between Music Professionals”, I challenge you to keep an optimistic and open mind. We’ll discover the differences between music professionals, benefits of having such a diverse professional circle, and ways we can advocate for and uplift each other through our individual practices.

First, let’s break down the concept mentioned above.

What is music therapy exactly? The American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) defines music therapy as “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.”

So what is therapeutic music? The Health Information Center at the University of Tennessee Medical Center defines therapeutic music as “music that is intended to alleviate a physical, emotional, or mental concern”. Recognize that this definition, while beneficial to many, is not based in research, nor goal oriented.

Now that we’ve established the difference between music therapy and therapeutic music, let’s take a look at some ways music can be used therapeutically.

  • By Volunteer Musicians: “Music volunteers perform their instrument and use their talent to engage the listener in hopes of providing a meaningful musical experience.” (Three Chord Music Therapy, 2020)
  • By Music Thanatologists: “Music thanatology is a specialization within the broader sub-specialty of palliative care. It is a musical/clinical modality that unites music and medicine in end of life care. The music thanatologist utilizes harp and voice at the bedside to serve the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the dying and their loved ones with prescriptive music.” (Chalice of Repose Project, 2014)
  • By Recreational Therapists: “Recreational therapy, also known as therapeutic recreation, is a systematic process that utilizes recreation and other activity-based interventions to address the assessed needs of individuals with illnesses and/or disabling conditions, as a means to psychological and physical health, recovery and well-being.” (American Therapeutic Recreation Association, n.d.)
    • “By utilizing various activities like creative arts, sports, dance and drama, Recreational Therapy can improve your physical, cognitive, emotional and social functioning and increase your independence.” (Noble, n.d.)

See the chart below for general comparisons between Music Therapists, Therapeutic Musicians, Volunteer Musicians, Music Thanatologists, and Recreational Therapists. A more extensive description of Music Therapists, Therapeutic Musicians, and Music Thanatologists can be seen via the “Therapeutic Music Services At-A-Glance” reference.

[button size=”big_large” type=”normal” target=”_self” text=”FULL OVERVIEW” link=””]

All of these professionals want to move forward to use their talents and skills to improve quality of life for others. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with these paths and validate the hard work each one requires, but not dwell too much on these comparisons. Each title carries its own strengths, as well as holes to be filled. How might we move forward together to optimize the quality of care we give to individuals?

Here’s an important distinction between music therapists and volunteers by Three-Chord Music Therapy (2020), “Music therapists encourage live music and informed volunteers in settings that we serve. We do not however encourage facilities to feel that they are meeting therapeutic needs without a music therapist. Volunteers do not replace music therapy, but they can certainly add to the many services a facility provides.” Three-Chord Music Therapy acknowledges the differences between music therapists and volunteers, while still highlighting the benefits of collaboration for the overall betterment of a facility.

Endless opportunities exist for learning. For example, music thanatologists, who specialize solely in voice and harp, could benefit from seeing a music therapist use a larger variety of instruments in a therapeutic setting. Music therapists might get caught up with all of the bells and whistles and technical thinking of techniques, methods, and interventions, therefore could benefit from the fresh perspectives and attitudes of a volunteer musician. Should a volunteer musician work in a church and share an interest in spiritual support for end of life care, they might benefit from shadowing a music thanatologist. By opening our minds and humbling ourselves, we can create endless opportunities for professional and personal growth, and at the same time, increase the number of people who receive services and the quality of our support.

Let’s dive into the American Music Therapy Association’s view on the matter: “We acknowledge that other professionals may use music, as appropriate, as long as they are working within their scope”. The association also promotes that, “Music therapists are members of an interdisciplinary team of healthcare, education, and other professionals who work collaboratively to address the needs of clients while protecting client confidentiality and privacy” (AMTA & CBMT, 2015). These statements highlight both the importance of self-awareness, knowing your limitations, and relying on the strengths of others to fill in those gaps.

How can we avoid advocacy burnout?

A note on advocacy:

As defined by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, advocacy is “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal”. As you’ll see me suggest throughout this post, we need to reframe the 21st century’s idea of advocacy. In today’s competitive market, it seems every idea is presented less as an idea and more as a sales pitch. The main focal point of the definition above should be “supporting”. Instead of getting hung up on knowing there are thousands you need to stand out from, concentrate on your own strengths, areas for growth, and knowing the worth of your cause/proposal. Let’s shift that focus from tearing each other down to building ourselves and each other up in a healthy way.

If we continue learning from each other, we can achieve so much more and constantly find ways to grow our practices. A prime collaboration example can be viewed through the Joy Givers program headed by Resounding Joy, MusicWorx’s nonprofit “sister” agency. In this program, Board-Certified music therapists train volunteers to facilitate social and musical interactions with individuals in skilled nursing facilities. This open collaboration allows for the exchange of ideas and maximizes the number of older adults reached. Opportunities such as these help increase quality of life for more individuals while also empowering volunteers to expand their skillset, apply their talents and network throughout their own communities. The entire process suggests positive progress, encouraging involvement and input from all ends and allowing each individual to play to their strengths. Discover more about the Joy Givers program here.

Music therapy is one of many professions in the music realm. Other areas for exploration include performer, music educator, audio engineer, composer, singer-songwriter, and ethnomusicologist; the list goes on and on. As you continue to grow inwardly with your own practice, remember how necessary it is to branch out and learn from others. Feed off the knowledge and wisdom of like-minds, fill your plate.

Like this blog post?  Read Becky Bressan’s “Music therapist? Or glorified performer?”

[button size=”big_large” type=”normal” target=”_self” text=”READ NOW” link=””]


American Music Therapy Association. (n.d.). What is music therapy? American Music Therapy Association.

American Music Therapy Association & Certification Board for Music Therapists. (2015). Scope of music therapy practice. American Music Therapy Association.

American Music Therapy Association & National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians. (2017). Therapeutic music services at-a-glance. American Music Therapy Association.

American Therapeutic Recreation Association. (n.d.). What is recreational therapy? American Therapeutic Recreation Association.

Becky Bressan. (2019). Music therapist? Or glorified performer? MusicWorx Inc.

Chalice of Repose Project. (2014). What is music-thanatology? Chalice of Repose Project

Gracida, L. S. (2018). 4 differences between music therapists and musician volunteers. Sam’s fans.

Health Information Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center. (n.d.). Feel better, heal better: therapeutic music vs. music therapy. The university of Tennessee medical center.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Advocacy. In dictionary. Retrieved January 15, 2021, from

Musicians On Call. (n.d.). How to become a Musicians On Call volunteer. Musicians On Call.,On%20Call’s%20Bedside%20Performance%20Program.

National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification. (n.d.). CTRS recertification. National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification.

National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians. (n.d.). Welcome to the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians. National Standards Board for Therapeutic Musicians.

Noble. Promoting health and wellness. Recreational Therapy – Noble (

Resounding Joy. (n.d.). Joy givers. Resounding Joy: Making music for health and happiness.

Three-chord music therapy. (2020). Music therapists & volunteer musicians: what’s the difference? Three-chord music therapy services, LLC.

Zanders, M. L. (2018). Music as therapy versus music in therapy. Lippincott nursing center.


CEO / Founder
P: 858.457.2201

11300 Sorrento Valley Rd., Ste. 104,
San Diego, CA