The “Music is Good” Glossary

By Gaby Ritter, MusicWorx Intern
Edited by Theresa Kwong, Communications Consultant

Although I have expressed myself through the arts for years (both as a performer and an enthusiastic audience member), music therapy introduced me to an entirely new use of creative aptitude that I had not witnessed before.  Admittedly, I still didn’t really understand the nuances of music therapy even as I began my formal undergraduate education as a music therapy major. As I began my journey, I quickly learned that the benefits of music therapy span much further than just potential entertainment – it’s so much more (Shafer, 2017). This brings to mind a familiar anecdote, “all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.” In a similar vein, “all music therapists are musicians, but not all musicians are music therapists” (Shafer, 2017). The widespread misunderstanding that music is simply meant to entertain and that music therapy is interchangeable with other wellness-based practices creates a situation where music therapists must expend additional effort to shift these misconceptions, and prove that music therapy as an evidence-based practice truly works. 

There are several terms and practices describing the use of music for beneficial health purposes rather than performance or entertainment. While all terms stem from the core belief that…

…I’m hoping to shed some light on how each idea differs from music therapy, while encompassing substantial individual characteristics. While the following is a basic collection of commonly used music and health-related terms or practices, please note that there are several other iterations of the same principle, as well as other cultural-specific practices using music for wellness that are not listed. 

Musical Engagement: one’s daily active and passive musical interactions and their resulting mental health benefits.

Music Medicine: when a (non-MTBC) medical practitioner clinically uses music for a patient’s physiological benefit

Music Therapy: considers the experience of music as the therapeutic agent. Music Therapy emphasizes the client’s role in their own care, utilizes individualized goals, and values the therapist and client relationship. To practice music therapy, one must complete rigorous collegiate courses and pass a board certification exam.

Musical Volunteer: an uncertified musician’s use of music to promote a patient’s quality of life and emotional wellbeing. While volunteers do a world of good for patients and their family members, they do not use personalized musical interventions or target specific goals using a patient’s preferred music like an MTBC. 

Recreational Drumming: actively engaging in percussion-based music activities for mood elevation, socialization, and stress relief. 

Sound Healing: an umbrella term considering specific elements of music and sound such as “relaxing sound vibrations produced from human vocals or instruments like tuning forks, gongs, and Tibetan singing bowls,” as the agents used to improve one’s functioning  (AudioCardio).  

Sound Therapy: pairs “specific sound frequencies and techniques” with psychological tools to aid one’s physical and mental wellbeing (AudioCardio). 

Therapeutic Music: using live receptive music to support a patient’s immediate mental, physical, and general comfort without seeking their active participation. Requires CMP (Certified Music Practitioner) training. 

Wellness Music: a current consumer trend where music or soundscapes are used to alter one’s mood. Popular music streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple, Youtube, etc) create “wellness playlists” for widespread use and independent artists often release their own “wellness music.” 

Clearly there are many ways to use music in a “therapeutic” manner, but only one of the previously outlined ideas qualifies as music therapy.  Patients, clients, the general public, and therapists alike need to understand the intentionality behind music therapy sessions in order to differentiate the practice from others and consequently reap the most benefits. Despite comprehensive academic training in both musical and psychological techniques, music therapists still struggle to legitimize their work. Although music aimed at health or wellness and music therapy may have some overlapping effects, they are fundamentally different.



Bacon, R. (n.d.). Recreational drumming in the correctional setting – Retrieved January 26, 2023, from 

Brown, C. (2022, May 30). The Ultimate Guide to Music Therapy & Therapeutic Music. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from 

Center for Music Therapy in End of Life Care. (n.d.). Music therapist vs musical volunteer. Omaha Music Therapy LLC. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from 

Crowe, B. J. (2010). AMTA.Pro ” Blog archive ” sound healing and its relation to music therapy. AMTA.Pro. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from 

DreamAudio. (2022, January 28). What is the difference between sound healing and sound therapy? AudioCardio. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from 

Gustavson, D. E., Coleman, P. L., Iversen, J. R., Maes, H. H., Gordon, R. L., & Lense, M. D. (2021, June 22). Mental Health and Music engagement: Review, Framework, and Guidelines for Future Studies. Nature News. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from 

Jernigan, C. (Ed.). (2021, January 20). What is the difference between music therapy and music medicine? Incadence Music Therapy Blog. Retrieved January 25, 2023, from 

McGroarty, B. (2020, January 29). Wellness music. Global Wellness Summit. Retrieved January 26, 2023, from 

Shafer, K. (2017, August 25). THERAPY vs. entertainment. Retrieved December 12, 2022, from keynote-mn website:

What is a certified music practitioner (CMP)®? Music For Healing & Transition Program. (n.d.). Retrieved January 26, 2023, from 

(2018, November 13). Is Music Therapy a “Real” Therapy? Harmony Music Therapy.

Further Reading:

[button size=”large” type=”normal” target=”_self” text=”OUR NONPROFIT PARTNER RECEIVES A GRANT FROM THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS” link=””]
[button size=”large” type=”normal” target=”_self” text=”SELF-CARE IN MUSIC FOR MUSIC THERAPISTS” link=””]


CEO / Founder
P: 858.457.2201

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