Therapeutic Music

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Laurie Riley was a pioneer in therapeutic music as a bedside service in hospitals and hospice, She was a founder of two of the original accredited therapeutic music certification programs that train musicians for hospital work, and was a charter member of the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Music. She also founded the Transformational Ergonomics Certification Program.

What kind of music is “therapeutic”? Something that is therapeutic is something that alleviates a physical, emotional, or mental concern. Music has been used since earliest times, formally and informally, to bring relief and to change, create or enhance moods.

Therapeutic music takes many forms. Most music is therapeutic to someone in some way. Common usage of the term, however, usually refers to pleasant acoustic music played live in medical settings such as hospices, nursing homes, and hospitals. Therapeutic music enhances the healing atmosphere in medical settings.

Those who provide live therapeutic music in medical settings may be:

1. Music Therapists: therapists with a bachelor’s or master’s degree that allows them to use music as a tool in interactive therapy. Music Therapists often work with groups doing music activities such as singing along or movement.They may work with mentally disabled, physically handicapped, and dementia patients, among others.

2. Certified therapeutic musicians: musicians with a certification that allows them to play pleasant, restful music one-on-one in the rooms and at the bedsides of patients in medical settings, for the purpose of enhancing the healing atmosphere; the music is the therapy. Certified therapeutic musicians are not qualified to do interactive verbal therapies with patients unless they also have a degree in therapy or are officially working in a ministerial capacity. Their work is mostly at the bedsides of patients who are not required (and sometimes not able) to respond physically or verbally.

3. Volunteers:  certified or uncertified. Those who are not certified may play in hallways, waiting rooms and public areas in medical settings, but usually not in patients’ rooms. Those who are certified may play according to the qualifications of their certification.

(The above definitions are general; for more detail see the links below.)

Therapeutic music may or may not overlap with New Age music,  which can sometimes be used in medical settings but which does not comprise the whole of therapeutic music styles.

Recordings of restful or meditative music abound these days, and can sometimes be used effectively for therapeutic purposes. However, recordings have been engineered with the sound compressed so that a full range of frequency is not present. Since frequency is an important component of the therapeutic effects of music,  live music is usually more effective.

Likewise, electronic music lacks overtones and undertones that create richness of frequency, and it is therefore not generally as effective as acoustic music, and certainly not as restful (and is usually not allowed in medical settings). (Wider, richer frequency ranges are present in acoustic instruments.)

Amplified music is usually also not appropriate except in care homes where there is a high percentage of residents with hearing loss.

Therefore, the most common styles you’ll hear in the genre of “healing music” or “therapeutic music” (at the bedside in medical settings) is restful and quiet. It may or may not have a time signature, beat or rhythm, depending on the perceived needs of the patient in the moment. It may or may not be familiar music. There is a great deal of detail for practitioner students to learn about what kind of music is best received by what patients and under what circumstances.

Although it may seem obvious that anyone who plays well should be able to play for a patient in a medical setting, there are codes of deportment within medical institutions that are not the same as elsewhere; what is normal, polite deportment in the world outside the medical facility may not be at all appropriate within. To function well in such environments one must also have a working knowledge of corporate compliance. Additionally, anyone working in an official capacity in a medical setting must be familiar with codes and ethics, emergency procedure, and the like. That, plus understanding how specific kinds of music effect the body and psyche on a scientific level as well as emotionally and psychologically, is why training programs exist, which ensure that you will be knowledgeable and confident as you do your therapeutic musical work.

For training and certification to play therapeutic music one-on-one with patients in medical settings, please go to which is the website of the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Music.

My purpose in promoting training is to keep the best interest of patients in mind, and to encourage every therapeutically-minded musician to do their work with the utmost integrity. I was the founder of the Clinical Musicians Home Study Course (also known as Harp for Healing), now adminstrated by Dee Sweeney (, and I was also  a co-founder of the Music for Healing and Transition Program (, and  a charter member of the National Standards Board for Therapeutic Music

The two programs mentioned above accept musicians on many instruments.

I receive no pay for promoting training programs.

See the Workshops page for possible CEU and introductory opportunities.

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