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How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Music Therapy?

by Melissa Goldsmith

It takes 11 to 14 years to obtain a doctorate in music therapy. You'll first need to complete an approved American Music Therapy Association bachelor’s program. The next step is the Music Therapy Board Certification Exam, which requires 1,200 hours of clinical experience. After that, you can enter a master’s program, which takes two to three years to complete, followed by the doctoral program, which ranges from five to seven years.

Undergraduate Studies

As a music therapy major, you would have the same core requirements as other music majors. Undergraduate studies in music therapy often require an audition and consist of music core courses such as music theory and history, as well as introductory music therapy courses. Florida State University’s College of Music, for example, offers a program that leads to the Bachelor’s of Music in Music Therapy as well as a music therapy equivalency program that emphasizes proficiencies in voice, piano and guitar, requires a six-month clinical internship and includes courses in the psychology of music, music in special education and behavior modification.

Required Examination

Undergraduate programs in music therapy take four years, whereas music therapy equivalency programs take two years in addition to other bachelor’s program requirements. Both prepare students to become certified music therapists. Ideally, the Music Therapy Board Certification Exam should be taken immediately after undergraduate studies. This certification allows you to enter the field professionally and will make you eligible for graduate and doctoral studies. The Certification Board for Music Therapists suggest preparing for the exam by studying their scope of practice, which includes assessment, interpreting results, treatment planning and implementation, safety and professional responsibilities and development.

Graduate Studies

Music therapy master’s degrees enable you to take advanced courses in music therapy, to be introduced to scholarly research methods, gain further clinical experience and begin to specialize in some aspect of music therapy. Temple University, for example, offers a master’s degree in music therapy with the choice of specializing in either medical music therapy or music psychotherapy. Like the undergraduate clinical experience, master’s programs will require you to gain clinical experience on-site at places such as schools, prisons, hospitals and hospice facilities. They will also require you to complete a thesis, which is based on your clinical expertise and knowledge of certain music therapy approaches.

Doctoral Studies

The American Music Therapy Association explains that some doctoral programs enable students to specialize in music therapy research, clinical practice, supervision and administration and college teaching. The New York University Steinhardt School has a master’s program that leads to a doctoral program in music education. This program, which aims for state licensure, requires students to complete courses under professional competencies, music therapy specialization and music development and personal growth. Temple University and Florida State University offer the Ph.D. in Music Therapy.

The Dissertation

Doctoral programs require about three years of course work, including further clinical experience, and they require entrance and general examinations and the dissertation. Like the master's thesis, most music therapy dissertations focus on clinical studies and certain music therapy approaches. They often employ statistical research methods. One to three years after completing doctoral coursework and passing general exams, students earn their doctoral degrees in music therapy after successfully passing their dissertation defense, revising their dissertations and submitting their dissertations for final approval.

About the Author

A musicologist and librarian, Melissa Goldsmith earned her PhD in musicology and Certificate in Advanced Studies in library and information science in 2002 from Louisiana State University. Her academic articles and reviews have also been published since that year. Goldsmith enjoys teaching tap dancing, music, film studies, embroidery and gardening.

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