Author: Meredith R. Pizzi, MPA, MT-BC
Founder and Executive Director, Roman Music Therapy Services, LLC

Have you ever been in the kitchen, preparing dinner maybe, and your spouse or your child starts humming a recognizable tune and suddenly it’s in your brain?! Soon you’re all singing the words, or what you can recall of the words, and without meaning to or implicit intention, you’ve shared a musical moment. Shared music can create connections, large and small. Much of what we do as music therapists is built on the belief that music can be a bridge that fosters connections, promotes belonging, and nurtures growth.

When we talk about the different ways in which music therapy can be a layer of support for people, I have come to describe it as a pyramid in which the broad base of the pyramid provides universally accessible music-making that supports all people, and the pinnacle being a more medically or educationally necessary service delivery model.

Universal Music Therapy, at the base of the pyramid, encompasses events that are short-term and that are in the moment. When a music therapist presents a concert, a library program, or karaoke night in our agency, we clearly take time to set our intentions. While not a specific clinical goal, these intentions are what separate Universal Music Therapy events from a music performance.  

Promotive music therapy experiences could be a performance ensemble or a Sprouting Melodies music class geared toward young children and childhood development. These experiences offer the benefits of connecting through listening, singing, and playing. The intention set is to promote specific skills or enhance the quality of life. 

The goal of a Universal experience is to promote connection and shared joy, while the goal of Promotive experiences is to develop skills, support overall development, and improve quality of life. 

Preventative Music Therapy services provide a tier of support for individuals with identified needs to benefit from music. In this level, Preventative Music Therapy experiences support specific goals which can such as developing a sense of self, increasing participation and engagement in groups, developing social connections, and promoting leisure skills. These services, often provided in group settings, rely on an assessment of the group’s needs and clearly defined goals for the group.

Clinical Music Therapy and Advanced Music Therapy are the top of the pyramid and although they are needed by a smaller number of people, they allow space for the medically or educationally necessary services for children and adults who rely on music as a primary way to communicate, connect and grow. These services include individualized assessments and treatment plans that tailor the music therapy experiences to each person’s specific clinical needs and goals.

No matter which level of the pyramid is beneficial for you or your loved one, we can all benefit from the power of music and music therapy. Kids remind us of the primal and profound connection humans have to music. If only all of us could dance and sing as boisterously, whole-heartedly, and unselfconsciously as a young child! When we are able to engage in music this way, music and music therapy can provide an opportunity for personal and interpersonal growth, beyond medical or educational necessity. 

Making music together, at any level of the pyramid model, builds up social capital. Social capital can be thought of as a piggy bank account that we deposit money into when we make music together and then can draw on when faced with challenges. It supports and strengthens our communities and social networks. By experiencing trust, reciprocity, attachment, participation, engagement, and involvement in music-making, our social networks gain strength to help us address life’s challenges. 

Next time you are at a concert with friends, singing lullabies to your child, or participating in group music therapy sessions, notice the power of music to support people across this wide continuum. Music can bring people to a place of connection, within themselves and within the community. Music therapy makes that intention and individualized.