The Four Types Of Interventions In Music Therapy

Music therapists are trained in areas that equip them with skills to assess, treat, and evaluate individuals of varying ages, backgrounds, and needs. To accomplish specified goals in a music therapy session, music therapists will prepare interventions within one of four broad intervention categories, which include receptive, re-creation, improvisation, and composition/songwriting. These methods, combined with targeting individualized goals, render music therapists specialized and unique from other musical disciplines.

Depending on the needs of an individual or group, a music therapist will determine which type of intervention will be most effective. Below is a comprehensive overview of the four different methods, as well as rationale for facilitation.

Receptive: The client listens to music and responds to the experience silently, verbally, or in another modality (eg. art, dance). The music used may be live, or a recording. Some types of receptive approaches may include music-assisted relaxation, as well as the use of music and imagery. Goals may encompass several areas, including:

  • promoting stimulation or relaxation
  • facilitating memory or reminiscence
  • developing auditory skills
  • enhancing mood and reducing anxiety

Receptive interventions may be appropriate when a client is nonverbal or prefers a passive approach through listening.

Re-creation: A music-centred approach in which the client is encouraged to play or sing along to a pre-composed song in a manner that supports identified goals. Re-creation may involve singing familiar or new songs, or playing various instruments depending on a client’s abilities and objectives. This can be a fun and engaging way to achieve goals through music making, which may include:

  • strengthening gross / fine motor skills
  • promoting social interaction and turn taking
  • encouraging the use of one side of the body
  • fostering self-expression through instrument playing or singing

Re-creation interventions may be appropriate for a variety of populations, including children with developmental delays, those with acquired brain injury, or seniors with Dementia.

Improvisation: Involves spontaneous music making using simple instruments, body percussion, or the voice. This type of intervention requires the therapist to hear and interpret, and ultimately respond to the client’s playing or mood. Some goals related to this category of intervention may include:

  • facilitate expression and communication through music, especially when verbal communication is limited or less comfortable!
  • increase freedom and the ability to make choices
  • develop the capacity for relationship-building with another individual through music

This type of intervention may be appropriate with some populations, including those who are nonverbal, or feel uncomfortable expressing directly.

Composition / Songwriting: A process whereby the therapist supports the client in creating their own music or lyrics. These creations may be recorded or performed thereafter. Some goals that may be achieved through composition or songwriting may be:

  • validating experiences / legacy work
  • externalizing thoughts or emotions
  • promoting an alternative manner of expression
  • fostering creativity

This type of intervention may be appropriate for a variety of populations, depending on a client’s needs, and may be a new, fun method to explore in session!

At Wellington Music Therapy Services, our music therapists are trained in effective facilitation of the above types of interventions in sessions to meet the needs and goals of any client. Please do not hesitate to reach out to learn more about how we can serve your family!


Edwards, J., Trygve A., and Stine C. Blichfeldt A. “Songwriting Techniques in Music Therapy Practice.” The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy, 2015.

Edwards, J., and Grocke, D. “Receptive Music Therapy.” The Oxford Handbook of Music Therapy,  2015.

Erkkilä, J., et al. “The effect of improvisational music therapy on the treatment of depression: protocol for a randomised controlled trial.” BMC psychiatry, 2008 vol. 8, p. 50.

Stegemann, T., et al. “Music Therapy and Other Music-Based Interventions in Pediatric Health Care: An Overview.” Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 2019, vol. 6, p. 25.