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Dorothy M. Davies, BMT, MA, MTA, NMT Fellow

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What Instruments Do I Need as a Music Therapist?

We all know the classic image (or some variation) of a music therapist – guitar on back, purse across the shoulder, maybe a lunch bag, a bag (or two!) of instruments.

Maybe this image describes you perfectly. Or maybe your daily pack looks a little different, but one thing’s for sure – we’ve got our hands full!


As a developing professional, there is a long list of materials a music therapist needs. The question you may be asking is: what instruments do I need as a music therapist? And where do I start?


Here are some suggestions to take into consideration when purchasing instruments:


1) Make a basic list

Assuming you already have your main instrument (e.g., guitar, keyboard, etc), the first step is to make a list of instruments you want to purchase. This can include instruments you’d like to purchase in the near future or long-term. To make a more detailed list, you may also consider how many of one instrument you want.


Here are some suggestions of instruments that may be beneficial to start off with:

  • Hand-held drums

  • Mallets

  • Maracas/shakers

  • Tambourine

  • A “novelty” instrument (e.g., ocean drum, cabasa, rainstick, etc)

The aforementioned suggestions are not a standard checklist to follow. Rather, they provide a starting point for building your resources.

A “novelty” instrument that is not familiar or common can be an appealing thing for a client to explore.


2) Expand the list

Now that you have a couple resources, you may consider purchasing more complex or expensive instruments (e.g., xylophone, djembe) or you may also consider increasing the quantity of a specific type of instrument. Purchasing your basic list of instruments before expanding your list will allow you to have instruments that may be easier to apply to various settings while you budget for other materials.


3) Buy instruments that can be used with various client populations

Buy instruments that are aesthetically age-appropriate ­for various client populations. For example, instruments marketed towards children (e.g., smaller-sized) may not necessarily be suitable for older adults. Additionally, some older adults may feel less inclined to use musical instruments during sessions if they look “child-like.”


4) Buy instruments with quality sound

While some stores may offer a great price for musical instruments, it is also important to consider the quality of sound you get for your purchase. Music therapy is not only aimed towards reaching clinical, non-musical goals, but the aesthetic experience is often an important and appreciated factor for clients as well.


5) Research and budget

Most importantly, research the different types of instruments you have on your list and budget for your purchases over time. Look at various stores for sale items. Take notice of instruments that are sold in pairs or in bulk. Consider buying used instruments. Ask family and friends for instruments they may have and are not using. Plan to purchase your instruments over a period of time.


If you have anymore questions, please refer to the contact page to submit a referral form or email me at dorothy@cornerstonemusictherapy.com for other inquiries.

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