Music Therapy Students Singing off Key? No way! What’s your experience? by Margie La Bella of Music Therapy Tunes

[Gee, I think I ticked some people off by writing about this topic. Look, I’m not meaning to offend anyone and maybe I’ll tone this down, but this is a topic that has affected me about three times over the past twenty years as an internship supervisor. I’m not commenting on vocal quality because the heart always trumps over the natural voice.  It’s the musicianSHIP that reaches people, not the vocal quality or lack thereof, or the confidence or experience or lack of.  That can always come later. So here’s my original blog. Really, it’s not meant to offend anyone!! It’s just something I was thinking about one day. ]

Shouldn’t all music therapists automatically sing on key? Isn’t that a basic requirement, like dentists should know virtually everything about teeth? Or taxi drivers know how to drive?  Or Tax examiners know math?? But, really… isn’t singing on key —  and the auditory, perceptual and physical skills required 100% vital to doing a good job as a music therapist?  If you can’t sing on pitch you maybe shouldn’t be allowed to get to the internship level! If you need to hear the melody on piano to match the pitches, maybe music therapy isn’t for you.  A closely related field may be a better fit; a win-win. Like psychology, speech therapy, OT, special education…..

When I was in school, every music therapist major had to take a basic singing course and participate in chorus. Every music therapy student also had to major or minor in piano. It is true that some music therapy students  audition and are brilliant on various other instruments. I personally can’t figure how someone could be a great trumpet player or violinist and not hear when they are singing out of tune.

There are lots of tone qualities that a singer’s voice can embody. Some people who are not  “great” natural singers simply need to open their mouth, stand straight and breath more to“sound better.”   – – Problem solved.    How you use your voice and your musical sensitivity is maybe more important that it’s timbre or tone quality. That’s where the heart and feeling and intuition of sensitivity and musicality come in.  Raspy, breathy, thin, full,  operatic, pop, jazzy, (etc.) can each please the ear.  It’s the spirit of the voice that transmits its message.

More than fifteen years ago, I was presented with two music therapy students who really could  not sing on pitch.  One switched into psychology, which I thought was a great idea, because she had great insight into what was happening therapeutically and I don’t know about the other. She did have a point when she asked why she was allowed to get as far as she did. That really wasn’t fair to her.

I’m assuming that vocal and piano class are essential in the education of all music therapy students.  Write to me and let me know about your program and/or experience.  Have you had a student who was new to singing who learned to sing well?  A student who did not?  I’m just throwing this topic in to see what you all are thinking. Let me know. Either way.

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