Music and Health Training

The last few years have seen a plethora of newspaper articles, and radio and television pieces on the benefits of the arts, and in particular music. There is now more arts and health research happening at places like Nordoff Robbins and Sidney de Haan Centre, and many people are starting to look at a career linking their favourite art form to health and social care. At a recent music therapy conference, one participant commented on what a great choice of profession music therapy is as it enables music therapists every day to be “making meaning for ourselves, and making meaning for others”.

I often get asked about training opportunities, so in this post I want to highlight the places you can go for training if you want to have a career as a musician working in health – either as a music therapist, a community musician, or singing facilitator – or however you choose to describe your work and role. I often get messages from people wanting to know where they can train to lead singing, particularly in relation to working with people with dementia.

Music Therapy training is a specific training to become eligible for Health and Care Professions Council registration as a Music Therapist. In the UK, the term ‘music therapist’ is a protected title, meaning only people registered with the HCPC can describe themselves in this way. The training is a minimum two years, at a master’s level, and you can train at Nordoff Robbins (in London or Manchester), Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, University of Roehampton, London, University of South Wales, Newport, Queen Margaret’s University, Edinburgh, or University of the West of England, Bristol.

It is possible to study Community Music as an undergraduate degree course at University of Chichester, Manchester Metropolitan University, and University of Sunderland, and Community Arts & Engagement at Goldsmiths, London. As a postgraduate degree, there are courses in Community Music at University of York, and University of Limerick. There are also modules within music performance courses that introduce music and health or community music.

But what if you don’t have the time or money to embark on a long course of study? Or there isn’t a course close to where you and your family live? Do you really need to study or can you just do the work anyway? What are the strategies for building knowledge and experience for wannabe music and health practitioners? When I started out in singing and health I had the benefit of a few experiences of placements from my undergraduate degree and from my post-graduate diploma. Despite this, I still didn’t feel ready, but if I had waited until I felt ready I would never have started! Learning on the job is essential, which is why making reflecting on your work a priority. At the beginning I observed other practitioners, volunteered to run taster sessions, and when I got my first ‘gig’ running a regular singing group for Age UK, I listened to the participants, asked them what they wanted, was adaptable, but also clear about the vision I had. I also went on lots of day or two-day training courses, watching how leaders went about teaching, leading, facilitating, and noticing how I felt as a participant – were they going too quickly? was their style formal or informal? did I feel like my contribution was valued? I stored up ideas for warm-ups, repertoire and other activities.

There are growing numbers of short or evening courses provided by universities and other providers, for example Willis Newson’s training in Participatory Arts in Health and Social Care and Music Leader Training Programmes provided by CM, which can lead to a City and Guilds qualification. Many trainings are education and/or children & young people oriented such as the Level 4 Certificate for Music Educators (CME). Soundsense is, at the time of writing, exploring the possibility of creating the qualification ‘Fellowship in Community Music’ – it sounds like this will be more a recognition of a practitioner’s (glorious melange of) skills, experience and training, often not formalised, rather than an actual training course. It would fill a much needed space by helping practitioners themselves, and those who hire them, to recognise the skills and experience that many community musicians have gained over years in the field, with or without formal education and training.

In terms of working with particular client groups, for example, people living with dementia – getting specific dementia training is really helpful to build understanding of the condition. The Alzheimer’s Society run training (including online training) for staff and volunteers. Volunteering – just for a short, set amount of time, maybe a couple of months – will help you get some practical experience. Through observation of the setting, client group, families, carers and staff, and by asking ‘how are people now?’ and ‘what can music bring?’ an idea of how music might be used to engage the whole scenario might begin to formulate.

Now… who or what did I miss?!

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