Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Importance of Musical Preference in Music Therapy

Why is music preference so important in music therapy?
Research shows that people benefit most from the music they prefer. If a patient loves country music, a music therapist will prepare that genre of music for various interventions depending on that patient’s goals. If the same patient can’t stand jazz, but the music therapist brings a few jazz standards to share in the music therapy session, the patient will not receive the benefit. The patient may think about how much he or she dislikes the music being shared the entire time. When preferred music is being shared, however, patients reminisce more readily, are more social, interact with a brighter affect, and they might even be more active in the session – dancing, singing or playing instruments.

Where does musical preference come from?
Throughout our lives, we are exposed to music in many different environments – in school, on the radio, movies and television, from our children’s and family members’ recitals, or from our own music making experiences. Each exposure to music has the potential to create a permanent impression on us through our emotional memory banks. Research shows that these musical memories can even stick with us when other memories fade away. A patient who has a background of playing the piano may very much enjoy listening to classical piano music, or on the other hand, they might prefer not to think about the weekly piano lessons that they dreaded as a child!

Music therapy research has shown that the most meaningful music typically is that of a person’s young adulthood. For a typical 80 to 90 year-old patient, this means the music therapist will be pulling out 1940’s classics like “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” or “Let Me Call You Sweetheart.”

However this is a generalization, and is only meant to be a starting point for determining musical preference. Many patients may also be quite familiar with, and have fond memories of, music of their parents’ generation, for example.
Musical Memories
Reminiscing with patients about their musical memories is interesting. One patient recently remembered going dancing with her sister every Saturday night. Another patient always remembers his mother singing around the house. Another patient remembered a song she sang to comfort herself as a girl, when a boyfriend broke up with her. Some patients feel connected to their spirituality through music, and some people just enjoy listening to music in general!

Visit the Arbor Hospice website for videos from some of our music therapy sessions.


  1. A dear friend in his final unconscious hours, was given headphones to hear his beloved hymns. Let's remember that "therapy" is also about achieving peace.

  2. Ahhhhh. So, music therapist should be really well researched about the music preference of its clients. I think I agree with this because every person has its own music preference.