Why Music Works


Creating music allows us to express ourselves through sound, even when it is difficult – or even impossible – to do so through words.


Music has been the centerpiece of communities for thousands of years. When people come together to share music, bonds are created and community is strengthened.


Music therapy addresses the whole person – emotionally, physically, socially, and spiritually.


Sing, dance, create, and play! With opportunities to be seen and heard, music can help us celebrate our strengths, growth, and potential.

Music therapy is the therapeutic use of music to help people gain greater health and vitality.


Music therapists are board-certified, licensed, and professionally educated in music therapy.


Creating music allows us to express ourselves through sound, even when it is difficult – or even impossible – to do so through words.

Music provides opportunities for non-verbal communication 
Self-expression helps us move through emotions and connect with one another in times of joy and in times of need, and music can provide powerful opportunities for nonverbal expression and communication. This nonverbal self-expression is useful for people who have experienced trauma that is difficult to verbalize, and for individuals who have difficulty verbally expressing their emotional or physical needs.

Music can help with speech development and recovery
Music can help with speech development and speech recovery. For people with speech delays or neurologic diseases that affect speech, music and singing can provide avenues in the brain for language to enter. While speaking uses one area of the brain, singing utilizes multiple areas of the brain. Whether a person is having difficulty verbalizing certain words, or having trouble communicating fluently, music can provide the structure and stimulation to achieve both. Individuals with speech delays or difficulties are often able to sing words better than they are able to speak them. Once singing has been used to acquire language, those pathways in the brain are strengthened and an individual may improve speech function over time.

Music touches memory and emotion
Even for people who are able to verbally express themselves, music still is invaluable. Music is tied to memories, important life events, emotions, and actually has the ability to physiologically change us. Listening to certain music can transport us to a different time, feeling, place, or state of mind. When a music therapist brings music into a hospital or hospice room, families and patients are much quicker to relate and openly express whatever is real for them in the moment, whether that be gratitude, sadness, pain, love, or joy. Music touches us in deep ways and helps us to express our emotions freely.

Music therapists focus on each person’s expression
Music therapists develop relationships with those they serve, creating a safe environment for expression. Music therapists also know how to provide music that is accessible to maximize a person’s ability to express themselves. Some techniques used for increasing expression involve instrument play, musical improvisation, songwriting, singing, and personally significant songs to listen to and/or discuss.

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Music has been the centerpiece for community and social connection for thousands of years. When people come together to share music, social bonds are created and community is strengthened.

Rhythm is innate
Sense of rhythm is the first thing that is instilled in us from before we were born – the heartbeat of a mother, the rhythm of breathing, being rocked back and forth. Rhythm is also the last musical sense to go when a person has dementia. Simply holding hands, singing, making eye contact, and moving to music can be an incredible to way to connect with someone with dementia. It’s no wonder that through a person’s entire life, music provides a way of connecting us to one another.

Music is communication
When individuals improvise music together, there is a dynamic process of communicating that involves listening and “talking” at the same time. Two individuals improvising music are in a constant dialogue of responding to the other. The musical dialogue occurs through taking turns, making eye contact, responding to changes in tempo and loudness, and sharing laughter when something unexpected occurs.

Music is a bridge
Music is a bridge for connecting people to one another. People with autism often have difficulty relating to others or identifying emotions in themselves and others. Music can be used to develop social skills in a fun and structured way. Singing hello and making eye contact, telling stories through songs that involve emotions, identifying emotions that come up during a session and finding ways to communicate the emotions either verbally or musically. These are all ways that connection is made possible through music.

It’s no surprise that when people participate in our music groups, they become part of something bigger than the music—they become part of a fun and welcoming community. Music is the glue that holds our community of participants together; it gives many adults with disabilities a good reason to leave their homes, connect with others, and be themselves.


Music therapists treat people as whole beings, addressing the emotional, physical, cognitive and relational parts of each individual.

Emotional Health
Music can provide immediate access to emotion, and tools such as songwriting and lyric analysis can help process and transform difficult emotions. Music can empower us to understand and express parts of ourselves that need to be released and heard.

Physical Health
Our emotions are intimately tied to our physical well-being. Correlations between stress and many chronic diseases have been widely documented. Relaxation, meditation, guided imagery, singing, and dancing can help reduce the physical and psychological effects of stress. Music has also been shown to help people regain lost physical capacities and strengths and achieve greater endurance during rehabilitation.

Cognitive Health
Music is the only external stimulus in our world that activates the whole brain. This means that it can be a very powerful tool in helping our brains recover lost capacities such as speech or memories, and learn new skills. Music can help to organize or temper people’s thoughts for greater mental clarity and concentration.

Relational Health Music creates conduits for connection and meaning between people, particularly during our most profound moments in life. It can be hard to overcome the sense of isolation that many people feel. Participating in music is a natural and immediate way to come into community with other people.

End of Life Even at the end of life, healing can occur. For a person on hospice, healing may come in the form of restoring positive memories, expressing love to loved ones, and/or releasing the mind from anxiety and fear. Hospice patients and family members alike can experience greater emotional and spiritual health during the dying process with the addition of music therapy.



Sing, dance, create, and play! With opportunities to be seen and heard, music can help us celebrate our strengths, growth, and potential.

What better way to celebrate the person you’re becoming and the milestones you’ve accomplished than through music and dance? Our music programs occur in the web of a tight knit family and community. When people start to recognize their own power, their own voice, their own dance, they find the power to be their biggest, most vibrant selves.

Community-based music therapy provides people with opportunities to grow and demonstrate what they’ve accomplished musically and personally. We hold various events throughout the year for people to share their joy, talents, and skills with their peers and loved ones.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who do music therapists work with?
Music therapists work with individuals of all ages with a variety of challenges, including developmental delays, sensory impairments, autism, traumatic brain injuries, dementia, mental health issues, neurologic diseases, and physical disabilities. Music therapists also work with hospice patients, veterans, at-risk youth, medically fragile individuals, and more.
Where do you provide music therapy?
We currently offer individual music therapy at the McKinley Arts and Culture Center in downtown Reno and at Northern Nevada Medical Center and Renown Children’s Hospital. We offer music therapy for groups and individuals. Please contact us at 775-324-5521 or mail@nmtsreno.org if you would like information about adding music therapy to your agency, school, or program.
What do music therapists do?
Music therapists facilitate musical experiences for groups and individuals. Therapeutic activities can include drum circles, performances, songwriting, instrument play, musical improvisation, singing, and dancing. While these activities may seem purely musical and recreational in nature, music therapists focus on the other goals that are accomplished in the process – such as social connection, self-confidence, listening and communication skills, motor skills, and relaxation. These skills can then translate into daily life. In some settings, the music therapist will provide live music to reduce pain or anxiety; in other settings the individual(s) will actively play instruments, sing, and write songs with the therapist. From a clinical standpoint, music therapists assess the needs and strengths of an individual and use evidence-based research, and clinical expertise to develop personalized goals and outcomes.
How does someone become a music therapist?
In order to become a music therapist, a person must obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in music therapy at an accredited university, complete a 6-month AMTA approved internship, and pass a board certification exam. In certain states, like Nevada, an additional license is required by the state in order to practice music therapy. We have two licensed board certified music therapists at NMTS, Manal Toppozada, and Jodi McLaren.
How do I schedule a music therapy session for myself, my child, or my organization?
We offer individual music therapy sessions on site. In order to schedule, please call us at 775-324-5521 or mail@nmtsreno.org. We will determine availability, schedule a time for you to get a tour of the facility and meet the music therapist you will be working with before your first session. For more information on hiring a music therapist for contract work at your facility, school, or home, please contact Manal 775.324.5521 or manal@nmtsreno.org.
How often are appointments typically scheduled?
We offer music therapy on a weekly basis to support the needs and goals of the individuals we serve. Most individuals receive 30-minute sessions, but some adults or children with the ability to focus for longer periods of time may enroll in hour long sessions. People may also enroll in workshops or group classes.
Is music therapy the same as music lessons?
No. Music therapy uses music to address goals other than or in addition to musical goals. Music lessons are meant to teach musical skills. We do offer adaptive music lessons, many of which are offered by board-certified music therapists, that focus on teaching musical skills to people of all abilities and backgrounds. If you are unsure about which category you would like to pursue, talk to one of our music therapists, Jodi or Manal: 775.324.5521.
Why isn't music therapy free?
Like any trained, certified and licensed professional, music therapists work hard to provide services based on current research, training, and specified skills.   While we tend to love what we do, we rely on the work we do to make a living and to support our continued education as music therapists. We do our best to make services affordable and accessible to the populations we serve, while also receiving compensation for services.

What the Research is Saying

We gather our favorite new research as it rolls out, documenting the power of music therapy to effect deep and lasting change in people's lives.



Please feel free to drop us a line anytime.

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