Girl and music therapist playing instruments at Nordoff Robbins London Centre

What is music therapy?

We all have experiences of being engaged in music – even if it is only by tapping our foot to a song on the radio, or singing in the shower. But in the hands of expertly trained music therapists like ours, music can bring added benefits, breaking through where words can’t.

What is music therapy?

From your earliest moments on earth, you begin a powerful relationship with music. The first sound you hear is the constant rhythm of your mother’s heartbeat and from there each of us develops an innate musicality, it’s part of what makes us human.

We can all relate to the way music moves us – it can lift our mood, it can calm us, it can motivate us and comfort us. But in the hands of expertly trained music therapists like ours, music can bring added benefits, breaking through where words can’t:

  • When you hear your 5-yr-old child, who’s severely autistic, speak for the first time.
  • When you see a familiar light in the eyes of your mother, who’s been isolated by dementia.
  • When your son, whose life has been devastated by a road accident, moves to the rhythm of a song he loves.
  • When a loved one, who’s dealing with severe depression, experiences moments of peace and genuine joy.

Our music therapists are skilled musicians who are expertly trained to tune into each movement, reaction and expression of the individuals they work with to discover how music can enrich their lives. This could be to unlock memories, to communicate where words have failed, to socially connect with family and friends, and to build confidence and self-esteem.

While other forms of music therapy may involve playing music, we make music, together. This could be through improvisation, making use of music people already know, creating new music together, or working towards some kind of performance.

Who are Nordoff Robbins music therapists?

We train our own therapists via our two-year Masters programme (validated by Goldsmiths, University of London and approved by the Health and Care Professions Council): we select passionate, capable, flexible musicians and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to be as useful as possible in real-life situations.
As well as providing music therapy on our own premises, our therapists work with a wide range of partner organisations to deliver music therapy in schools, hospitals, care homes and other community settings. Sessions happen with individuals and groups in these places, but our music therapists are also committed to bringing the benefits of music making to communities as a whole, something our partners tell us they value highly.

A little bit of history – the growth of the approach

Paul Nordoff (an American composer and pianist) and Clive Robbins (a British teacher of children with special needs) worked together in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, developing their approach to music therapy. They found that opportunities for engagement in active music-making, when skilfully offered, guided and supported, enabled the children they worked with to go beyond what people assumed they could do, both demonstrating and experiencing their capacities for expression and interaction.

This isn’t a method – rather it’s about the cultivating of a musical attitude which recognises both the potential in everyone (regardless of pathology, illness, disability, trauma or social isolation) for engagement in active, communicative, expressive music-making and the importance of this in developing skills, a sense of self, and a capacity for satisfying social interaction.

In those early days, Nordoff and Robbins worked mostly in schools and entirely with children – autistic children and children with developmental delay. They trained other musicians in their ways of working and many of these therapists took the work in new directions – working with diverse groups of people and in a wider range of settings. Their pioneering approach is now being used across the world today.

You can see historical examples of Nordoff and Robbins working together in the videos below – and there’s more details on our history page


How Nordoff Robbins provides music therapy today

Today Nordoff Robbins provides a range of different sessions for children and adults of all ages in a range of locations across the UK from specialised one-to-one music therapy to shared sessions for groups of different sizes and formats.

We also work in partnership with over 200 organisations to bring music therapy to areas where there are no Nordoff Robbins centres close by. These include schools, care homes, hospices, hospitals, mental health services, and brain injury units.

Find out more about music therapy for you

Music therapy for specific conditions and situations