My journey into music therapy

Here Seb writes about his life-long passion for music, and how it led him to become a music therapist at Nordoff Robbins. 

My journey began long before I was even on a journey. At the age of 12, disillusioned with the way I was being taught, I quit the piano after Grade 4. I had recently shown an interest in my dad’s guitar and, following some instruction from him and a few chord boxes drawn onto a yellow legal pad, I was hooked. Almost in the same instance I joined a rock band at school and we rehearsed every weekend in a garage and I practised joyfully every day by listening to my favourite albums and working all the songs out by ear.  

My dedication to the cause took me through school and sixth form, but I never did a music GCSE or A Level. This would later be a problem when I considered studying music at university. Instead, I chose social science and became particularly fascinated with psychology. Music continued to be my greatest joy, playing in bands, studying different guitar styles and genres, becoming more technically proficient and even taking jazz lessons for a while. After university I worked many different jobs, from labouring on building sites to removals, and then eventually joining a graduate management training scheme for a national wine merchant company. Work-life and music-life began to really conflict with each other – and so I decided to take the plunge and become a self-employed guitar teacher, building up a large clientele over a few years.

During this time, I felt that I wanted more from working in music. I must have stumbled upon music therapy because I have no recollection of anyone telling me about it. I looked into doing a course but realised that my neglected piano skills would hold me back from the courses I found advertised. I instead applied for a masters in Community Music at the University of York, which gave me the skills and confidence to run community music groups in lots of different contexts – and I met a valuable contact who later took me under her wing, employing me to lead the music arm of her community arts charity for people with learning disabilities. Work with this charity was great and I worked alongside many different artists and mixed music with other art forms – but one particular project for people with more complex needs made me stop and think that I probably wasn’t doing all I could to reach them with music. I needed more training.

I came across Nordoff Robbins, finally. I was happy to find that piano was not a compulsory first instrument and that I was able to pass the MMT interview process on the merits of my guitar ability, along with lots of singing, some (rather embarrassing) piano, and a good amount of relevant life and work experience. The course was everything I was looking for. It instantly transformed the work I was already doing, opening me up to a whole new world of possibilities for working musically with people and with what they can already do. 

Since graduating, I have been working in special education, adult learning disability care homes, and neuro rehabilitation. While each client group has its own challenges, it is incredibly fulfilling to see how through offering vulnerable people opportunities to make music – in the strategic way in which we are trained as Nordoff Robbins music therapists – they can grow and develop, form relationships and learn to interact with others, be reconnected with a distant past memory and experience the present moment, or even momentarily alleviate pain. As a new year of my employment is commencing, I am fortunate to have an opportunity to begin working in adult mental health in an institution that’s new to me. I’ve been particularly interested in working with this client group for a long time, and I feel that it will compliment my skill set and reading interests from my time on my first degree.

The journey continues…