Top 10 Music Therapy Instruments

Any music therapist will tell you that it’s really hard to pick favorites when it comes to instruments. After all, they are our tools, and we choose them based on the specific needs and goals of our clients.

That being said, there are definitely certain instruments I tend to gravitate to more often than others. And since I frequently receive emails from students, interns, and new professionals asking which instruments I recommend, I’m sharing them here with you. I left off the very basics (shakers, tambourines, rhythm sticks, jingle bells, etc.) as those are a given.

  1. 8 Note Hand Bell Set: I received this as a Christmas gift just as I was starting my private practice, and I have found so many uses for it over the years. What I love is that each bell has a color, number and letter (of the music alphabet), and of course they can be ordered by pitch.
  2. Taylor GS Mini Guitar: I still rely on my lovingly battered old Dean guitar for most groups and sessions, but I can’t say enough good things about my “good guitar” — the GS Mini. Its size is my favorite feature; I’m a pretty petite person, and the guitar’s smaller body makes it super kid-friendly and portable.
  3. Clatterpillar: I love watching a kiddo pick up the clatterpillar for the very first time and try to figure out what to do with it :) The clatterpillar makes a great passing instrument and encourages creative play.
  4. Frog Guiro: We actually don’t have one of these in our collection at the studio, but I have several in my instrument bin for the early childhood class I teach at my church. The reason I like these so much is because they can be used several different ways — including as a guiro that makes a croaking sound (hence the frog shape) and as a wood block — to target a variety of objectives.
  5. Castanets: Not only do they make a super fun sound, but castanets are perfect for working on that pincer grasp children need to master. This instrument can also double as horse and reindeer hooves, so they come in super handy around the holidays!
  6. Fruit Shakers: I have to say that fruit shakers just might be my very favorite of all the instruments in my collection. Even though there is nothing unique about their sound when compared to other shakers and maracas, their realistic appearance makes them so darn appealing.
  7. Cabasa: The cabasa, on the other hand, does have a unique sound. Not only that, but the tactile element of playing this instrument makes it a key tool in my studio. Cabasas are good for targeting fine and gross motor skills.
  8. Lollipop Drum: Once you make it clear to kiddos that the drums and mallets are not meant to be licked or eaten (no joke!), you’ll find these to be an excellent addition to your percussion collection. Lollipop drums are light and not too loud, which is why we favor them over bigger paddle drums especially with certain clients.
  9. Tenor Ukulele: Another Christmas present I received a few years ago that has remained a staple in my music therapy game. I think every MT should have a uke, because their sound is so sweet and inviting. It also makes a great alternative to the guitar not only as an accompanying instrument, but also for adapted lessons.
  10. Gathering Drum: This guy is always a hit (pun totally intended) when we bring it out during groups or classes. It’s perfect for encouraging group cohesion, working together, sharing, and interacting with peers.

Of course, I have a long wishlist of instruments that I would love to add to our collection, which probably deserves its very own post (right after I round up my favorite music therapy props). What instruments top your list of favorites?

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