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An Introduction to the Nordoff Robbins approach to Music Therapy

Gain important insights into music therapy and those who pioneered it as you discover the vital skills of a music therapist.

1,810 enrolled on this course

  • Duration

    6 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Understand a person-centred approach to music therapy

This introductory six-week course will help you explore music therapy through the Nordoff Robbins person-centred approach.

You’ll gain an understanding of how music therapy works today, and how the practice has developed over the last half-century.

Exploring your own relationship with music along the way, you’ll discover the key elements of how music therapy works and can help in a range of settings.

Discover the pioneering work of Nordoff Robbins

You’ll examine the early work of Paul Nordoff and Clive Robbins who pioneered ‘music as therapy’.

Once you have understood music therapy’s roots, you’ll discover the current work carried out through the charity, Nordoff Robbins UK. You’ll explore the importance of music-making, the role of groups and communities, and the worldwide impact of the work from the UK’s largest independent provider of music therapy.

Develop the skills of a music therapist

You’ll discover how the approach to music therapy has evolved to meet the needs of our changing world, and the critical skills needed to become a music therapist, such as the importance of listening.

You’ll also have an opportunity to explore therapeutic development through shared music therapy case studies.

By the end of the course, you’ll have a solid understanding of the importance of music therapy, your relationship with music, and the role of a music therapist.


  • Week 1

    Introduction - Music and You

    • What is effective learning?

      An overview of the course content from our educators, Matthew and Mary. We'll introduce the key themes of the course and ask you to introduce yourselves! We'll also explore how to take effective notes.

    • How do you experience music?

      Now that you have heard our musical journeys, we would like to ask you how YOU experience music in your lives. Before we can do this, we need to pose some fundamental questions about the thing we call 'music'.

    • How can music be therapeutic?

      We have explored how music is experienced, but now it's time to look in a little more detail at how it can be therapeutic.

    • Why do we respond to music?

      For the final activity of the week we spend time exploring the link between the use of music for therapeutic purposes and the innate responsiveness that humans have to music

  • Week 2

    The importance of listening

    • Welcome to Week 2

      Matthew briefly re-caps on the key themes from last week, and introduces the topics to be covered in Week 2.

    • How we observe music therapy - Mary and Antonia

      What might you see and hear when observing music therapy? Here we look at a number of different examples of music therapy in action, and discuss how to observe it carefully.

    • How we observe music therapy - Kath and Richard

      Through the second example of music therapy this week we'll look at how Kath responds to music therapist, Richard

    • Comparing to your thoughts from Week 1

      What can we see from Week 1 that applies here?

  • Week 3

    The History of Nordoff Robbins

    • Introduction to Week 3

      This week we will look at where the idea of music making as an accessible means of interaction and communication originally came from. We will start with the story of Nordoff and Robbins.

    • The story of Nordoff and Robbins

      'Here am I in Europe with a trunk full of music trying to get a symphony performed and here is a musician using music to bring a child into speech. There is no doubt in my mind which is the more important.'

    • Individual music therapy

      So far we have seen the early work of Nordoff and Robbins in group settings, but just as with music therapy today, they also worked with individuals.

    • The music therapy ideas of Nordoff and Robbins

      Based on their musical plays and improvisations with groups of children and individuals, Nordoff and Robbins developed general thoughts about music, people and the ways of working that they were developing.

    • Nordoff and Robbins' approach to listening

      Listening is fundamental to the practice of music therapy. In this activity we explore the ways in which Nordoff and Robbins approached the skill.

    • Summarising the week and looking forwards to Week 4

      We have covered a lot of history in this week of the course. Let's take some time to review the key principles before we move on to Week 4.

  • Week 4

    It takes two...

    • What is different about making music with another person?

      Being with another person involves negotiation - we need to share, listen, wait and take turns. As music therapists we like to describe music-making with our clients as 'musical relationships'.

    • Can music elicit an immediate response?

      Can we truly say that a sudden experience of music is responsible for the reactions and responses of people? Nordoff and Robbins believed we could.

    • What happened when Nordoff and Robbins made music with Karin?

      Nordoff and Robbins believed that music COULD elicit an immediate response in the children that they worked with and it was within THIS mindset that they carried out their work​. Here we look in detail at an example of their work.

    • What is the role of the music therapist in making music with another person?

      We've explored what happened when Paul Nordoff made music with Karin. Although this was many years ago, it offers many insights and can effectively point towards the role of the music therapist as we make music with another person

  • Week 5

    Nordoff Robbins work in groups and community settings

    • How has group work changed at Nordoff Robbins?

      This week, we are going to focus on how the Nordoff Robbins approach to music therapy has developed and grown. We will do so by exploring examples of music therapy from Nordoff Robbins in the USA.

    • How can group music-making benefit participants?

      We'll explore the different ways in which group music making can benefit the people involved

    • How has group work changed within Nordoff Robbins music therapy?

      Now it's time to look at what has evolved within Nordoff Robbins music therapy

    • Context, boundaries and the ripple effect

      Here we explore therapeutic boundaries

    • Conclusion

      To wrap up the week, we will recap on some of the key themes already covered.

  • Week 6


    • Questions and thoughts...

      Let's look back over the past five weeks...What have you learned? What were the questions posed?

    • Nordoff Robbins music therapy worldwide

      The pioneering work of Nordoff and Robbins inspired people in many counties worldwide to establish charities and organisations to continue and develop their approach to music therapy.

    • Further Reading

      Some suggested books written by Nordoff Robbins music therapists

    • Conclusion

      We hope you have enjoyed this course and have been inspred to pursue the ideas further. Mary and Matthew wish you well and say goodbye in this final video

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Summarise the core principles underlying Nordoff Robbins music therapy
  • Compare the ideas presented in the course to your own experience of music making
  • Critique older Nordoff Robbins ideas and literature in the context of the culture of their time, and compare to more recent developments
  • Debate the implications of music therapy ideas and practice for wider society, particularly the roles available to disabled and disadvantaged people
  • Evaluate the salient musical details that contribute to a particular musical interaction
  • Reflect on the nature of music, its place in human development, individual experience, society and culture
  • Develop your understanding of music therapy further, and engage with the wider world of practice, opportunities and literature in music therapy

Who is the course for?

This course is designed for anyone interested in music therapy and the Nordoff Robbins approach.

You don’t need any prior experience to join this introductory course.

What software or tools do you need?

You’ll need to be able to access the course through your computer or through a mobile device. Additionally we would recommend the use of a ‘reflective journal’ where you can make your own notes.

Who will you learn with?

I have been a music therapist for more than 20 years, working with a wide range of people in a wide range of settings, and also training music therapists.

Mary has been a music therapist for 18 years, working in many different venues with a range of clients.

Who developed the course?

Nordoff Robbins

Nordoff Robbins is the UK’s largest music therapy charity. We are dedicated to bringing high quality music therapy to as many people as possible. Our music therapy practice is informed by our research and we are committed to training future generations of music therapists through our education programme, which offers three levels of training including short courses, our Master of Music Therapy programme (which gives graduates eligibility to register as a music therapist) and our PhD programme.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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