Music Therapy: Defining a Role of Music Aesthetics Judgment and its Value for Creative Music Therapy Process


If somebody asked me a hypothetical question, if I find the music of music therapy clients beautiful? Do I use same criterion of aesthetic judgment when I listen to the music that is created by music therapy client  In this paper?  If the music produced by a person in music therapy can be compared to the music produced by a professional musician?  In this paper, I  will make an attempt to examine the term aesthetic judgement and how music aesthetics is perceived by different thinkers: philosophers, musicologists and music therapist and what each school of thoughts looks at when they speak about music aesthetics, if there is a common notion that everyone agree upon, what are the similarities and differences among thinkers from different disciplines  and how it is translates to music therapy work.

According to Arthur Schopenhauer (1995) music aesthetic can be described though the power of affection “ the effect of music is stronger, swifter more compelling and infallible… it imitative relationship to the world must be very deep, instantly understood by everyone” (p. 164). According to Schopenhauer, human create music; it is a metaphor for the human experience. Music is what human beings are, it is a mirror of human physical and emotional energy transformed into sound. According to Schopenhauer, music allows us to reflect upon the world in the moment without rationalizing and limiting the act of intuitive aesthetic expression in the moment (Hamilton, 2007, p. 77). Schneck  & Berger (2006), define music aesthetic as a form of human expression,music is the only form that is completely non-representational of any concrete, worldly object or event. In contrast of Schopenhauer absolutistic point of view,  Kant argued that music has to have purpose, aesthetic in the music comes through appreciation of music form: colors, tones, textures whereas an aesthetic judgment comes  as a set of individual judgment influenced  by charm and emotions (Hamilton, 2007, p. 72).

Scruton (1997) defines music aesthetics though examination of aesthetic interest and aesthetic judgment. Aesthetic interest is an interest in appearances: an object uncovering the presence of the world and not the underlying structure of things : “An aesthetic interest in sound need attributes to sounds no more than qualified reality that they have in my example: the reality of well -founded phenomenon, of a “material” as opposed to intentional object that is not strictly a part of physical order.” (p. 208). Scruton (1997) argues that aesthetic interest is not a human  universal as Kantian philosophers claim, but a part of the ideology of bourgeois culture ( p.221).  Scruton (1997) states that habit of identifying specific musical words arouse precisely in the context of listening culture influenced by expression and ideology, it is trapped with linguistic terms which imply positive or negative values: beautiful, sublime, elegant, ugly, unsightly therefore these terms define and influence aesthetic judgement (p. 223). Musicologists Gloah & Beard (2005) view on aesthetic judgment is in accord with Scruton’s position on aesthetic judgment stating individual positions and beliefs can be described as aesthetic response and interpretations and also can dictate the nature of questions asked of music, supporting their argument with extreme example: during USSR music was perceived as representation of social reality whereas composers who did not conform to represent the view of the government and create music serving government purposes faced real consequences Shostakovich was one of them. Scruton (1997) argues that affective language is normative-proposing standard of taste, an ideal of discrimination which enforces dictatorship on how music should be perceived and valued (p.226). If one attempts to eliminate all elements of aesthetic judgements according to Scruton, it leads us to an absolutistic view whereas musical experience cannot be measured state: ‘say in words it is that the words cannot say”  (Zuckerkandl, 1973, p. 73). Ruud (1998) argues that when we speak about aesthetic qualities of music, we describe it with linguistic categories  in the present tense before the actual musical experience. All such have relative value in relation to actual sounds of music. Music cannot be described, except musical on musical sound terms without loosing it sounds of music. No such description or representation can claim absolute validity; that is , no one can say ” music as reality” (p. 79).

Scruton (1997) states that expression is the only aesthetic values, the single criterion of aesthetic success. Music therapist Aigen (2005, p. 178) recognizes language’s  limitations  stating that states that verbal language does not well capture or convey the nature of musical experience; however, she believes that language examination will bring us an valuable insight for the nature of musical experience. According to Aigen (2005), we tend to define musical experience through the terms of aesthetic attributes: expressiveness, conviction, simplicity, complexity, beauty, novelty, cohesion, and strength of representation which takes away the actual experience in the music in the presence (p. 100). Aigen (2005) argues that understanding and recognition of those attributes that client needs leads to creating music with specific clinical intention. According to Ruud (1998) any argument about the music  results in aesthetic experiences that we try to name it:

 “The unsaid put into words… When we give a name to  aesthetic experience, we also make an explicit value of judgment. At the same moment we represent our experience by naming it, we make concrete and tangible something that had been hidden to others, something incommunicable. Music becomes a structure caries in to the world something, to which we can point and give a name.” (p. 178).

According to Aigen (2005)  aesthetic experience is essential psychological human need. Aigen (2005) states that there is a different evaluation of aesthetic elements in music in music therapy, stating that music therapist’s goal is not focus on creating aesthetic music only because it overrules other important elements of music experience such as the communal or expressive. The quality of the music is matters as a vehicle of better of musical experience but not as an end of itself. Ruud (1998) states that in music therapy aesthetic experience produced by music implies the possibility of creating a new category of experience, of experiencing the world in a new way which is the most important rationale for use of music (p. 179). Aigen (2005) states that musicians in non clinical domain are motivated to create music with aesthetic value, and music-centered approach recognizes aesthetic component as motivation for therapeutic process of expression and communication.

I guess what I am trying to say is that it is impossible to have one answer, music therapy sees value in aesthetic expression, musical experience and music communication having music aesthetic judgement as a secondary elements while they look at the music that is created in the music therapy. I got confused on how i should listen to the music (having aesthetic judgment). It seems to me me that the elements that are important for looking at music through a prism of aesthetic judgment does not make sense for music therapist. It is almost like to have a discussion about the notion of happiness and be happy. i would say that music therapist uses same words that implies specific meaning: beautiful, free floating etc but it is only a reference to the experience itself and not to the final product of music.

Basically i am trying to say that we all perceive same object, same piece of music differently because we are all different whereas there is a connection and hope that  when we create something together, experiencing something in the moment of musical improvisation, there is a small but very vital for music therapy possibility of having similar experience, a connection that is difficult to define.






Aigen, K. (2005). Music-Centered Music Therapy. Gilsum: Barcelona Publishers.

*Clayton, M., Sager, R., & Will U. (2005). In time with music: the concept of entrainment and its significance for ethnomusicology. European Meetings in Ethnomusicology, 11, pp. 3-142.  

Gloah K., & Beard, D. (2005). Musicology: The Key Concepts. New York: Routledge is an imprint in the Taylor & Francis Group.

Hamilton, A. (2007). Music & Aesthetics. London and New York:Continuum International Publishing Group.

Ruud, E. (1998). Music Therapy:Improvisation, Communication, and Culture. Gilsum: Barcelona Publishers.

Schneck, D. J., & Berger, D.S., (2006). The Music Effect: Music Physiology and Clinical Applications. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Schopenhauer, A.(1995). The World as Will and Idea. (First published 1819.)

Scruton, R. (1997). The Aesthetics of Music. New York: Oxford University Press.

Zuckerkandl, V. (1956). Sound and Symbol: Music and the External World. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.