Some Helpful Advice for Passing the Music Therapy Board Exam

After 5 long years of pursuit, I am now Katelyn Farris, MT-BC. Man that feels great to say! I am absolutely thrilled to now have an undergrad  degree and a national board-certification that says I am fully qualified to practice music therapy. For students and interns who are working toward the same goal, I promise you that few things in life top this feeling.

With that being said, I had never been so worried about an exam in my life. I have always been one of those people who does well on exams, especially when I study. However, the fact that this particular exam would affect the course of my entire career carried such a heavy weight on my usual ability to be at ease about standardized tests. When you want something so bad you can taste it, you’re paralyzed with fear at the thought of possibly not attaining that certain something. To make matters worse, there is no clear-cut way to tell you exactly what will be on your CBMT exam. I’m not going to lie to you: this exam is hard.

Fortunately there are many resources to help you pass this very important test. The online practice exam, old notes from music therapy classes, textbooks, and internship/practicum experiences are all valuable materials to help you pass with flying colors. I am also very fortunate to have some awesome music therapy peers who support each other in these challenging times! My friend and classmate Nicole Ribet (who also passed her board exam!) sent me this list of tips she wrote for taking the CBMT which I found extremely helpful:

Tips for taking the CBMT via Nicole D. Ribet, MT-BC

  1. Take the test as soon as you finish your internship. – The valuable information you learn on your internship (assessments, documentation, and interventions) is fresh in your head.
  2. Study your material. The New Music Therapist’s Handbook by Suzanne Hanser is very helpful and has valuable information that pertains to everything on the test. The Scope of Practice is also valuable information as well as the Code of Ethics.
  3. Know your terminology. Know the difference between OBJECTIVE and SUBJECTIVE. Know the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy. Know what an IEP is and how it will pertain to music therapy. Know what IDEA is and how it relates to Music Therapy.
  4. Everything you do in your classes COUNTS! All those term papers, research projects, practicums, journal articles; they will be on the test. Trust yourself, you did the work it will pay.
  5. Study your MUSIC THEORY. Know your guitar chords, know what I,IV, V chords are and how they relate in music. Know your 6 and 6/4 inversions and how it relates to music. Know what cadences are and when to properly use them. Know what the difference in Baroque, Classical, ect.
  6. Know your GUITAR. Know what the individual string notes are and what they would be if you tuned to an open G chord ect. Know how to read guitar chords written out on a chart. If you don’t know your chord structures see #5.
  7. Read through Music Therapy VIGNETTES. Familiarize yourself with different music therapy scenarios and pay attention to not only the clients/patients but also what the music therapist does.
  8. Take a Practice Test. This helps you to not only be familiar with the types of questions you will see but also give you an idea of what your weaknesses are and what you need to brush up on. There is a practice online test you can buy through CBMT or if you are lucky like me, your internship supervisor will have one for you. You will also get a CBMT handbook on the website that will prepare you for how to take the test with tips and what you need when you arrive at the testing site.
  9. Do NOT Stress. Do not look at this exam as the end all be all to your career. Worst-case scenario, you fail and have to take it again. No one will DIE because you failed. I suggest no studying the night before or the day of the test. You need a good night’s sleep and do something relaxing the morning of the test. Go into your test refreshed, calm, and relaxed.
  10. Take your TIME. Arrive to the testing sight early and do not rush through the questions. Pace yourself and do not struggle with the hard questions (you have the option to mark questions and come back to them.) Do not change your answers, more than likely your ‘first answer’ is correct. You will also get a piece of scratch paper during the test that will be turned in. (I used mine for the Music Theory questions).

Final Thought – If you made it this far to take your CBMT, you were a strong student. You will do GREAT!

Nicole and me on graduation day at William Carey University. We did It!

Nicole and me on graduation day at William Carey University. We did It!

These tips helped me so much during my preparations for the board exam. After taking and passing the test myself, here are a few bits of wisdom I would like to add:

  • Mark any answers you are unsure about. If you are willing to bet money on your answer being correct, don’t mark it and don’t return to it. Use your time at the end only to check if you actually GAVE an answer, otherwise don’t dwell and move on.
  • When I had questions that I couldn’t decide between two different answers, I used my scratch piece of paper to write the question number and my alternate answer. When I came back to the question, I analyzed all the information given in the question’s scenario, then chose either to change or keep my answer.
  • When in doubt, client needs ALWAYS come first. Choose answers accordingly.
  • Draw a mini-guitar with string numbering (remember that string 1 is the smallest string closest to the floor!) and the notes for standard tuning. This helped me with guitar theory questions.
  • You can use the restroom anytime during the exam, so don’t be afraid to drink coffee if it helps you with brain power! On the flip side: if coffee only makes you jittery and impairs your brain function, avoid caffeine before the exam. However, DO eat breakfast that includes a good balance of protein, omega-3 fats, and whole carbs.
  • The primary materials I used to study were the practice exam my internship director gave me, The New Music Therapist’s Handbook by Suzanne Hanser, and the CBMT Scope of Practice as a guideline. I also had a music therapy study guide book that I found useful, and I know there are some out there on the market that are more up-to date, so that may be a worthy investment on your part.
  • IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY TO START STUDYING (I’m looking at you, freshmen)! All that you do in your undergrad studies and internship culminates to this one board exam. Soak in as much knowledge as you can and apply all that knowledge in your practicums, research studies, and internships. Attend conference sessions geared toward passing your board exam and PAY ATTENTION!
  • Bring some earplugs and a light jacket to the exam, just in case.

When all is said and done, you can take the test again. It won’t be the end of the world if you don’t pass the first time. In the end, you WILL be a music therapist if you want to be.  Take the practice exam, study as much as possible, get a good nights rest, eat a good breakfast, show up early and relaxed, and know that you are going to rock that exam! I hope this help you on your journey to becoming a music therapist and happy exam-ing!

Nicole rolls out her private practice, Ribet Rhythms Music Therapy Services, PLLC,  in Gulfport, MS this September. For more information, check out their Facebook page here.

What are your biggest exam fears? Anything you would like to add? Feel free to comment or email me at You can also connect with me via Twitter at @KatelynFarrisMT.


6 Challenges I Have Faced In Music Therapy Internship

Can I just say that this has been a crazy and hectic past few months? Since my last post, many exciting things have happened in all aspects of my life. I have travelled to Chattanooga, TN for regional music therapy conference, taken a visit home for Easter, and began leading all music therapy sessions and classes, which includes 8 individual residents for treatment. Add a research project, progress notes and documentation, job hunting, grad school applications, and CBMT test-prep, and you have the recipe for one busy intern! Needless to say, posting on The Music Therapy Diva has been put on the back-burner. However, after a brief hiatus I am back and ready to blog! As I am in the last stages of my clinical internship, I thought I might share with you some of the challenges I have been facing during this critical time of professional development.

1. Time management

Ok, let’s admit it: we are all big fat procrastinators. And if you aren’t now, you at some point in your life have waited until the VERY last minute on some sort of deadline. In almost every aspect of our lives, we must learn to utilize the precious amount of time we are given to the most productive degree possible. The field of music therapy is no exception.  Plan sessions a week or two in advance. Write down any spur-of-the-moment intervention ideas for later use. GET OFF FACEBOOK. Never take office/planning time for granted. And if you can, try your best not to take work home. Relaxation time is very important in self-care (which, by the way, is not selfish at all).

2. Becoming tech-savvy

I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but sometimes I can’t figure out how to turn on a computer to save my life.  I am THAT person who would much rather handwrite things than type them in a Word document; I have an Audrey Hepburn notebook that can attest to this.. Because of my brain’s apparent inability to grasp technological concepts, I have acquired a terrible habit of writing my progress notes down and forgetting to electronically document them later. I know, I promise I’m working on it.

In this day and age, however, technology is not optional and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Many everyday tasks would be impossible without electronics. Exhibit A: this very blog! And though I make regular weekend trips to Starbucks in order to get a Wi-Fi connection on my computer that took me 5 months to learn to work (anybody else miss Windows 98?), I do what I must to get it done.  Trust me when I say this: you cannot make it as a music therapist without knowing basic computer skills. Computers aid in everything from documentation to learning YouTube guitar-licks. I also cannot stress to you how important social media networking is to the music therapy world, but that is another topic for another blog-post.

I also have a confession to make: I was an iPad non-believer. I know, I know, I’m a music therapy grandma, right?  When I was I student, I vowed never to use an iPad in a session because it honestly scared me. However, seeing the iPad being used as a successful tool has changed my mind. The iPad can be used in so many different ways, and not one of them is a “replacement” for live music as I previously thought. Creative iPad use enhances therapy and can be used as further contingency. One of my residents in particular will only stay the full length of her session if she gets some iPad time at the end (and believe me, that is HUGE for her!). With that being said, I do believe that electronic devices, as with anything else, should be used in moderation. It’s called MUSIC therapy for a reason, and nothing beats the vibration of real instruments sounding beautiful chords.

3. Not having enough hands

Ok, this not something I can change about myself, but it would be nice to sprout an extra pair sometimes! I can’t count the number of times that I have been loaded down with a djembe, CD player, notebook, pen (which usually ends up in my hair), egg shakers, and guitar/guitar accessories. There may not currently be a cure for our limited limbs, but there are ways to combat the symptoms. Large totes, backpack guitar cases, and rolling carts all help carry the loads of “stuff” that comes with being a MT. If you are fortunate enough to own an iPad, it can eliminate much of the baggage when travelling. It can be used in lieu of notebooks, chord sheets, certain instruments, props, CD players and recording devices. For more on the iPad, refer to Challenge #2.

4. Holding back laughter

The residents at The Baddour Center are hilarious. They each have a personal sense of humor and I can play and joke with each of them in different ways.  But what happens when they say something I find funny, but they are being dead-serious? Or if their behavior is socially inappropriate and/or disruptive? These particular situations happened my very first week of leading group activities completely by myself. In one particular class, after singing “how are you today?” during the Hello Song, this resident decided he was doing so well that he needed to get up in front of the class and lift his shirt a la “Girls Gone Wild”. As I struggled to maintain composure and some type of authority, I promptly told him to stop and sit down. However, my giggles proceeded to come out like word-vomit during the next round of the Hello Song, rendering my vocal chords ineffective to sing. This, in turn, set the tone for the rest of the group session, which wasn’t as behaviorally controlled as I would have liked for it to be.

Bottom line: if your client/resident is being inappropriate, serious, or harmful, you should do all within your power not to LOL. Laughing is normally a positive reinforcement for any behavior, and if your clients have a certain attention-seeking behavior that you are working to get rid of, laughter only encourages the repetition of said behavior.  However, if the resident is joking or trying to be funny in an appropriate way, it is perfectly OK to laugh along with them! Not only is laughter the best medicine, but it builds rapport with your clients.  This may all sound like common sense, but trust me, sometimes it takes great self-control.

5. Holding back tears

This week one of my residents talked about how she was not looking forward to Mother’s Day, as her mother had passed away 7 years ago. When I said “I know, I know”, she replied “no, you don’t”. Talk about heart-breaking! How was I to respond to that? When a situation like this happens, you have to be strong in order to help your client/resident deal with his or her emotional pain in a manner conducive to therapy. Sometimes you just have to take the emotional punch in the gut with no sign of a grimace. Remind yourself that you can cry all you want at home.

6. Fighting germs

Once upon a time, there was a girl named Katelyn who loved to taste her friends/family’s food, take a swallow after other people when she was thirsty, and never use Germ-X. She would also offer the same eating/drinking courtesy to those around her, because she believed in the Audrey Hepburn quote: “For a slim figure, share your food with others.” Then one day, she became an intern at The Baddour Center, a lovely and magical place for lovely and magical people. These beautiful people loved to give hugs with reckless abandon, greet everyone with a firm handshake, and bestow their kisses upon hands and cheeks. But there was a wicked villian called “Germs”, and this wicked villian came in the form of the flu, stomach virus, and pink eye. And while the people of The Baddour Center were absolutely precious and pure of heart, their hands were not so pure of the nasty Germs that terrorized the villiage. The Germs spread so quickly among the villiagers that the entire Baddour Center was quarantined for two weeks, meaning all art, music, and recreational activities were cancelled. Katelyn observed within a few short weeks of coming to The Baddour Center that she needed to take strong action in the war against Germs in order to defeat the enemy once in for all.

Long story short: I now love to Lysol the entire perimeter, AirBorne and vitamins count as a food group, and hand sanitizer is my best friend.

I am very thankful for every single one of these challenges, because they have caused me to grow in ways I never thought possible. This has been such a precious time in both my personal and professional development. If you are approaching this moment yourself, I urge you to make the most of every minute and welcome every challenge that comes your way. I would also love to hear from you and/or answer any questions, so please feel free to leave a comment!