7 things I learnt in my first year as a student music therapist

As I’m writing this, I’m halfway through my 2-year master of creative music therapy degree in Sydney. Being a full time student during pandemic has been… interesting. This program, unlike my bachelor of commerce degree, is best delivered face-to-face due to the practical techniques. Not to mention how crucial placements are. We spent the first semester (March to June) 90% at home due to the lockdown. Then things got better, the lockdown was eased, and we gradually went back to campus and started our placements.

Now I’m summarising 7 things I learnt in my first year of doing this master degree. Pandemic or not, this journey has been wonderful and inspiring.

(Can’t be bothered to read? Watch my video here instead.)

1/ student mindset

Mindset is everything. I probably say this in every single blog post. I was very determined to learn everything from every book, article and interaction. Since I came from a different background, I knew there was a lot to learn or to catch up. I made “be humble” my motto. Knowing that you can always learn something from any situation is a game changer. This applies to basically any area in life.

2/ a learning system

It’s a master degree, for God’s sake, so you need to organise your notes, your thinking and possibly your tasks. This is one big piece of advice I wish I had when I was doing my bachelor degree. Your desk and your room can be as messy as you wish, but you NEED to have a solid learning, note-taking and task management system in place. I cannot stress this enough. If you want to stay on top of the study game, you need to know where you’re at, how to reference across different areas, and how to link scattered ideas. You also need to know when you are the most productive, when you’re in a flow state, and when to recharge. Does it sound too complicated? There’s one powerful tool that CAN do all those things.


Hands down the best note-taking and project management app ever. It’s free. It takes some time to set things up and test what works for you, but it’s so worth it. Sign up for that, google some templates to start with, and watch some YouTube tutorials about Notion setup. It’s going to change your life. Since discovering this in later 2019, I have moved my life management over there. I didn’t even recall how life was like without it. I began to fall in love with systems. A set of processes I could always rely on. It boost my efficiency when I was doing my 3,000-word essay and literature review. It helped me keep track of other assignments. It helped organise my life and prioritise my tasks. Now I have used Notion as a creator and student for one year, I can proudly tell you that it’s the greatest system I have ever set up.

3/ no one cares where you come from

I thought I would fall behind when I first started. I was probably the only student in my grade without a relevant bachelor degree. Truth to be told, I didn’t even have gig experience. All I did after obtaining decent grades on paper was play for relaxation and for church. I felt like a potato. A bit overwhelmed too. But quickly I realised I overthought. Maybe it’s due to the fact that there is no bachelor of music therapy degree in Australia, so everyone who got in the master degree was as clueless as I was. Everyone kind of jumped into the unknown in one way or another. I just did not have as much experience as others. But guess what? No one cares. Everyone focuses on themselves more than others. In fact, when I told people I was an accountant before taking up this degree, they would think I had stronger skills – good enough to get in and pivot my career. So, think of it as a fresh start. Your background and history don’t matter. Hard work counts.

4/ imposter syndrome

The classic topic that pops up everywhere when you try to start something new. “Who am I to do this?” “Who am I to teach anything?” Ever wonder what really make experts stand out? Experience. You gain confidence through experience. That’s why you need to take the first step in order to gain that experience. You get to learn what works and what doesn’t. Then you can go tell people tips and tricks on that area. Still confused? Say you play the piano. Not world-class like Lang Lang, but you don’t need to think that far. Let’s say you’re pretty good at it – maybe you’re at level 8 or 9, on a scale of 10. You can teach people how to play the piano from level 1 to 6. Even if you have only played for 3 years, you can still teach level 1 and 2. Show the beginners what you did when you first started. Add your story, and your experience in your narration.

I have learnt so much this year about music therapy. I’m a completely different person now comparing to my past self one year ago. I’m not saying I know everything now (it’s quite impossible in this field anyway). I just know enough, and I can share my experience of sharpening my musical skills, nailing an audition, performing well in school and so on. Just like what I’m doing now – sharing my journey online.

5/ time management

This is a lifelong lesson. We have different goals, needs and schedules in different life stages. I was fortunate to be a full time master degree student in 2020, which meant that I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. The lockdown sped up my learning process. I quickly decided I wasn’t going to be most people in 2020 – waking up at 8:58am for that 9am meeting. I learnt all the productivity, time management hacks I could find, and I tested them out to find the one that suited me most. I learnt how to manage several projects, track progress, boost performance and invest time in my future. This is arguably the most important skill in life.

Set your priority, eliminate distractions, and commit to the process.

Doing a master degree doesn’t necessarily mean you need to double your effort as you did in your bachelor degree. Use the 80/20 rule on everything you do. Identify the key areas that contribute to the majority of the results. You will find yourself enjoying life apart from having a hectic schedule.

6/ take consistent baby steps when it comes to a steep learning curve

Music therapy is a lot of things. Psychology, musicology, physics, biology, physiotherapy, psychotherapy…. knowledge has no limit. We can only pick up different skills as we go. No matter what you are studying/working on, when it comes to a new industry or new subject, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Key thing I learnt over the past year: pick a few crucial areas, take baby steps every single day. Example: read 10-20 pages of the key textbook, and practise guitar chord progression every day. A blend of theoretical and practical knowledge would get you a long way. Knowing what to work on is key (again, use 80/20 rule). Then understand that you could only absorb that much in a short period of time, so play the long game. Don’t be too hard on yourself.

7/ a self-discovery journey

Learning is a great self-reflection activity. It makes more sense if you are studying psychology or anything therapy-related. When you come across a new concept you can quickly relate to your experience to get a deeper understanding, or to challenge the previous perspectives.. Over the past year I have also learnt how I can perform better, when I am the most productive, and where I draw my boundaries. I also unlearnt about who I thought I was. Overall, I got to know myself better. It’s an amazing self-discovery journey.

Final Thoughts

I have become who I wanted to be last year. I am the future self I envisioned to be before being accepted to this master degree. Now when I look back and count my achievements, I feel super grateful. It is a privilege to jump to a desired industry, to learn from poineers, and to know more about myself. Note to self: what got me here won’t get me there. I’m setting bigger goals. This time next year I will be finishing this degree. Can’t wait to write my story ahead. 

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I created a video on the same topic. Check it out here: