A music degree covers music history and theory, music business administration, music as recreational therapy, and professional performance and composition. And if there are no music conservatories in your area, many schools now offer online music degree programs.
A music degree gives you an education in the history, theory, and practice of music. Depending on your specific concentration within the field, you may also take private instrument lessons, give individual and ensemble performances, or compose your own music. Other music degree programs give you a grounding in the business or legal aspects of music production. A music degree can even be combined with healthcare or psychology courses in a music therapy program.
If you want to compose music for an orchestra or a rock band, teach children to plunk out “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, teach adults to play Beethoven, or work in the music industry onstage or backstage, then a music degree will get you heading in the right direction. A degree from a respected conservatory of music helps you successfully audition for an ensemble. Many others use their music degrees to teach, either one–on–one or collectively, either privately or in school settings. Still others earn music degrees to work in the industry as copyright experts, talent management, or sound engineers. The field is broad. With the right music degree, you could be on the way to your dream job in the music business.
Many of these music careers will require you to earn a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in music. Your bachelor’s degree can prepare you for entry–level jobs in music therapy or music business administration. For more advanced jobs, like teacher or performer, you will likely need at least a master’s and potentially a doctorate in music. Like any other field, you can always start with an associate or bachelor’s degree in music and work toward a graduate degree later on.
What Kind of Accreditation Should My Degree Program Have?
Accreditation is the process by which colleges and universities are evaluated and validated. Colleges and universities that have earned accreditation have met the standards set by accrediting organizations. These organizations are comprised of faculty from various accredited colleges and universities. Legitimate regional and national accrediting organizations are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED). Typically, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes the same institutions, although CHEA recognition isn’t mandatory. A college or university must be accredited by a Department of Education-recognized accreditor in order for its students to receive federal financial aid.
For a detailed look at the differences between regional and national accreditation, check out What Do I Need to Know About College Accreditation?
- What is Regional Accreditation?
- Regional accreditation is the signifier of quality education; this includes the currency of curriculum, credentials of educators, and credibility of degrees. Regional accrediting agencies only accredit institutions in their geographical area.
- The Six Regional Accrediting Agencies
- Middle States Commission of Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission on Higher Education (NECHE)
- The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
To find out if a college or university on your list is regionally accredited, check the Department of Education’s Database of Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.
- What Is National Accreditation?
- National accreditation is often perceived as a less rigorous standard than regional accreditation and is governed by educational accreditors agencies that are not restricted by region or geography. This means that one such agency can provide accreditation to any college or university in the U.S. that meets its criteria. National accreditation is commonplace among trade schools, religious schools, and for–profit colleges.
Most regionally–accredited colleges do not accept or recognize credits or degrees earned from colleges that lack regional accreditation. However, national accreditation may be a useful indicator of quality for students pursuing vocational training, competency-based education, or other education models that operate under a for-profit model.
To learn more about National Accreditation, check out Understanding National Accreditation.
For help safely navigating the For–Profit Sector, check out our Guide to For–Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know.
- What is Programmatic Accreditation?
- Programmatic accreditation certifies that an institution’s program, department, or college has met the standards of the programmatic accrediting agency. While programmatic accreditation agencies often have national jurisdiction, programmatic accreditation is not institutional national accreditation. In fact, programmatic accreditation often coexists with regional accreditation. In some disciplines, a degree with programmatic accreditation may even be required to earn a license or enter professional practice.
When it comes to music programs, the main accreditor is the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). NASM accredits over 600 schools, conservatories, and postsecondary institutions. It is not mandatory that your music program be accredited by NASM, but it can serve as an indicator of quality and credibility as you consider music degree programs. More important is determining that the college or university providing your degree is regionally accredited. This remains the strongest indicator of program quality and your best chance for transferring credits or advancing to the graduate level.
The easiest way to determine accreditation status is to contact your school of choice, or visit the website for any of the above accreditation agencies. Each provides a searchable database of accredited institutions and degree programs. You can also look at the Department of Education’s database of all recognized accreditors within its purview.
Or, to learn a little more about navigating the tricky accreditation landscape, check out Accreditation of Colleges and Universities: Who’s Accrediting the Accreditors?
What Kinds of Music Degrees Are There?
Associate Degree in Music
An associate in music degree is a 60 credit–hour program that gives you a foundation for continued studies at the bachelor’s level. This program will usually take about two years to complete. In addition to courses in music theory, composition, and entertainment, you’ll also take general education courses consistent with a liberal arts degree. The associate in music degree can help you to obtain an entry–level position as an artist manager, music venue operator, music promoter, or copyright administrator.
What Music Courses Will I Take?
- Applied Music
- Business Law
- Ear Training
- Introduction to Music Theory
- Sight Singing
What’s the Difference Between an Associate in Music Performance and an Associate in Music Business?
When it comes to earning an associate degree in music, you have at least two options. One focuses on the actual production and performance of music, and one focuses on the legal and business aspects of music. An associate of arts in music performance will give you an education in music theory, history, composition, and performance. This degree will include practice with your instrument in individual sessions or as part of a larger ensemble. An AA in music performance prepares you to pursue a bachelor’s degree. On the other hand, if your interest in music is related to behind–the–scenes matters, you might want to pursue an associate of arts in music business. This degree is an offshoot of a general business curriculum. If you want to work in business management, creative performance, or creative production, this is the degree for you. Even better, both degrees will prepare you to go on to a bachelor’s degree in music. Just be sure that your degree is from an accredited institution so that your credits and diploma are accepted.
Bachelor of Music
A bachelor’s degree in music usually requires 120 credit–hours and around four years to complete. If you are entering a program that focuses on performance, your school may require an audition as part of the admissions process. In addition to your coursework, you may also have to complete a certain number of performance hours, create an original piece of music, or write a thesis.
Depending on your interests and skills, you have several options for your bachelor’s degree in music. Music degree concentrations include areas such as performance, music education, composition, music theory, music therapy, music business, entertainment, or music technology. What you want to do with your bachelor of music degree will determine your education in the discipline of music. Some options include being a performance artist, a composer, a teacher, or a talent manager. If you want to eventually go on to achieve a master’s degree in music, you will need to obtain your bachelor’s degree first.
What Music Courses Will I Take?
- Advanced Techniques
- Basic Ear Training
- Basic Harmony
- History of Music
- Music Theory
What’s the Difference Between a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Arts in Music?
Most schools offer a variety of programs in the music discipline. You may come across programs such as a bachelor of music (BM), a bachelor of arts in music (BA), or even a bachelor of science in music (BS). A BM degree is similar to the education you would receive at a music conservatory. Your classes will focus heavily on music coursework, and the programs are typically rigorous. A BA in music, on the other hand, is a traditional liberal arts degree with a major in music. This is a well–rounded degree that includes core subjects such as English, math, and science alongside an emphasis on music. A BS is a bachelor’s degree with a focus on science classes, as well as the same music major courses you would take as part of the BA. The BS in music is less common, but if you’re interested in a music career involving music publishing, software, or technology, this may be the degree for you.
Master of Music
The master of music degree program will typically combine advanced studies in an area of specialization (such as singing, playing an instrument, or conducting) with graduate–level coursework in subjects such as music theory and composition. This program generally takes one to two years to complete. Depending on your focus, this program may prepare you to compose, teach, or perform publicly. Some programs require you to write a thesis or give a performance before your degree is conferred.
What Music Courses Will I Take?
- Advanced Research Methodologies
- Chamber Music
- Music Composition
- Music Pedagogy
What’s the Difference Between a Master of Music and a Master of Arts in Music?
A master’s in music (MM) typically focuses on the practical aspects of your specialization. The MM is for students who plan to perform or compose music. Usually, the capstone achievement of this program is to perform one or two recitals and pass comprehensive exams. On the other hand, a master of arts in music (MA) will require you to complete original research, and will likely culminate in a thesis project. This is a more academic degree, and is a great choice if you’re also planning to earn a Ph.D. in music.
Doctorate in Music
A doctorate in music is the terminal degree in the field. This degree is generally an academic degree and concentrates on areas such as music history, music theory, and musicology. Like other Ph.D.s, a doctorate in music is a rigorous and demanding degree that usually takes five to seven years to complete. In addition to advanced coursework, Ph.D. candidates also must research, write, and defend a dissertation, as well as pass comprehensive exams. This degree is necessary if you want to become a professor of music, teaching at the college level. Academics who want to continue doing research in the field also benefit from a doctorate in music.
What Music Courses Will I Take?
- Compositional Processes
- Film Scoring
- Historical Music Theories
- Measurement and Evaluation in Music
- Music Theory Pedagogy
- Schenkerian Analysis
- Stylistic Analysis
- Tonal Analysis
What’s the Difference Between a Ph.D. in Music and a Doctor of Musical Arts?
A Ph.D. in music is a classic academic degree. This is the degree you want if you plan to do scholarly research on music history or music theory. If you plan to be a world–class performer, however, you may choose to undertake a doctorate in musical arts program instead. For performance artists, composers, or conductors, this degree gives you the highest possible credential in your medium. Which of these degrees you choose will depend upon your interests and career goals.
What Kind of Licensing or Certification Do I Need?
As noted in the master's degree section above, if you plan on becoming a music teacher in a public school setting, you must earn at least a bachelor's, and likely a master's degree, as well as complete a teaching certification program. In many cases, your undergraduate program will include the courses required to earn your teaching certification. If that is not the case — or if you've earned a bachelor's degree in an alternate field — you can enter into a standalone teaching certification program. This will provide you with the coursework and experience needed to earn licensure in your state. (Bear in mind that some states actually require you to have a master's degree in education before you can enter your certification program. Contact the Department of Education in your state to learn more.) Depending on the amount of coursework you've completed up to this point, your certification program could take between 1 and 2 years to complete.
Once this is complete, you will qualify to sit for the licensing exam in your state. Some states use a national exam like PRAXIS, while others employ their own licensing examination.
Once again, we would advise visiting the Department of Education for your state to find out more.
What Can You Do With a Music Degree?
If you are wondering, “What can I do with a music degree?” there are plenty of options. Your music degree can lead to many challenging and exciting jobs in several fields. For more detail, check out a few of these top music degree jobs:
What Kind of Salary Can You Earn With a Music Degree?
Your music degree could open the door to a career in the performing arts, therapy, or instrument maintenance. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides median annual salary information as of 2018 for some these top music degree jobs:
|Musicians and Singers||$28.15/hour|
|Musical Instrument Repairers and Tuners||$36,330|
|Music Directors and Composers||$49,630|
|Sound Engineering Technicians||$52,390|
|Art, Drama, and Music Teachers, Postsecondary||$69,960|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Are There Professional Music Associations or Societies You Should Join?
Professional associations are a fantastic way to make connections in your field, learn about valuable seminars or certifications, and improve your own credentials. The association or associations you choose to join will depend to an extent on the career path you take. Look for music associations that correspond with your academic or professional concentration.
- American Composers Alliance (AMA)
- American Musicological Society (AMS)
- Association for Technology in Music Instruction (ATMI)
- The College Music Society (CMS)
- International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)
- International Society for Music Education (ISME)
- Music Library Association (MLA)
- Music Teachers National Association (MTNA)
- National Association for Music Education (NAfME)
- Royal Musical Association (RMA)
- Society for American Music (SAM)
- Society for Music Theory (SMT)
- Society of Composers, Inc. (SCI)
- Society for Music Perception and Cognition (SMPC)