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Music Director Schools and Courses: How to Choose

Music directors organize and instruct groups of musicians in a chorus or orchestra. They also plan and sometimes compose the musical selections. The requirements for music director positions can vary, but aspiring directors can gain skills and prepare for this field of study by completing bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree programs in music.

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Music programs that combine theory, performance and conducting are recommended for aspiring music directors, because competence in these areas is important. Some programs also offer specializations in musical directing, such as direction for opera or choirs. Music director programs are available at colleges and universities, as well as specialized music institutions.

Ten Schools with Music Programs

The following universities all offer music programs at various levels.

College/University Location Institution Type Program Types Undergraduate
Tuition
(2015-2016)*
Cornell University Ithaca, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, PhD $49,116
Yale University New Haven, CT 4-year, Private not-for-profit (Bachelor's, Master's, PhD) $47,600
Syracuse University Syracuse, NY 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's $43,318
University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 2-year, Public Bachelor's, PhD $15,192 (in-state), $44,365 (out-of-state)
University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's, Master's, PhD $50,277
Florida State University Tallahassee, FL 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, PhD $6,507 (in-state), $21,673 (out-of-state)
Lehigh University Bethlehem, PA 4-year, Private not-for-profit Bachelor's $46,230
Arizona State University Tempe, AZ 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, PhD $10,158 (in-state), $25,458 (out-of-state)
University of Wisconsin - Madison Madison, WI 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's, DMA $10,415 (in-state), $29,665 (out-of-state)
University of Delaware Newark, DE 4-year, Public Bachelor's, Master's $12,520 (in-state), $31,420 (out-of-state)

Sources: *NCES College Navigator

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School Selection Criteria

Students can enroll in bachelor's degree programs that offer concentration options in music education, performance, composition or music theory, while graduate programs may offer more specialization options in subjects such as notation, composition, genre and musicology. Considerations when searching for a school in this field include:

  • Students may wish to look for schools with master's degree programs offering broader specializations in courses depending on their interests.
  • If interested in teaching at the college level, students should search for schools that offer doctoral programs in music.
  • Consider enrolling in programs where conducting and music direction experiences are included in the curriculum.
  • Look for schools that arrange music groups and participate in music festivals to gain first-hand experience.

Bachelor's Degree in Music

A bachelor's degree program in music can be completed in four years and may offer a concentration option in composition, music theory or music education. Students enrolled in an instrumentalist or vocalist track take part in several required performances throughout the program.

Master's Degree in Music

Master's degree programs in music offer concentration tracks in multiple areas, including choral conducting, orchestral conducting, stage direction and composition. Coursework focuses largely on the area of study, and students may be required to complete a project and fulfill a residency requirement.

Ph.D. in Music

Ph.D. programs allow a great deal of specialization based on the student's interests. More than performance and direction, Ph.D. programs may focus more on musical concepts, and a dissertation based on original research is commonly required.

There are a wide range of degrees at all levels that will prepare students to become music directors. Students should select the degree level and specialization that is most in line with their career goals, interests and abilities.

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