Be a Music Director: Education and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a music director. Learn about the job description and read the step-by-step process to start a career in music direction.

Should I Become a Music Director?

Music directors, also known as conductors, are the artistic leaders of symphonies, musical theater productions and operas. Their duties include choosing the music to be performed, supervising the interpretations of the music, ensuring the cast or musicians know the music, and conducting the orchestra. They may also play a key role in the casting of musicians. Music directors may work with religious organizations, youth orchestras, dance troupes or opera companies. Travel is often required, and many performances take place during weekends and evenings.

Career Requirements

Degree LevelBachelor's degree; master's degree recommended for advancement
Degree FieldMusic theory, musical composition, conducting or a comparable discipline
ExperienceExperience performing in orchestras, bands, choirs, or symphonies
Key SkillsDiscipline, verbal and written communication, perseverance, musical talent
Salary (2014) $48,180 per year (median salary for music directors and composers)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Choose the Type of Music Director to Become

The type of music director career that you're interested in will determine the level of education you need. Music directors typically work in concert halls or music studios managing the rehearsals and musical performances for musical theater or opera productions. A choral director typically leads vocal performances for choirs, bands or glee clubs.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that bachelor's degrees may be needed for positions as choir directors, while symphony orchestra conductors typically need more advanced education. Bachelor's majors, such as music education with an emphasis in choral music, can provide the musical training needed to become a choir director.

In general, a music director should possess at least a bachelor's degree in music with a concentration in composition or singing, or on a particular instrument. These programs require students to audition for a spot or submit a portfolio of original work. Those interested in becoming music directors should also study music history, music theory, performance, conducting and score reading.

Step 3: Gain Performance Experience and Consider an Advanced Degree

Performance experience is an integral part of becoming a music director. Music directors will often start out by playing one or more instruments in symphonies, orchestras, and even bands. In addition to live experience and consistent practice, performance experience can also expose musicians to a broad range of music styles. This can be beneficial when selecting, arranging or interpreting music. Choir directors may play musical instruments, teach music or arrange small choral performances at schools and churches before advancing to the role of music director.

Success Tip:

  • Get a master's degree. Proper education and degrees is also an important part of advancing in this career. Music directors who have a bachelor's degree may find positions in schools or churches while music directors with a master's degree will have more advancement and salary increase options available to them. Many schools offer master's degree programs in music with an emphasis in conducting, which can provide advanced training necessary for music directors to succeed in their positions.

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