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Musician College and University Program Information

Most colleges and universities offer music degree programs at the bachelor's (4 years), master's (2-4 years), and doctoral (varied length) levels. These programs may include degree program tracks such as performance, education, business, therapy and theory.

Essential Information

Music degree programs are commonly performance-based, though concentrations in such areas as music history, composition, education, and certain instruments or genres are also available. These programs require students to have a keen understanding of music theory and instrumental technique. A program at any level may require a comprehensive final performance or composition instead of a thesis or dissertation, depending on the area of specialization. Some music programs can also be found online.

Doctoral degree programs in the music field are highly competitive and usually geared towards accomplished musicians. Many of these programs place emphasis on both the performance and teaching of music.

Prerequisites may include a high school diploma or equivalent for undergraduate programs. Advanced degrees require a bachelor's degree and school transcripts. Both usually require an audition, both live and pre-recorded submissions, and students must prove sight-reading proficiency. Programs may require placement testing in music theory and history.


Bachelor's Degree in Music

Students can choose a specialization, commonly in either jazz or classical, and often study one specific instrument. General education coursework is required in addition to music classes. Since most music majors place heavy emphasis on performance, students can spend a great deal of time with applied music courses, which consist of rigorous private lessons. Additional core courses might include the following:

  • Theory and analysis
  • Ear training
  • Music history
  • Musical literature
  • Performance

Master's Degree in Music

Exact study requirements and final projects for master's programs will vary depending on the student's chosen major, along with coursework. For example, composition majors focus on musical scores and conducting performances, whereas jazz studies and other performance majors emphasize improvisation and instrument mastery. Core courses within a master's degree program might include the following:

  • Music theory
  • Aural skills
  • History of music
  • Pedagogy
  • Piano fundamentals

Ph.D. in Music

Doctoral degrees offer a variety of concentrations, such as orchestral conducting, contemporary music and composition. These degrees are often considered to be the highest measure of achievement in academic musical study.

Doctoral degree coursework varies greatly according to a student's overall career goals or prior academic coursework. Final projects are highly emphasized in doctoral programs. For example, performance majors must typically complete recitals or arrange ensemble performances, and composition majors must submit works of original music to be presented to their faculty guidance committee. Below is a list of subjects that might be explored in a doctoral program:

  • Applied lessons or study
  • Performance-lectures
  • Advanced music theory
  • Analytic methods for music
  • Studies in music criticism

Popular Career Options

In performing arts, a degree is often considered secondary to personal ability and talent. While degree programs in music performance can provide rigorous training and preparation for the freelance world, the degree alone won't qualify students for performance-based work. Nevertheless, graduates could find careers as:

  • K-12 public school music instructor
  • Music librarian (also requires a graduate degree in library science)

Employment Outlook

Job positions for musicians and singers are competitive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment opportunities were projected to grow roughly 3% between 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). Self-employed musicians might see slower-than-average growth during that time. The median wages for musicians/singers and composers/music directors was $24.20 hourly and $49,820 annually as of May 2015, respectively.

Those with advanced degrees can find teaching work at the collegiate level. Most university teaching positions require doctoral degrees, but a master's degree can suffice for someone looking to teach at a community or junior college, according to the BLS. As of May 2015, collegiate-level fine arts teachers--a group that includes art, theater and music teachers--earned a median salary of $65,340. The lowest-paid ten percent of workers earned $33,450 or lower at this time, and the highest-paid tenth earned in excess of $129,150.

Music programs can be found at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. These programs usually look at various aspects of music theory while allowing the student to specialize in their own instrument or area of interest. Graduates can go on to become musicians, composers, professors, and more, depending on the degree level achieved.

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