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How to Become a Music Conductor: Education and Career Roadmap

In this video, you'll find out how to become a music conductor. You'll learn about the education, training requirements and experience needed to advance your career in music.

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Should I Become a Music Conductor?

Music conductors, also known as music directors, select musical arrangements and direct orchestras for audiences. In order to prepare an orchestra for a performance, conductors will select musicians, organize rehearsals and choose soloists. Conductors may work for opera houses, musical theater venues, churches or universities. Music conductors travel often, and many performances take place during weekends and evenings, with practices normally occurring during weekdays.

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  • Jazz
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  • Musical Conducting
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  • Piano and Organ
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Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree may also be required
Degree Field Conducting, music composition, music theory or another related program
Experience 1-5 years working in a music setting
Key Skills Musical skills, strong communication and leadership skills, attention to detail, problem-solving; knowledge of fine arts and spoken, written and visual media
Salary (2014) $48,180 per year (Median salary for music directors and composers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; iSeek.org

Step 1: Learn to Play a Musical Instrument

Conductors often begin their musical careers at a young age by learning an instrument. While no specific instrument is necessary to prepare for a career as a conductor, it is important for individuals to begin developing an ear for sound and pitch. Prospective conductors will also need to know how to sight read music and learn about different musical styles.

Success Tip

  • Learn how to play multiple instruments. If music is your first love and you think you might want to make a career out of it, learn to play more than one instrument. Because conductors will often work with multiple sections, learning how to play different instruments will be beneficial.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Conducting degrees are commonly available at the master's degree level; however, students will first need to earn a bachelor's degree in a music-related area. For example, students who are interested in pursuing a master's degree in music conducting may want to look into obtaining a bachelor's degree in music theory. Students in a music theory program will learn about music composition, arranging, notation and analysis.

Success Tip

  • Gain conducting experience at the undergraduate level. Master's degree conducting programs may require that applicants have a DVD recording of them conducting musical compositions. Whether this is you conducting a small chamber ensemble or a full orchestra, it's important that you gain conducting experience at the undergraduate level.

Step 3: Pursue a Master's Degree

Music conducting programs are available at the master's degree level; however, they may be offered as an emphasis or concentration within a larger music program. Students in this program will develop conducting and rehearsal skills, learn how to score music and explore musical literature. Opportunities will also be available to work as an assistant conductor and begin developing conducting experience.

Step 4: Gain Experience

Seek opportunities to use your conducting skills in a live setting. Community ensembles and church choirs can serve to help hone conducting skills and prepare you for leading larger and more professional groups. Fellowships are available to help develop skills even further, allowing for advancement within the field.

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