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How to Become a Music Conductor: Education and Career Roadmap

Jan 02, 2020

How to Become a Conductor

A music conductor or music director is responsible for leading musical groups as they perform or record music. In order to become a music conductor, students must have a well-rounded education in music and typically have plenty of hands-on experience. Explore the steps to becoming a music conductor in more detail below.

Step 1: Begin Musical Training

Most music conductors grow up learning how to sing and/or play one or more instruments. This musical training may last years as they pursue personal interests in music and develop their skills in reading and playing music. Young students may learn through private lessons, classes, music camps, and a range of performance opportunities.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Music conductors usually need to have at least a bachelor's degree. Typically, this degree is in some area of music. While there are colleges that offer degree programs in music production, music composition, and other subjects in the field, there are also a few programs available at the bachelor's level in conducting. These programs are commonly offered as Bachelor of Music (BM) degrees and may focus on a particular kind of conducting, such as orchestral conducting.

Very few, if any, universities offer online degree programs in music composition, conducting, or similar areas due to the hands-on nature of the field and the required hours of musical training.

Most BM program coursework allows students to continue their musical training through lessons, but also includes classes in areas like:

  • Ear training
  • Music theory
  • Composition
  • Pedagogy
  • Arranging

Students who want to conduct music in a primary or secondary school may need to pursue a teaching license in addition to their musical training. Typically, public schools require these educators to have a bachelor's degree in their field of specialty (music) and a state license or certification. Requirements for licensure vary by state but usually involve an exam.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Music conductors are likely to work as musical performers before moving up to leadership positions as conductors. They may sing in a choir, play an instrument in an orchestra, or perform with another kind of group. This experience allows future conductors to learn the ins and outs of group performances and further develop their musical abilities.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree

Students wishing to become a music conductor for a symphony orchestra typically need to have a master's degree.

Master's degree programs in conducting are commonly offered as Master of Music (MM) degrees and may allow students to focus on a specific area, such as choral, wind, or orchestral conducting. Students in conducting programs usually work with a mentor teacher and receive plenty of hands-on training during various musical experiences. Some of these master's degree programs may be available in a hybrid format and be designed for students interested in music education.

How Much Do Music Conductors Make?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), music directors and composers made an average annual salary of $59,790 as of 2018. Religions organizations employed most of these professionals in 2018, where directors and composers made an average salary of $50,150. The industry that paid the highest average salary was promoters of performing arts, sports, and similar events, where music directors and composers made an average annual salary of $79,970.

What Does a Conductor Do?

Music conductors may lead choirs, orchestras, bands, and more. During performances these professionals may stand in front of the ensemble and help keep time and lead with their conducting skills. Other job duties may include:

  • Choosing musical arrangements
  • Providing musicians with feedback on their performance
  • Leading rehearsals
  • Holding auditions for new performers
  • Interpreting musical compositions
  • Balancing volume, rhythm, melody, and other factors to make good music
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