Music Training: Overview of Adult School Music Programs

Adult students interested in studying music have many course and program options available. Explore some of the schools and programs, as well as common coursework, to determine what would best suit your particular interests.

Program Information

Whether you would just like a better understanding of what you are listening to or you yourself would like to perform or even compose music, you can find a class that will let you do just that. The types of classes available include those on vocal training, composition, instrument playing, musical ensemble and music appreciation. There are also bachelor's and master's degree programs in music available for those with some proficiency, and they usually provide the opportunity to focus on a specialization like music education, performance or composition. Due to the hands-on nature of these programs, the majority are offered on-campus. However, some courses can be found online.

Schools at a Glance

American University

  • This 4-year, private school is located in Washington, D.C.
  • Its music programs are offered on-campus.

University of Rochester

  • Also a 4-year, private institution, this school is located in Rochester, NY.
  • All music programs are offered on-campus.

Azusa Pacific University

  • This 4-year, private university is in Azusa, CA.
  • The school offers music programs on-campus.

Music Appreciation Classes

If you would like to learn more about the different types of music or perhaps explore one musical genre or particular performer or composer in depth, you can enroll in a music appreciation course at a college, music school or adult learning center. You can explore the historical development of music through different stylistic periods. Classes will consist of listening to and then discussing performances and musical artists, and there will often be papers and/or presentation assignments based on local live performances. Students will also spend time learning the various elements of music, such as melody, rhythm and dynamics.

Vocal Training Classes

If you love to sing and would like to improve your vocal skills, you may wish to sign up for a voice class. You can take private classes where you work one-on-one with a teacher, or you can study with a group. You will learn techniques from the basic to the advanced that will help you to produce the best sound and control your volume and breathing, and you will also work on sight reading. Singing classes are available both at educational institutions and via private vocal coaches. Some voice technique courses are also available online.

Instrument Classes

If you would like to learn to play any instrument, from the guitar to the glockenspiel, you can find an instructor to teach you this skill. As with vocal music, you can study privately or in a group. Some groups may be composed of learners all practicing the same instrument, others (reminiscent of high school band classes) may consist of students who play different instruments. Some instrument instruction classes can even count for credit towards a degree that is unrelated to music. Courses range from introductory to advanced.

Musical Ensemble Classes

The best way to hone your vocal or instrumental skills is to use them, and one of the best (and most enjoyable) ways is to perform in a musical ensemble. Groups may include choirs, orchestras, jazz bands and more. Music schools and colleges often offer performance classes where students will spend the quarter or semester working on a piece (or pieces) for performance, and the class will culminate in a grand recital where each student will have a chance to showcase his or her talents in front of an audience.

Composition Classes

Once you have mastered musical performance, you may wish to learn how to create your own musical compositions. Classes offered at adult learning centers, colleges and conservatories will help you learn the fundamentals of musical composition, whether using pen and paper or new digital composition software. You may even get to hear your compositions performed in a recital! Composition classes typically have one or more prerequisites, such as in music theory.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

If you already have proficiency in music theory and know how to play an instrument such as the piano, you may be able to enroll in a bachelor's program in music. You'll usually select an area of concentration, such as composition, performance, music history, music theory, music education or a specific musical genre. You'll take core courses in topics that include music theory, music history, music form and musicianship. Students usually also participate in ensembles, recitals and other performances throughout the program. Those pursuing a music education concentration also have to do student teaching. Other students may wish to obtain a dual-degree to combine their love of music and performance with another area of interest.

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs in music usually require an undergraduate background in music theory, keyboarding, music history and performance. Some types of programs include Master of Music (MM) and Master of Arts (MA) degrees, with MM programs focusing more on performance than MA programs. Like bachelor's programs, master's programs come with many specializations, including conducting, music education, performance, composition and music genre studies.

Core courses in such programs might include music history, conducting, music form and style, advanced composition and applied music. Depending on the program and specialization, students may need to show foreign language proficiency, do a thesis, take comprehensive exams, participate in student teaching or do a recital. Some programs may have a residency requirement that can range from 1-2 years of full-time study.

Music training is available through individual courses or undergraduate and graduate degree programs, in a wide variety of topics ranging from study in specific instruments to composition. Classes and programs are offered primarily on-campus, but some courses can be found online.

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