Music Degree Programs and Majors Overview

Students interested in earning a degree in music may enter associate, bachelor's or master's degree programs that focus on music in general or on more specific topics within the craft.

Essential Information

There are many program options and levels of study to choose from when deciding on a music degree. Admissions criteria, coursework and career options depend on the degree level and focus a student chooses. These programs often contain theoretical and historical coursework alongside practical musical development. Additionally, students can typically choose a concentration that focuses on a particular aspect of the musical process, such as performance, conducting, composition, music education, and music business.

A high school diploma or GED and demonstration of basic musical competency is needed for associate or bachelor's programs, while a bachelor's degree is required for master's programs.

Associate of Arts in Music

Associate of Arts (A.A.) in music programs introduce students to a range of music skills, including sound engineering, improvisation and audition skills; they also learn business practices specific to the music industry. Depending on the nature of the program and the classes offered by the school, students in Associate of Arts music programs might take classes in:

  • Creating electronic sound
  • Sight reading
  • Musical physics
  • Improvisation
  • History of music

Bachelor of Arts in Music

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Music programs are designed to expose students to various aspects of music, both conceptual and practical. Because it is not considered a professional music degree, students in these programs may take fewer core courses than music performance majors. Curricula emphasize music performance, theory, history and philosophy through such courses as:

  • Musicianship
  • Modern music
  • Ensemble performance
  • Baroque music history
  • Women in music

Bachelor of Music in Performance

In a Bachelor of Music (B.M.) in Performance program, emphasis is placed on the mastery of musical skills for performance. Students focus on a specific instrument, such as piano, guitar or voice. The Bachelor of Music degree is considered a professional degree and is therefore career-oriented and highly practical. Music performance bachelor's degree programs offer students private and ensemble classes with their instrument of choice. The curriculum often includes topics such as:

  • Conducting
  • Music literature
  • Recital
  • Advanced music theory
  • Music study

Master of Arts in Music

Like the Bachelor of Arts in Music, the Master of Arts (M.A.) in Music is not considered a professional degree for musicians. These programs focus on general music skills, allowing students to pursue their interests through a thesis project. Master of Arts in Music programs may require more research-based, written academic work than performance-oriented master's degree programs. Depending on a student's concentration, courses may include:

  • Ear training
  • Convocation
  • Interpretation
  • Technical analysis
  • History through music

Master of Music

The Master of Music (M.M.) degree is usually offered with concentrations in performance, education, music theory, composition, musicology and conducting. Because the Master of Music is a professional degree, many programs feature a strong focus on performance regardless of concentration. The Master of Music is a popular choice for aspiring professional musicians. Though the specific curriculum of a Master of Music program depends on a student's concentration, certain topics are common in these programs, including:

  • Advanced ensemble performance
  • Piano pedagogy
  • Composition techniques
  • Advanced music theory
  • Early music history

Popular Career Options

Those with an Associate of Arts in Music may not always be eligible for highly competitive music industry jobs; however, graduates are qualified for entry-level work and may gain advancement through experience and seniority. Career paths include:

  • Apprentice instrument repair
  • Freelance composition
  • Private music teaching
  • Ensemble performance

Graduates of music Bachelor of Arts programs are eligible for a wide variety of entry-level music careers in the following fields:

  • Music therapy
  • Journalism and criticism
  • Music library work
  • Audio engineering

Completing master's degree coursework prepares students for professional music careers in their area of concentration, such as composition, education, performance or conducting. The following are some job titles Master of Music graduates may have:

  • Symphony musician
  • Orchestral performer
  • University music instructor
  • Professional composer
  • Instrument repair technician

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Completing a Bachelor of Music in Performance program signifies commitment to professional musicianship. Musicians with this degree may seek placement with orchestras, ensembles and music studios.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), musicians and singers were projected to see a 3% growth in employment opportunities from 2014 to 2024. The mean hourly wage of musicians and singers in May 2015 was $33.62.

Continuing Education Information

Many programs awarding the Associate of Arts in Music provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to enter a bachelor's degree program. These programs often have articulation agreements with local colleges and universities, allowing students to earn their music bachelor's degree on an accelerated track.

A variety of graduate degrees are available to music majors. Those interested in pursuing further general music education may enter a Master of Arts in Music or Master of Music program. Other options include graduate degree programs for music performance, music education or composition.

After completing a Master of Arts in Music program, graduates are sufficiently qualified for most careers in the music field. However, those pursuing academic careers may need to earn music doctoral degrees in order to be qualified for certain jobs.

Music degree programs can be sought at every degree level, with various concentrations available for those wishing to specialize in certain areas of the art. Programs can provide a gateway into several musical careers, with degree level needed dependent on a student's goals.

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