Music Schools and Colleges in California with Course Info

Jul 31, 2019

Research music programs in California, which currently has more than 100 colleges and universities offering programs. Read an overview of degrees, tuition info and program options for the ten largest schools and decide which one is right for you.

Essential Information

In California, there are more than 100 schools that offer music certificate and degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Frequently, the application requirements include an audition. Once admitted, students may also have to participate in ensembles and performances. Specializations and concentrations are offered by many programs, allowing students to customize their studies. California programs also allow students to study music business in addition to performance arts. Most master's and doctoral degree programs include a senior project, thesis, or dissertation, depending on the level and program.

Below are brief descriptions of the ten largest schools in California that offer music programs, along with a comparison table that provides at-a-glance information about degrees and tuition.

American River College

Sacramento's American River College offers three Associate of Arts degrees in music, as well as two professional certificate programs with 33-37 credits of coursework. Degree-seeking students can choose between traditional or more specialized programs in commercial music or jazz studies. Applicants should be aware in advance that an audition is required for the applied music program (instrument or voice).

Undergraduates in the Associate of Arts program have the opportunity to explore music history and theory while taking instrumental or voice lessons. Areas of specialization associated with the commercial music curriculum include the recording arts or a study of the music business. Through the jazz studies program, aspiring artists complete genre-related coursework in beginning piano, history and theory. Participation in either a jazz band or a vocal ensemble is also required.

California State University - Fullerton

At the Fullerton campus of California State University, students in the Department of Music (College of the Arts) can pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Music with concentrations in music history and theory, education or the liberal arts. A Bachelor of Music is also available with concentrations in, among other areas of study, accompaniment, composition, instrumentals or voice. In addition to prerequisite coursework in chorals, instrumentals or general music, aspiring music teachers who are interested in applying to the Single-Subject Credential program complete an externship and a student-teaching assignment.

At the graduate level, students can earn a Master of Arts in Music and specialize in music history and theory, education or piano pedagogy. The Master of Music curriculum allows for concentrations in theory and composition or performance. Recitals are required for the Master of Music; students in the Master of Arts must be foreign-language proficient and complete a project or thesis.

Ensemble opportunities at Fullerton include band, chamber, guitar, jazz and orchestral music.

California State University - Long Beach

The Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at the state university in Long Beach offers a Bachelor of Arts in Music, as well as seven Bachelor of Music programs. An audition is required, and applicants also take an exam in music theory. General conservatory requirements include an instrumental or vocal specialization, and students undergo a screening exam before they progress to upper-division coursework.

Undergraduates in the Bachelor of Arts in Music program complete a senior project or thesis and take courses in applied music, musicology, performance and piano. Through the Bachelor of Music programs, students can pursue majors in, among other areas, music education (choral or instrumentals), composition, musicology or performance. Courses associated with the Bachelor of Music programs may cover topics in basic music technology, contemporary music or opera, keyboarding and musicianship.

Among the nine concentrations available through the Master of Music programs are those in composition and interactive technology, choral conducting and opera. In general, the graduate degree plans culminate in a project, recital or thesis.

California State University - Northridge

Through the Department of Music at this Northridge-based university, undergraduates can earn either a Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Music. Admission requirements include an audition and placement exams.

The Bachelor of Arts curriculum allows for a study of the music industry, as well as concentrations in music education or therapy. Students may also be interested in a breadth program that includes topics in harmony and musicianship.

The Bachelor of Music program is a performance-based course of study that provides training in classical guitar, keyboard, winds or percussion. Future professionals can also learn how to write music for commercial and media-based venues or pursue specializations in composition, jazz studies or the vocal arts. They must also meet the program's ensemble requirements.

The Master of Music program offers concentrations in composition, performance and conducting, and degree requirements include a juried demonstration of progress or a recital.

San Diego State University

Music programs at the state university in San Diego (School of Music and Dance) include a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music, as well a 33-credit undergraduate certificate in performance and a graduate artist's diploma. Through the Bachelor of Arts program, students develop their aural skills while taking courses in music aesthetics and piano. To fulfill the performance requirements, they can also specialize in chamber, marching band or symphony music.

The Bachelor of Music allows students to major in composition, education, jazz or professional studies. General degree requirements include attendance at recitals, juried performances and ensemble work. To continue into upper division courses, students must pass the Junior Level Examination.

The Master of Arts programs are research-based courses of study that may require a thesis or a lecture-recital. Graduate students in the Master of Music programs have the opportunity for advanced-level training in composition, conducting, jazz or performance.

Santa Ana College

The community college in Santa Ana offers a Certificate in Digital Music Production, as well as an Associate of Arts in Music. The certificate program helps aspiring professionals gain hands-on recording experience and requires 17 credits to complete. In addition to learning about the music business, students receive instruction in basic theory, ear training, MIDI (musical instrument digital interface) production and electronic music.

Students in the Associate of Arts program pursue ensemble work in guitar or percussion, mariachi or symphonic band music, vocal jazz or chorus. They also learn about digital recording and MIDI technology, develop their ear training skills and take classes in music theory and musicianship.

University of California - Berkeley

Through the Department of Music (College of Letters and Sciences) at the University of California in Berkeley, students can pursue a Bachelor of Arts in Music. An audition is not required, and recommendations are discouraged. However, students do have to submit a music portfolio.

The undergraduate music curriculum includes topics in history and culture, harmony and musicianship, as well as upper-division training in performance. Students also take courses in 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century music.

Berkeley offers a combined Master of Arts/Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) with specializations in history and literature, composition and ethnomusicology. Requirements include proficiency in a foreign language, an exam and a dissertation.

University of California - Davis

A Bachelor of Arts in Music is also available at the University of California in Davis, and the program includes concentrations in history and theory, composition, ethnomusicology or performance. As required by the Department of Music, undergraduates must take a placement exam before they can begin sequential coursework in basic theory, keyboarding and musicianship.

All music majors complete a senior project, and this may take the form of a composition, presentation, recital or research assignment. Unique to the program is the opportunity to study the work of a major composer, such as Bach, Beethoven or Mozart. Students can also participate in internships or spend time abroad.

University of California - Los Angeles

The Herb Alpert School of Music at the University of California in Los Angeles offers undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in ethnomusicology, music history and musicology. Students enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Ethnomusicology program can specialize in jazz studies or world music, while the traditional music curriculum includes concentrations in composition, education and performance. Unique to the undergraduate music history program are general education courses in American musicals and popular song, electronic dance and film music, the Beatles and rock and roll history.

Through a joint program with the School of Music and the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, students can earn a bachelor's degree in music education and receive a California Subject Matter Waiver. Undergraduate music majors also have the chance to participate in at least one of 20 departmental ensembles, as well as other performance-based activities.

Students in the ethnomusicology and musicology doctoral programs can earn an interim master's degree; additional degree requirements include proficiency in a foreign language and an exam.

University of Southern California

In Los Angeles, students at the 125-year-old Thornton School of Music can pursue over 40 programs in 18 areas of study, and a significant number are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. These include traditional music majors in percussion and winds, musicology, strings and vocals. Unique to the school are programs in early music, organ studies, popular music and scoring.

Although degree requirements vary, undergraduate musicology majors take courses in conducting and keyboarding, learn about large ensemble work and complete a senior recital. At the graduate level, students in the 39-credit Master of Arts in Teaching program acquire the qualifications they need to work with public school students in grades preK - 12. Both the Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts programs emphasize music education for the alternative, college and distance-learning environments.

According to Rolling Stone Magazine, the Thornton School of Music offers one of the top five music programs in the United States.

School Comparison: At a Glance

School Name School Type & Setting Music Programs Offered Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (2018-2019)*
American River College 2-year, public;
large suburb
Certificate Programs (music business or recording),
Associate of Arts (commercial music, jazz studies or traditional music)
$1,104 (in-state)
$8,712 (out-of-state)
California State University - Fullerton 4-year, public;
midsize city
Minor in Music,
Bachelor of Arts in Music,
Bachelor of Music,
Master of Arts in Music,
Master of Music
$6,886 (in-state)
$18,766 (out-of-state)
California State University - Long Beach 4-year, public;
large city
Minor in Music,
Bachelor of Arts in Music,
Bachelor of Music,
Master of Arts in Music,
Master of Music
$6,798 (in-state)
$18,678 (out-of-state)
California State University - Northridge 4-year, public;
large city
Bachelor of Arts in Music,
Bachelor of Music,
Master of Music
$6,893 (in-state)
$18,773 (out-of-state)
San Diego State University 4-year, public;
large city
Minor in Music,
Bachelor of Arts in Music,
Bachelor of Music,
Master of Arts (ethnomusicology and musicology),
Master of Music
$7,488 (in-state)
$19,340 (out-of-state)
Santa Ana College 2-year, public;
large city
Certificate in Digital Music Production,
Associate of Arts in Music
$1,160 (in-state)
$8,960 (out-of-state)
University of California - Berkeley 4-year, public;
midsize city
Bachelor of Arts in Music,
Master of Arts/PhD in Music
$14,184 (in-state)
$43,176 (out-of-state)
University of California - Davis 4-year, public;
small suburb
Bachelor of Arts in Music $14,402 (in-state)
$43,394 (out-of-state)
University of California - Los Angeles 4-year, public;
large city
Minor in Music History,
Bachelor of Arts (ethnomusicology or music history),
Master of Arts in Composition,
Master of Arts/PhD (ethnomusicology or musicology),
Doctor of Musical Arts
$13,226 (in-state)
$42,218 (out-of-state)
University of Southern California 4-year, private not-for-profit;
large city
Minors in Music,
Bachelor of Arts in Music,
Bachelor of Music,
Master of Arts in Teaching,
Master of Music,
Doctor of Musical Arts

Source: *NCES College Navigator

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