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Is A Music Degree Worth It – Pros And Cons


Is A Music Degree Worth ItIf you’re an aspiring musician then chances are you’ve considered a music degree at some point. Obtaining a degree in music is important for a variety of reasons no matter what are of music you want to work in. Degrees are expensive, however, and some may wonder if pursuing a music degree is the best course of action. 

So, is a music degree worth it? Yes, a music degree is worth it for most aspiring musicians. Music degrees are essential for employment in the music industry as well as building well-rounded musicians. However, in some areas of music, a degree may not be necessary. 

Before you go researching a ton of colleges and looking at audition requirements, it’s important to understand what a music degree can and cannot do for you. Having earned several music degrees myself, I know how complicated it can be to decide what route to take. To help aspiring musicians, I’ve put together this helpful guide on music degrees. I’ll share what employment opportunities exist, the benefits and disadvantages, and ultimately if you really need to pursue a degree or not. 

What Can You Do With A Degree In Music

I often see this question asked about music degrees and what exactly someone can do with one. That’s honestly an open-ended question, but the honest answer to that is “it depends”. Like any other degree from an institution of higher learning, there are plenty of things one can do with a music degree.

Much of it depends on what you want to do with music. Is your quest to become a famous performer, do you like producing beats for the radio, or maybe you just want to teach in the public school system. The answer to that question is crucial because it will help determine which degree track within the music you should take. 

Here is a list of common music degrees offered at most colleges and universities.

  • Music Performance
  • Music Education 
  • Pedagogy
  • Music Theory
  • Music Therapy
  • Musicology
  • Choral Directing
  • Film Scoring
  • Music Production
  • Music Agent 
  • Accompanist
  • Sound Technician
  • Songwriter
  • Talent Scout
  • Vocal Coaching

For many of the jobs listed above, there are degrees that cater specifically to those interests. For example, a concert pianist may want to pursue a performance degree with their principal instrument. Perhaps you want to work with patients and enter the music therapy field.

Then there is the study of music, it’s origins and historical importance. For that, you may want to pursue a degree in musicology. From within each degree is even deeper levels of concentration. Students have the ability to choose a base degree title, and then cater their study to the specific area of interest.

For example, if you decide you want to be an expert on ancient musical instruments, then you can take a musicology degree. Over the course of that degree, the major will shift more towards your specific area of interest with research opportunities, specific courses, and access to leaders in the field.

The same can be said for degrees, in theory, pedagogy, and music education. No matter which music degree you pursue, the beginning stages all look pretty much the same. 

Most music degrees include the following courses as a standard.

  • Several levels of music theory
  • General music history courses
  • Singing  and ear training courses
  • Psychology and education classes
  • Applied study to your principal instrument
  • Music tech classes for other instruments
  • Accompaniment or collaborative performance classes

Even if you decide that you want to simply teach music as a band director or the elementary school level, you’ll need to go through most of the studies listed above. 

Types Of Music Degrees

Like any college subject, each level of a music degree has different requirements and teachings. The higher up you travel within the music degree, the tougher the requirements for entry and completion of that degree are. Below is a breakdown of each of the music degree types by academic level, and what to expect. 

Associates

An associate degree in arts degree with a music focus varies depending on the college.

For example, some associate degrees focus on music performance or music education aspect while others focus only on conducting and rehearsal practices. Other associate degrees offer a broader look at musicianship. For most colleges, associate degrees in the arts have an emphasis on a particular area of music. 

Because many of the basic courses such as theory, music history, and conducting are covered in associate degrees, they provide a good foundation for future employment. Associate degrees allow you to find entry-level jobs in music. This includes a variety of fields such as public school teaching from elementary to high school, music directing, and more. 

Most musicians who get an AA do so with the intention of transferring those credits to a four-year institution and obtaining their bachelor’s degree.

From a financial standpoint, it makes sense to take the same coursework at a more affordable institution. With music, however, some institutions will still require you to test out of their theory and ear training courses even if you have completed credits at another college. 

Bachelors

The next step up from an associate degree in music is a Bachelors’s degree. This degree level offers the full package for musicians. Every subject is covered as well as any applied study for your instrument.

So for example, if you want to be a concert pianist then you would get not only your standard coursework but work specifically geared towards the performance and business aspect of music. This degree is ideal for classical and jazz musicians, conductors, composers, and songwriters.

Here’s the track you’ll find in most Bachelor’s degrees in music. 

  • Music lessons
  • Core music courses (theory, ear training, history, composition, conducting, etc)
  • Ensemble participation
  • Student recitals
  • Workshops, Festivals, Convention participation
  • General studies 
  • Electives

With most Bachelor’s degrees, about 45% is geared towards your major area. So for example, if you’re a performance major, that would include lessons, recitals, chamber music and anything to do with performing. Another 35% is dedicated to general studies that every student has to do (unless you bring in dual enrollment credits from another institution). 

The other 20% of the Bachelor’s degree requirements consist of supportive courses in music. This includes music theory, electives, aural skills, history, technology classes, and even recital attendance. 

There are two types of Bachelor’s degrees, the Bachelor’s in Music and the Bachelor’s of Arts. Bachelor’s of arts are popular for those who want music courses but may want to double major in something else. It’s a great opportunity to still get some core coursework to complete a music degree, although it’s not as immersive as a Bachelor’s in Music. 

With any music degree, the Bachelors’s should be looked at as just the starting point. Eventually, you’ll want to invest in a  Master’s degree for more applied study, better networking opportunities, and to increase your chances of employment on job applications. A great deal of knowledge and experience can be obtained through graduate assistantships too. 

Master’s 

For serious musicians, a Master’s in Music degree is almost a necessity. Not only does it look great on a job resume, but it allows for further study and mastery of your instrument or craft. Whether it’s music production, pedagogy, performance, or music therapy, taking your studies to this level is a smart idea. 

Here’s what you can expect in a Master’s degree in music.

  • Music Lessons
  • Comprehensive Exam
  • Recitals
  • Ensembles
  • Additional Supportive Music Courses
  • Research Courses

Most Master’s degrees require an exam to complete. This exam is usually a culmination of all the coursework that you’ve taken. This exam can either be written or oral. In general, the coursework is more in-depth and geared towards your major. So for example, if your degree is in music education, then you can expect to get more courses on special education, sociology in music education, behavior modification, and psychology in music. 

As far as employment is concerned, a Master’s degree is almost required for a high paying position. Many employers limit their applicants to those with 

Most Master’s degrees take two years to complete. Depending on what your desire is for a career in music, you can actually take some time off between your Bachelor’s and Master’s degree.

Many musicians indeed do this so that they can get experience in the real world, working jobs, performing, and seeing how far their Bachelor’s may take them. Eventually, many return to school, often a new institution so they can broaden their education with fresh ideas, new faculty, and opportunities unique to that institution. 

In addition to a Master’s in Music, there is also a Master’s of Arts. It’ works similarly to the Bachelor of Arts in that students can still get a Master’s in music while completing another subject. 

Doctorate

A doctorate of musical arts is the highest level one can achieve. Those who choose to go this route almost always enter the teaching field in some capacity. Those with doctorates are excellent candidates for jobs at colleges and universities. Colleges are actively seeking DMA students all the time, so if that’s your desire then it’s almost a requirement that you have this level of degree.

A doctorate of musical arts takes about three to four years to complete. This usually equates to around two years of coursework and another year to two years to complete the dissertation and publication. 

These degrees can be specialized in several areas of music such as:

  • Education
  • Composition
  • Performance
  • Literature

A doctoral degree in music has a heavy focus on research, however, there is a component built-in for performances too. In some cases, the thesis is not the final requirement and can be traded out for more creative options. This can include writing original music, releasing an album, and much more. 

Artist Diploma

Sometimes musicians want to take their studies to a higher level, especially in the performance circuit. For this reason, some institutions offer performance/artist certificate programs.

Performance/artist diploma programs are similar to a normal music degree, but there is a much higher focus on the performance aspect. That means there are still some of the core coursework such as theory, ear training, and composition, but much less of it. 

Musicians in these programs are expected to perform frequently through chamber and solo work. This is a great opportunity to hone skills through more private lessons and to grow your network on the performance circuit. Artist diplomas are popular for musicians who have already completed a degree. 

Other Types Of Degrees

In addition to the main degrees in music, there are some others that have a similar or lesser focus on music. Here they are below.

  • Bachelors Of Arts
  • Bachelors of Fine Arts
  • Masters Of Arts
  • Doctor Of Philosophy
  • Bachelors Of Science 
  • Masters In Musical Arts

Some of those degrees are less common and specific to certain universities. The fine arts degree, for example, is broader and covers theater, dancing, and more. That degree is more ideal for those interested in musical theater. If you have a bigger desire to focus on research in your doctorate program, then a doctor of philosophy degree would be more ideal than a DMA. Sometimes those degrees do not have much of a performance requirement. 

Do You Need A Degree For Music

While a music degree may be worth it, it’s not entirely necessary. You do not need a music degree to have a successful career in music. For performance careers especially, much of your success comes from quality training through private lessons and strategic marketing. 

The true purpose of a music degree is to develop well-rounded musicians and to get those musicians into good-paying jobs. The course offerings cover everything you need from theory, history, and even down to the psychology of teaching and performance. Those with music degrees are more likely to land jobs at universities, orchestra residencies, music festivals, and public schools. 

Think about different music careers where having a four-year degree doesn’t matter. Below is a list of music careers where a degree is helpful, but not necessary. 

  • Pop singers/Rap artist
  • Beatmaker/music producer
  • Talent scouting
  • Private music instruction
  • Instrumental performance

As you can see, most of the careers listed above require good talent and smart marketing. Most music degrees won’t teach you how to do the business side of things, however, they do develop all of the technical aspects well. There are some smaller institutions with programs dedicated strictly to specific music careers.

For example, there are schools focused on music production only, or schools that help directly with marketing. In order to get careers like this, experience through internships and networking and producing content for social media are crucial. While a music degree is great, it’s not likely the best route to develop a career in mainstream music or performance. 

Music Degree Employability

Employability is an important aspect of getting a music degree. In this regard, a music degree is absolutely worth it. Many employers set this requirement so they know what kind of candidates they are interviewing.

If you have a music degree then your knowledge of theory, note reading, performing, and teaching are pretty much verified. Of course, every degree has its own concentration, so it’s important to know what career path you want before choosing that area of study. 

Then there are really unique music jobs that can pay upwards in the six-figure range. Here’s a salary chart list of great paying music jobs below. 

Job TitleAverage Salary
Audio Director$45000 - $196000
Orchestra Musician$25000 - $150000
Music Therapy$25000 - $135000
Music Supervisor$35000 - $250000
Music Conductor$29000 - $250000
Music Agent$75000 - $1000000
Audio Engineer$23000 - $87000
Session Musician$40000 - $100000

With any of the jobs listed above, the salaries vary greatly. Salaries are affected by the employer, location, and the exact job description. For example, a church audio engineer might make substantially less than an audio engineer working on a film. Salaries are also affected by whether the musician is working for themselves such as a concert artist, has an agency, or is working for a large corporation vs small business. 

Also, music degrees are not necessarily required to obtain any of those high paying jobs. Simply getting an internship, networking, winning music auditions, and learning music hardware and software can qualify you for any of those jobs. The thing to remember though is that colleges offer many of these resources all in one place, so it’s still a smart idea to get a music degree. 

Benefits Of a Music Degree

At the end of the day, there are a ton of advantages to obtaining a music degree. Here’s a list of the benefits of a music degree.

  • Increases employment opportunities
  • Provides quality education in all facets of music
  • Professional one on one training
  • Excellent for resume building 
  • Provides research opportunities
  • Provides performance opportunities 

Disadvantages Of A Music Degree

While a music degree is definitely the way to go for job security and performance opportunities, there are some clear disadvantages. 

  • Music degrees can be expensive
  • Scholarship opportunities are competitive
  • Music degrees do not guarantee performance opportunities
  • Music degrees do not guarantee jobs in the field of study
  • Certain coursework and classes are not recognized by every institution
  • Differences in learning environments

In short, a music degree operates a bit differently than most college degrees. It’s entirely subjective, and it’s tough to find consistency from one university to the other. While they all prepare students with the basics and give a deeper understanding of what music is, it’s up to the student to venture out and make something of it.

In particular with music performers, you may have to seek out additional business and marketing classes that your base music degree does not offer. Networking is also a huge part of the equation, so meeting other musicians, collaborating and building up your brand is important too.

The intensity level of each university is also different. Some universities such as Julliard or the New England Conservatory may cater towards a more intense, performance-driven degree with tougher requirements. Other universities encourage less competition and want to make more balanced musicians and get them into teaching and accompanying jobs. 

Then there are schools that encourage you to build the degree out as you desire, adding courses along the way as you discover and mold your own identity. Then there are schools that are very restrictive and limit artistic ideas and expression.

As you consider music schools think about how competitive the field is and what kind of career you want to have. Also, consider the faculty at each school as who you study with really does matter when it comes to future career opportunities. 

 

 

Joshua Ross

Hello & thanks for stopping by! I'm a professional concert pianist and piano instructor. In the United States, I've given successful performances in several places including New York, Florida, Connecticut, & New Jersey, I have also performed internationally in Italy and made my Carnegie Hall debut in 2014. I enjoy blogging about the piano, the art of performance, general music, current events and the latest in music production.

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