Master’s in Music Education Program Guide

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Published on January 6, 2021 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Earning a music education degree offers prospective educators the rewarding opportunity to work with young people, grow their appreciation for the arts, and help them develop skills they can use in and outside the band hall. Music education programs in schools boast numerous benefits for students, including higher graduation rates, enhanced critical thinking skills, and strong comprehension and scores in spelling and reading.

What are the best music education programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

#1 University of Florida Gainesville, FL
#2 University of South Florida Tampa, FL
#3 Boston University Boston, MA
#4 University of Georgia Athens, GA
#5 Florida International University Miami, FL
#6 University at Buffalo Buffalo, NY
#7 University of Minnesota Twin Cities Minneapolis, MN
#8 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX
#9 San Jose State University San Jose, CA
#10 Georgia College and State University Milledgeville, GA

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth in middle school and high school teacher jobs by 2026.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 8% growth in middle school and high school teacher jobs by 2026. Although a bachelor's degree can meet the necessary requirements for entry-level positions in band, orchestra, or choir programs, a master's in music education enhances your earning potential, as many school districts elect to pay additional stipends for teachers with advanced credentials. A music education master's can also offer employment opportunities in the form of private lessons for children, adults, or community groups, and at the postsecondary level as a community college band director.

Should I Get a Master's in Music Education?

Earning a master's in music education prepares individuals to take on leadership roles in music classrooms, band and choir halls, orchestra pits, and one-on-one lesson environments. In addition to furthering essential musicianship skills in areas of orchestration and arrangement, music history, and music theory, a master's in music education develops vital educational skills in areas of instructional design, academic research, technology, and contemporary teaching methods.

For certified teachers, a master's degree can increase your competitiveness in the job market and enhance your current abilities. For non-certified individuals who previously completed a bachelor's degree in music without an education track, earning a state teaching certificate might require the completion of a music education master's. This situation most commonly occurs when performance major graduates decide they want to start teaching but do not possess the credentials required for a public school employment. Fortunately, master's programs offer enrollment opportunities to certified teachers and noncertified aspiring teachers alike.

Deciding whether to enroll in a program on-campus or online can depend heavily on your present situation. Working professionals preparing for a career change may desire the flexibility offered by studying online, which requires no commutes, cross-country moves, or major upheavals of current employment or family obligations. Recent baccalaureate graduates; however, may prefer to remain in an on-campus environment to finish out their two-year master's program. However you decide to enroll, a music education master's degree can enrich your life experiences as a musician and educator.

What Can I Do with a Master's in Music Education?

Individuals with a master's in music education have typically mastered at least one instrument, know how to play other instruments, and possess a passion for sharing music with others. Many of these graduates naturally pursue careers that involve teaching, such as private tutor, marching band director, and band teacher. Music education professionals may also find work outside education as musicians or directors in both smaller community groups and larger professional groups.

Middle School Band Director

The middle school band director plans, organizes, and executes lesson plans for beginning band or orchestra students. Forming an ensemble of beginner instrumentalists takes time, as individual skills and group cohesion must be developed. A music education degree provides the detailed skill necessary to instruct beginners.

Median Annual Salary: $57,720*

High School Band Director

High school band or orchestra directors may carry different responsibilities depending on the size of a school's music program. Whether working with concert band, concert orchestra, or marching band, high school music teachers require a high degree of musical skill, instructional skill, and leadership ability to plan and direct a music program's activities.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170*

Postsecondary Teacher

Although a master of music education typically does not fulfill requirements for professorial positions at four-year universities, master's degree holders can sometimes find instructional work at community colleges. Community college music teachers may direct student ensembles or teach fine arts classroom subjects such as music appreciation or music history.

Median Annual Salary: $76,000*

Music Director

Music directors, also called conductors, head various music ensembles: professional orchestras, community bands, church choirs, and school ensembles. Directors may also be responsible for clerical tasks such as selecting arrangements, setting rehearsal and performance schedules, auditioning members, and attending events like fundraisers.

Median Annual Salary: $50,590*


Many music educators participate in voluntary ensembles to maintain their performance skills. Some individuals with a music education degree may ultimately decide to pursue performance careers as solo instrumentalists or as part of a professional group, either full or part time, to supplement freelance educational work like private lessons.

Median Annual Salary: $56,100*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's Program in Music Education

A master's in music education advances the knowledge and skills of working music educators and prepares noncertified aspiring educators to enter the public school workforce. The average cost of earning a master's degree varies widely and depends on factors including schools' tuition rates, your state residency, and whether you enroll on a full- or part-time basis. Online and on-campus programs both tend to offer part-time options for students who need more than two years to complete program requirements, while some online programs offer accelerated options for students who want to complete their degree as soon as possible.

A typical curriculum for a master of music education includes courses on musicianship, music history, research methods, conducting, teaching methods, and curriculum development. Further specialized courses may apply for degree concentrations in instrumental, vocal/choral, or elementary music education. Degrees may or may not include an onsite direct experience component as part of a final capstone project or thesis course.

To select the right music education program for you, consider your personal situation and professional goals. What can you afford? Would you prefer online or on-campus learning? Does a general music education curriculum satisfy your learning objectives, or do you want to enroll in a specialized track? Do you need a program that accepts non-certified applicants and/or prepares you for a future certification exam? Evaluating these and other priorities before you begin your search can help narrow your options more efficiently.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Music Education

Most prospective college students understand the basic concept of school accreditation: meeting a set of rigorous third-party standards regarding educational quality and consistency. However, many students remain unaware that accreditation can take a step further when an organization, typically dedicated to one industry or subject, offers accreditation for specific school programs. Programmatic accreditation provides an additional evaluation of academic quality, based on more acute factors. The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), for example, evaluates music education degrees based on student development of musicianship skills, performance, and teaching competencies.

While programmatic accreditation certainly provides an added level of quality assurance, it doesn't necessarily mean a music program without NASM accreditation provides an inferior education. Programmatic accreditation in music disciplines is voluntary and requires recurring fees for applications, evaluations, and membership dues. Many schools with excellent music programs may elect not to apply for NASM accreditation. Students should not choose or avoid an institution based on programmatic accreditation alone.

Master's in Music Education Program Admissions

From associate degrees to Ph.D. programs, applying for a degree generally requires the completion of similar steps: filling out an application, submitting required documentation, and paying an application fee. Documentation required for admission to any master's program includes transcripts from all secondary institutions and letters of recommendation. Additional application requirements for a music education master's degree may include a performance audition, either in-person or submitted through video; submission of an undergraduate paper or published article for evaluation; and a video recording of the applicant teaching a lesson. These extensive requirements tend to stay the same regardless of whether the degree takes place on-campus or online.

Most graduate school applicants apply to about eight different programs, which allows for variety but avoids the pitfall of needing to complete an overwhelming number of requirements simultaneously. Like the baccalaureate admissions process, experts recommend applying to a few safety schools, target schools, and reach schools.


You must possess a bachelor's degree, typically in a music discipline, to apply to a master's program. Possible exceptions exist for individuals with non-music degrees who have equivalent musical skills. Work experience prerequisites vary depending on the program to which you apply. Some require certification and employed education experience, while others allow enrollment from non teacher-certified musicians looking to change careers. The typical minimum GPA requirement for any master's program falls between 3.0 and 3.3. Although many graduate schools strictly adhere to a minimum GPA cutoff, some may make exceptions.

Admission Materials

Applications involve the submission of personal, professional, and educational information; allow yourself time to complete each one independently. To confirm your prior enrollment and the completion of required prerequisites, admissions offices need transcripts from any institutions you previously attended. When you submit a retrieval request, expect to pay a nominal fee for the service. Most graduate school applications require two or three letters of recommendation from former professors or employers. Approach these individuals with your letter request at least two months in advance of application deadlines. Many graduate education programs require Graduate Record Examinations test scores for admission. Programs may avoid disclosing specific scoring requirements, but a combined score of 300 typically falls in an ideal percentile. Application fees for graduate school range from $40-$150, depending on the institution. Contact the admissions office for information on fee waivers, which may be available for applicants in certain income brackets.

What Else Can I Expect from a Master's Program in Music Education?

Several main attributes, like broad learning outcomes and career preparation, apply to nearly all master's programs in music education. However, the exact cost, curriculum, and length of time required depends on individual and institutional factors ranging from geographic location, scheduling, and delivery format.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Music Education
Concentration Description Careers
General The most common type of graduate degree in music education takes a generalized approach. Applicable to K-12 classroom, instrumental, and vocal teachers alike, general music education degrees focus on the advanced development of musicianship, leadership, history and research, curriculum development, and teaching methods. Classroom music teacher, band director, choir director
Choral and Vocal A master of music education with a vocal or choral emphasis develops advanced teaching and musicianship skills for voice educators. In addition to general music education courses, students study choral conducting, vocal teaching methods, and in on-campus programs, they often take part in choral performance ensembles. Vocal teacher, choir director, private lesson teacher
Instrumental Instrumental music concentrations require the completion of general music education courses and additional field-specific courses such as marching band techniques, band rehearsal techniques, and advanced score reading and conducting. Depending on your school selection, this concentration may also require studio and graduate recital components. Band director, orchestra director, private lesson teacher
Elementary Music The master's in elementary music education appears much less frequently in program options than the other concentrations listed above. This track requires the completion of typical music education courses in addition to courses, research assignments, and projects designed for the development of elementary classroom music teachers. Elementary music teacher, classroom music teacher
Music in Special Education A rare concentration option, music education master's degrees with an emphasis on music in special education supplements general requirements with several courses focused on special education. This specialized track develops advanced teaching techniques, promotes understanding and identification of childhood dysfunctions, and often requires completion of an onsite practicum. Classroom music teacher, elementary music teacher, special education teacher

Courses in a Master's in Music Education Program

A master's in music education advances your skills in areas of musicianship, pedagogy, research, and creative thinking through the completion of courses like the ones listed below. While all quality music education programs provide similar learning outcomes, the exact curriculum of your prospective institution may vary slightly.

Research in Music Education

Students develop skills for locating and interpreting
research literature on music education, with the goal of applying relevant findings to their own work. Course content may also involve learning to design research studies, conduct interviews, make effective observations, and analyze and present results.

Curriculum Design

Introductory and advanced courses in music education curriculum design develop an educator's understanding of various learning and teaching methods. By applying pedagogical theories and concepts, students explore the development, planning, and execution of single music lessons, larger education units, and overall curricula.

Music Education Technology

Technology courses introduce students to a variety of digital software, hardware, and tools used to enhance music education, performance, and response. Specific areas of exploration vary from program to program, but commonly developed skills include computerized notation, MIDI editing, use of instruction software, and recording and audio production.

American Music

This survey course explores the analytic style of American music and its diverse influences. Courses may also examine American genres, including jazz, folk, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and their respective cultural/societal influences and key processes, such as songwriting, improvisation, and playing by ear.

Capstone Project or Thesis

Nearly all music education master's require students to participate in a final, culminating experience to synthesize all learning objectives for use in a real-world application. This final experience may require writing original scholarship for a research thesis or developing a site-specific music curriculum for a capstone project.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Music Education?

On average, a master's degree requires the completion of 30-46 credits and a minimum commitment of two years of full-time study. But the exact time and number of credits required by a master's in music education varies depending on the program design, curriculum, and learning options. Some programs require applicants to possess their teaching certifications and experience, while others allow non-certified aspiring educators to enroll. These varying prerequisite requirements affect curriculum content and, in turn, overall program length.

Your choice to enroll in either an online or on-campus program also impacts program length. Though uncommon in on-campus programs, select online schools offer accelerated degree options, allowing students to complete their degree sooner than the average two-year period. Students who need additional time to complete degree requirements typically have part-time study options both online and on-campus, though this increases overall program length and out-of-pocket costs.

How Much Is a Master's in Music Education?

On average, earning a master's degree can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $120,000 for tuition alone, making it of vital importance to research prospective school's tuition rates before deciding to apply. Public colleges boast more affordable tuition than private institutions, although these rates can exponentially increase for students who reside outside of state lines. A public, nonprofit, in-state school usually provides the most competitive tuition for learners.

Additional factors like your ability to study full or part time may also affect your final out-of-pocket total. Unlike baccalaureate degrees, graduate tuition rates generally don't increase for students who don't meet a full-time threshold, but an increased enrollment period means accruing additional semesters of student services fees.

Beyond tuition and fees, consider your own personal expenses for things like textbooks, course materials and supplies, and any required software or hardware needed to complete your coursework. Online students may save money by studying from home, but if you plan to enroll in an on-campus program, consider the cost of regular commutes or, if needed, relocating to nearby housing.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Music Education Prepares For

Early Childhood/Elementary Education

Typically, anyone looking to teach kindergarten through sixth grade at a public school, including music teachers, must possess an elementary teaching certification. Teaching certification requirements and procedures vary depending on your state residence but likely include a specific track of college courses, an exam component, and a student teaching requirement.

Secondary Education

Like elementary and early childhood education, certification requirements for secondary education (7th-12th grade) vary depending on the state in which you plan to teach. These requirements can include examinations, student teaching, and completion of preparation program courses, which often align with a college degree plan.

Music Teachers National Association Certification

Available for voice, violin, piano, organ, and flute teachers, professional certification from the Music Teachers National Association does not require specific state residency. This makes it ideal for individuals interested in giving private lessons or otherwise working outside the public school system. To secure certification, applicants must complete five specific project requirements.

Resources for Graduate Music Education Students

Carnegie Hall Toolbox

This site contains various grade-specific music education resources and lesson ideas, which are ideal for grad students needing inspiration for curriculum development assignments, practicum lessons, or capstone projects.

Articles, videos, and live masterclasses cover topics such as marching band drill and the organization of band trips.

Music Education Magic

Created by a music educator, MusicEdMagic hosts hundreds of articles on curriculum, instruments, and music technology, as well as free sheet music and relevant product reviews.

NAfME Collegiate

By joining or starting a National Association for Music Education Collegiate chapter, members receive benefits including access to online academic journals, 25% discounts on all online resources, and access to national conferences.

National Association of Teachers of Singing

NATS offers discounted student memberships and boasts dozens of local chapters across the country. Members receive access to workshops, a weekly newsletter, and the top academic journal on professional singing.

Professional Organizations in Music Education

Music education boasts a prolific number of professional organizations for all geographic regions and areas of specialization, including concert and marching band, orchestra, vocal/choral, piano, and strings. Membership in these organizations typically comes at a reduced cost for college students. Benefits vary from one organization to another, but generally include local chapter meetings and national conferences, access to research and scholarly publications, networking and professional development opportunities, and exclusive job boards and career services.

National Association for Music Education

College students can join NAfME at a reduced cost and receive all membership benefits, including access to online and print periodicals, a career center, and MyMusicClass, a database of lesson plans and teaching tips.

Music Teachers National Association

Student members of MTNA pay reduced-cost annual dues. Benefits include networking opportunities online, at local chapters, and at national events; monthly professional development webinars; and support for referrals, grants, and legal concerns.

Music Educators Association

From Texas to Washington to Maine, most states have their own dedicated Music Educators Association. Benefits and dues vary depending on your organization, but generally include access to annual conferences, exclusive publications, member directories, and professional development opportunities.

American String Teachers Association

Full-time students can join ATSA at a reduced cost and enjoy member benefits, including access to professional development programs, a peer-reviewed journal, affordable instrument insurance, and local networking opportunities.

National Band Association

For only $5 annually, students can join the National Band Association and receive access to all NBA journals, a subscription to Instrumentalist magazine, access to video clinics, and teaching material and resources.

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