Music careers are creative and fulfilling, but the industry is competitive. You won’t find a guidebook to tell you how to succeed in the music business and achieve your professional goals, but earning a master’s in music degree can help you thrive and reach your career ambitions — especially if you want to become a professor, conductor, or librarian.
According to the BLS, music jobs requiring a master's degree -- like those for composers and music directors -- are projected to grow over the next decade.
The music industry is facing its share of difficulties as orchestras, music groups, and music programs are losing their funding. Even so, music jobs requiring a master’s degree — like those for composers and music directors — are projected to grow over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
The music industry is a challenging but alluring prospect for professionals with a master’s in music degree, and graduates also enjoy more job security than those with only a bachelor’s degree. Read on to learn more about obtaining a master’s degree in music.
Should I Get a Master's in Music?
Work in the music industry is often unstable and low-paying. A college degree cannot ensure success in the music industry for certain professions, and many prolific singers, songwriters, and musicians excel in the music industry without a college education. However, students who are seeking jobs in academia or leadership positions in music may need a master’s degree to achieve their career goals.
Music master’s degree programs come in two formats: online and on-campus. Students fresh from their undergraduate studies may benefit from the traditional classroom structure and one-on-one interactions of on-campus programs, whereas working professionals might prefer the flexibility of online master’s in music programs.
Music master’s programs teach students advanced research methodologies, composition, theory, trends, and history. Unlike bachelor’s in music degrees, most master’s programs offer concentrations, allowing graduate students to hone their interests in specific areas, such as jazz music, church music, ethnomusicology, music education, composition, theory, or music production. Keep in mind that concentration options vary between colleges.
Most master’s program curricula require advanced research and critical examination of scholarly music work. Moreover, many programs require students to teach at local schools or hold recitals, providing the opportunity to forge lasting connections with fellow scholars and working professionals. Master’s students may also receive mentorship from faculty members, many of whom work in the industry and have valuable insight. These connections can help students land fellowships and jobs when they graduate.
What Can I Do With a Master’s in Music?
Master’s in music graduates take many different career paths, including those of composers, directors, teachers, and performers. The music industry’s unstable nature creates uncertainty for music professionals, but having a master’s degree can help. Master’s in music graduates are highly ambitious, insightful, creative, and driven, and they may work in offices, theaters, or schools. Below, find a few common careers held by graduates of music master’s degree programs.
- Music Director
Music directors often have bachelor’s degrees, but a master’s degree in music helps graduates land high-level positions in big markets. Graduates of music master’s degree programs work in theaters alongside stage directors, leading choirs and orchestras. Music directors also fine-tune sound for festivals, TV shows, and live shows.
Median Annual Salary: $71,620
Projected Growth Rate: 12%
- Music Librarians
Music librarians work behind the scenes, cataloging collections. They provide help in person or through email to students, professionals, and readers who want to access music sources. Music librarians work in public libraries, colleges, and private schools. A master’s degree in music is required at most music libraries, and sometimes a Ph.D. is preferred.
Median Annual Salary: $58,520
Projected Growth Rate: 9%
- Music Professors
Music professors usually need a Ph.D. to teach full time at four-year colleges and universities, but graduates with master’s degrees can teach part time, or work full time at community colleges. Music professors teach students about music theory, history, and performance. They also sometimes teach private music lessons.
Median Annual Salary: $59,170
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
- Music Conductors
Employers generally prefer that music conductors, also called music directors, hold a master’s degree in music. Music conductors work in schools, churches, and concert and symphony halls. They travel from place to place, leading orchestras and directing performances. Some also work in recording studios, directing musicians.
Median Annual Salary: $50,590
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Music Composers
Music composers work one on one with performers, orchestras, and directors of commercials, TV shows, and movies to create original music. They use instruments or software programs to write original pieces or rearrange existing music. Music composers may hold private lessons for students. A college degree may not be required, but classical composers generally hold a master’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $50,590
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Music
If you have a specific career goal in mind before starting on your educational journey, it will help you select the master’s in music program that best fits your budget, location, interests, lifestyle, and timeframe.
Music master’s programs take two to three years to complete for full-time students. Your exact graduation timeline and the total cost of your program depends on your status as a student. Working professionals might opt to attend their courses part-time, though part-time students often take longer to finish their degrees, and may end up spending more money than full-time students.
Working professionals may also consider taking online classes, which tend to be cheaper since they don’t require expenses for transportation, parking, or housing. In some circumstances, online programs reduce out-of-state tuition fees for students, whereas out-of-state students might otherwise pay twice the tuition of their in-state counterparts. If your prospective school is out of state but located somewhere with better employment opportunities or a lower cost of living, it might be worthwhile to relocate. Students must weigh the pros and the cons before choosing to attend an out-of-state college.
Finally, students should consider their prospective programs’ course offerings. Not every college offers specializations, and some colleges may not be accredited. Make sure to review the curriculum to ensure the offered courses serve your interests. Also confirm that your school and program of choice have been accredited. Read on to learn more about the different types of accreditation.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Music
Colleges and their programs must meet certain quality standards to receive accreditation, which lets students know that their institution or specific program has undergone a quality assurance review. Programmatic accreditation means an independent body reviewed and approved of a specific program or department within a college.
The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) provides accreditation for undergraduate and graduate music schools. Approximately 651 schools have NASM accreditation. This accreditation carries distinction, but it is not mandatory. Graduates from accredited music schools have an advantage on the job market and if they pursue a Ph.D.
Colleges may obtain either regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation carries more prestige and is usually administered to four-year colleges, whereas for-profit and vocational schools tend to receive national accreditation. Seven accrediting bodies oversee regional accreditation in the United States. Credits from regionally accredited colleges transfer easily to most other institutions, but credits from nationally accredited schools may not.
Master's in Music Program Admissions
Applications for master’s programs require a tremendous amount of time and effort, so students should only apply to programs for which they meet the admission requirements and have the adequate prerequisites. Students should plan on applying to five to eight graduate schools.
Standard admissions procedures apply for both on-campus and online programs, but online programs can be more competitive than on-campus programs, and they often have lower acceptance rates. Every admissions office provides detailed directions on how to apply to its master’s in music program. Students can find admissions requirements, including the required supplemental materials, posted on each college’s website. Below, find some of the common prerequisites for music master’s degree.
- Bachelor’s Degree: To apply for a master’s in music degree, students need a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related field. In some cases, prospective students may audition, instead. Common course prerequisites include composition, music history, performance studies, and orchestration.
- Professional Experience: Work experience is not always required, but some colleges ask that graduate school applicants have experience related to the specialization of the degree. Schools may require experience in music teaching or jazz composition.
- Minimum GPA: Many master’s in music programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA. Admissions offices sometimes accept students with lower GPAs on a case-by-case basis. Work experience and high test scores could offset a lower GPA.
- Application: A master’s in music application takes months to complete. Applicants can use Interfolio, the graduate school version of Common App, which consolidates the process of applying to multiple colleges.
- Transcripts: Students must send official transcripts from each of their colleges directly to the admissions office. They may send transcripts through email or mail, and obtain them for a nominal fee. Applicants can sometimes upload digital transcripts with their applications.
- Letters of Recommendation: Expect to submit up to three letters of recommendation. Previous employers, professors, and other professional references should write your letters. Make sure to give your references at least two to three months’ notice, plus detailed instructions on how to submit their letters.
- Test Scores: Master’s in music degrees rarely require students to take the GRE. If a GRE is required, students would need to score about 150 or higher on the verbal section; 145 or higher on the quantitative section; and 3.5 or higher on the writing section.
- Application Fee: Application fees run about $50 to $125. Colleges sometimes provide application fee waivers to veterans, active service members, and students who demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Music?
Music master’s curricula vary between institutions, but most programs have similar structures, with many of the same core course offerings and concentration options. Most master’s music programs take about the same time to complete. The cost of each program varies widely. For more information about the specifics of master’s in music programs, read on.
|Music Education||Music education teaches students to examine the current pedagogical methods of music education, primarily in secondary schools. Coursework covers music history and theory. Students learn how to create instruction plans, and they often must complete field work, such as community projects in local public schools.||A concentration in music education prepares students to become music teachers|
|Music History||Students specializing in music history conduct advanced-level research, which prepares them for a Ph.D. in music. Music history covers the development of different musical styles and instruments from around the world.||Music history specializations cater to students who want to become teachers, composers, researchers, historians, or librarians|
|Jazz Music Studies||Jazz music studies at the graduate level focuses on advanced composition and music arrangement. Students also analyze jazz history, and some programs may encourage students to pursue performance and writing training with jazz ensembles or orchestras.||Students who specialize in jazz music find careers as music composers, directors, and teachers|
|Conducting||A specialization in conducting focuses on performance, history, and theory. Students learn a wide range of musical styles. They also learn different instrumental and ensemble conducting techniques. Studies may culminate with a recital.||Conducting prepares students to become conductors and directors of large and small orchestras and choirs. Students also become teachers and administrators|
|Theory and Composition||Students work closely with faculty to study theory and composition in-depth, learning about music arrangement and orchestration. Students compose original pieces and work with experts in different mediums. A cornerstone of the specialty includes performing musical works.||A specialization in theory and composition trains students for careers in music composition and teaching|
Courses in a Master’s in Music Program
No two master’s in music programs have identical coursework. Students must research each program’s curriculum to see if it suits their career goals. One program may focus on teaching students to become music educators, while another might train them to become composers. Generally, all core courses in music master’s programs include in-depth research, music theory, history, and music criticism. Below you will find a few sample courses, but bear in mind, exact classes vary depending on the college.
- Introduction to Research Methods
This class covers the principles of the advanced-level music research methodologies required of all master’s students. Students build on their undergraduate skills and learn to analyze scholarly works and gather quantitative and qualitative data. Students typically write and present a final research paper. This course prepares students for academic research music jobs and teaching positions.
- Introduction to Music Technology
Students work in labs to become proficient in music technologies, such as MIDI. The course covers techniques in music recording, editing, mixing, sequencing, and notation. This course prepares students to work as composers and directors in studios, using computer-based technology tools.
- Seminar in Composition
This in-depth course overlaps with other disciplines, including sociology, philosophy, and psychology. Students learn complex compositional techniques. Many students become teachers, film and theater composers, or go on to earn a Ph.D. in music. The final project may be a research paper or a composition recital.
- Issues in Ethnomusicology
This course explores the historic overview of ethnomusicology. Students learn to critically examine music through a cultural lens, and objectively study the cultural music contributions from across the globe. Students may have to write a major research paper and possibly do fieldwork. Prospective music teachers will find this class useful in their career.
- Music Tonal Analysis
Students study the structural arrangements of selected tonal compositions and analyze those works from an objective standpoint. The class usually requires students to do multiple research papers, including a final paper and presentation analyzing a chosen musical work. This class prepares students for careers in music composition and teaching.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Music?
Students should expect to invest two and a half years toward a master’s in music program. Many different factors affect the length of your master’s program, including required credits. Master’s in music programs require students to complete 33 to 50 credits, plus additional credits if the program requires a thesis project. Working professionals who cannot take a full course load may consider part-time studies, which may take longer and cost more.
To complete a degree faster, students may want to look into online programs, which tend to offer more rigorous coursework on an accelerated path. Some online master’s in music degrees take a year and a half to complete. Students may also be able to transfer graduate level college credits earned at another college.
How Much Is a Master’s in Music?
Master’s in music degree students pay an average of $441 per credit. Students must also account for the cost of housing, transportation, technology fees, photocopies, books, and other college-related expenses. Advanced degrees also have additional costs you must consider, such as thesis reading fees.
Tuition becomes even more expensive for out-of-state students. If you do not meet residency requirements — which is typically one year of in-state residency before beginning school — then you may pay double or more for out-of-state tuition. However, online programs sometimes provide in-state tuition to out-of-state residents. Moreover, tuition increases for part-time students, since they usually take longer to complete their degrees.
Finally, tuition varies between college types. Public four-year colleges almost always cost less than private four-year colleges. You may be able to offset the increased costs of attending a private college or an out-of-state college through scholarships or grants — which are essentially “free money” that you do not have to pay back.
Resources for Graduate Music Students
Keep up-to-date on musicology with a subscription to Music & Letters, an international academic publication that began in 1920. The publication also distributes scholarships twice annually through the Music & Letters Trusts.
Founded in 1915 by Oscar Sonneck, the Musical Quarterly features academic articles by composers and musicologists. The publication’s website features a link to music jobs posted on the Oxford University Press Journals Career Network.
JSTOR features more than 2,600 academic journals, which students and faculty can access online or download for an annual or monthly fee. The digital library’s website also offers links to JSTOR webinars, meetings, and conferences.
iStudiez Pro consolidates the busy schedule of a graduate student with an easy-to-use digital planner. The app keeps track of college classes and syncs everything on multiple devices. A grade-tracking feature also lets students track their GPA. The app costs a fee to use.
When you cannot make it to the on-campus writing center, use the online grammar checker Grammarly for free. Grammarly proofreads your writing for grammatical and spelling errors. You can add the Grammarly extension to your web browser, or download the app.
Professional Organizations in Music
Graduate students studying music may join a professional music organization to make connections with like-minded individuals at events and conferences. Professional music organizations also offer their members access to scholarships, fellowships, and grant opportunities. Many also offer free access to music job boards. Below you, find five examples of organizations you may want to join.