Music master's programs allow students to build technical skills related to instrumental and vocal performances under the guidance of experienced faculty. Degree-seekers learn how to excel when giving public performances, and they can focus their studies on conducting, music education, different music genres, or specific instruments.

Some music professionals, like recording artists, do not need a degree. However, the required courses and live performances in music programs allow students to hone their skills before diving into a competitive field. Advanced music professionals, like conductors and music teachers, may need a graduate-level degree.

This guide covers careers, courses, concentrations, and admission requirements related to on-campus and online master's degrees in music.

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What Kind of Music Degrees Are There?

Music students can pursue career-focused programs in composition and conducting or immerse themselves in coursework related to a specific genre or instrument. As music programs emphasize different skills and instruments, they may vary in terms of the completion time, delivery method, and fieldwork requirements.

What Are the Best Online Master's in Music Programs of 2020?

Rank School Location
1 Colorado State University Fort Collins, CO
2 Azusa Pacific University Azusa, CA
3 Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey New Brunswick, NJ
4 Stephen F. Austin State University Nacogdoches, TX
5 University of Nebraska Kearney Kearney, NE
6 Eastern Illinois University Charleston, IL
7 Southeastern Oklahoma State University Durant, OK
8 Southern Utah University Cedar City, UT
9 Morehead State University Morehead, KY
10 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY

Should I Get a Master's Degree in Music?

On-campus and online degrees in music train students to perform, compose, conduct, and/or produce music in studios and at public venues. Depending on their major, graduates might record solo albums, conduct orchestras, direct choirs, or compose music for films.

Music programs build technical skills for vocal and instrumental performances. Students also learn the research and teamwork skills needed to analyze pieces and work with other musicians.

Music programs emphasize creativity and allow students to focus on specific types of careers and music. For example, some schools offer jazz performance, composition, and music education concentrations that lead to careers in specific musical subfields.

Many programs also provide field experience through internships, assistantships, and recitals. These opportunities allow learners to build a musical portfolio that can help them find jobs when they graduate.

As music is a skill-based field, professionals do not always need a degree to find work. However, several advanced musical positions, including conductors, often require a master's degree.

A master's degree in music also prepares students to teach music courses.

What Will I Learn in a Music Master's Program?

Master's degrees in music frequently focus on single instruments, instrument groups, or genres. As such, most music programs offer unique, specialized courses. However, all music students must master foundational areas like music research, pedagogy, and history.

The following sections explore common courses and concentrations in detail.

Courses

Research in Music

This course prepares students to conduct research in areas like performance, education, and composition. Degree-seekers learn to assess the value of different sources. They also learn how to use applicable citation methods and explore the history of music research.

Analytical Techniques

Students in this course examine elements, techniques, and structural details of music, including rhythm, grouping, and harmony. This course often focuses on specific time periods or musical eras, such as the 19th century.

Musical Bibliography

In this course, degree-seekers learn to use resources like library collections and reference guides to conduct music research. This class also examines citation methods for building bibliographies and strategies for determining primary and secondary scholarly sources.

Music History

This course examines how musical style, structure, and instrumentation have changed over time. Learners study different genres, such as religious and dance music, as well as cultural influences on modern music.

Recital

During a recital, students sing or play their instruments for an audience. Some programs require that recitals last at least an hour. Most programs offer coaching to prepare degree-seekers for their recitals.

Concentrations

Composition

This concentration prepares students to create new musical pieces for performance. Some programs also offer a concentration in educational composition for K-12 settings. Required courses cover topics like melodies, rhythm, and lyrics.

Conducting

Students in this concentration learn to conduct orchestras and other musical groups in performances. Learners may specialize in areas like choral and orchestral ensembles. Required courses cover rehearsal strategies and score preparation.

Piano Performance

This concentration teaches the technical aspects of piano playing. Degree-seekers also learn how to teach their own students how to play in public. This concentration usually culminates in a public recital. Similar concentrations include vocal performance and performance with other instruments.

Music Therapy

In this concentration, degree-seekers examine the neurological factors of development. They also learn to use music to promote psychological, social, mental, and emotional well-being. Required courses often prioritize research and counseling techniques for assisting patients.

Opera

This concentration examines theory, analysis, and performance for opera. Most programs also cover acting in opera performances and require a recital as a capstone experience. Music programs may also offer concentrations in other musical genres, like jazz.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Music?

Music degrees prepare students to perform as individuals or in groups; conduct symphonies; produce musicals; and write music for artists, films, or television shows. Music programs can also lead to careers in education, community service, and recreational therapy, provided that graduates also earn the necessary licenses and certifications.

Careers

Music Directors and Composers

Directors make choices for orchestras and ensembles, such as which songs to play, which soloists perform, and which new musicians gain entry. Composers create new musical pieces or rework existing pieces for performers. These careers often require a master's degree in music.

Musicians and Singers

Musicians and singers record music and play songs publicly as individual artists, in bands, or with orchestras. These professionals often travel and specialize in a genre, like country, jazz, or rock. These artists may also create original songs.

Music Therapists

These therapists design and oversee programs that encourage mental, emotional, and social health. Graduates with music therapy degrees can manage programs that incorporate music. Some of these positions require a state-issued license.

Music Teachers

Music teachers plan lessons and deliver lectures on music concepts like pitch, scales, and notes. These teachers may also oversee K-12 bands, teaching students to play instruments. Many schools require that music teachers also earn an education degree and a teaching license.

Producers and Directors

These professionals oversee artistic performances and make casting, editing, and financial decisions. They often work for record labels and at musical events.

How to Choose a Music Master's Program

Prospective students should look for programs with concentrations that reflect their interests. Learners who want to compose music, for example, should only consider schools that focus on composition or offer a relevant concentration.

Applicants should also find programs that fit their schedules in terms of program length and delivery method. Working professionals and/or parents with busy schedules may be interested in online programs that deliver coursework asynchronously.

Prospective students should also consider cost and accreditation when choosing where to earn their music degree.

How to Get Into a Music Master's Program

Admission requirements for a master's program include a relevant bachelor's degree and official transcripts. Many schools also require a minimum GPA, which usually ranges from 2.5 to 3.0. Students interested in pursuing assistantships may need even better grades.

Many programs also require a resume or CV, a personal statement, and letters of recommendation that illustrate professional and personal achievements in music.

Notably, most music programs also require an audition. Vocal students must sing a piece of music, while learners interested in studying a specific instrument must play a piece on that instrument.

Read Our Guide to Graduate Admissions

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

It usually takes students 1-2 years to earn a master's in music, depending on whether they enroll on a full-time or part-time basis. However, students in accelerated or self-paced programs can sometimes graduate more quickly.

Music teachers and therapists are the only professionals in the field who need state licensure. Music students should consult with their advisors to find out if there are other credentials they can pursue to prepare for success in their chosen field.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Master's in Music?

Out-of-state and private school students often pay higher tuition rates than in-state and public school learners. In general, a master's degree in music costs $40,000-$50,000.

To help manage these expenses, students can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to apply for federal loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. They can also pursue online programs, which can eliminate on-campus housing and transportation costs.

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