Contrary to popular belief, earning a bachelor's degree in the arts doesn't prevent you from earning a living. In fact, the curriculum of music bachelor's degrees develops a range of useful, interdisciplinary skills that prepare graduates for entry-level employment as educators, composers, music directors, sound technicians, and performers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects each of these occupations to grow between 6% and 8% by 2020.
With supplemental education or training, you can build your love of music into a behind-the-scenes industry career in sales, public relations, management, or even law, where salaries can reach triple digits. Whether you aspire to master your instrument and excel in performance, educate the next generation of music lovers, or hold an office job in a dynamic, creative industry, a bachelor's degree in music can help you get started.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Music?
Traditional college-aged students make up the majority of enrollment numbers in music bachelor's degrees. Like most recent high school graduates, this majority tends to enroll in on-campus programs. Studying on-campus allows for participation in music ensembles and studio lessons. Degrees in performance almost always require consistent on-campus availability, while other popular degree concentrations -- including composition, music production, and music education -- can be found in online formats and may appeal to working professionals or those interested in a career change.
All music bachelor's degrees provide a variety of musical, analytical, and technical skills, depending on concentration choice and elective selections. A classic guitar performance major, for example, works toward different learning goals than a music education major. But all music degrees typically create a solid foundation in subjects including music theory, music history, aural learning, and basic piano. Upon this foundation, students branch out into their respective areas, training for performance, learning educational techniques, working in a sound production booth, or mastering composition and orchestration.
The benefits of on-campus music bachelor's degrees extend beyond academics. Music programs typically involve a great deal of interpersonal work and communication with peers and faculty, allowing music majors to build personal and professional relationships that last a lifetime. Networking opportunities also extend to visiting performers, lecturers, and industry leaders. As music majors near graduation, college career centers offer assistance by hosting job fairs, offering resume services, and in some schools, working directly with recruiters for job or internship placement.
What Can I Do with a Bachelor's in Music?
Graduates of a music bachelor's degree may pursue employment in a variety of fields, including education, performance, or the larger music industry. Music is a collaborative art form -- whether it involves a performer and an audience, a conductor and an ensemble, a composer and a film director, or a teacher and a class -- meaning professionals' interpersonal communication skills need to be just as honed as their musicianship skills in order to succeed. The sample careers listed below require extensive self-discipline, an ability to lead and work with others, and problem-solving and analytical skills.
When most people think of music careers, these performers tend to come to mind first. This profession includes popular musicians and bands as well as opera singers, instrumental soloists, and professional symphony members. As competition for jobs can get fierce, expect to experience intermittent or part-time employment periods.
Median Annual Salary: $56,000
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Music Director
Depending on the position, music directors may serve professional choral or instrumental ensembles as conductors, public ambassadors, and administrative organizers. These professionals lead ensembles during performances, attend events like fundraisers, and spend significant amounts of time interpreting scores and selecting pieces, auditioning members, and setting rehearsal and performance schedules.
Median Annual Salary: $50,590
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Sound Technician
In the music industry, sound engineering technicians work in recording studios or performance venues. These professionals operate, maintain, and make adjustments to equipment for audio recording and/or playback, ensuring consistent, high-quality sound at all times. Though some entry-level jobs may not require college experience, a degree heightens your professional skills and marketability.
Median Annual Salary: $42,650
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Composers write and arrange original music scores performed by bands, orchestras, and other musicians. Composers can work within any genre of their choice, including popular music, jazz, and classical, or they can compose for theatre or film productions. Composers frequently work as freelancers, writing music for jobs as they receive them or submitting compositions for consideration.
Median Annual Salary: $50,590
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- High School Teacher
High school music teachers may teach classroom subjects like music theory or music history, but more commonly, they work as band, choir, or orchestra directors. In addition to earning a bachelor's degree in music, these professionals must obtain a teaching certification from the state in which they plan to work.
Median Annual Salary: $59,170
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Music Program
Even with modern accelerated degree options and an array of financial aid opportunities, earning any college degree still requires a significant commitment of time and money. With so much invested and at stake, it's natural for prospective college students to feel overwhelmed or uncertain when it comes to deciding what school to attend or which specific program to enroll in. Important considerations must be made for factors including cost, program length, location, logistics, curriculum requirements, and your own personal and professional goals.
Music bachelor's degrees typically require four years of full-time study to complete. Many schools require first-time freshman students to live in on-campus dormitories, which may cost more or less than alternate housing or commuting options. Online students avoid these housing costs with the ability to complete work off-campus. While online music bachelor's degrees provide high-quality education with greater flexibility and, in some cases, accelerated paths to graduation, the online structure can also inhibit some of the traditional benefits of bachelor's programs in music. Benefits of an on-campus experience include participation in student ensembles, camaraderie with peers, and access to practice rooms and school-owned equipment and technology.
Prospective students with specific career goals may want to enroll in a program with a specialized curriculum. Not every music school offers concentrations, which may make one institution more favorable than another if you want to major in music performance, music education, audio production, or composition. Closely examine the degree plan of each program, considering similarities and differences.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's Programs in Music
Regional and national accreditation determines the quality and consistency of an institution. Many music bachelor's degrees go a step further with a programmatic accreditation status.
Programmatic accreditation evaluates programs based on specific, discipline-related standards. The National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) provides programmatic accreditation for undergraduate and graduate music degrees, according to set standards concerning artistic and academic quality.
Accreditation from NASM makes it easier for students to feel secure in the offerings of a prospective music program, though it bears reminding that a school doesn't necessarily need programmatic accreditation in order to deliver an excellent education. There are no professional or personal penalties for attending a non-NASM-accredited bachelor's program in music.
Bachelor's in Music Program Admissions
Although you can choose to apply to as many or as few schools as you prefer, higher education experts recommend that the average prospective college student apply to about six schools, according to your likelihood to be accepted and your ability to afford them. These six schools include two target schools, two safety schools, and two reach schools. Choose your prospective institutions by examining factors including curriculum, costs, program length, and admission requirements.
Once you narrow your options, begin the admissions process. Most undergraduate applications require the same essential prerequisites and documentation, discussed in more detail below. Applications for online schools and programs, especially those in high demand, may request the submission of additional materials in order to pare down a pool of applicants more efficiently. Whether you choose to seek entrance in online programs or on-campus programs, make sure to begin the application process well ahead of the deadline.
- Minimum GPA: Most schools require incoming freshman to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA from their high school courses in order to apply, with exceptions occasionally made for individuals with advanced extracurricular skills.
- Application: Application forms require students to fill out information about themselves and their educational background. Through the Common App, students can submit application forms and documents to multiple schools at once.
- Transcripts: Admissions offices require submission of transcripts to confirm enrollment and GPA information. Generally, students can obtain copies of their high school transcript for free, though some schools may charge a nominal fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: Colleges may require applicants to submit one or two letters of recommendation. Request these letters well in advance from your band director, a favorite teacher, principal, or other mentor figure.
- Test Scores: Different institutions may request different college entrance exam scores (ACT or SAT). A composite SAT score of 25+ or a combined ACT score of 1200+ generally meets standards for top public universities.
- Application Fee: To cover administrative costs of reviewing applications, and to discourage less serious applicants, colleges charge application fees ranging from $25-$90. Students who fall into low income brackets can often obtain fee waivers.
What Else Can I Expect from a Bachelor's in Music Program?
In the section below, find additional information on popular program concentrations, typical curriculum courses, and program characteristics such as length and cost. While each of these factors can vary widely from one school or program to another, this information provides a representative look at what to expect from most music bachelor's degrees.
|Performance||Performance majors select a single instrument (keyboard, brass, woodwind, or voice) to study. In addition to general music courses, a performance curriculum typically involves weekly one-on-one lessons with faculty and participation in one or more ensembles to develop overall musicianship, instrument-specific skills, and performance techniques.||Instrumental/Vocal Soloist, Symphony Orchestra Member, Private Lesson Teacher|
|Composition||Composition concentrations develop students' abilities to analyze, arrange, and compose original pieces of music for film, stage, or other media. Students master vital principles of music theory and may utilize old-fashioned techniques as well as modern technology to hone their composition skills. Admission may require a portfolio submission and some prior experience.||Composer, Orchestrator, Arranger|
|Audio Production||The average curriculum for an audio production concentration track includes general music courses, a variety of music technology courses, and a few supplemental business courses. Students may work directly with professional audio production or recording equipment available on campus and/or through ongoing off-campus internships.||Sound Technician|
|Music Industry||A music bachelor's degree with an industry track provides an interdisciplinary focus on music and business. Along with general music courses, undergraduate music industry programs introduce students to the fundamentals of music and business law, marketing, and management. Most music industry concentrations require the completion of an internship before graduation.||Publicist, Agent, Music Lawyer|
|Music Education||A curriculum including conducting, teaching methods, and various instrumental and vocal techniques prepares students for a full-time teaching internship in their final year of study. Undergraduate programs in music education typically align with their headquartered state's specific requirements for teacher certification to help ensure students' future ability to pass examinations.||Band/Choir Director, Private Lesson Teacher, Classroom Music Teacher|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Music Program
Whether you enroll in a general bachelor's program in music or a program with a specialized concentration, expect to take several essential courses to enhance and develop skills in listening to, analyzing, and appreciating music. Your school's exact course content may vary from the sample information listed below.
- Music Theory:
Basic music theory courses introduce students to fundamental written music concepts including key signatures, meter, rhythm, scales, intervals, triads, and chords. Students learn how to perform Roman numeral and figured bass analysis on staff paper. Advanced theory courses build on these skills with additional concepts like counterpoint and phrasing.
- Aural Learning
Typically coordinated alongside music theory courses, aural learning courses enhance students' aural skills through ear training techniques and sight-singing with solfege. In identification and dictation assignments, students discern intervals, chords, and triads by ear and learn to write out melodies, harmonies, and rhythms on a staff as they hear them.
- Applied Piano
Designed for the music major without extensive keyboard experience, basic applied piano courses introduce students to keyboard fundamentals. A combination lecture and group practice environment helps students learn their way around the piano and develop the skills to play scales, chords, and basic melodies and basslines.
- Music History
Music history courses provide a survey of the history and development of Western music through lectures, reading text, and listening to sample recordings. Separate courses typically focus on different periods, from ancient through classical times and from classical through present times.
- World Music
Introductory world music courses examine the representative musics of both Western and non-Western cultures, considering how different societal and cultural contexts contribute to the development of unique musical styles and functions. World music courses promote recognition of and respect for diverse communities around the globe.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Music?
Graduating with a 120-credit bachelor's degree in any discipline typically requires four years of full-time study, whether all four years take place at a university or begin with a two-year associate program transferred to a university later on. Due to the sequential pacing requirements of college music courses, which build upon one another as the degree progresses, online schools rarely offer accelerated options. However, online and on-campus programs do offer part-time study options for students who can't commit to full-time study, either due to personal obligations, prohibitive costs, or work schedules.
Keep in mind that additional semesters of study increase your overall per-semester fee total and that some universities may charge more per credit hour for part-time tuition than full-time tuition. Music majors in particular may experience delays to graduation if they fail to pass upper-level theory proficiency exams or senior recitals and need to reschedule for a second attempt.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Music?
Although prices range depending on the school you select, according to College Board, current annual undergraduate tuition costs sit around $10,000 for in-state students at public universities, $26,000 for out-of-state students at public universities, and $35,000 for students at private universities. Beyond tuition, students should expect to shell out another large amount of cash for housing, whether they decide to live on campus or not.
The average cost for public university housing comes out to $7,000 annually, but this figure can increase depending on the geographic area and the type of housing arrangement you desire (e.g., roommates vs. no roommates, private vs. shared bathrooms, etc.). Online students or students who already live close enough to their campus to commute can save money in this area. Colleges also charge for parking passes, bus fees, library and technology fees, and athletic/extracurricular fees.
After big-ticket costs of tuition, room/board, and fees, students still need to cover the cost of essential school supplies and textbooks. Music majors must also consider the additional, unique expenses they may incur for standard equipment (valve oil, cleaning supplies, strings, mutes, etc.) as well as instrument maintenance and repair.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Music Prepares For
- State Teaching Certification
Teaching certification requirements vary by state and by grade level (elementary or secondary). Students enrolled in a music education concentration complete a curriculum which prepares them to take their state's certification exams.
- Music Teacher's National Association Professional Certification
MTNA offers certification for music professionals interested in teaching outside the public school system. These non-state certifications are suitable for private lesson teachers or private school teachers.
- Audio Engineer Certification
Audio engineer certification exams offered by the MTNA cover topics including operating practices, troubleshooting, and safety. A bachelor's degree fulfills four of the five years of experience required to take the exam.
- Music Therapist Certification
Graduates of a music program with a music therapy concentration may want to consider obtaining certification from the Certification Board for Music Therapists. Though certification is voluntary, it may increase your professional marketability.
Resources for Music Students
This online tool, also available as an iPhone app, allows you to practice ear training anytime, anywhere. Work to identify scales, chords, chord inversions, and intervals at the touch of a button.
MusicTheory.net offers a selection of free online lessons, exercises, and interactive tools ideal for students interested in practicing and developing their theory chops outside of class.
Innovative SmartMusic software enhances a performance student's practice sessions by offering responsive digital accompaniment, immediate on-screen feedback, and recording options. Students can purchase the classic version independently.
Mutopia boasts an online library of more than 2,000 pieces of public domain sheet music for instrumentalists, vocalists, and ensembles to download, distribute, edit, perform, and record at no cost.
BlankSheetMusic.net allows you to customize and print blank sheet music according to your needs. Choose from a variety of clef and arrangement options as well as paper size and orientation.
Professional Organizations in Music
With classes, assignments, socializing, and extracurriculars to focus on, joining a professional organization might not sit at the top of most college students' to-do lists, but it could be one of the best decisions you make on your path to graduation and a fulfilling career. Membership in organizations provides benefits including networking, career assistance, and professional development. Best of all, college students can often enjoy these benefits at the cost of drastically reduced membership rates.