Music touches most of us in some way, but only a select few will go on to pursue careers in the music industry. Prospective musicians, songwriters and composers, choreographers and other music professionals face a potentially tough road ahead; competition is steep for most high-profile jobs and gigs, and starting wages are relatively low. However, those who persevere often enjoy rewarding careers in the field they love. Not all successful musicians are world-famous superstars -- the majority of music professionals today work behind the scenes to write, refine, produce and market the various tunes and jingles we hear every day.

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

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

Although most careers in music require little to no college education, some aspiring professionals choose to earn degrees at the undergraduate and graduate level in order to boost their job standing and compete for top-level positions. The master's degree in music is primarily designed for students who plan to pursue careers in music direction or education; many go on to become college professors, conservatory teachers and vocal instructors. In addition to standard coursework, master's in music require at least one or two formal recitals, which allow students to demonstrate their proficiency in performance, composition or conducting; at some schools, students must also give a formal presentation about the recital piece. Many of today's students are choosing to earn their master's degree in music online, rather than in a classroom. Web-based students follow the same rigorous curriculum as their brick-and-mortar counterparts, leading to a comparable number of post-graduation job opportunities. The convenient study-from-home schedule of most online music master's programs is also ideal for students with part-time jobs, childcare duties and other commitments that may conflict with campus-based learning.

Learn more about what you can do with a master's degree in music and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to with this comprehensive guide.

Choosing a Program


While many bachelor's in music programs offer a comprehensive approach to the medium, the master's track will focus on the student's specific area of expertise -- in most cases, performing, composing, conducting or music education. The curriculum will revolve around the student's specialization, giving them plenty of opportunities to practice, perform and receive critiques from professors and other faculty members. Additional coursework will address topics like music theory and history. Recitals add more experience to a student's resume by allowing them to practice their craft and then present original work in front of a live audience.


Online master's degree programs in music offer a flexible alternative to traditional college learning. Students can access lectures and other course materials, participate in virtual discussions with fellow students, submit written assignments, take exams and communicate with their professors on their own time from their home computer. Current educational technology also allows them to study away from their desk using a laptop, tablet, smartphone and other Wi-Fi-compatible devices. A small number of campus visits are usually required for student orientation and live recitals.


A master's degree in music is considered the best educational pathway for students who plan to become music directors or teachers at colleges, universities, conservatories and other educational institutions. Many singing and instrumental coaches also earn master's degrees in music to build their professional standing. A master's in music with a specialization in music education may also be suitable for music teachers who plan to teach at the elementary and/or secondary school levels.


Choosing a program is an incredibly personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school's strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master's in corrections programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master's in music, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more their about specific bachelor's degree requirements and offerings.

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Colorado State University

Fort Collins, CO Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 71%

Based in Fort Collins, CSU offers a master of music with a music education specialization. Designed for K-12 teachers and independent music educators, this hybrid program combines an online curriculum with two-week, on-campus sessions.Working professionals benefit from a flexible online curriculum, and on-campus sessions take place over the summer, which allows teachers to continue working full time. This 30-credit curriculum offers courses in theory and research, and in-person sessions provide opportunities for collaboration and hands-on projects.CSU's online master's in music program draws from the educational philosophy of Hungarian music educator Zoltán Kodály. Upon completion of this program, students also obtain the national Kodály music teaching certification.


Azusa Pacific University

Azusa, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 63%

The master of arts in music entrepreneurship from APU — located in Orange County, California — is a hybrid program led by experienced music industry professionals. Working musicians benefit from the program's low-residency format, which requires limited on-campus sessions. Participants can graduate in two years. Students gain the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in the music business and focus on maximizing revenue in the age of digital streaming. This 32-credit program prepares graduates to work as independent musicians, music industry producers, artist managers, music marketing representatives, and tour coordinators.To apply, prospective students must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must submit a letter of intent, two recommendations, and official transcripts.


Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

New Brunswick, NJ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 80%

The online master of music in music education at Rutgers caters to K-12 music teachers. Online learners explore the relationship between music education and theory through courses like model composition and tonal analysis, behavioral approaches to music learning, and cognitive approaches to music learning.This 30-credit curriculum includes six foundation credits, 12 core credits, nine elective credits, and a three-credit capstone course. The capstone project requires students to compose a full research report and present their findings in an online forum.Prospective students must hold an undergraduate degree in music or music education from an accredited college. Additional requirements include one year of teaching experience and a 5-10-page academic paper on music education, history, or theory.


Stephen F. Austin State University

Nacogdoches, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 48%

Based in Nacogdoches, Texas, SFA offers an online master of music with four tracks: performance, conducting, music education, and theory-composition. Each track comprises 36 credits and helps students develop the competencies and critical thinking skills required for professional careers in music.The program further divides tracks into concentrations. While students can complete many core classes completely online, some concentrations require on-campus sessions. However, the elementary/general and instrumental concentrations in the music education track and the theory-compostion track can be completed entirely online.All applicants to SFA's School of Music must complete an audition. Upon acceptance to the program, each student is tested in music theory and history to determine their proficiency and placement. GRE scores are not required.


University of Nebraska Kearney

Kearney, NE Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

The online master of education in music education offered by UNK teaches students advanced theory, research, and techniques related to education and musical performance. Distance students enjoy access to library services, technology support services, and a variety of online learning tutorials. This 36-credit program allows students to explore subjects like choral literature, the history of classical music, and music analysis. Graduates of this program can pursue careers as music teachers, band directors, choral directors, composers, and instrument tutors.To apply, students must hold a bachelor's degree in music and a minimum 3.0 GPA. They should also submit a 300-500-word essay detailing their personal philosophy of teaching.


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 58%

Offering an online master of arts in music with a music education concentration, EIU charges a flat online tuition rate to all learners. Designed for working music educators, this program allows teachers to apply their learning directly to the classroom as they work through the curriculum.Though students complete most courses online, the program requires a one-week summer residency. To fulfill this residency, students travel to the school's campus in Charleston where they complete a variety of project-based workshops and courses.This program culminates in a three-credit capstone project in which students deliver a 1,000-1,500-word oral examination on topics such as performance practice, pedagogy, or interpretive approaches to music. Each student pairs with an advisor who is responsible for approving and guiding the final project.


Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Durant, OK Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 33%

SOSU — located in Durant — hosts an online master of music education. Designed to allow teachers to continue working while earning their degree, students can complete the program in four semesters and one additional summer session at SOSU's main campus.This degree provides students with the opportunity to develop skills and qualities needed to become an effective leader. Graduates of this master's in music education program often enter careers in teaching and administrative roles. Out-of-state distance learners pay the same tuition rate as in-state students. Graduate admission requirements include official transcripts and documentation of a bachelor's degree from an accredited college.


Southern Utah University

Cedar City, UT Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 49%

SUU offers an online master of music in music technology with a performance technology track. This flexible program is suitable for working professionals; it features multiple start dates and an entirely online format that students can complete in 12 months.Of the 30 credits required to graduate, 18 credits come from core coursework. Students study a variety of topics, including audio recording, music technology and business, and concert production. Students earn their 12 remaining credits through four performance technology courses.This program culminates in a capstone project, in which students apply classroom knowledge to a professional setting. The program helps skilled graduates enter a variety of roles, such as music directors, technical sound designers, and studio engineers.


Morehead State University

Morehead, KY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 45%

MSU — located in northeast Kentucky — offers a master of music with two concentrations: music education and performance. Both concentrations use a hybrid format and combine the flexibility of online courses with traditional on-campus summer sessions.Students wishing to pursue a concentration in performance can choose from a variety of specializations, such as brasswinds, woodwinds, guitar, and keys. The concentration in music education centers around the study instruments, with additional courses in music history, literature, and education.The flexible curriculum allows professionals to continue working while earning their degree in three years. Applicants interested in the performance concentration must also complete an audition.


Eastern Kentucky University

Richmond, KY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 47%

Based in Richmond, EKU offers a fully online master of music in music education. Created for K-12 teachers, this program allows students to combine their passion for music with innovative teaching practices. This 32-credit curriculum requires 12 core credits (including a project, recital, or thesis), 10 music education credits, and 10 elective credits. Students cover topics like music literature, history, theory, and teaching techniques. Upon completion of this program, students must take a written or oral exam.Graduates can pursue careers as public and private K-12 music teachers, arts and humanities teachers, and band directors. All prospective students must take the music theory and music history entrance exams during the application process.

What Else Can I Expect from an Online Master's in Music Program?

Timeline 1 to 2 years
Program Costs $10,000 to $35,000 for annual tuition
Concentrations Music Education, Composition, Music Theory, Music History, Fine Arts, Theatre, Dance
Accreditation National Association of Schools of Music (NASM)

Employment Outlook for Master's in Music Graduates

Job Placement

Performers, songwriters and other music industry professionals face many challenges once they enter the job market. The availability of paying positions is somewhat limited, and competition can be fierce; as a result, many aspiring musicians work in other industries (such as food service or hospitality) to support themselves while building a music career on the side.

Those with a master's in music face lower unemployment rates than their counterparts with a bachelor's degree or less. Using data from a recent report published by Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce, the following table looks at unemployment expectations for music professionals with different education attainment levels.

Degree Attainment/Experience Level Unemployment Rate
Bachelor's degree in music and no professional experience 8.8%
Bachelor's degree in music and some professional experience 4.9%
Graduate degree in music and some professional experience 2.9%

Source: From Hard Times to Better Times

As the table shows, the unemployment rate for experienced master's in music degree-holders is much lower than the rates of experienced and inexperienced bachelor's recipients. Additionally, this figure is almost half the average unemployment rate for all occupations nationwide, which currently sits at 4.7%.

Earning a Living

In addition to more favorable unemployment rates, students who earn a master's in music also enjoy slightly higher earning potential than their bachelor's-holding counterparts. The comparison table below looks at earning estimates for both of these groups at two early career benchmarks.

Degree/Field of Study Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (10+ years)
Bachelor's Degree in Music $38,300 $58,300
Master's Degree in Music $41,200 $64,100

Source: 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report

As the table indicates, those with a bachelor's in criminal justice outearn their associate-holding counterparts by roughly 7.5% at the entry-level mark and 9.9% at the mid-career mark. However, salary potential for employees with a master's degree in music will also vary by specific job title; other key factors include experience level and their city/state of employment. The next table looks at career salary growth rates for five of the most popular career pathways for master's degree-holding music professionals.

Profession Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 Years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 Years) Median Salary for Late Career Employees (20+ years)
Music Director $37,000 $42,000 $41,000 $42,000
Music Teacher $37,672 $43,219 $49,121 $51,336
Music Composer $37,000 $48,000 $62,000 $48,000
Musician or Singer $39,858 $36,718 $39,038 $38,376
Director, Music Ministry $33,000 $35,000 $33,000 $29,000

Source: PayScale

As the table indicates, four of the five careers experience salary decreases at least once between the entry-level and late-career stages. Only music teachers reported steady career salary growth: a 36.3% increase in earnings over the course of 20 years. Music composers placed second in terms of overall growth with a 29.7% salary boost after two decades on the job.

Career and Further Education Opportunities

Students who graduate with a master's degree in music online will be qualified for various positions depending on their specialization. Three common career paths are outlined below.

Music Directors and Composers: Music directors lead orchestras and other musical ensemble groups that perform in front of live audiences. They choose the music to be presented, and then heavily research each piece with singers and instrumentalists in the days and weeks leading up to their scheduled recital. Composers write and arrange music for orchestras, band and soloists to perform. In some cases, they may also compose lyrics or librettos (the text used in long musical performances like operas).

Musicians and Singers: Musicians perform with specific instruments, such as pianos, guitars, woodwinds, brass, stringed instruments and/or percussion. Singers specialize in vocal performance; some common voice types include alto, soprano and contralto for women, and tenor and bass for men. Musicians and singers often work with one another on accompaniment pieces.

Art, Drama and Music Teachers, Postsecondary: At the postsecondary level, most music teachers spend their time instructing in classrooms and working with students who are rehearsing for recitals and other performances. Alternatively, those with a background in music history and/or music theory typically spent their out-of-class time engaged in academic research.

Profession Median Annual Salary Median Hourly Salary
Music Directors and Composers $49,820 $23.95
Musicians and Singers $50,336 $24.20
Art, Drama and Music Teachers, Postsecondary $76,710 $36.88

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Professional Organizations

Making professional connections and learning about different approaches to music is crucial to your success. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below you'll find three of the country's most prominent organizations established for musicians and music professionals. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • American Federation of Musicians: First created in 1896, the AMF has grown to represent more than 80,000 musicians nationwide, including singers and songwriters, orchestra members, back-up performers and commercial composers. The federation is behind the grassroots Fair Trade Music movement, which ensures that self-employed musicians receive fair compensation and equitable contracts. The Tempo program is another initiative aimed at politicians who use original music without compensating the recording artists.
  • Musicians Foundation: Established in 1914 by the world-renowned Bohemians musicians club, the Musicians Foundation addresses the financial insecurity and low unemployment rates that plague many musicians in the early stages of their careers. All donations and proceeds go to training programs and financial aid opportunities reserved for up-and-coming musicians, most of whom receive access to these resources free-of-charge.
  • National Association for Music Education: NAfME was founded in 1907 with the purpose of ensuring that "every student has access to a well-balanced, comprehensive, and high-quality program of music instruction taught by qualified teachers". Membership rates are offered for educators, college students, retired teachers, corporations and middle/high school students with an interest in the music profession.

Financing Your Online Master's in Music

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

An Overview of Financial Aid

Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options savvy students can use to reduce the total costs of their education.

Understanding the FAFSA

Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is the first and most crucial step for any student seeking financial aid. Follow our step-by-step guide for answers to frequently asked questions.

Financial Aid for Online College Students

Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place and funding opportunities for online students.


Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We've curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

Scholarships for Single Parents

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for single parents looking for a more secure financial future for their children. We've compiled a list of scholarships for these hard-working parents.

Financial Aid for Veterans and Active Military

Millions in education benefits are available for veterans and active members of the military. Unfortunately, much of this goes unused. Find out if you're entitled to help with college and start planning for your future.