Best Online Music Programs of 2021

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September 23, 2021

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An online bachelor's in music can help students improve their craft and pursue a career in this competitive industry. Many online programs allow music students to learn from top industry leaders, musicians, and executives. Participants go over theory, composition, recording, production, and mixing.

Many graduates go on to pursue careers as musicians. Others take jobs as music instructors, composers, producers, sound technicians, and promoters. While salaries can vary dramatically, individuals with a BA in music reported earning an average annual wage of about $63,000, according to PayScale (as of September 2021).

Most online bachelor's in music programs take about four years of full-time study to complete. Some accelerated online options can cut that time, helping learners reduce costs. The College Board reported that an in-state student's average annual tuition cost and fees at public colleges or universities was $10,560 in 2020-2021. Students attending private nonprofit universities paid an average $37,650.

What Can I Expect From an Online Bachelor's in Music Program?

A career in the music industry can lead to immense gratification. However, this competitive industry can present challenges. Successful students typically have a passion for their craft, a deep love of music, a persistent nature, and the desire to continually expand their knowledge and skills.

An online music program can teach students both theory and practical application. Most allow students to develop a diverse portfolio of compositions, which is important when entering the job market. These programs require about 120 credits and take four years to complete. Students may have the opportunity to pursue part-time or accelerated online options.

Because of the diverse nature of music, online bachelor's in music programs may offer several concentrations, such as:

Online bachelor's in music programs may require some on-campus participation. For example, some culminate in a musical capstone project, such as a recital where students perform original compositions. Others may require in-person performance lessons. Programs without on-campus elements typically require a final thesis.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Bachelor's in Music Program?

Music Theory

This class focuses on foundational concepts in music. Topics may include chord progressions, scales and tonality, and notational systems. Students also learn to identify melodic cadence and major and minor key harmonic phrases.

Ear Training

Ear training teaches students to hear what's happening around them as they perform. This helps them examine rhythms and harmonies and gain confidence as musicians. Additional topics may include recognizing musical sounds and translating them into notation.

Music Production

This course explores the emerging technologies and tools that allow musicians to design and configure music in a studio and on their computers. Students learn about microphones, audio interfaces, and synthesizers.

Music Recording

In this class, students learn about managing sound systems and navigating recording studios while gaining an understanding of acoustic and electronic applications. Covered topics may include understanding digital and analog sound systems, using audio transducers, optimizing sound, and avoiding distortion.

Music Composition

This course builds on music theory and teaches students to identify and write melodic elements. Learners can expand their understanding of major and minor key harmony, scales, and chords. Covered topics may include secondary dominants, hybrid chords, and approach notes.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Bachelor's in Music Program?

Like their on-campus peers, most applicants to online bachelor's in music programs must submit an audition tape. This may be vocal or instrumental, depending on the program. Most students submit a video recording, although others choose to audition in person. The admissions process also may require an in-person or online college interview.

Read on to learn more about the typical admission requirements for music programs.

Application

Applications for music programs usually ask about a student's musical background. Prospective students may be asked about the primary instruments they play, their years of study, and their performing experience and repertoire. They may submit their application through a school's portal. Many schools also accept the Common App — a single online application form used by hundreds of colleges and universities.

Test Scores

Because some programs require students to demonstrate a certain level of mastery of their chosen instrument, not all online bachelor's in music programs ask for ACT or SAT scores. For programs that adopt a test-optional policy, consider your application's overall strength and the strength of your test scores when deciding whether to include these in your application packet.

Letters of Recommendation

Most bachelor's in music programs require 1-3 letters of recommendation. These references should come from academic teachers and music professionals, such as private instructors or music teachers. Ask for these recommendations early to ensure they are submitted by the deadline.

Essays

An essay or personal statement usually includes a prospective student's academic goals and objectives, as well as their long-term career goals. Some programs ask very specific questions, so make sure you follow instructions closely. Others may accept a resume instead of or in addition to an essay. A resume should include music organizations you've performed with and related experiences.

Official Transcripts

Students must submit official transcripts from high school and colleges they've attended or their GED test scores. Many online music programs require a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 or higher. In addition to accepting AP or IB test scores or transfer credits, some music programs may also use prior-learning assessments to award credit based on a student's considerable life experiences.

What Can I Do With an Online Bachelor's in Music Degree?

Career Outlook

In this competitive industry, a formal degree may not be required. However, an online bachelor's in music program can help musicians get better at their craft. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 11% job growth for musicians and singers between 2020 and 2030. Those with dedication and exceptional talent often find the best opportunities.

A bachelor's in music can lead to several other fulfilling careers. Graduates may go on to pursue roles in numerous industries, including careers in education and sound recording. Many degree-holders work as sound technicians, music teachers, promoters, and directors.

Salaries vary based on a worker's position, employer, experience, and location. For example, the BLS reports that musicians working for performing arts companies earn a mean hourly wage of around $48, as of May 2020. Alternatively, those working as independent artists make around $35 an hour, on average. Musicians in California boast some of the highest earnings, with a mean hourly rate of about $49.

Discover some of the most popular college majors and where a bachelor's in music degree can take you. Learn more about music careers.

Career Paths

Music Composer

Music composers write original music or arrange existing music that other groups and musicians perform. These professionals may specialize in film and TV, composing, sequencing, or recording music for the entertainment or advertising industries. Others may write music for musicals, operas, and orchestras.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $52,250 a year


Music Director

Music directors typically lead orchestras and other musical groups, such as choirs and college bands. In rehearsals, they prepare musicians for performances before conducting them throughout the program. Typical duties include selecting musical arrangements, auditioning performers, and attending fundraisers. Additionally, directors may work in concert halls and thye may travel as part of their occupation.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $52,250 a year


Music Instructor

Music instructors may work independently or pursue careers as teachers at private or public K-12 schools. The latter requires the completion of an approved teacher preparation program and state licensure. A private music teacher can focus on an instrument of choice. A school educator may direct school bands and choirs in addition to teaching.

Average Reported Annual Salary (August 2021): $43,940


Musician

Musicians play musical instruments, performing solo or in a group, such as with a band or orchestra. They may perform live or in studios, recording albums and soundtracks. Some also work as session musicians, backing up recording artists. Musicians who work for professional groups like symphonies typically need a college degree.

Median Hourly Salary (May 2020): $31.40 per hour


Sound Engineering Technician

Sound engineering technicians work with sophisticated sound equipment in recording studios and during live performances. These professionals may perform various tasks, including mixing, synchronizing, and recording sound while reducing background noise to produce the best possible music and vocals.

Median Annual Salary (May 2020): $53,520 a year


Music Not for You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Some students use a bachelor's in music as a stepping stone to a master's in music. In addition to building technical skills, this graduate degree may open up other opportunities and provide a competitive edge in the job market. For example, conductors for symphony orchestras often need a master's degree, and some states require a master's to teach music at the high school level.

Pursuing a master's in music can also help learners further develop their skills and knowledge in an area of interest. Many graduate programs offer select concentrations, such as composition, conducting, opera, education, and music therapy.

How Do I Choose an Online Bachelor's in Music Program?

Cost

The College Board reports that the average annual tuition cost for online and on-campus undergraduate programs at four-year schools ranged from roughly $10,000-$38,000 in 2020-2021, depending on the school type. In-state students at public colleges typically pay the lowest tuition, while those at private nonprofit universities pay the highest. Some of the top music programs may offer reduced tuition rates for their online programs.

Program Format

Some online bachelor's in music programs offer fully online, asynchronous learning. This format provides the greatest flexibility and may appeal to students with additional obligations. These programs also may offer accelerated options. Synchronous learning usually involves scheduled weekly classes that students attend virtually. These classes may be better suited for learners looking for more direct contact with their professors and peers.

Location

Many music programs require some on-campus participation. These requirements may include a culminating live performance or monthly instrumental music lessons. Make sure to consider travel time and costs if you choose a program with these requirements.

Accreditation

The National Association of Schools of Music is the premier accrediting body for music programs. Accreditation ensures that a program meets high academic standards and financial aid requirements and that credits will transfer to other institutions. Students also should make sure their college or university is regionally accredited.

Student Support

Connections in the music industry can play a big role in career opportunities. Online students can develop these relationships through networking assistance, mentorships, and alumni connections. Music internships also provide valuable experience and introductions. Look into student services for online music programs to ensure they offer these resources.

2021 Best Accredited Online Bachelor's in Music Programs

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Valley City State University true View School Profile Valley City, ND

At North Dakota's VCSU, students can earn a BA or BS in music with a general studies concentration. This online bachelor's program gives students the flexibility to choose electives that align with their individual learning objectives. Students must take 39 credits of general education courses, 40 credits of major requirements (like courses in music convocation and basic conducting), and 12 credits of classes specific to the general studies concentration.

All prospective VCSU students must submit an official application, including academic transcripts and standardized test scores. Ideally, applicants should have a GPA over 2.0 and an ACT scoreover 18 or an SAT scoreover 970. Candidates for the BA/BS in music program must also submit an audition.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost per credit: $424 per credit (in state); $530 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 4 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 120 credits
  • Degree Completion Program: Yes
  • Instruction style: Synchronous and asynchronous
  • Format: Online or hybrid
  • School Status: Public
  • Program Accreditation: National Association of Schools of Music
  • School Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
University of Maine at Augusta true View School Profile Augusta, ME

UMA offers a bachelor of music in contemporary and popular music. In this bachelor's degree program, students have the opportunity to focus on a specific area of study, like composition, audio, or performance. Learners can also specialize in specific genres of music, including electronic dance music and works for symphony orchestras. In addition to these highly customizable pathways, all students receive instruction in core courses focussed on theory, music history, and instruments or voice.

Applicants to UMA's bachelor's program in music must audition in person or by video. Although there is no minimum required GPA, applicants in the lowest 25% of their graduating class or with low standardized test scores must demonstrate their capabilities by taking a pre-admission test.


Program Snapshot

  • Program URL: Visit Program
  • Cost-per-year: $245 per credit (in state); $314 per credit (out of state)
  • Program Length: 4 years
  • Total Credits Required to Graduate: 121 credits
  • Degree Completion Program: Yes
  • Format: Online or hybrid
  • School Status: Public
  • School Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education

Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Music Programs

Is a bachelor's in music worth it? true

For students passionate about music and driven to a career in the music industry, a bachelor's in music can teach the skills required to excel in this competitive field. Staying current on the latest technology advancements in recording and sound and working hard to perfect their craft can provide learners with an edge in the job market.

An online bachelor's degree in music often allows students to work with top industry leaders. Learning from experts in the field and building connections can provide valuable experience and networking opportunities, serving students both academically and professionally.

What can I do with a bachelor's in music? true

A bachelor's in music can help graduates pursue careers as musicians, composers, directors, and sound technicians. Most programs offer concentrations that allow students to steer their education toward their career goals. A bachelor's also can prepare students for a master's degree — a common requirement for advanced positions like symphony orchestra conductor.

Some bachelor's in music degree-holders also pursue careers as music instructors. These professionals may start a private practice, instructing individuals or groups in a particular instrument or voice. Others may work for private schools or music stores. K-12 music teachers in public schools must also complete an approved teacher preparation program and gain state licensure.

Are music majors in high demand? true

The music industry is a competitive field. While some positions do not require a degree, a bachelor's may increase a professional's credibility, helping them get more auditions. The BLS projects 11% job growth for musicians between 2020 and 2030, which is faster than the average projected growth rate for all occupations (8%)

Session musicians may experience greater demand, as may musicians with exceptional talent and dedication. Graduates can also find increased demand in adjacent positions. For instance, the BLS projects 17% job growth for sound engineering technicians from 2020-2030.

How much money can I make with a bachelor's in music?

Salaries vary for graduates with a bachelor's in music based on their position, employer, location, and experience level. For example, while musicians earn a mean wage of around $42 per hour, those working in Illinois make a mean hourly wage of around $49, according to the BLS.

Performing arts companies tend to pay relatively high salaries, with musicians earning a mean hourly wage of around $48. On the other hand, religious organizations offer significantly less, with a mean hourly pay of about $38. Those with a BA in music reported earning an average annual salary of $63,000 as of September 2021, according to PayScale.

What are the highest-paying jobs I can get with a bachelor's in music?

Pursuing a career in the music industry requires passion and perseverance. Top musicians may spend hours each day perfecting their craft. Of course, those who make it to the top of the profession can make large sums of money, but only a select few can compare to Taylor Swift — a musician with a net worth of $550 million in 2021.

Some of the highest-paying positions in the industry involve directing other musicians. The BLS reports that music directors and composers earn a median annual wage of $52,250, with the top 10% of earners making more than $124,390 annually.

Feature Image: Agustin Orduna / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

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BestColleges.com 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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