By Steve Lipman, former Director of Admissions at Berklee College of Music & Founder of Inside Music Schools
Attaining a music degree starts with knowing what you want to do.
Music is absolutely an art form, but its application in education – and the world – is about as varied as music itself. You may be studying commercial songwriting, which ultimately incorporates more psychology-based training than other music majors. Or, you want to pursue research in musicology, in which case you would most likely need to obtain a bachelor’s degree.
And for students who want to focus their education on playing well and exploring deeply into performance or creation, an arts-oriented degree is what you’re looking for. That said, it should be clear that studying music in college doesn’t just mean getting a Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance.
Colleges, conservatories, and universities are always developing new majors and curriculums for performance and creation, technical skills and engineering, and for the business world. Our evolving educational system has changed the playing field drastically to suit the increasingly diverse needs of music education, especially when technology and science are involved.
All you need to study music in college is a burning passion for it, and a drive to improve constantly. Whether you’re a player or composer, an engineer, or a business-minded individual, there’s a specific music degree for you—you just have to focus your interests, and then choose the right program for you.
First and foremost, we should clarify the difference between a major and a degree.
A degree is a credential you receive after completing a course of study. During your course of study, you are in pursuit of obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree, or a Master of Science.
Majors express the subject you are studying in pursuit of your degree. Whereas a Bachelor of Music is a degree, your major might be in Composition, or Music Performance. The whole degree-major name might be a Bachelor of Music in Composition, for instance.
You may have a music school near your house, or your brother or sister may have gone to one school hundreds of miles away and you feel like your legacy should take you there as well.
Unfortunately it’s not that easy to choose the right music school. As creative people, we are sensitive to our environments. Putting yourself in the right one for you is perhaps the most important part about investing in a music education.
Some programs are more competitive, and others give you a career advantage with top-notch internships. Famous faculty is a huge advantage, as is the case with Wynton Marsalis’s jazz program at the Juilliard School located in the Lincoln Center in New York City. Students of Marsalis receive incredible insights developed by decades of work and phenomenal success. This would be an incredible program for a jazz player’s performance degree, but may not be the best for someone who wants to study classical composition.
With all that said, choosing the right program for you is harder than it looks. There are hundreds if not thousands of options to choose from just in the United States, and your ideal music school is bound to be one of them. Which one depends on several factors:
One thing to find out is which type of degree you think suits your interests best. And there are ten different types of degrees which can have music as its focus.
The Bachelor of Music is the most common type of music degree. It’s these types of degrees that are almost exclusively offered at conservatories and music departments at universities. Students who pursue this degree will expect to concentrate on performance, composition, and theory—yet this type of degree is available in almost any concentration depending on the institution.
Some schools offer a Bachelor of Music in Music Theory, or in Music Production, for instance. Still, the main difference between a Bachelor of Music and any other type of degree is its concentration on music-related material. Students who pursue a Bachelor of Music will take less non-musical courses here than in other degree tracks.
The Bachelor of Arts (BA) is a generalized degree which offers an education that is usually not performance-focused, but there are exceptions to this rule.
Perfect for students who want a well-rounded education, the BA in Arts is great for the following types of concentrations:
Bachelor of Arts In Music – A generalized degree which can encompass performance, but also music history, theory, and composition.
Bachelor of Arts in Music With A Concentration – These degrees offer more classes in a specific focus, often based on the goal of further study, or a career.
Then there’s the Bachelor of Fine Arts. This degree is the realm where performance majors may study, and composition or theory majors can also obtain BFAs in Music for a deeper exploration into their craft, generally deeper than a Bachelor of Arts—but less than a Bachelor of Music.
The most common Bachelor of Fine Arts in Music degrees are:
Students who have a passion for recording, producing, or synthesizers and sound design might get a Bachelor of Science in Music. Science degrees with a musical concentration are often connected to a specific application, such as music production or a technology-based career.
You can also obtain a music business degree with a Bachelor of Science, for students who want to work in music production, artist development, or media distribution.
The most common Bachelor of Science in Music degrees are:
The Master of Arts in Music is a degree that requires obtaining a bachelor’s degree. As an additional educational credential, these programs are for students who want to obtain an advanced degree in any number of musical applications.
Concentrations in the Master of Arts degree are largely the same as the Bachelor’s of Music, but with more intense study. And, with certain degrees you are able to start teaching music in educational settings such as elementary, middle, and high school.
The Master of Science is a secondary degree you receive after your first college degree. Students who want to further their skills in audio engineering, sound recording technology, and several other fields might find this the best option.
The Master of Music degree is a course of study more closely focused with musical pursuits. In some cases these degrees require less courses outside of music, and in some cases—though not all—you receive more musical training than a Master of Arts.
A Doctorate of Music degree, sometimes just called a Doctor of Music, a Doctoral Degree, or PhD (which stands for the Latin term philosophiae doctor or Doctor of Philosophy) is awarded to students who have made a significant contribution to the world of music in terms of composition, recordings, and research.
A focus of all PhD degrees is adding knowledge to the field, furthering a general understanding of music overall. This is done through publishing dissertations or theses which explore at a scientific or philosophical level a subject regarding music.
While a PhD is a more academic degree, the Doctorate of Musical Arts is focused more on performance, composition, or theory than any other degree. Master musicians will embark on these degree tracks to become authorities in their instrument and creative pursuits.
The Artist Degree, also known as the Artist Diploma, is a highly-focused credential which is usually obtained after a Bachelor’s Degree. There are typically no courses outside of music with these degrees. In the majority of cases, professional musicians will take on this degree track to further sharpen their skills. And, the students of these degrees are generally already authorities in their field.
The right music degree for you is whichever helps you achieve your goals. Just like knowing which is the right music school, the perfect degree should help you embrace your particular interests above all else.
That’s because studying music requires passion and guidance, and that’s where I can help.
My name’s Steve Lipman, and I know what it means to get into the “right school.” As a music school admissions consultant with over 40 years in the college admissions industry, I can guide you with portfolio and repertoire development, admissions counseling, and audition preparation to help you to get into not just the best music school, but the right one for you.
Reach out today at your earliest convenience. I get back to all requests promptly – talk soon!