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Want to go to college and study music? This is what you need to know.

Last month we took a look at the different types of music-related degree programs you’ll find at colleges, universities, or media-centered trade schools. We broke down the course requirements and outside work or extracurricular opportunities you’d generally encounter as part of these programs. We also touched on the careers for which these courses of study could provide the academic and hands-on training.

If you’re a high school junior or senior planning ahead for the next application cycle, or if you’re simply looking for a career change and scoping out schools where you can pursue what truly interests you, you’ve probably already come across a plethora of music-related degree programs outside of the general Music degree.

Some of these programs are probably obvious—no one will be surprised a Music Education BA prepares one to teach music within the K-12 school system—but where can a degree in Arts Administration (see Part 1 of this series) or Music Theory take you? In this blog post we’ll be completing our survey of undergraduate and graduate music-related majors, starting with Music Business programs and culminating in the Worship Arts.

Music Business

Music Business programs aim to educate future entrepreneurs and recording industry execs who aspire to work as record label employees, Booking Agents, Concert Promoters, Music Publishers, and so on. They do this through a blend of relevant coursework and internships that can position students for networking and career building opportunities.

Unsurprisingly, most Music Business students take a mix of music and business courses, including music theory, music history and private instrument lessons combined with marketing, advertising and business management courses. You’ll also find classes specific to the music industry, such as entertainment law, concert management, music publishing, recording technology, and so on.

It’s important to keep in mind not all Music Business programs have the same required courses, and while you might be able to take courses in, say, concert management at one school, another may offer coursework in publishing or law instead. No matter where you attend school, you’ll likely be required to intern at a relevant music industry organization and/or volunteer for the school’s record label or radio station.

Some schools outside of the major music industry hubs will offer “exchange” style semesters or internship opportunities in New York, Los Angeles or Nashville. Since there are more jobs to be found in these cities after graduation than in smaller markets, these work/learn opportunities are invaluable for building a resume and making connections.

Music Composition

Composition degree programs teach students the skills required for careers as Orchestrators, Arrangers, Composers, and Video Game Composers. In addition to composition, topics of study include music theory, music history, piano/keyboard skills, ear training, orchestration and conducting.

Many programs will also feature courses in recording technology and production: skills which will enable the aspiring Composer to bring their ideas from conception to finished product.

If you’re interested in becoming a Composer for film or television, please see Part 1 of this two-part blog post.

“Music is about communication, creativity, and cooperation, and by studying music in schools, students have the opportunity to build on these skills, enrich their lives, and experience the world from a new perspective.” – Bill Clinton, Former President of the United States

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Music Education

If you want to major in music and finding stable employment after graduation is important to you, Music Education is a practical choice. If you’re interested in a career as a Private Instrument Teacher or a K-12 Music Teacher, most schools will require a bachelor’s degree, whereas College, University, and Conservatory Music Teachers will need a master’s or doctoral degree.

Be aware your Music Education degree program will prepare you for certification within the state in which the college/university is located, so if you graduate from a Music Education BA program in Kentucky it won’t necessarily qualify you to teach in Illinois. Requirements vary from state to state, and you might find yourself having to make up certain requirements you didn’t already tackle when initially receiving your certification in another state.

Music Education majors study many of the same subjects as their musician counterparts in the department, including music theory, music history, liberal arts, ear training, conducting, and private instrument lessons. They also take courses specific to music education and are required to complete a student teaching assignment prior to graduation.

Make sure you attend a program with solid ties to local K-12 school districts in your area, as these connections (and your student teaching experience) will make it easier for you to find a job on graduation.

Music History/Musicology

Many college music departments use the terms Musicology and Music History interchangeably, so it’s a good idea to carefully research a school’s required curriculum prior to committing. (Musicology simply refers to the scholarly study of music within a humanities context. Often this means historical musicology, although other disciplines do exist.)

Bachelor’s programs in the field of Music History/Musicology are not as prevalent as other music degrees; in fact, since this field of study is so dependent on research, most aspiring Music Historians continue further Musicology studies at the master’s or doctoral level.

Within a Music History/Musicology degree program, students will take courses in music history, music theory, research methods, foreign languages and private instrument lessons.

Music Performance

Available at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, Music Performance programs give students the time and resources to focus on playing music and honing their skills on one principal instrument. These programs require an audition prior to admission and train students for careers (or further study) as Performers, Music Therapists, Private Instrument Teachers, Opera Singers, Section Members, Section Leaders, Conductors, Church Organists, and Session Musicians.

Coursework will include participation in ensembles, private instrument lessons, ear training, music theory, and the liberal arts.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” – John Dewey, American Philosopher and Educational Reformer

Music Technology/Recording Arts/ Audio & Sound Design

If you’re an aspiring Music Producer, Sound Technician, Recording Engineer or Record Producer, a degree in Music Technology will give you hands-on experience and internship opportunities.

Degree programs can range from one to four years, depending on whether you attend a music industry trade school or a traditional college/university. These programs go by a variety of names, so if you’re interested in attending a production school, search for degrees with names similar to Music Technology, Recording Arts, Audio & Sound Design, and so forth.

In addition to studying recording and producing technology and practices, students in these programs will take private instrument lessons, and study music theory and music history. Students at traditional colleges and universities will also likely study math, science, electrical engineering and computer science.

Depending on the extracurricular opportunities available at your chosen school, Music Technology students will be able to work on campus as Recording Engineers at the campus radio station or as Live Sound Techs at campus concerts and events.

Music Theory

Music Theory studies are often combined with Music Composition, especially at the undergraduate level. Although undergraduate Theory programs are somewhat rare, graduate programs in Music Theory are more common.

In addition to theory and composition, students take courses in ear training, private instrument lessons, music history, and sometimes in musicology or ethnomusicology. Students in Music Theory programs are usually aspiring College, Conservatory or University Music Teachers, but future Composers, Orchestrators, and Arrangers often also choose to go this route.

Music Therapy

Whereas many music degree programs vary substantially from school-to-school, aspiring Music Therapists can expect to encounter relatively similar coursework and requirements no matter where they attend school, thanks to the American Music Therapy Association’s guidelines for certification.

Students will participate in ensembles and attend private instrument lessons while studying music theory, composition, music history and conducting. Their coursework will also include the study of human development, psychology, and therapeutic practices, culminating in 1,200 hours’ worth of clinical training, which includes fieldwork and an internship.

This is yet another case where it’s more difficult to find an undergraduate level program than it is to find a program at the master’s level or above.

Musical Theatre

Housed within most college’s Theatre Departments, Musical Theatre degree students study a combination of music, theatre, and dance for an education that’s well-rounded in all aspects of working as an Actor in the theatre world. Coursework for these aspiring Broadway stars includes acting, stage design, stage management, theatre history, private instrument or vocal lessons, music theory, ear training and sometimes opera.


A somewhat rare degree program, Songwriting coursework helps future Lyricists and Songwriters hone their skills through the production of a portfolio prior to graduation. Students take courses in music theory, ear training, composition, lyric and/or song writing and recording technology.

They also participate in ensembles and private instrument lessons. Since entrepreneurship is an integral part of building a successful career in this extremely competitive field, students will also take music industry courses in topic such as publishing, copyright law and music business, depending on the school and its offerings.

Worship Arts

Worship Arts programs are usually found at Christian colleges, although some secular colleges and universities do offer these degrees as well. Coursework includes theology, music theory, private instrument lessons, music technology, and worship literature and leadership.

Students in these programs often make up the praise band, gospel choir or other similarly-focused ensembles at their school. Graduates will leave a Worship Arts program with the ability to plan and lead worship services, equipping them for careers as Choir Directors, Worship Leaders, and Performers.

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