masters music

Five of the Best Schools for Getting a Master’s in Music

Most of the people who read this website are only just beginning the search for a college education in music but let me assure you — it is absolutely never too early to start thinking about what happens after your four years are up and I mean that in a number of ways.

When you get to college (and hopefully before then) much of what you do at school isn’t just about tests, homework, and making it to the classroom on time (though this can be difficult). Internships, jobs, networking, studying abroad…it all connects to what you’ll be doing after your time on campus is up and every little bit of effort will help you secure a job one day.

Very early on you may find Counselors and Professors who will talk to you about the future, whether in a profession or in graduate school, and while your mind may be on your assignment due tomorrow, you really should take some time and consider what you want out of life and your career and what you might be interested in learning.

I personally signed up to do a master’s degree at my school in my first year since the college I attended had a great deal and they allowed me to do things very quickly. It felt odd at the time committing to something so far down the road and while it was tough to continue attending courses after all my friends had left, I’m extremely glad I stuck with my decision and walked away with two degrees when all was said and done.

Whether you’re looking at undergrad programs for the first time or already seriously considering graduate schools that cater to musicians, please think in advance. The schools below would all be wonderful options (depending on what you want to study), but it could take years to get into them so the earlier you start the search, the better! Getting a master’s in music isn’t easy but it’s incredibly rewarding, and you’ll be glad you did.

1. Berklee College of Music

Location: Boston, MA

Is it really any surprise Berklee has ended up atop this list? Anytime there is a ranking of the best schools for those looking to pursue almost any career in the music industry — be it in business or on the creative side of things — there’s a strong chance that not only does Berklee have a great program but that it deserves to be at the top. Postgrad education is no different when it comes to this Beantown favorite, as it offers an incredibly diverse array of options.

Unsurprisingly, Berklee’s Boston, MA campus, which is widely considered to be the brand’s main campus and the one most people associate with the name, is the one offering the most master’s degrees in music. At the moment, only two are listed as available at the actual “college”: Contemporary Performance (Global Jazz Concentration) and Music Therapy.

Those are good choices but it’s the Conservatory at Berklee that really features the bulk of the courses and if you’re interested in becoming the best musician you can and committing to a few years of a master’s, this location has just shy of twenty degrees offered, from Musical Theatre to Choral Conducting to Woodwind Performance specializing in Bassoon, Clarinet, Flute, Oboe or Saxophone. Sure, it gets pretty specific, but you don’t become the best in the world without focusing on one thing for years at a time.

Berklee also has a campus in Valencia, Spain, which the school has worked very hard at building up in the past few years. In an effort to convince more people to head to Spain to learn about music, the school has established twice as many master’s degrees as the location in Boston. The Valencia locale offers the following four master’s degrees: Contemporary Performance (Production Concentration), Global Entertainment and Music Business, Music Production, Technology, and Innovation, and Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games.

If you don’t want to move to either Boston or Valencia, Berklee has taken things one step even further and established an online master’s degree program, which is available to students anywhere in the world. At the moment, just two courses of study are offered — Music Business and Music Production — but if things go well it’s not difficult to imagine Berklee coming up with more to post online.

While Berklee was probably always going to be No. 1 on any list concerning great musical colleges in the US, their amazing offerings prove the school didn’t get there on name alone.

The Curtis Institute of Music offers a master’s degree in opera, and while it certainly isn’t for everyone, those who want to become the best Opera Singers in the world should move this to the top of the list of institutions to check out, as it’s one of the few that unabashedly offers such a rigorous and focused degree.

2. Juilliard

Location: New York City, NY

Berklee might be popular across the industry and it is perhaps the coolest choice for musicians and those who want to become professionals in this business, but Juilliard is unbeatable when it comes to prestige.

A quick browse through Juilliard’s own description of what is required to be accepted and succeed in the several-year program makes it come off as rather intimidating. (This is good because it is.) The school highly advises against double majors in its own postgraduate universe and some verticals forbid it, as the courses required are simply too rigorous to allow for studying anything else at the same time.

The school doesn’t accept anybody who has a master’s from any other institution (some musicians want more than one, after all), and they only allow every individual to apply twice. It’s not surprising to be turned down by a master’s program but if it happens twice with those in charge at Juilliard, you will not be considered again.

According to the school, only 150 musicians and vocalists are accepted into the master’s program every year, which makes it incredibly selective. Undergraduate Juilliard is also known to be one of the most difficult schools to get into but it becomes somehow even harder when advancing to the master’s level.

3. San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Location: San Francisco, CA

Most schools with the word “conservatory” in the title are likely worth investigating if you want to be a professional musician and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is one of the best in the U.S. The institution only offers one master’s degree, the simply-titled Master’s of Music, but it’s available in a number of different categories.

Those looking for a graduate degree in percussion, guitar, brass, woodwinds, keyboard, conducting, voice, strings, collaborative piano (which sounds particularly interesting to me), or composition can head to San Francisco to learn more. There are plenty of options, which is great, but each one will require at least two years of your time, and living in San Francisco is known to be very expensive (even for those not racking up additional school loans), so keep this in mind before signing on to move to the West Coast.

No matter what you’re studying, Oberlin is a good school and the fact it has a conservatory of music is great news to those who don’t feel a bachelor’s degree is enough.

4. Curtis Institute of Music

Location: Philadelphia, PA

For all of the amazingly talented musicians and artists who have come out of the Curtis Institute of Music, the school doesn’t get brought up enough on lists like this. Perhaps because it is overshadowed by flashier, better-known names like Berklee and Juilliard or maybe because it isn’t in a major city. (Philadelphia is a great town but it doesn’t compare to New York City or San Francisco.) However, it deserves recognition.

The school accepts many different kinds of students who all want to excel in playing their instruments but when it comes to the master’s program only one field is offered and it’s a pretty specific one. The Curtis Institute of Music offers a master’s degree in opera, and while it certainly isn’t for everyone, those who want to become the best Opera Singers in the world should move this to the top of the list of institutions to check out, as it’s one of the few that unabashedly offers such a rigorous and focused degree.

If the master’s degree seems too difficult to handle there are less intense offerings and various certificates are also available…and while those will certainly be great to put on a resume, they don’t carry the same weight when looking for a job or applying to even further degrees.

5. Oberlin Conservatory of Music

Location: Oberlin, OH

No matter what you’re studying, Oberlin is a good school and the fact it has a conservatory of music is great news to those who don’t feel a bachelor’s degree is enough.

Oberlin offers graduate degrees in the following very specific programs of study, all of which are in performance for one instrument or group of instruments (it is a conservatory, after all): baroque cello, conducting, contemporary chamber music, early oboes, fortepiano, harpsichord, historical instruments, and historical keyboard instruments. (I might be the only one here but I didn’t know there was such a thing as a historical keyboard instrument.)

Oberlin also offers something unique that should be of interest to anyone wanting to make a living in music in any way: a double degree. If students sign up to go to the Ohio college for five years instead of the typical four, they can walk away with not one but two bachelor’s degrees. Add another two years at the end and when you’re done with school you could have two undergraduate and one graduate degree, which would be an incredible way to start a career!

One thing that does hurt Oberlin, especially when compared to the other names on this list, is the location. Colleges like Berklee and Juilliard are located in cities where students can get industry-specific jobs, start real careers, find internships, or volunteer positions, but there aren’t as many high caliber opportunities in less-populated areas like this area of Ohio. This does not necessarily make this university impossible to attend or not worth considering, but it’s worth considering.

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