Music Degrees for Less: The Affordable, Educational Music Certificate
Going to college for something related to music is difficult every single step of the way. If you’ve been reading the articles on this website, you likely already know this, and while I hate to repeat this downer of a sentiment, it must be said. Sometimes it’s too expensive, sometimes no school will accept your application, and other times, you’re not even sure what degree to sign up for. There is a lot that can distract and trouble you, all before you’ve even set foot in a classroom. If you’re unsure about your musical education, or perhaps underprepared for a full course of study, why not consider a certificate program? While they vary widely in terms of length (some are a few months, others can take two years), inclusivity (some require auditions and full applications almost like a typical degree while others allow almost anyone to sign up), and even price (some are given for only a few hundred dollars, while the most advanced options can run you over $10,000), they can all teach you a lot, and it never hurts to have an additional certificate stating you have obtained substantial knowledge about something, regardless of what it may be.
Certificates are especially great for students who don’t know exactly where they want to invest their academic interests, who can’t make a full four-year degree happen, or who already have a degree but want to expand their knowledge in one particular area. Certificates are almost on-par with associate’s degrees in some respects, and while a lot of the education will actually be the same, you won’t end up with a degree, per se. This is the major drawback when it comes to going after a music certificate but it is certainly helpful and can build your skills and understanding in your chosen field.
Here are a few examples of the most common areas of study where you can earn a music certificate.
Playing An Instrument
Of all the certificate programs I looked into, the majority of those being offered at well-known institutions are for students wanting to improve as musicians. Learning to play an instrument is something best grasped in person, and while there are absolutely ways to improve skills and become better at almost anything via online methods, the vast majority of certificates in this field required students to actually come to a location to practice and be properly instructed by a trained professional. This is in stark contrast to some of the other items on this list, which can be taught online much more easily.
Many colleges and universities that have built a reputation when it comes to producing some of the best musicians in the world via their bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs also offer at least one certificate because they can be a great way for schools to bring in some much-needed money. If the resources are already on-hand, why shouldn’t they give those looking to play music for a living every possible option when it comes to different types of degrees?
It should come as no surprise Berklee offers the most certificates, as the school is perhaps the best-known name in the music education world. A quick look at Berklee Online’s menu of options shows dozens of different musical programs, many of which focus on one specific instrument. (This school will come up several times in this article, as the list of possibilities is expansive.) A number of instruments are available here when it comes to certificates, although their specialty seems to be guitars, as there are many choices available including general guitar, guitar skills, blues guitar, jazz guitar, and even rock guitar.
Yale offers a much more intensive and much longer Certificate in Performance for almost any instrument a student could wish for, as long as it’s already taught at the school (which is likely). The same can be said for the New England Conservatory of Music, which also asks students to learn about music theory, music history, and “the technological tools necessary for being a musician in the twenty-first century.”
Those are just a few programs that stick to performance, and while not every college is on board with these degrees that often come before a bachelor’s, if an institution teaches students an instrument, chances are there’s a slightly easier certificate that can be earned as well.
Certificates are especially great for students who don’t know exactly where they want to invest their academic interests, who can’t make a full four-year degree happen, or who already have a degree but want to expand their knowledge in one particular area.
While it’s not the same as playing an instrument in the traditional sense, many young people want to produce tunes, either for themselves or others, but not all of them can go through a full four-year degree program for just this one skill. Production certificates aren’t as numerous as those for performance (which I could have written even more about above), but they are popping up here and there, and it’s likely in the coming several years, more schools will find a way to offer various certificates in music production, especially when it comes to the most popular computer programs.
While it may be known as one of the most popular colleges for those looking to jump into the music industry, Full Sail only offers one certificate not connected to a specific degree, and it’s in Audio Production. Thankfully, it’s entirely online and only takes five months to complete, so it’s relatively easy to secure.
Some schools, like Berklee, break things down much further, and prospective students can focus on individual computer programs if they want. It might be difficult to decide where to start, but they can try all of them and eventually become proficient in several different industry favorites. Ableton, Logic, and Pro Tools all have their own dedicated certificates, and the musical college also offers broader options like Music Production and Music Production and Technology (and those are only a handful of the choices).
If you are truly a newbie when it comes to producing music, I suggest you start with something that covers the basics and introduces you not just to what the most-used programs are but the building blocks of what makes for a great song or album. Learn what a Producer actually does (as there are plenty of incoming students who might not actually know). From there, more specialized classes could be a great way to explore if you want to continue down a certain road with more certificates, or perhaps even a full degree.
Those who want to be Singers often find it difficult to justify paying for a full degree and many have done so only to realize either it’s not what they truly wanted or they weren’t prepared for what it takes to be a professional vocalist. If you have even the slightest bit of hesitation, why not work toward a certificate as a way to find out what you’re getting yourself into before you’ve sunk a lot of time and money into the endeavor?
Vocal performance certificates are rarer than music production ones, but they do exist — you just may need to travel for them.
The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, PA offers a professional studies certificate in opera while the New England Conservatory in Boston, MA has a similar option in the simply-titled program “voice,” which sounds like you can customize based on your skill set and what you want to do. Many of these vocal certificates aren’t for those who simply want to be in a band or belt pop music, but rather for those who are focused more on traditional and notoriously difficult forms of singing, which can require years of extensive training (even before attempting a degree).
Anybody who has already been working in the industry for a while shouldn’t bother with classes that serve as a basic overview of how the biz works, but the more specific the classes, the better it probably is for someone looking to learn more about other fields or advance in their careers.
Certificates relating to anything music business are different from those focusing solely on performance of some kind, as they can be a lot more helpful at any stage in someone’s career. Typically, those who go out for certificate programs where they learn an instrument or how to perfect their vocal talents are just getting started, but this is not always the case when it comes to music business offerings.
If the classes and the name of the option seem pretty general, chances are it’s best for young people who haven’t yet decided they want to enter the music industry for good, or who have opted to forgo a full degree for the time being. Anybody who has already been working in the industry for a while shouldn’t bother with classes that serve as a basic overview of how the biz works, but the more specific the classes, the better it probably is for someone looking to learn more about other fields or advance in their careers.
For example, Berklee Online offers two courses which could be a fit for someone just beginning their time in the industry — Music Business and Music Business Fundamentals — as well as some that are more concentrated, which will likely benefit a different type of student — Artist Management and Music Supervision. There are a number of less-than-reputable online sources claiming to teach about the music industry and while you’ll likely learn a lot, it’s probably best to stick with a more familiar name in this field.
Basic Musical Understanding/Other
Some music certificate programs require a course or two that go over the basics of music and the music industry, which can be labeled music theory, history, or possibly fundamentals. If you don’t get those things, how are you going to become better at, say, the trumpet, electronic production, or your vocal performance? Some assume you already understand the base-level items, so they blow right past those things.
Believe it or not, the world-renowned Juilliard offers a certificate like this, as does the New England Conservatory, which it calls a certificate of merit.
If you have almost no understanding of how music is created or how it is pushed to the masses, start at the beginning (duh) and look for a certificate that allows you to prove you have learned the bare minimum. As I stated, these programs will probably use language like “fundamentals,” “basics,” or possibly even “beginners,” and the description of the classes will also likely indicate they are only for those who need to grasp entry-level concepts before they can advance.
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