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Singer

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Music Director

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Orchestrator

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Drummer

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Audio Engineer

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Pianist

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Music Producer

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Mastering Engineer

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Guitarist

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Songwriter

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Lyricist

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Opera Singer

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Personal Manager

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Bassist

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Music Teacher

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Concertmaster

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Composer

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Director of A&R

Should you major in music? What is a music major, and what can you do with it?

Students choosing to study music at a college or university program have many choices of degrees and programs. Most 4-year music programs lead to a bachelor’s degree, whether a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.), a Bachelor of Science (B.S. or B.Sc.), or most commonly, a Bachelor of Music (B.M. or B.Mus.). A few might lead to a Bachelor of Fine Arts (B.F.A.).

A few schools offer music diplomas and certificates, but the most popular programs by far lead to a bachelor’s degree. There are also master’s degrees and even doctorates available. Which degree and program you choose will depend on your own academic and career goals and personal circumstances.

Music Major FAQ

Is music a good major?

Tom Stein

If you are a musician at heart and cannot imagine doing anything with your life besides music, then studying music in college could be an excellent choice. School is first and foremost a place to learn.

Choosing to study music because you want to be famous, or for any other reason besides wanting to learn, might not be the best idea. After all, the time, energy, and expense of studying music in school might be more readily applied to becoming famous, if that’s what you really want.

Whatever your reasons, studying at a well-regarded music college can provide the skills, knowledge, and contacts you’ll need to pursue your career and life goals. If you are truly committed to doing music as a career, majoring in music could be an important positive step forward.


What can you do with a degree in music?


What should I major in to enter the music industry?

Tom Stein

The term “music industry” is all-encompassing and includes all areas of music, from writing and performing to teaching. Training to enter the music industry includes studying anything that could conceivably lead to employment as the result of gaining professional skills and knowledge. (Note: “Professional” just means you get paid to do it.)

The music industry includes the music business but is much broader. For example, a Music Teacher, a Music Therapist, and a Composer are all engaged in industry, as are performers and Songwriters. There’s a business basis to everything so studying the business of music or business in general is recommended. Most majors will offer some coursework designed to prepare graduates for the business aspects of their future career.

There’s also a big difference between earning a music degree, such as a Bachelor of Music, and a Bachelor of Liberal Arts while majoring in music. The latter is likely to be more general while the former allows for more in-depth study in a specific area of music.

It’s smart to absorb all you can, if you are privileged to attend a good music school or program. If you want to compose music for film and visual media, you should take classes or major in that, while also studying other aspects of music that interest you.

Since playing an instrument well is a requirement for many music jobs, students often choose to study performance on their instrument (voice is also considered an instrument).

College is a great place to explore areas of interest you didn’t know about previously or didn’t realize you had an aptitude for.

The Application Process

Applying to college involves filling out a lot of forms, writing essays explaining your academic and career goals, filing financial disclosures, and an audition and interview. You will be expected to write and speak about the reasons you want to study music, why you think each school will be a good fit for you, and what you can contribute. The audition may require you to learn certain musical examples, improvise over a chord progression, read on your instrument, and perform a prepared piece of your choosing.

The admissions team wants to see that you are committed to pursuing music as a career and are prepared musically and academically for the rigors of a highly competitive college music program. It’s your job to show them that you are ready, through your application, audition, and interview. Obviously, your high school grades are important, and not only in music but in all subjects. The admissions team isn’t trying to keep you out; they just want to see that you are prepared to be a good student and have what it takes to succeed in college and beyond.

Coursework Involved

Should you be accepted and enroll, your first-year courses would include a variety of subjects such as harmony (music theory), ear training (solfege), arranging, music notation, music technology, private lessons on your instrument, ensembles, and labs for reading, to learn music styles, or anything else related to your instrument.

Students are required to pass a jury, or proficiency exam, on their instrument at the end of each semester or year. (This is true for all music majors). The idea is that to graduate with a degree in music, one should be musically literate, play at least one instrument well, and be broadly educated in music and the arts.

Additionally, students earning a degree will study liberal arts subjects, such as English literature, world history, hard and soft sciences (e.g., physics and psychology, respectively), a foreign language, math, and history of music, to be more well-rounded. Later in the course sequence, students study more subjects relevant to their major, whether that is performance, writing, music production, film scoring, or music business (more on major choices below). Students also take traditional studies courses such as conducting, counterpoint, and traditional harmony.

Choosing Your Field of Study

The goal of earning a college degree is to become a broadly educated and well-rounded musician. Besides the learning you will accomplish, and the chance to build a solid professional network, you should also be prepared to enter the music industry in a role related to your major course of study. You will also have learned how to learn and be capable of critical thinking (not believing everything you hear or read).

Most of the majors, such as performance, composition, music production, songwriting, film scoring, and music therapy, will be instantly recognized and understood by employers, while others may require a bit of explanation. For some examples, you might be able to design your own major in professional or integrated studies, complete a dual major, or study Foley Art in a Liberal Arts or Bachelor of Science program. Not everyone will understand the significance, but you will always have the chance to explain it.

Choosing a major will always require some give and take, forcing you to weigh the plusses and minuses as it can be hard to make direct comparisons. There’s a lot of choice, and it comes down to what you want to study and where you see yourself fitting in with the future music industry. Fortunately, there’s also advising available for college-bound students; it’s a good idea to seek out and consult with qualified Counselors when considering your school, career, and life choices.

Top Choices for Music Majors

Here are a few of the more popular music majors:

Performance

Most musicians get their start in music by playing an instrument or singing, so it’s predictable that performance is one of the most popular choices of major. Students choose a principal instrument to study on throughout their college career. Besides lessons, ensembles, and labs, performance majors organize and perform in recitals to hone their “chops.” It’s a popular choice of major since so many musicians aspire to careers as performers, recording artists, or as orchestra or band members.

Music Business

More and more students have been choosing to major in music business, as they want to learn all the ins and outs of how the music industry works. Whether they want to manage their own careers or the careers of others, studying business includes learning about finance, copyrights, publishing, licensing, and marketing, plus management and entrepreneurship (starting businesses). Majoring in music business remains popular since students know that there are many jobs available in music that do not require performing, and see working in the music business as a pathway to a viable and financially rewarding career.

Music Production

The music industry still depends on the recorded output of music and learning all about how to produce music includes taking courses in audio engineering, production techniques, mixing, MIDI sequencing, and mastering the various software and digital workstations. There’s an emphasis on technology and the creative side of producing, and students might also take courses in the business of music production as well as gaining access to top-notch recording studios.

Students seeking to major in music production and audio engineering should develop a solid understanding of how to use various DAWs, music synthesis, MIDI, and other aspects of music technology involving computer science, electrical engineering, and math. At some schools, studying music production leads to a Bachelor of Science degree.

Songwriting

Top Songwriters are among the highest-paid people in the music industry, and songwriting majors can hone their skill at writing lyrics, melodies, chord progressions, and hooks while experimenting with the many possible forms that songs can take. They study performing and the business of songwriting to enhance their future chances of outsize success, while studying with professional Songwriters on faculty.

Music Education

There’s always a need for good Music Teachers, and music education majors prepare for the state certification exam while completing a required internship or practicum. They learn about pedagogy (teaching methods), study the most common band instruments, and learn to create lesson plans while preparing to enter the field. Music education majors also study conducting and other areas of musicianship that support effective classroom and private teaching. Not all Music Teachers studied music education, but many choose this major as a pathway to a secure job teaching music.

Composition

Students learn to compose music in traditional forms including classical and jazz. They study orchestration, arranging, rehearsal techniques, conducting, and might focus on cross-media collaborations while building a portfolio to seek commissions for orchestras, chamber groups, ballets, and operas. Composition majors can especially benefit from studying at a school with great teaching faculty, current music technology laboratory facilities, and with a strong orchestra and ensemble program in house to play their compositions.

Film Scoring

Composing and producing music for movies, video games, and other visual media requires learning not only compositional techniques but also demands fluency with the technology used in synching music to images on the screen. Students study conducting for film, sound design, Foley Art, audio engineering, music supervision, film orchestra conducting, and business topics such as how music is published and licensed for use in films and TV.

What Music Majors Do After Graduation

While there are certainly some music industry jobs available for graduates of top programs, most music grads start out by freelancing, or might work in an internship to learn the ropes and break into what is undoubtedly a highly competitive field. One job usually leads to others, so landing that first gig early on is important.

Moving to a music city like Los Angeles, New York, or Nashville puts recent grads in proximity to the music industry and increases the likelihood of landing the best opportunities available. Building a portfolio of quality work while expanding your network of professional contacts are recommended steps. This can start while still in school, but after graduation will require perhaps the most effort and time.

Those who have prepared themselves well and have the good luck to be in the right place at the right time are likely to succeed more quickly, but it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Being persistent and persevering will eventually win the day.

How to Know if You Should Major in Music

Most college music students can’t imagine doing anything besides music for their career choice. If that sounds like you, then you will feel happy and excited to be surrounded by so many other bright, young student musicians with similar goals. Being enrolled in a quality college music program is rigorous and invigorating at the same time. That’s because the subject of all your studies is ultimately music, which you love more than anything else.

If you can be like a sponge, and soak up everything you can from your classes, Teachers, and classmates, you will be inspired to see yourself grow and mature as a musician. You can also take inspiration from all the talented and accomplished people around you. One of the “secrets” of success is to surround yourself with the right people. Majoring in music is one way to do this.

You should be open to learning new things, and eager to discover sides of yourself that you might not have known existed. You should seek knowledge and learning from those around you, but at the same time be able to direct yourself on a disciplined path of self-study. The nature of music study is that it requires sustained dedication, daily practice, focus, and time to excel. These are the things only you can bring to studying as a music major. I would also recommend that you pursue some interests outside of music, so you’ll have the most opportunities available to you.

Not all music majors end up with a career in music, but most do. College music study is a great way to prepare for anything life throws at you, whether you spend most of your time performing on stages or not. There are many other roles available to trained musicians and majoring in music at college is a terrific way to prepare yourself for a career and life in music.

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