Students who earn a degree in music can use their studies in a number of fields, with teaching and performing being the most popular. Musicians can specialize in a certain genre, instrument, or type of vocalization; they can work in recording or marketing; or use their knowledge to compose new pieces. Musical scholars, on the other hand, can study music’s history or its intersection with any number of other fields such as anthropology, technology, or healthcare. The possibilities for personalizing this field of study are endless.
Given how broad the field is, students majoring in music will want to specialize early in their careers. This may entail choosing an instrument or instruments, focusing on vocal music, or specializing in a field like history, composition, recording, or theory. The majority of students will need introductory courses in those areas, regardless of their focus. A degree in music is also likely to involve dedicated practice time and individual lessons with music professors. Upper level courses will be specific to the instrument or musical area chosen by the student.
Students may choose to focus on any number of instruments, with piano and string performance being two of the most popular. Composition is another common specialization; often, students can elect to study ensemble composition or composition for a particular instrument. Outside of performance music, a popular specialization is music therapy, which involves the study of how sounds and musical composition can address people’s cognitive, behavioral, social and physical needs. Music education is also popular, with many students combining music study with a school’s teacher-education program.
In addition to choosing a focus, students need to choose an appropriate degree program. While musical performers aren’t required to have any degree, post-secondary education can be a significant boon to employment.
An associate’s degree allows music students to go into performance, business, production, or education, though students will not necessarily be able to find high-level jobs in the latter. Students interested in the technical aspects of music production and artist management may only need an associate’s degree to continue in the field. Others can use an associate’s degree en route to a four-year school.
The majority of music students hoping to go into recording, performance, or academia earn a bachelor’s degree. Music educators will qualify for teaching positions with this type of degree, while performers and composers may be able to find employment in a broad range of music-related fields. Those wishing to truly specialize in an instrument or vocals should continue on to a graduate degree.
To specialize in a particular instrument, qualify for high-level musical groups, or pursue musical theory or history at the scholarly level, students should get a master’s in the field. This will also be an important step for students going into musical therapy, since further study in healthcare fields may be required.
For students who wish to conduct music or go into scholarly fields like musical pedagogy, a doctorate will be needed. Those who hope to be professional performers in orchestras or symphonies should also pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts degree, since this is often required. Students will also need a doctorate in order to teach music at an institution of higher education.
Ideal Candidates for Music
Music students come from all different backgrounds, but many share similar traits. Chief among those are creativity, an analytical mind, and patience. Often, music majors will be somewhat skilled in mathematics. Much of the pattern recognition in learning and practicing music is easier with an understanding of sequencing and mathematical relations. It’s also helpful to have a deep appreciation for different types of music and an appreciation for the effect the discipline has on culture. Finally, students should be self-motivated, since a degree in music – and composition or performance, in particular – requires a good deal of independent practice.
The employment outlook for students of music varies significantly depending on the student’s specialization and desired position. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the musical performance field will grow by 5% in the next decade, with a median hourly wage of $23.50. Musical composers and directors will see the same job growth rate but earn a median salary of $47,350, while music teachers earn a median salary of $73,340 but won’t see much more than a percentage point or two of job growth in the next ten years.
On the other hand, recreational therapy, which includes those in musical therapy, can expect jobs to keep pace with the national average of approximately 13% growth in the next decade. Therapists earn a median salary of $42,280 annually.
A music students’ ability to find employment will vary widely depending on ability, location, desired field, and, to a certain extent, luck. For performers, it can be a very difficult field to break into. However, it’s also one of the most rewarding fields for those who love music and want to share their compositions and abilities with the rest of the world.
If you want to learn more about what it means to study music, there are numerous resources to help you. Reach out to professional music organizations in your community, find students enrolled in degree programs, talk to local musicians, and explore colleges and universities offering musical study programs.