Earning a master's in music education online can help current classroom teachers move into positions as music teachers, or it can help a music educator earn a higher salary and explore career options. Graduate education in music offers teachers greater career flexibility and networking opportunities than a bachelor's degree can provide. Furthermore, a master's degree can even qualify professionals to teach at the postsecondary level or to serve as music education consultants at museums, libraries, schools, or public arts facilities. A music education degree can also help classroom teachers incorporate the arts into everyday learning strategies.
During a master's in music education program, teachers develop expertise in educational theories and music instruction. The ranking below includes a list of the best online master's programs in music education along with a brief introduction to typical coursework and other degree requirements. Prospective graduate students can also use this page to explore financial aid options, career tracks, and professional organizations in music education.
What to Know About Online Master's in Music Education Coursework
Most music education degrees help students meet state standards to become music teachers in K-12 schools, or they help current music teachers advance their careers. Students planning to pursue doctoral work in music education may also use a master's degree as the first step to their ultimate educational goal. A typical master's in music education takes 33-36 credit hours and 2-3 years to complete from start to finish.
Online degrees can take slightly longer since some programs require students to attend on-campus residencies in the summers. These residencies give students opportunities to perform together, direct one another in ensembles or orchestras, and receive face-to-face training from highly qualified faculty. Students use both residencies and online courses to gain skills in music performance, teaching music at grade level, assessing learners, and developing curricula. Current teachers can immediately apply the latest methods and theories of music education derived from their coursework.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Music Education Program?
A master's in music education online combines courses in music theory and philosophy, instruction design for music, world music, and assessment. Many programs also include a practicum or internships along with a capstone or final project. Courses differ by school, but the courses below serve as a sample from a standard music education graduate program.
Assessing Music Learning
Assessment is a key component of any teacher's occupational life. For music teachers, knowing what to evaluate, the tools to use, and the ways to present evaluations can differ significantly from the usual methods for classroom teachers. In this course, students learn to assess not only their own learners' skill and knowledge levels, but also critical thinking and creativity in context.
Creative Thinking in Music
What is creativity's role in the teaching and learning of music? In turn, how does music affect creativity in other fields? Through hands-on activities, students in this course consider these creative process questions by looking at cognitive science and theories of brain-based learning as they relate to music education.
Technology Assisted Musical Learning
As in other educational settings, the modern music classroom often relies on digital technology as a primary mode of learning. This course teaches students how technology assists in creating, performing, and responding to music. Students consider instructional computer programs, music notation software, internet resources, and digital media.
American Vernacular Music
The word "vernacular" refers to the common language of the people, so "musical vernacular" describes the music that resonates with a particular group of people. In this course, students review popular American music from the 1840s to the present with an emphasis on folk, jazz, country, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, rap, and Latin genres and styles.
Approaches to Theoretical Analysis in Music Education
Students analyze the canon of Western music and consider how it applies to the contemporary music education classroom. In the class, learners select from a repertoire of music to consider how to expand and refine approaches to teaching individual pieces. They may also analyze music using both ear and eye with an emphasis on the music's place in the curriculum.
What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Music Education Program?
Many online music education degrees include specialization options in addition to the core curriculum. Students select a specialization to receive a type of certification, to work with a renowned faculty member, or simply to study a subject in greater depth than the standard curriculum allows. While specializations vary by school, the list below provides a sample of some educational concentrations.
Music teachers who work with students with special needs face distinctive challenges and opportunities in their classrooms as they seek to use music to help students overcome academic and social impediments. Some master's programs offer training specifically for teachers of students with autism or general special education for inclusive or self-contained classrooms. Courses include instrumental music for special learners and behavioral teaching methods.
Early Childhood Music
Early childhood and elementary teachers need a deep understanding of pedagogy, conducting, and musicianship unique to their students' needs and abilities. This concentration offers coursework in folk songs, conducting, choir, and early childhood music teaching techniques. In some schools, students can participate in a summer music camp for children to gain relevant practical experience.
In this hands-on specialization, students learn the art and science of conducting an orchestra, choir, or band. The curriculum focuses on rehearsal strategies, curriculum development, score preparation, and advanced conducting. Classes include choir rehearsal technique, string techniques, rehearsal strategies, and score preparation. The specialization concludes with students conducting a final concert.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
An online master's in music education usually concludes with a professional practice portfolio or a music education research project. This capstone requirement should align with students' individual personal and professional interests while at the same time demonstrating originality of thought. Many students create a new music education resource for teachers that synthesizes what they've learned in the master's program. Others conduct original research into diverse theories of music education to create a more traditional thesis. Typically, the department faculty must approve a student's capstone concept, oversee its direction, and sign off on the completed project before awarding credit.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Music Education Program?
Picking the right online music education master's degree can prove challenging. Students who are pursuing the degree in order to meet state certification requirements for music teachers should make sure that their program choice aligns with their state's standards. Usually, a simple call to the state department of education can answer that concern.
The best online music programs hold accreditation with the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM) along with regional accreditation. NASM's stamp of approval means the university shows a special commitment to its music programs. Other hallmarks of excellence include a high percentage of faculty with doctorates, a low rate of student dropouts, and course content that challenges students to think critically and deeply about both music and music pedagogy. In today's educational environment, students would be wise to seek a program that incorporates cutting-edge technology and diversity studies into music education.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Music Education Degree
Educators teach students at all levels. Public school teachers work with learners in grades K-12 while postsecondary teachers serve students at the college or university levels. Teaching at the K-12 level typically requires state certification while postsecondary teachers need at least a master's degree and sometimes a doctorate to secure their positions. Music teachers must meet their state's criteria to receive the proper level of certification for their work, but an online music education master's degree often meets the educational component of these requirements. Not all music educators work in a traditional classroom, though. Some establish music schools or serve as private teachers, which does not usually require certification.
Elementary school teachers work with students at the K-5 level, focusing on developing the fundamental academic and social skills needed to succeed throughout school and in adult life. Teachers prepare lessons, conduct classes, assess student learning, manage classroom conduct, maintain records, and serve on educational committees. Music teachers may also conduct musical performances or afterschool activities for students, such as a strings ensemble, percussion club, or student choir. These professionals may also lead music camps over the summer.
- Median Salary: $56,900 per year
- Currently Employed: 1,565,300
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +7%
Middle school teachers serve students in grades 6-8 by teaching classes, directing student ensembles, and producing schoolwide musical events. These professionals also serve on educational committees, select curricula, manage classrooms, meet one-on-one with students, maintain extensive academic and behavioral records, and assess learner performance. Classroom teachers focus on academic subjects while arts teachers conduct special courses in their fields. An online master's in music education can open up music education positions for classroom middle school teachers.
- Median Salary: $57,720 per year
- Currently Employed: 630,300
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +8%
Working with students in grades 9-12, high school teachers help learners prepare for college or for entry into adult life through academic and social instruction. These teachers prepare and teach lessons, evaluate student performance, meet one-on-one with students, and often sponsor school clubs. High school music teachers instruct students in vocal performance, conduct musicals, lead marching bands, or take responsibility for a school orchestra. Music teachers also serve on school-wide committees and provide support for broad-based educational programming.
- Median Salary: $59,170 per year
- Currently Employed: 1,018,700
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +8%
Postsecondary teachers serve students in community colleges, liberal arts institutions, and universities. They prepare lessons, teach classes, assess student performance, and direct collegiate choirs, ensembles, and orchestras. College teachers also serve on committees and may publish research relevant to music education. Some of these professionals act as consultants for music education programs at the state or federal level. Postsecondary teaching positions typically require at least a master's degree, and many require a doctorate.
- Median Salary: $76,000 per year
- Currently Employed: 1,314,400
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +15%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,
What's the Expected Job Growth for Music Education Careers?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that education, training, and library occupations will grow by 9% between 2016 and 2026, and postsecondary teachers may experience a higher growth rate, closer to 15%. In public K-12 settings, job openings vary by region with the Northeast representing the highest concentration of students receiving music education, and state budgets affect the pace of hiring and the growth of music educator salaries. Music educators can also establish private programs that rely on entrepreneurial initiative rather than state funding for support.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Music Education
Joining a professional organization can be one of the most effective networking and career development strategies a music teacher undertakes. Current students and recent graduates can meet seasoned educators through conferences and online forums and gain access to focused job boards. Long-term educators can stay updated on the latest research and even publish their own work in an organization's journal.
American String Teachers Association
String teachers can join a chapter of ASTA and receive opportunities to attend the national conference or the national orchestra festival, and receive the organization’s journal. Members can also take advantage of a mentor program and an instrument outreach initiative.
International Society for Music Education
Featuring a truly global membership, ISME offers regional and international conferences along with a journal, teaching resources, and professional development opportunities. Members can communicate with music educators from 90 countries.
Music Teachers National Association
Membership in MTNA gives students enrolled in a master’s in music education online access to webinars, publications, awards, and online forums. MTNA also offers a teaching specialist designation along with career development opportunities for students.
National Association for Music Education
NAfME exclusively addresses the needs and challenges of music education by creating resources, hosting conferences, providing publications for teachers, and hosting an honor society for students. Current music education majors can apply for NAfME scholarships and awards.
International Association for the Study of Popular Music
IASPM provides an international networking option for anyone interesting in studying popular music. The organization publishes newsletters and a journal, and it offers a prize for a book on popular music every two years.
How to Pay for a Master's in Music Education Degree
Students rely on financial aid to bridge the gap between the cost of a program and what students can afford. The federal government is the largest financial aid provider, but private foundations, corporate donors, music societies, state governments, and university music departments also provide financial support. For federal aid, most students must meet need-based eligibility requirements, and most other awards are merit-based, need-based, or both.
Federal Financial Aid
ED awards more than $120 billion a year in support of higher education students. To access federal loans, veterans benefits, military personnel scholarship funds, and even many private scholarships, students must complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which applicants can access on the ED website.
Most individual schools offer opportunities for their students to apply for scholarships offered through their university's music department. As one example, Elon University provides scholarships from $500 to $5,000 for music, music education, and music performance students. Elon students interested in pursuing this funding should contact the school's department of music.
Fellowships operate similarly to scholarships, though they usually provide more funding and require more from the recipient. Applicants for the Camargo Foundation fellowship, for instance, receive $800 per month, but this money specifically supports a music student's study abroad program in France. The American Musicological Society maintains a database of fellowships for music students.
Families, corporations, foundations, and other private donors also offer scholarship funds for students pursuing an online master's of music education. These funds vary in size and scope depending upon the wishes of their founder or the organization's current leadership. NAfME, for example, offers many of these scholarships, and each one maintains distinct application requirements.