The music industry offers creatively fulfilling yet often uncertain futures for job seekers. With an online master's degree in music, graduates are more likely to find well-paying, full-time jobs as music directors or composers, both of which carry a median annual salary of $50,590, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If you want to increase your salary potential and find security in the music industry, consider an online master's in music degree. Read on to explore what to expect from an online master's in music and to learn about employment opportunities for graduates.
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What to Know About Online Master's in Music Coursework
On average, an online master's in music takes students two years to complete, but some schools offer accelerated programs where learners can finish their degree in one year. Online programs typically allow students to finish more quickly than on-campus degrees. However, exact graduation timelines vary from school to school.
While the structure and format of online and traditional programs differ, the core curriculum generally remains the same. In their first year, students usually take core classes on music theory and music history. After they complete the core courses, students study a specialty in conducting, composing, music education, business, or technology. The specific courses offered depends on the school.
Programs require students to complete 30 to 50 credits to graduate with an online music master's degree. Many emphasize performance and require students to audition to enter the program. Students may also have to perform a final recital.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Music Program?
Each school designs its coursework differently, but on the whole, students must take foundational courses such as world music composition and introduction to research methods before they focus on a specialty. Below, we have listed a sample curriculum. Take a look at these five courses to get an idea of the requirements for an online master's in music.
World Music Composition
A course in world music composition surveys the contributions and influences of music from around the globe. Students study the different compositional techniques used in Asia, the Americas, Europe, and Africa. Students will receive a broad knowledge of global musical styles to enrich their own musical compositions.
Introduction to Research Methods
This course teaches students how to conduct research at a graduate level. Students first learn how to create hypotheses to develop their own scholarly writing. They will also study how to evaluate scholarly papers, properly use sources and annotations, and conduct research to support their written arguments.
A course in music analysis gives students the technical foundation for every online master's degree in music. Students develop strong analytical skills to decipher the structures of different musical styles throughout history. This class also helps students to hone their score reading skills and understanding of harmony.
History of Romantic Music
Students enrolled in a history of Romantic music course will explore the era's compositional techniques. The curriculum focuses on the prominent composers of the Romantic period: Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, and Liszt. The course also observes the political and social climate of this period and how it shaped music.
Introduction to Music Technology
Through hands-on techniques, students will learn how to use recording, producing, and MIDI editing programs. By mastering the software of music technology, students can create their own music and develop the necessary skills for music education careers and application in the classroom. Some courses can lead to program certification.
What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Music Program?
Specializations remain a major element of every online master's degree in music. Students have the opportunity to take specialization tracks in technology or education to prepare them for specific career goals. With such a wide range of specific music classes available, the available classes will differ from school to school.
An online master's degree in music with a specialization in music education prepares students to become educators. These majors study the impacts of history, philosophy, psychology, and sociology on music education. This specialization introduces students to the current challenges in school systems and how music can help to navigate these issues. Some programs provide teaching licensure or certification.
A composition specialization appeals to students who have experience in composing and performance. With a focus on writing and live performance, many classes require students to perform an original piece at the end of the program as a part of their thesis project.
Technology and Production
Students who specialize in technology and production gain the technological skills to work with producers, sound engineers, and video game developers. Through hands-on experience, this specialization allows students to blend their musical and production skills to master audio engineering, post-production, editing, and sound mixing.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Most online master's degrees in music require students to complete a final project that integrates everything they have learned during the program. The specifications of final projects will vary depending on the college and a student's specialization of study. Often, the final project incorporates a live performance, especially for students specializing in technology, composition, or orchestration. It is common for students who study a specialization in music education to complete a final research paper or thesis that is later presented to a committee.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Music Program?
When choosing a master's in music online program, students should consider several factors to protect their financial and time investments. Accreditation remains the hallmark of a quality program. Most credible online master's degrees in music have accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM). Receiving accreditation from NASM confirms that the master's program has undergone a rigorous assessment by the accrediting body.
Aside from accreditation, students may perform their own background check on a program by searching data available in the ED's National Center for Education Statistics. As a general rule of thumb, look out for red flags such as colleges with low retention and graduation rates. Navigate directly to the school's website for relevant information about required courses and faculty.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Music Degree
With an online master's in music, graduates land a variety of jobs, from music educators to sound engineers. The exact occupation students pursue depends on numerous factors.
The earning power and job growth vary from occupation to occupation. Certain professionals, such as music performers, enjoy less job stability, whereas musical educators and music therapists can rely on higher salaries. Earning a master's degree in music does not guarantee that graduates will land certain occupations, but an advanced degree does provide graduates with an advantage in the job market. Be aware, as certain positions such as a high school teacher may require additional licensure or certification.
High school music teachers plan lessons for students in ninth through 12th grades. They may teach students to play instruments in an orchestra or provide voice lessons for choir students. The exact duties of a music teacher depend on the size of the school and its budget. At night, teachers often grade assignments and tests. Candidates must have a bachelor's degree to work as a high school music teacher, but some states will require a master's degree.
- Median Salary: $59,170 per year
- Currently Employed: 1,018,700
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +8%
Music directors and classical composers who work for orchestras typically need a master's degree. Music directors and composers work in schools, churches, and performing arts companies. They lead rehearsals, supervise live shows, and select works for orchestras or groups to perform — both live and on recording. They may work one-on-one with performers to help improve their techniques or audition new performers for a group. Often, music directors and composers also help with fundraising efforts.
- Median Salary: $50,590 per year
- Currently Employed: 74,800
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +6%
Students who earn an online master's in music with a concentration in production and technology will develop the skills to become music producers. Music producers work in a range of different environments, including private recording studios and production companies. They may record, write, and produce an original recording or oversee the post-production phase of an artist's work. Music producers often work with sound engineers to ensure the quality of a recording. They may also manage budgets, secure funding, and handle negotiations.
- Median Salary: $71,620 per year
- Currently Employed: 134,700
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +12%
Students who earn an online music master's degree with a specialization in music therapy often go on to work as therapists. They work in rehab centers, hospitals, and for government agencies. Music therapists help people with illnesses, injuries, or disabilities to heal through sound. They monitor and document a client's progress and plan interventions as needed. Music therapists may work with groups of children or one-on-one to help people with depression or anxiety.
- Median Salary: $47,680 per year
- Currently Employed: 19,200
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: +7%
What's the Expected Job Growth for Music Careers?
The music industry does not always offer job stability. However, the BLS projects faster-than-average job growth for many professions, especially postsecondary music teachers. According to the BLS, colleges and universities need more teachers due to increasing school enrollment. Employment for postsecondary teachers is expected to grow 15% in the next 10 years. Not all music professions have the same expected job growth, though, as performers, directors, and composers have a 6% expected job growth.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Music
Developing music graduates can take advantage of networking opportunities to find jobs. To get a head start on the job applications, students should join professional music organizations while in school. Membership, for which are often discounted, offers the opportunity to attend conferences and receive access to educational, scholarship, and job postings. You can find a list of five organizations to consider joining below.
Music Teachers National Association
The MTNA formed in 1876 to build a network of music teachers. Members receive free legal advice and discounts on travel and teaching training. MTNA offers new graduates the opportunity to become a Nationally Certified Teacher of Music.
American Composers Forum
The ACF, created in 1973 by University of Minnesota students, sought to provide performance opportunities for its members. Members receive access to the member directory, workshops, and membership to the Performing Arts Alliance.
American Guild of Musical Artists
AGMA, a labor union, represents artists from a variety of different backgrounds. The union, on behalf of its members, negotiates collective bargaining agreements to ensure workers have safe working environments, overtime pay, and other benefits.
International Society for Music Education
With a mission to support music educators, ISME has members in more than 80 countries worldwide. Membership includes free copies of the ISME Journal, as well as teaching and research resources. Full-time students can receive discounted membership.
Music Library Association
Founded in 1931, the MLA attracts librarians, scholars, and educators from around the world. Members benefit from continuing education opportunities such as webinars and workshops. Members also receive access to the membership directory and receive discounted admittance to the annual conference.
How to Pay for a Master's in Music Degree
Paying for college remains the biggest concern of every college student, but with careful planning and budgeting, students can graduate with limited debt. There are several options for students, including federal financial aid and scholarships.
Federal Financial Aid
Federal financial aid accounts for the largest sum of money that students receive to pay for their tuition. To receive eligibility for funding, students must first fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form. Federal aid offers more generous interest rates and repayment plans than private loans, so it is wise to explore its limits before resorting to a private loan. Some aid, such as Pell Grants for low-income students, does not have to be repaid.
Every year, the Cintas Foundation distributes this Brandon Fradd-funded scholarship to music students of Cuban ancestry. Applicants must submit three recent recordings and accompanying scores. The application must include an artist statement, two letters of recommendation in English or Spanish, and a project statement detailing the student's intentions for the scholarship money.
The College-Bound Program, one of the numerous scholarships offered through the Music Assistance Fund, provides financial assistance to up-and-coming classical musicians of color. Sphinx and the League of American Orchestras oversee the scholarship fund. Undergraduate and graduate students who are Sphinx Competition semi-finalists and alumni may apply.
In honor of Bobbie Burke, Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI) distributes $2,500 every year to a graduate student studying the field of conducting. Applicants must have a current, up-to-date membership with SAI. Only initiated members of SAI may apply. SAI offers several other scholarships every year to music students.