Music Degrees Explained: Mapping Your Future in the Music Industry

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Last updatedLast updated: March 31, 2024
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Music, much like the universe, is vast and infinite in its variety and expression. So is the diversity of the degrees within the music education sector. Every aspiring musician or musicologist has a unique dream, and matching that dream to the appropriate music degree is crucial in setting the path to success. We are here to break down the ten distinct types of music degrees available, helping you find the best fit for your future.

Defining Degrees and Majors

Before we delve into the variety of music degrees, it’s essential to understand the difference between a degree and a major. A degree refers to the qualification earned upon completion of a course of study, such as a Bachelor of Music or a Master of Arts. In contrast, a major refers to the specific focus or subject of study within that degree. For example, if you’re pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree, your major could be Composition, Performance, or Music Education.

Decoding the Right Music Program

Choosing the perfect music program is like finding the right notes in a symphony. It’s not merely about joining a renowned institution or following familial traditions. It involves aligning your personal preferences, skills, dedication, and the program’s environment with your long-term career aspirations.

Factors like the curriculum’s competitiveness, faculty reputation, and the student body’s diversity play a vital role. Famous faculty, for instance, can bring valuable industry insights to your education, as is evident in Wynton Marsalis’s jazz program at the Juilliard School in New York City.

Navigating the Ten Types of Music Degrees

Let’s venture into the musical world of the ten different types of degrees where music is the primary focus.

1. Bachelor of Music (BM)

The Bachelor of Music (BM) is the cornerstone of music degrees. It’s the path for students who wish to focus on performance, composition, or theory. This degree primarily emphasizes music-related courses, allowing students to dive deeper into the music universe. It’s a frequent offering at music conservatories and universities’ music departments.

2. Bachelor of Arts (BA)

The Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree offers a broader canvas for musical exploration. It’s not usually performance-focused but allows students a comprehensive education. You can pursue a BA in Music, which covers performance, music history, theory, and composition. Or you can opt for a BA in Music with a Concentration, providing a more focused study based on your future aspirations.

3. Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

The Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) degree is designed for students who wish to delve deeper into their craft in performance, composition, or theory. The BFA generally provides a more intensive study than a BA but is less focused than a BM.

4. Bachelor of Science (BS)

The Bachelor of Science (BS) in Music degree is ideal for students passionate about music production, recording, sound design, or the business aspect of the industry. BS degrees in Music are application-focused, with popular offerings including Sound Recording Technology (SRT) and Sound Design.

5. Master of Arts (MA)

The Master of Arts in Music is an advanced degree providing further studies in various musical applications. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, students wishing to teach or delve deeper into their chosen field often pursue an MA.

6. Master of Science (MS)

Similar to the MA, the Master of Science (MS) is a secondary degree for students who wish to further specialize in areas such as audio engineering and sound recording technology.

7. Master of Music (MM)

The Master of Music degree offers students a more focused course of study on musical pursuits. It typically requires fewer courses outside of music, resulting in more concentrated musical training.

8. Doctorate Degree (Ph.D.)

The Doctorate of Music degree, also known as a Ph.D. (Philosophiae doctor or Doctor of Philosophy), signifies a significant contribution to music in composition, recordings, and research. Students are expected to publish dissertations that explore a scientific or philosophical aspect of music.

9. Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA)

While the Ph.D. focuses on the academic side, the Doctorate of Musical Arts leans towards performance, composition, and theory. Students who are master musicians often pursue this degree to become authorities in their creative pursuits.

10. Artist Degree (AD)

The Artist Degree or Artist Diploma is a highly-focused degree typically pursued after a Bachelor’s Degree. These degrees are popular among professional musicians looking to enhance their skills further.

Master of Music (MM) – The Harmony of Specialization and Mastery

Once you have obtained your undergraduate degree, pursuing a Master of Music (MM) can be the stepping stone toward a more profound understanding of music. Intensified study in your chosen field will allow you to delve deeper into the realms of performance, composition, or theory. While similar to the MA in pursuing higher knowledge, the Master of Music program is distinctive in its tight focus on musical applications. These degrees usually entail fewer non-musical courses, creating an environment exclusively devoted to musical training.

Key Disciplines in MM

  1. Performance: For musicians looking to advance their craft, MM in Performance offers advanced instruction and immersion into various musical styles and genres.
  2. Composition: A MM in Composition allows students to explore and evolve their unique compositional voice, encompassing a range of styles and techniques.
  3. Music Education: The MM in Music Education is an excellent path for individuals desiring to share their love of music with others in an academic setting.
  4. Music Therapy: This program equips students to employ music professionally as a therapeutic tool, fostering emotional well-being and physiological health.

Doctorate Degree (Ph.D.) – The Apex of Musical Learning

The Doctorate of Music degree, otherwise known as the Doctoral Degree or Ph.D. (from the Latin term Philosophiae doctor or Doctor of Philosophy), is a testament to your significant contributions to the world of music. Be it through stellar compositions, groundbreaking recordings, or influential research; this degree indicates that you have substantially expanded the knowledge pool of music. This addition typically involves a dissertation—a scientific or philosophical exploration of a music-related subject.

Key Disciplines in PhD

  1. Musicology: This specialization involves extensive research and scholarly writing about music history and theory.
  2. Ethnomusicology: Scholars delve into the cultural contexts of music worldwide, studying music as a cultural phenomenon.
  3. Composition and Theory: Ph.D. programs in this area hone advanced skills in composition, fostering a deeper understanding of the principles and structures underpinning music.

Doctorate of Musical Arts (DMA) – The Pursuit of Performance Mastery

While a Ph.D. leans toward academia, the Doctorate of Musical Arts is primarily performance, composition, or theory-oriented. This degree is sought by master musicians intent on becoming authorities in their instrument or creative pursuits. Unlike other doctorate degrees, a DMA may involve fewer research components, focusing instead on honing technique, interpretation, and performance skills.

Key Disciplines in DMA

  1. Performance: With a concentration on solo performance, conducting, or collaborative piano, the DMA in Performance is designed for the highest level of musicianship.
  2. Composition: A DMA in Composition helps advanced composers deepen their understanding of contemporary and historical compositional techniques.
  3. Music Education: This track equips professionals with the skills to lead music education programs, research trends in music education, or serve as university-level educators.

Artist Degree (AD) – Fostering the Professional Musician

The Artist Degree, also known as the Artist Diploma, is a highly-focused credential typically undertaken after completing a Bachelor’s Degree. These programs require full immersion in music, with virtually no courses unrelated to the field. Designed to sharpen the skills of professional musicians, students who pursue these degrees are often established authorities in their respective areas.

Key Disciplines in AD

  1. Performance: This specialization provides intensive study for performers on their instrument or voice, encompassing a broad range of repertoires and styles.
  2. Composition: The AD in Composition supports the development of professional composers through an in-depth exploration of contemporary and historical practices.
  3. Conducting: This discipline offers training in the leadership of musical ensembles, spanning from chamber groups to full symphony orchestras.

Choosing Your Path: The Right Music Degree for You

Selecting the right music degree for you is ultimately about aligning with your aspirations and interests. Music study requires an unwavering passion and adept guidance to steer you in the right direction. It’s not about enrolling in the best music school but rather identifying the institution that complements your unique talents and goals.

Music school admissions consultants like Steve Lipman, who has a rich experience in the field, can support your journey. Their understanding of the intricate world of music education can provide insights into portfolio and repertoire development, admissions counseling, and audition preparation. These professionals are equipped to guide you to a reputable music school and one that resonates with your unique aspirations.

Music, at its heart, is a lifelong journey, and choosing the right academic path is a critical step on this voyage. Whether it’s the broad scope of a Bachelor of Arts degree or the profound specialization of a Doctorate of Musical Arts, each music degree holds the potential to propel you toward your career goals. As you navigate these opportunities, remember that your passion for music sets the rhythm for this exhilarating journey.

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