Study Music Education: Masters, PhD & Online Degree Info

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What kind of job can you get with a degree in music education? Find out degree requirements, online options as well as info on courses and music education programs.
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Music Education Master's and PhD: Degrees at a Glance

If you have passion for both music and teaching, a graduate degree in music education would qualify you to be a primary, secondary or postsecondary music teacher. Recall that public elementary or secondary schools require teacher certification, but these teachers generally need only a bachelor's degree. Instructing at colleges or universities often requires a PhD, though some 4-year schools may hire you with only a master's degree. A master's degree will also qualify you for community college teaching positions.

The job prospects for music teachers are optimistic; according to a 2008 study by the American Association for Employment in Education, there's a suitable number of music teaching job openings to accommodate the number of job seekers. Keep in mind that, while qualified music teachers have a reasonable chance of getting hired, actual job prospects can vary according to the level at which you teach.

Master of Arts in Teaching Master of Music Education Doctorate in Music Education
Who is this degree for? Music majors interested in becoming certified teachers K-12 music teachers looking to advance their skills Advanced-level music teachers interested in research and higher learning
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Elementary school music teacher ($55,000)*
- Secondary school teacher ($57,000)*
Community College Instructor ($55,000)** - University or college music professor ($73,000)*
- Academic administrator ($97,000)*
Time to Completion About one year, full-time 1-2 years, full-time or part-time 3-5 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements Teaching Practicum Master's thesis/research paper
- Comprehensive exams
- Dissertation and dissertation defense
- Teaching residency
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in music - Bachelor's degree in music education
- Teacher certification
- Live or recorded audition or recital
- Master's degree in music or music education
- Teacher certification
- Three years of teaching experience
Online Availability None at this time Yes Hybrid programs are available but rare

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 stats), **College and University Professional Association for Human Resources (2010-2011 stats).

Master's Degree in Music Education

Master's degree programs in music education instruct you in teaching and research techniques specific to the musical arts. The type of program you choose will depend on your previous education and experience. Master of Music Education (MME) programs are generally geared toward certified music teachers with proven dedication to the art. If you are not certified and want to teach at the K-12 level, you may want to attend a Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) program with a focus on music. The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) stresses the importance of ensuring your program is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music as well as at least one other accrediting agency.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can give you a competitive edge for elementary and secondary teaching jobs
  • MAT degree makes you eligible for teacher certification
  • MME degree can qualify you for teaching positions at postsecondary institutions
  • MME programs are flexible and intended to accommodate teachers' schedules

Cons

  • Bachelor's degree holders qualify for the same elementary and secondary teaching jobs
  • May not qualify you for some jobs in 4-year colleges and universities
  • Admission requires a bachelor's degree specific to music or music education

Courses and Requirements

Curricula typically consist of 30-40 credit hours focused on music pedagogy. Instruction often takes the form of workshops and seminars covering topics like:

  • Music history and theory
  • Education foundations
  • Research in music teaching
  • Music technology
  • Conducting

While core coursework is similar, it's important to note the differences between MME and MAT programs. An MME lasts 1-2 years and often allows you to plan your curriculum around your teaching schedule. In fact, some programs are structured so that you can study full-time in summer and part-time during the academic year. An MME program allows you to take electives in musicianship development, like performance or instruction in an instrument of your choice. You'll also complete a thesis project based on independent research throughout your graduate education.

MAT programs, on the other hand, tend to be more teaching-focused and last only about one year. The curriculum relies heavily on pedagogy courses and teaching practicums. As an MAT student, you generally will not complete a thesis project or receive instrumental instruction.

Online Degree Options

While the practicum-heavy MAT programs are not offered online, MME programs are available in fully-online formats. Some schools also offer hybrid music education programs, which allow you to complete part of the coursework online but require you to complete exams, dissertation defenses or other parts of the curricula on campus. Online programs are particularly geared toward teachers who are currently employed, and hybrid programs often allow you to take in-class coursework during summer when school is out.

Stand Out with this Degree

One way to get an edge over other music education graduates in the job market is to have a working portfolio to present to prospective employers. A portfolio may also be helpful if you decide to apply for admission to a PhD program. You can compose this portfolio during your graduate studies and include documents like music theory essays and exams, programs from performances in which you participated and other exceptional articles. Additionally, the NAfME emphasizes the need for basic keyboard skills, even if the keyboard is not the instrument in which you specialize. This instrument is necessary to be able to study scores and teach harmonies in the classroom. As such, you may gain keyboard training by taking electives in applied piano instruction.

You should also familiarize yourself with technology specific to music education. You could take courses in music technology during college, or you could learn through self-study, such as through OpenCourseWare or by exploring music computer applications on your own. As a music teacher, you may want to, for example, create a music library on the classroom computer to teach scales or administer exams that use audio samples, so you'll need to know how to use iTunes, SmartMusic or other music-specific programs. You'll also need to know how to use electronic music equipment, like Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) controllers, which allow you to transmit audio data to computers and other devices.

Degree Alternatives

While providing advanced musical and instructional training, an MAT or MME program generally leads to only music-specific teaching positions. If you want a wider selection of job opportunities, consider earning a more generalized master's degree in music. This degree will still qualify you to teach music at a postsecondary institution, but it can also lead to other positions, like conductor, composer or music librarian, should you choose to shift career paths later in life. Additionally, if you already hold a bachelor's degree in music or music education and teacher certification, you will still be eligible for teaching positions at elementary and secondary schools.

PhD in Music Education

A doctoral degree in music education is generally intended for music teachers who already hold master's degrees, though you may find programs that admit you with only a bachelor's degree and allow you to combine your master's and PhD coursework into one curriculum. PhD programs in music education focus on research within the field, including gathering and analyzing information to come up with your own theories and spur progress in music education.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Can qualify you for advanced teaching or administration positions with 4-year colleges and universities and 2-year colleges
  • Allows you to specialize in specific aspects of music education
  • Programs are research-intensive and can prepare you for publication in a journal
  • May qualify you for tenure

Cons

  • Admission process is strict, often requiring a master's degree, teacher certification and years of teaching experience
  • Can require up to seven years of music-specific graduate education
  • Highly specialized music education may only lead to a small selection of job types

Courses and Requirements

In a music education PhD program, your curriculum will be flexible and allow you to gear your studies toward your own area of interest. Many programs require you to choose an area in which to specialize, such as conducting, composition or performance. You can expect to take a minimum number of courses in your specialty in addition to more generalized courses, such as psychology in music education and topics in music theory.

Along with completing courses and attending seminars, you may be required to complete a 1-year teaching residency. Since research is the main focus of this degree program, a large part of your curriculum will be exploring the music education field and preparing for your dissertation project. You'll have to propose your dissertation topic in advance and then complete and defend the project in front of a committee in order to earn your PhD.

Online Degree Options

Doctoral degree programs in music education are rarely offered online; however, the NAfME suggests that online programs will become gradually more popular as online music education develops. Select schools offer hybrid programs in this major, which require you to complete your residency program on campus. Keep in mind that, since PhD programs are already focused on independent research, distance-learning programs may require a higher level of independence and self-motivation.

Stand Out with this Degree

One way to make a name for yourself in the field is to enhance your teaching skills and credentials. Teacher certification is not required to work as a postsecondary teacher, so holding teacher certification may make you a more desirable candidate for employment in a college or university. Also, while your PhD degree program will likely include a student-teaching practicum, you may stand out among other candidates by earning additional experience teaching music in academic settings, such as elementary and secondary schools, or as a private instructor.

Additionally, you might prepare yourself for tenure early on in your academic career. Tenure is a highly sought-after status among professors, because it ensures that they are not fired without reasonable cause and can lead to advancement to administrative positions; however, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that tenure positions have become more difficult to obtain due to increasing prevalence of adjunct and part-time teaching jobs. Publication and research are often factors that academic boards take into consideration when granting tenure. As such, you may get an edge over the competition by conducting original research in a specialized area of the field and getting published in distinguished publications. You might even send out your PhD dissertation for publication in a major journal.

Degree Alternatives

If you want a research-intensive musical education, but do not want to become a teacher, consider a PhD program in musicology. These programs may also prepare you to teach at the college level, but the main focus is music theory and research. You could go on to become a music theorist, critic or journalist, or you could become an ethnomusicologist, who studies the cultural aspects of music.

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