Music Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in music? Find out program requirements for master's and Ph.D. degrees, as well as information regarding online options and courses commonly found in graduate-level music degree programs.
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Studying Music: Degrees at a Glance

Pursuing a graduate degree in music can help you build further experience in performance, composition, production, or conducting, and it can also open doors for advanced teaching opportunities. However, this investment should be considered carefully, since many jobs in music can be obtained with just a bachelor's degree or less. In fact, the only jobs that specifically require graduate degrees in music are those in postsecondary education.

Despite that being the case, this field has grown quite a bit over the years. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics from 2005 showed an employment of around 69,000 postsecondary art, music, and drama teachers ( In 2011, that figure increased to 90,000 - 30% more jobs over the 6-year period. Keep in mind, though, that this data includes other arts teachers, and data specific to music teachers was unavailable.

Master's Doctoral
Who Is This Degree For? Those with bachelor's degrees in music looking to specialize further Individuals looking to teach music at the university level or to further develop composing and performing abilities
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) - Musicians and singers ($23.00 per hour)*
- Composer ($23.00 per hour)*
- Self-enrichment or private lesson teacher ($17.00 per hour)*
Postsecondary educator ($62,000 annually)*
Time to Completion 2-3 years, full-time 3-5 years after master's degree, completion time varies based on full- or part-time status
Common Graduation Requirements - Core courses, plus courses in a concentration
- Master's thesis or performance/recital project
- Elective courses
- Dissertation project, which could be written, performance-based, or a combination of the two
- Final examinations
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree, typically in a music area
- Audition
- Repertoire list (for performance studies)
- Recorded performances of original works (for composition students)
- Entrance recital
- Master's degree in a music area
Online Availability Uncommon; generally limited to music education Uncommon; also limited to music education

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2011 figures)

Master's Degrees in Music

Master's degrees in music are available in a variety of formats. Among these are the Master of Music (M.M.), the Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Fine Arts (MFA), and the Master of Music Education. At this level, you'll likely pick a concentration in performance, composition, or conducting, as well as complete a thesis or final project assignment. Performance concentrations are broken down further by instrument, with specializations in brass, strings, woodwinds, piano, guitar, and voice. These degree programs tend to be intense, rigorous, and competitive.

Composition students can specialize further in such areas as music theory or music technology. The former option can be useful if you're looking to teach, while the latter option can help you build skills and experience if you're looking to go into recording and production. Music technology encompasses training on digital audio workstations (DAWs) and studio mixing consoles. MFAs in electronic music and recording media are also available.

Music education degrees deal with music history, theory, research, and pedagogy (the practice of teaching). Degrees in this concentration are commonly awarded as Master of Music or Master of Music Education degrees. Music education programs are typically the only graduate-level music programs available online.

Pros and Cons


  • Makes you eligible for teaching jobs in community colleges as well as some 4-year schools
  • Enhances your employability for teaching private music lessons in non-college settings, like music stores or music teacher networks
  • Allows you to take more advanced courses in composition, theory, or performance than those offered in undergraduate schools
  • Gives you a chance to expand your network of advanced musicians


  • Many performance and composition jobs are freelance and based almost entirely on the quality of the performance or composition; therefore, they don't require advanced degrees
  • Master's degree holders generally don't earn more money than musicians with less education, except for those in teaching
  • Entrance into master's degree programs can be competitive and highly selective

Common Courses and Requirements

Courses taken will vary based on the type of graduate-level music degree program you pursue. Performance students will need to take applied music (private lessons) and performance courses. Final projects or theses for performance students usually consist of a group or solo recital. A written thesis might also be required.

Composition students will focus on learning directly from a faculty composer and will need to complete an original composition as the thesis assignment. If you're looking at a music education program, you'll need to complete several courses on teaching theories, likely including a music education research course. All types of degrees usually allow for some customization through elective requirements in ethnomusicology, music theory, and pedagogy.

Online Degree Options

Due to the intense hands-on nature of the field, online degrees in performance, conducting, and composing are generally unavailable. Online degrees in music education are more common, but the options are still fairly slim. These types of degrees are typically offered as Master of Music degrees, and they blend musicology (the study of music) with music theory and pedagogy. Courses in this area typically look at the music from historical and cultural perspectives, covering such topics as jazz, blues, and the music of Africa.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Master's degrees in music can help boost your profile as a music teacher, performer, or studio musician. Those with master's degrees might also be considered better candidates for education jobs in public schools than those with bachelor's degrees plus certification. Master's degrees also open up doors for teaching jobs in community and junior colleges.

While working toward this degree, it will be to your benefit to be an active participant in the music scene both on campus and in the city or town in which you study. You can begin working as a private lesson instructor or studio musician, or you can actively compose original works apart from those assigned to you as part of your program. It may also behoove you to build your proficiency with the technological sides of the music business, which can range from using DAWs to planning social media strategies for artists.

Ph.D. Degrees in Music

Terminal degrees in music are offered at the doctoral degree level. They are typically available as Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) and Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degrees, but variants like the Doctor of Arts degree are also available. A Ph.D. degree is largely aimed at those looking to concentrate on teaching and scholarly research; a DMA degree includes those components but is geared toward those who want to perform and compose professionally, in addition to teaching.

Like the master's degree programs, doctoral degree programs are typically offered with concentration options in performance, conducting, theory, and education. Doctoral-level training in music education and music history help to reinforce these concepts, and a dissertation is typically required to earn the degree.

Pros and Cons


  • Can make you eligible for university-level teaching positions
  • Allows you to develop your research skills
  • Usually requires an advanced performance or composition as a dissertation, which can be added to your professional resume
  • Allows you to reach the highest degree of specialization in a particular musical medium


  • Doctoral study can leave minimal time for working or performing outside the program
  • Can take a considerable amount of time to complete (3-5 years)
  • Entrance and completion is extremely competitive

Common Courses and Requirements

The courses you take will depend on your area of emphasis, much like the master's degree programs. Doctoral-seeking music education students will take courses on the psychology of music education, research, and music history. If you choose a theory or composition emphasis, you'll likely take required and elective courses in music education, as well as a course on techniques for musical analysis. DMA candidates focusing on performance will take courses in applied music, which can include recitals as well as written research papers.

Online Degree Options

Students looking to study online at the doctoral level are limited to music education programs. These degree programs aren't all that common, and they might require you to complete a residency in which you spend a designated amount of time on campus. As with other music education programs, you'll study the history and psychology of music education as well as explore research methods in music education. Courses in pop music arranging, orchestration, and critique methods will round out your study.

Stand Out with This Degree

Music teachers with master's degrees who teach in high schools or junior colleges can advance to university-level teaching with a DMA, Ph.D., or other doctoral degree. In addition, DMA degree programs can also help expose you to a more advanced musical network and enhance your talents as a composer or performer.

While pursuing your degree, it can be beneficial to attend conferences or seminars in music education, such as those offered by the Association for Technology in Music Instruction ( Conventions like these can offer you the chance to propose your own ideas for how technology can be utilized in collegiate-level learning environments. It can also offer you an active role in developing curricula that incorporates technology. Additionally, winning an award for your proposal at a conference can help build your academic resume.

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