Complete Guide to an Online Music Degree

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Quick Facts
Accreditation: NASM
Degree Levels: Associate, Bachelor's, Master's, Doctoral, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $20,592
Avg Salary: $59,268

Online music degrees are offered at every education level, but an associate or bachelor's degree in music is usually the first step toward forming an academic foundation for a music career. Graduates with a bachelor's degree in music education may obtain a certificate from their state to teach music in public elementary and secondary schools. A master's or doctoral degree is required to teach advanced music courses in colleges and universities. General coursework for these types of degrees includes classes such as music theory, music interpretation, ear training, and composition. Music conductors, directors, and composers usually must have a master's or doctoral degree.

If you're considering a music education program because you want to teach music in a school setting, you will want to be certain the school you're looking into is accredited. In general, accreditation is an important indication of quality. An accredited program meets national standards for an educational program and is recognized by the US Department of Education. Read More

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Comprehensive List of Schools for an Online Music Degree (38)

Overview of Available Online Music Degrees

A career in music is most often associated with being a performer. Musicians and vocalists perform in careers that range from short-term gigs on a freelance basis to performing as a member of a symphony orchestra under a seasonal contract. A successful career in musical performance requires not only talent and skill, but also a firm knowledge of music and music theory. Music performers must continually practice and train, honing their skills for jobs that are often temporary or part-time. But while we typically associate a career in music with playing an instrument, singing or performing, there are actually many other occupations within the field of music.

For example, music production degrees are interdisciplinary programs that introduce students to the technical and artistic skills for turning raw music into a quality recording. In school recording studios, students learn how to use digital and analog recording systems, as well as software like ProTools to edit and create music. Most programs also include classes in music theory, where students learn how to compose their own scores, compositions, and songs. Marketing classes discuss postproduction issues like artist branding, sales, and public relations.

Online Associate Degrees in Music Studies

Students seeking an introduction to the basic principles of music performance, business, or education may find a good fit in the music associate degree. These two-year degrees require about 60 credit hours. The music associate degree may be an Associate of Arts program designed for university transfer, or it may be a more practice-oriented Associate of Fine Arts or Associate of Science. A high school diploma or GED is necessary to apply; some programs may also require an audition.

The core of most associate degrees in music focuses on music theory and musicianship. Students explore topics such as the fundamentals of music, performance techniques, music appreciation, and music history. Many degrees require performance classes or participation in music ensembles. Other music associate degrees combine an understanding of theory and performance with particular practical music areas. Music business programs discuss the structure of the music industry, marketing, and audio production, while education courses discuss curriculum development, student evaluation, and instructional methods.

The music associate degree can be used to prepare for transfer to a four-year university or as entrance to a few different career areas. Depending on the student’s skill level, they may play music in religious or civic organizations, performing arts companies, or as a part of a band. Others become self-enrichment teachers, providing music lessons or instruction in private homes or community educational programs. Associate graduates may find it difficult to become opera singers, classical performers, or school teachers, as these positions typically require a four-year degree.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Music Studies

Students in a bachelor’s degree program study a particular aspect of music creation in depth. These degrees may focus on performance, music production, music composition, or an interdisciplinary combination of topics. During the four-year, 120-credit-hour program, students also complete general education requirements. Applicants are usually required to have basic music performance skills or coursework, as well as a high school diploma.

The foundational courses in many music programs focus on musicianship and music theory. Students specialize in a particular instrument or set of instruments, such as voice, percussion, or bass. Students are also required to spend time in performance ensembles, such as the university chorus or jazz orchestra. Online students can expect on-campus auditions or performances; alternately, they may have to record videos of their performances. Other music bachelor’s degrees focus in a different area within the production of music, such as music business, music and technology, music therapy, or music composition. While students still complete courses in topics like music history and musicianship, the core of classes focuses less on live performance.

Graduates of the bachelor’s program can become music composers, choir directors, conductors, musicians, or singers. Depending on the degree specialization, graduates may also be qualified for positions as music producers or software developers. Students who focus on education can become high school music teachers.

Online Master's Degrees in Music Studies

Online master's degrees in music are available in a few different areas. In many programs, students have the ability to shape the music master’s degree around their own particular musical interests. Music education degrees are a common type of online master’s program in music. They take approximately two years to complete and prepare graduates to teach music at the K-12 level. They allow current music teachers to deepen their understanding of music instructional techniques, musicology, and different types of music. Music therapy master's degree programs are more specialized and less common than music education. In most cases, they are aimed at current board-certified music therapists who want to advance their skills. These programs take two to three years to complete. In music therapy programs, students deepen their understanding of neurology and learn to work with people who have a variety of disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, or multiple sclerosis. Therapists learn how to use music to help their clients maintain functioning and improve memory and cognition.

To be eligible for admission to most master's degree programs in music, applicants should have an accredited bachelor’s degree in a music-related field. Many programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Music therapy master's programs require board certification. Along with the academic requirements, students are also required to submit letters of recommendation from colleagues or past teachers, as well a statement of intent.

On a logistical level, online master's degree programs in music work differently than traditional programs. All types of online classes focus around the school or course Web portal; this is a website that contains a majority of the course materials. Most online classes are delivered through video lectures, which may be live or taped, depending on the type of class. In synchronous online classes, students are required to log on to the Web portal at particular times each week to watch lectures or participate in class discussions. In asynchronous classes, there are no set times for participation, although students still have to complete assignments by particular due dates. Self-paced programs provide students with the necessary course materials and feedback, but they do not have definitive due dates.

Online Certificates in Music Studies

Music certificates provide focused training in areas of performance, composition, and business to students at the undergraduate and graduate level. These programs usually require 3 to 10 courses and one year of study. Applicants need a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree, depending on the certificate level. Some programs require an audition, as well.

The music certificate curriculum may vary, depending on the program’s focus. Those who play an instrument, sing, or compose music may complete a program in musical performance. This certificate covers topics such as music history, musicianship and performance techniques, and methods for composing music. Many programs in this vein require that students participate in a musical ensemble in order to gain performance experience. Other certificates cover a different aspect of music, such as the music industry or music technology. Music business programs discuss the music industry and the steps from music creation to release. Music technology certificates cover digital music production, audio technology, and multimedia. Berklee College of Music offers two flexible "build your own" certificates in music studies, where students may design their own three- or five-course program.

The employment benefits of a music certificate will depend on the student’s skill level, education, and performance experience. Undergraduates can use the program as part of a bachelor’s degree to prepare for graduate study in music at a conservatory. Those with a bachelor’s degree can use the graduate certificate to prepare for entry-level positions in music production and marketing. Others can use the program to support performance in an orchestra or band or as a solo artist. Some may use the program to prepare for work as private music instructors.

What Students Will Learn in an Online Music Studies Program

The curriculum of music programs includes classes in music theory, music history, psychological and sociological aspects of music, conducting, theory and application of music education, music technology, and trends in music education. While the curriculum and organization of online music education degree programs vary, many programs require students to complete an internship or thesis project after they complete the coursework component of the degree.

Berklee College of Music offers a particularly extensive degree program for online students. Students can choose to take a single class from a list of 150 available online courses, or they can apply for a certificate, bachelor's, or MBA degree program. Courses range from songwriting and orchestration to music business, music theory, or instruction for a specific instrument. Bachelor's degrees are available in music production or music business, and an MBA in music business is offered through a partnership with Southern New Hampshire University.

Music programs delivered on campus are typically hands-on, as students practice and perform their instruments and receive feedback and guidance from classmates and instructors. Students in on-campus music technology and production programs may have opportunities to put their knowledge to work in real recording studios. Online programs try to re-create this experience by using streaming video, collaborative software, and other technologies. Some online programs may require students to enroll in individual lessons and join performance groups at local colleges and universities for credit. Consider your learning style and needs when researching online programs.

Although on-site training is not commonly required for online music schools, students interested in working in the music industry professionally, especially as performers, are advised to gain some professional experience before graduation. Working musicians must be prepared to find gigs, conduct themselves professionally, and network effectively, so students should begin practicing for their careers as soon as possible. Students hoping to work in other aspects of the music industry, like management or marketing, can also benefit from gaining professional experience before graduation to become more attractive to employers.

The following list provides a sample of some of the courses students will take in a music studies program:

  • Legal Aspects of Music and Entertainment: Students specializing in music business or law will need a strong background in this area. Courses cover issues like copyright as they pertain specifically to the music industry.
  • Music Distribution: For both performers and managers, this course covers the various aspects of recording and publishing music. Students study forms of distribution, principles of pricing, and structures for royalties.
  • Music Management: This course is intended to provide students focusing in music business or management with a foundation of skills to prepare them for their careers. It covers topics like contract negotiations, artist publicity, and public relations.
  • Music Theory: This is an essential basic course that all music students can expect at the beginning of their education. Students learn the fundamentals of music, including melody, harmony, composition, and style.
  • Sight-Reading: Music students concentrating on performance will need to acquire the skill of sight-reading for their academic and professional careers. Sight-reading is the ability to sit down with a piece of music and begin playing even when you haven't seen the music before.

The Importance of Accreditation

Accreditation is a stamp of approval which means an outside organization has independently verified that the school or program in question meets agreed upon academic standards. Musicians do not need licenses, so it is not technically required that they pursue an accredited degree. However, students who hope to get a teacher’s license or who intend to transfer their credits from one school to another or use their undergraduate degree to apply to a graduate degree program will need to ensure they are considering regionally or nationally accredited degree programs. Prospective students will want to look for programs accredited by organizations recognized by the US Department of Education. The National Association of Schools of Music is one group that grants accreditation to music programs that meet its standards.

Career Specializations for Music Studies Graduates

A career in music demands dedication and a willingness to be flexible regarding one's earning expectations, especially for those who are self-employed. Greater financial stability and rewards are offered in jobs such as music education, music production, and music management. In any case, whether it's a music career in performing, teaching, or working in multimedia technologies, music is a highly desirable choice for those who would like a career that highlights their musical talent and interest. A college education in music can help students hone and expand their skills and knowledge.

The world of music as a business has expanded dramatically to include the need for people in positions such as music producers, managers, promoters, and record label developers. In this ever-growing industry, a music background obtained through a degree program serves to prepare and distinguish those seeking to enter such a highly competitive vocation. Because of new and expanding media technologies, the demand for those who are well prepared in music and related fields will have the best chance to land jobs in music production, management, and as multimedia music specialists. There are typically no formal education requirements to become a musician or singer, but one exception is classical music performance; a bachelor's degree in music may be required to work as a classical singer or musician. Graduates of music technology and production programs may find work as composers for video games, commercials, and films.

Students who plan to teach music at a public school will need to complete a bachelor's degree and a obtain a state teaching license. Some states require teachers to hold master's degrees in either their subject area or in education. Graduates of music education programs may use their degrees to satisfy these requirements and further their careers as teachers in either elementary or secondary schools. Music teachers may choose to become certified through the Music Teachers National Association. The certification process takes up to one year and requires the submission of a professional profile. The MTNA professional certification program is designed to establish competency for the music teaching professional.

Graduates of doctorate programs may continue to work in elementary and high schools but may also work in research and academia at the postsecondary level. Many of the graduates of online music education degree programs will go on to teach or become band directors at a school or college. Some will facilitate music programs for community centers, nursing homes, or children's after-school programs. Another area of music education is music therapy, in which music educators help individuals overcome mental and physical obstacles.


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