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Music Major Overview

Music is an inescapable part of our lives. It flows out of our car speakers, drifts into our homes, and follows us nearly everywhere we go. For some folks, music is even a part of their job. For students eager to turn their love of music into a career, there’s a variety of paths. In this guide, we’ll talk about the different types of music majors, coursework to expect, and potential career opportunities. Let’s get started! 

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What is a music major?

When we think of this academic field, we often imagine students honing their craft at a particular instrument such as the piano or guitar. And while many students major in music to become professional musicians, there’s many other concentrations within the field that don’t involve singing or performing. For instance, some students learn about the technology used to mix and master other peoples’ work. Others focus on the business side and prepare for careers as promoters or agents, while still others learn about music therapy or education. The truth is that it is a sprawling field of study that caters to students of varying interests.

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Below are some common concentrations within music: 

  • Performance 
  • Technology
  • Education 
  • Business 
  • Therapy 

In the next section, we’ll outline some typical coursework for each of these subfields. 

Related: Art major overview

Coursework to expect

Music programs vary between different colleges, meaning that no two schools will offer the exact same areas of study. You’ll find that some majors go by different names at different schools, and that some areas of study overlap with each other. With that in mind, let’s talk about the type of coursework you can typically expect out of the following concentrations: 

Music performance

Students in this field work to hone their performance skills through extensive practice and lessons. They usually focus on mastering one particular instrument group such as brass, guitar, keyboard, percussion, strings, woodwinds, or voice. Students can expect a combination of hands-on training as well as classroom instruction in subjects such as theory and history. 

Music technology 

Music technology majors learn how to use equipment and software to record, produce, edit, and master music. Within the field there are further subfields such as production, recording, and audio and sound engineering. Students usually take classes in recording technology, theory and history, computer composition, and music business and law. 

Music education 

This concentration is designed to prepare students for careers as music teachers. Within this concentration, students typically select a vocal, instrumental, or general music track. Typical coursework includes music theory, music history, conducting, child psychology, classroom management, and vocal or instrumental lessons. 

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Music business

Sometimes referred to as music industry, this area of study focuses on the management side of music. Students in this field typically have their sights set on becoming music promoters, agents, producers, or marketing managers. Common coursework includes concert marketing, record label development, business management, accounting and finance, and music publishing and promotion. 

Music therapy 

Students majoring in this field learn how to use music in a therapeutic manner. They study how music can be used to alleviate stress, improve communication, and encourage physical rehabilitation. Common courses include psychology, social and behavioral science, and general music studies.

Other concentrations 

These certainly aren’t the only concentrations within the world of music studies. Below we’ve listed a few other subfields of music you may encounter at various colleges and universities:

  • Theory and composition 
  • History of Music
  • Musical theater 
  • World music 
  • Music publishing 

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Opportunities after graduation 

You don’t have to become a professional musician or singer to make a living with a music degree. In fact, there’s a number of job opportunities for graduates who have a background in the field. Let’s discuss a few potential career paths for majors. 

Jobs you can get with a music degree

1. Music therapist 

This line of work involves using music to address the physical and psychological needs of patients. Music therapists commonly prescribe their patients to listen to, create, or move to music in an effort to promote wellness. The field requires certification by the CBMT to practice. 

2020 Median Pay: $47,710
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 10% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor  Statistics

2. Agents and managers 

Behind every successful musician is an effective music agent. These are the professionals who negotiate contracts, seek promotion for new releases, and book shows for music artists. They work closely with promoters and record labels to ensure their clients get the proper exposure. 

2020 Median Pay: $75,420 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): N/A

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Sound engineer

Sound engineers are responsible for the technical side of song recordings and live performances. They use electronic equipment and software to record, mix, edit, and master music. Top-notch computer skills and a well-tuned ear are needed to excel in this profession

2020 Median Pay: $53,520 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): N/A

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Music teacher

A degree in music education is the natural precursor to a career as a music teacher. Those who work as college professors often perform on the side. An advanced degree is required to teach at the college level, but only a bachelor’s is needed to teach at the elementary, middle, or high school level. 

2020 Median Pay: $69,690 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): N/A

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Musicians and singers

In most cases, becoming a successful musician or singer requires a blend of natural talent, formal education, and sometimes sheer luck. While it’s often challenging to earn a living as a musician, obtaining a bachelor’s degree can be a step in the right direction. Many vocalists and instrumentalists find that formal training is an excellent way to hone and develop their natural abilities.  

2020 Median Pay: $31.40 per hour
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 11% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Related: How to pick a major

How do I know if this major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in music, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are you passionate about music? 
  • Do you thrive in creative environments?
  • Do you enjoy collaborating with peers and performing in front of groups?
  • Would the major help you achieve your career goals? 

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a music major could be right for you!

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