Is a Music Degree Worth It?

A music degree can be very useful if you’re serious about building a music career. However, they are not required for many different jobs in the music industry, where practical experience is often seen as a more important factor.

A music degree is not even required for many sought after jobs such as music composition, however, completing one can certainly add a lot of credibility to your resume.

Pursuing a formal education in music can also greatly help you build and improve your core knowledge, particularly in areas that you may otherwise skip over (such as composition, theory, acoustics, music management, etc. depending on your areas of study).

The life of a musician is unique in many different ways. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, then the path is pretty straightforward. You enroll in a specialized school/college, spend your time laboriously learning about your field, and then you are allowed to practice. But for musicians, there is no straight or right path. Everyone’s journey is unique.

A music degree can be of many different kinds, as we will explore later on in the article in the types of music degrees and the areas of study sections. These degrees can equip you with professional skills that can build the foundation to help you take your music career to the next level.

Just like any other subject, you spend time learning about the intricacies of composition, performance, theory, etc. But do you need a degree in music to be a musician, or is it really worth it? Let us find out.

Also, to learn more, be sure to read the sections later in the article about and.

Benefits of a Music Degree:

  • It’s a great starting point if you have decided that you want to be a professional musician. The coursework helps you understand your strengths and enables you to build on them. 
  • When you are in a music school, you have access to many industry professionals and develop an understanding of how the business works. A degree can be great for networking and meeting other professionals.
  • If you want to pursue a career in audio production, many professional studios prefer those with a degree since it means that they already have a working knowledge about recording and production.
  • Just like any other career, a formal degree not only translates to better career options but also ensures that you know things such as music theory. This helps you use everything you have learned in school and translate that to performance, composition, etc.

Drawbacks of a Music Degree:

  • Music schools are expensive and not everyone can afford them, even with scholarships. They are long and one needs to spend a couple of years pursuing a music degree. It can be a complete waste of time and resources if you change your mind midway and realize that music might not be for you.
  • A music degree doesn’t guarantee a successful career or better job prospects. Since music is such a difficult area to make money in, often getting a degree isn’t worth the time and resources.

Why You Don’t Need a Music Degree:

If you enjoy playing music in your free time, then there is very little reason to pursue a degree in music. Also, if you play in a band and don’t see yourself performing professionally then you don’t need a music degree to get better at your craft. One can always practice and learn music by themselves or from friends and fellow musicians.

Most famous musicians have not graduated from a music school. To be a competent or a successful musician, you don’t need a degree. Learning from musicians or being an apprentice to a successful music producer will help you gain the same knowledge that you would have access to a music school.

However, for certain areas such as production and audio engineering, music schools can be beneficial since the curriculum is streamlined to help you gain optimum knowledge in your field.

Famous Musicians Who Went To Music School:

  • Vinnie Colaiuta
  • John Mayer
  • St.Vincent
  • Steve Vai
  • John Scofield

Of course, this is only a small list of many famous Grammy-award-winning musicians who have attended music school. The ones mentioned are just some notable graduates of the Berklee School of Music.

Do You Actually Need a Degree For Music?

Thanks to all the technology available to us today, we have access to infinite knowledge. If you are a musician, you can always teach yourself music theory and practice your instrument.

When you play with others or perform in front of a crowd, you learn how to get better at it over time. This is the reason why most musicians who haven’t gone to a music school are still so great.

You need to be dedicated to your craft and develop an understanding of how the music business works to make a career out of music. So a music degree is not essential to be a good or a successful musician.

On the other hand, If you want to pursue a career in music, then a music degree could be beneficial to you. Your education will help you gain knowledge in a more comprehensive and streamlined way.

Being in an academic environment helps you focus on and dedicate all your time and energy to bettering your skills. If you enjoy being in a structured environment and have the resources, then you should consider getting a music degree of your choice.

Types Of Music Degrees:

Just like any other educational course, a music degree will let you specialize in many different areas. Some of the most well-known music schools such as Juilliard and Berklee College of Music offer degrees in many different subjects. Some of which are:

  1. Bachelor of Music (B.M.): These are generally 4-year degrees with a focus on performance, ear-training, composition, and music theory. While the core courses remain common, one can pick their minors on subjects such as music production, songwriting, etc. Dedicated music schools and colleges generally offer this degree for high school graduates.
  2. Bachelor of Arts (B.A.): These are similar to B.M. degrees but are usually offered by schools and universities with an arts and humanities program. The course is not as in-depth as the B.M. curriculum and the student is expected to study subjects such as history, literature, visual arts, etc along with majoring in music.
  3. Bachelor of Science (B.S.): These focus on technical aspects of music such as audio production and engineering and less on performance on composition. One of the most popular courses in this area is sound recording.
  4. Graduate programs: Those who already have a Bachelor’s degree, can pursue a Master’s program (M.A., M.M., M.S., etc) to further deepen their knowledge of the subject. These usually have a focus on a particular subject and just like any graduate program, the student is expected to have a set of pre-existing skills and knowledge. 
  5. Diplomas: These courses are usually more short-term and preferred by musicians who want to pursue a course with fewer credits and one that is less expensive. 
  6. Certificates: Many musicians often choose to enroll in short-term and more intense courses that have a singular specialization. These are ideal for working professionals who want to brush up on their skills or learn something new without committing years of their life.

Areas Of Study:

  1. Performance: Instrument players and vocalists who want to sharpen their skills and be able to perform professionally often specialize in performance. Although these can be rigorous, they focus on practice, ear-training, and learning their craft.
  2. Composition and Theory: If you want to know how to write a music score for a film, an orchestra, or even your own songs, this specialization takes a look at the compositional aspect of music and how to write better. There is an emphasis on music theory and grammar.
  3. Audio Production: From recording to mixing and mastering a piece of music, audio production is not just for music producers, but also those who want to work in a studio or in the field of live sound.
  4. Music Management: Just like an MBA, this helps you understand the music business and equips you with skills to run events, agencies, and even your own career.
  5. History: Although not as music-driven as the others, this is for those pursuing music at an academic level for musicology or a Ph.D. program. The focus is on the history of music and its evolution.

Final Thoughts

For musicians, there is no singular path that is right or wrong. Every musician has different strengths and weaknesses, they also have their own ideals when it comes to music education. If you have the resources and feel that you will thrive in a music school, then you should enroll in a full-time degree in music.

If you have been playing professionally and have managed to make a career out of music, then of course a music degree would be worthless to you.

But whether you have a degree in music or not, it is important to remember to constantly keep learning new things and sharpening old skills.

There is no limit to learning and whether at a school or from videos online, being inquisitive and having a thirst for knowledge will make you not just a better musician but also a better human being in the long run. 

Brian Clark is a multi-instrumentalist and music producer. He is passionate about practically all areas of music and he particularly enjoys writing about the music industry.

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