Music degrees for music hobbyists?
April 19, 2019 3:39 AM   Subscribe

What sort of musical degrees are available for hobbyists who studied something completely unrelated in undergrad? My interests are: music theory, singing, sight reading. If I want to study music, would I be starting over with another undergrad (bachelors) degree? Are masters programs available without a musical bachelors? Thanks!
posted by sunflower16 to Education (11 answers total)
It's unclear that you should be in a degree program for this. College-level conservatories and schools of music are, or ought to be, professional training schools that prepare the students to go out and get jobs as working musicians.

If you have a hobbyist interest in learning more about music theory and improving as a singer and sight-reader, most college-level conservatories and schools of music offer classes and training in these subjects via an "extension" or "adult education" program without the need of pursuing a degree. This will be less expensive than a degree program, and you will also be able to choose classes and training in the subjects and skills that interest you rather than spending time and money on classes and training that may not be relevant to your interests. These things will also be scheduled at times that accommodate a working adult's life rather than taking place at, for example, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1:30 in the afternoon. Moreover, even for professional musicians, no one cares whether you have a piece of paper saying how good you are at music (says the person with conservatory degrees in voice performance).
posted by slkinsey at 5:35 AM on April 19, 2019 [5 favorites]

Calling a few schools you are interested in and asking them will probably be more helpful.

I've known people who decided to pursue a career in music, but had an unrelated undergrad degree, to go back and get a bachelor's in music before going further. I believe that in at least some cases the school accepts their basic required undergrad credits like comp 1, etc., and they focus on just the music credits. This may depend on a variety of factors I am not privy to.

It really depends on what your goal is - if you want to be a professional musician, conductor, teacher of music, then yeah, you probably need the degree. If you want to learn more about music, there are tons of other resources that are less expensive and more flexible.
posted by bunderful at 6:07 AM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

As someone who started undergrad as an ethnomusicology major and graduated as a music performance major at a different school I would recommend against going through a master's program in music without first doing undergrad courses. Music programs are often seen as a being easy by people who have never gone through one but they are a LOT of work and take a lot of time and effort and unless you put in that time and effort you won't get a lot out of one.

There is a ton of specialized knowledge that you will be expected to already have going in to a master's program. Theory programs are going to be building on four years of undergrad harmony and voice leading, counterpoint, and 20th century composition techniques, as well as expecting a pretty good knowledge of music lit and history. A performance program might be a bit more relaxed with these requirements but you will be expected to already be at a pretty high level of musical ability going in. High as in I was expected to practice at least four hours a day (not including several hours of rehersals) pretty regularly just for my BA. If you are interested in studying music at a high level I would definitely go through an undergrad program before considering getting a more advanced degree.

That said, if you love music and have the opportunity, go for it. It's a lot of hard work but I feel it is 100% worth it if you are passionate about music. I didn't know how much I didn't know about it until I studied it in college. Note that both my wife and I have undergrad degrees in music performance and neither of us currently have careers in music. We ended up doing the opposite of you and got graduate degrees in other areas of study.
posted by Television Name at 7:33 AM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

Also (not abusing the edit window) a master's program will expect a certain level of piano proficiency as well. Undergrad programs generally include about 2 years of piano classes unless you can test out of them.
posted by Television Name at 7:39 AM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

Coursera might be an option... here are their offerings related to music theory. Online courses and certificates are great for amateurs, hobbyists, and semi-pros. You have to be self-motivated but I have really enjoyed the ones I've taken.
posted by acridrabbit at 7:50 AM on April 19, 2019

The other thing about starting out with some adult education classes is that, if you haven't already gotten some experience (sorry, it's not clear whether you have or not!), you can figure out whether you are actually interested in academic study in the area. At my college, there were introductory classes intended for majors and for non-majors. The latter, popularly known there (as elsewhere I'm sure) as "Clapping for Credit," was about appreciation and broad aesthetic exposure, as well as being able to identify 4/4 time in a piece. The former was basically learning to construct scales and then the rules of counterpoint, something that a person without previous exposure will never really have thought about. Academic training is going to be in the latter vein.
posted by praemunire at 7:50 AM on April 19, 2019

Depending on your location, community college can be an excellent choice for music studies. As a returning adult student, I have taken solo and choral singing at the CC local to me (have been in their 'major works' chorus for almost a decade). Other adults I know have taken theory, piano, jazz, guitar, band, etc. They even have studio equipment and offer programs in mastering and recording. My son got an associates degree in music at our CC, transferred to a bachelor's program and is now in a master's program at a music conservatory. He reports that the theory classes at the CC were more challenging than at the four-year college. Low investment, high return.
posted by rekrap at 9:58 AM on April 19, 2019 [3 favorites]

There appears to be a US version of the ABRSM who run exams in the subjects you mention.
posted by low_horrible_immoral at 12:18 PM on April 19, 2019

What is your specific reasoning for wanting a Masters degree? It’s an intensive course of study which is often quite expensive (in the US) unless you get an assistantship, like a TA position, which takes a lot of time/energy. Are there any particular career goals you have in mind? Most programs in the US are focused on Classical and Jazz though there are some that focus on popular music as well. For instance, if you just want to write/perform songs in a pop/rock genre, then a masters program isn’t really going to give you what you need. My masters program in composition required an exam to see if I needed to take additional (remedial) coursework in western classical music history and theory prior to taking my regular courses. Unless you are really interested in a career as a music educator, performer, or an academic (theorist, musicologist, ethnomusicologist, etc), a masters degree is really not necessary. I second all the suggestions above about continuing adult education or other avenues such as private lessons and online courses. There are a lot of ways to learn and develop those skills which don’t require enrolling in a degree program.
posted by acidnova at 12:36 PM on April 19, 2019 [2 favorites]

Another avenue is to contact the music library where you got your bachelor’s (if you institution has one) to ask about resources for self-study. They would have tons of textbooks and other learning resources you should have access to since you’re an alum. Some can be accessed online. Not everything circulates and you may have limited access if you’re not an active student but if you are able to visit the library, you can use the physical resources in person even if you can’t check them out.
posted by acidnova at 12:45 PM on April 19, 2019

(I have a bachelor's in music, never really considered graduate programs. I do spend a lot of time around musicians, including quite a few with various graduate degrees.)

Just to put some of the above answers in some perspective/context, here are the music graduate study pages from the websites of some of my local universities:

Cleveland State University: "The graduate degree program in music offers specializations in Composition, Music Education, and Performance. As well as three post-graduate programs: Professional Studies in Music Performance Certificate Program, K-12 Multiage License in Music Education – Post Baccalaureate Non-Degree Program and Post Baccalaureate Equivalency Program in Music Therapy."

Cleveland Institute of Music (a serious serious conservatory that produces top classical musicians): "If you want to extend your studies beyond your bachelor's or master's degree, your choices at CIM include the Master of Music, Professional Studies, Artist Diploma and Doctor of Musical Arts programs." And here's what you would be tested on if you wanted to enroll in graduate level music theory courses.

Oberlin College & Conservatory (another serious music study program) offers: "Artist Diploma - offered only in certain performance departments, is intended for a limited number of exceptionally gifted performers who have completed the BM or its equivalent, or who have acquired extensive musical experience or training through institutional or private studies or through unusual performing experiences", "Master of Music in Historical Performance", "Master of Contemporary Chamber Music", "Artist Diploma in Piano Technology". They also offer graduate degrees in "Baroque Cello, Conducting, Contmeporary Chamber Music, Fortepiano, Harpsichord, Historical Instruments, Historical Keyboard Instruments, Historical Oboes."

Case Western Reserve University School of Music Graduate Degree Programs:
MA in Music Education for Teacher Licensure
MA in Music Education
PhD in Music Education
MA in Music History
PhD in Historical Musicology
MA in Historical Performance Practice (HPP)
Musicology PhD HPP Concentration
DMA in Historical Performance Practice (HPP)

Just from those examples, it's pretty clear that most post-bachelor music studies are aimed at folks who are already deep into music or music-related things as a career, like performance, academia, education, or therapy. (And this is borne out by the musicians I know who have a Master or Doctorate - they've gotten those degrees as a requirement or advantage in their music education or academic jobs, or as performers.)

IOW, it's pretty specialized; while there are some areas of study where you could be admitted to a Master's program with an unrelated Bachelor's + passing the GRE, I don't think music is one of those areas.

So, Nthing everyone else - if you're looking for some kind of career change then you'll essentially need a bachelor's degree first (or the equivalent knowledge and/or performing experience, which . . . would be kinda hard to get without having actually devoted yourself to music pretty much full time.)

If you're more interested in gaining more formal knowledge and studying elements of music for your own enjoyment, Nthing continuing education and/or community college courses, and either don't worry about what degree you might end up with or be proud of the fact that two Bachelor's degrees or a Bachelor's + an Associate degree is still pretty special.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:21 PM on April 19, 2019 [1 favorite]

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