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I receive numerous inquiries regarding the pursuit of a career in music as well as questions about attending a college or university with the intent of obtaining some sort of degree in music. While a diploma is certainly not necessary in order to play music for a living, many believe, including myself, that having some formal training, which can include an actual degree, is certainly a positive element in being a versatile musician in an age when jobs can be hard to come by.

Assuming that you have decided to take the serious step in attending a school of higher learning, there are a number of degrees available within the Music field:

  • Bachelor of Music in Performance
  • Bachelor of Music in Music Education
  • Bachelor of Music in Music Education / Jazz Emphasis
  • Bachelor of Music in Music Therapy
  • Bachelor of Music in Music Business / Entertainment Industries
  • Bachelor of Music in Music Theory
  • Bachelor of Music Engineering
  • Bachelor of Music in Studio Music & Jazz
  • Bachelor of Music in Composition
  • Bachelor of Music in Composition / Commercial Music and Production Emphasis
  • Bachelor of Music in Musical Theatre
  • Bachelor of Arts in Music

Keep in mind that not every school offers these degrees, and there may be some degrees that I have left out.

Which one pays the most money? Well, this varies as well. It all depends on the region where you plan to live/work, as well as what the economy and demand is at the time you've completed your degree. I will say that institutional music educator salaries are a bit more predictable, so let me share about that.

Public and private school teachers receive better pay than post-secondary teachers. The majority of post-secondary teachers are found among college and university faculty.

If you want to work in the public schools, you'll need a Bachelor of Music in Music Education. This generally isn't the case for post-secondary teachers, a Music Performance degree will suffice, but they typically must also have a Masters of Music degree. Schools do vary on what they want and expect from potential instructors. Some may want you to have a Music Education, even though you will be teaching percussion at a post-secondary school. I don't want to get into all the reasons why schools may or may not want specific degrees because the variables are too great and take too long to cover them all.

Here's some interesting facts about post-secondary teachers ...

Post-secondary teachers held nearly 1.6 million jobs in 2002. Most were employed in public and private 4-year colleges and universities and in 2-year community colleges. Post-secondary career and technical education teachers also are employed by schools and institutes that specialize in training people in a specific field, such as technology centers or culinary schools. Some career and technical education teachers work for State and local governments and job training facilities. The following tabulation shows post-secondary teaching jobs in specialties having 20,000 or more jobs in 2002:

Graduate teaching assistants ... 128,000
Vocational education teachers ... 119,000
Health specialties teachers ... 86,000
Business teachers ... 67,000
Art, drama, and music teachers ... 58,000
English language and literature teachers ... 55,000
Education teachers ... 42,000
Biological science teachers ... 47,000
Mathematical science teachers ... 41,000
Nursing instructors and teachers ... 37,000
Computer science teachers ... 33,000
Engineering teachers ... 29,000
Psychology teachers ... 26,000

Another thing to keep in mind is that many schools now expect their faculty to either hold or be in the process of obtaining a Doctorate degree. Back when I received my Bachelor degree (mid-80s), the State of Texas was graduating EIGHT music doctorates a year ... in PERCUSSION!!! That means that there were eight individuals each year, just from Texas alone, all fighting for the few university jobs that are available world-wide. How many of those 58,000 university jobs were percussion instructors? And generally the pay increase is not that big (a few thousand dollars) when you get a doctorate degree ... at least in music.

Median annual earnings of all post-secondary teachers in 2002 were $49,040. The middle 50 percent earned between $34,310 and $69,580. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,080, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $92,430.

Earnings for college faculty vary according to rank and type of institution, geographic area, and field. According to a 2002-03 survey by the American Association of University Professors, salaries for full-time faculty averaged $64,455. By rank, the average was $86,437 for professors, $61,732 for associate professors, $51,545 for assistant professors, $37,737 for instructors, and $43,914 for lecturers. Faculty in 4-year institutions earn higher salaries, on average, than do those in 2-year schools. In 2002-03, average faculty salaries in public institutions—$63,974—were lower than those in private independent institutions—$74,359—but higher than those in religiously affiliated private colleges and universities—$57,564. In fields with high-paying nonacademic alternatives—medicine, law, engineering, and business, among others—earnings exceed these averages. In others—such as the humanities and education—they are lower.

Many faculty members have significant earnings, in addition to their base salary, from consulting, teaching additional courses, research, writing for publication, or other employment. In addition, many college and university faculty enjoy some unique benefits, including access to campus facilities, tuition waivers for dependents, housing and travel allowances, and paid sabbatical leaves. Part-time faculty usually have fewer benefits than do full-time faculty.

Earnings for post-secondary career and technical education teachers vary widely by subject, academic credentials, experience, and region of the country. Part-time instructors usually receive few benefits.

Don't know which music degree to work on? My advice is don't worry about all of this right now. If you KNOW that you are going to be a Music Major, that's good enough for now. Regardless of which music field you plan on specializing in, the first TWO YEARS of your schooling will be the same ... regardless of the degree you eventually go for. You do need to have some idea of what direction you would like to take, especially if the degree is not readily available at every school. An example, very few music universities offer the Bachelor of Music Business, Music Engineering, Jazz Studies, Music Therapy, etc. Almost all music universities DO offer Music Performance, Music Education, Music Theory and Music Composition.

If you know that you do not want to teach, then you will more than likely need to find a school that has more options for you. If you want to play for a living and/or plan on getting a Music Performance degree, you should go to a good music school with a GREAT percussion instructor; you'll be getting most of your knowledge and training from him/her.

Bart Elliott

Bart Elliott is a degreed professional musician with a Bachelor of Music in Percussion Performance, and Master of Music post-graduate work. His 40+ years in the music and entertainment industry, over 100 album recordings to his credit, as well as an exhaustive understanding of contemporary and classical music makes him a complete and skilled master musician.

Bart continues to work as an active drummer, percussionist, composer, producer, music arranger, director, comedian, MC, educator, writer and visual artist. He is the owner and creator of, which he founded in December of 1996.