Is a Music Theory Degree Right for You?

If you want to understand how music works, you might consider an online bachelors degree in music theory. In a music theory program, students explore music history and major works to lay a foundation for in-depth study of music functions, like rhythm, harmony, texture, pitch, and dynamics. The field goes well beyond music appreciation to study music under a microscope. However, application and performance are important elements of music theory study. It is an analytical field that often leads to careers in academia. As a result, you should consider a bachelor’s degree in music theory as part of a longer educational career.

Advice for Earning Your Music Theory Degree Online

Students looking for a 100% online bachelors degree in music theory will have limited options. Undergraduate music course work entails applied music lessons and group ensembles where students become proficient in one or more instruments or in vocal performance. And, some programs require an audition to apply for admission.

However, many colleges offer a wide selection of general education courses online, and lecture-based courses in music theory, music history, and music literature can all be delivered effectively online. To ensure program quality and access to federal financial aid, you should only enroll in programs offered by accredited colleges, particularly those accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM).

Required Courses

Online music theory degree programs include lecture courses in theory, music history, and analysis, as well as general education classes in literature, math, science, and social sciences. Common required music theory courses include:

  • Form and 20th Century Techniques
  • Music Analysis
  • Aural Perception
  • History of Music
  • Composition

Common Career Paths

Some potential careers for those with a bachelor’s degree in Music Theory include:

Musicians and Singers

  • Expected Growth: 10%
  • Average Hourly Wage: $34.26

Musicians and singers perform their songs on big stages, small venues, and in studios across the nation. While you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to become a musician or singer, many find that the formal training they receive in college helped them sharpen their music skills and improve their craft, making them more marketable in a competitive business. The figures above were gathered from the BLS

Music Directors and Composers

  • Expected Growth: 10%
  • Average Annual Salary: $53,370

Music directors and composers write music, organize musical performances, lead choirs and orchestras, and arrange music, among other tasks. It generally takes many years of experience in the music industry and music performance before you can attain a career as a music director or composer, but many get their foot in the door through freelance work. Composers may write music for films, television, radio, theatre, musicals, operas, and more.

The degree level necessary will depend on the type of job you pursue, with symphony orchestra conductors often requiring a master’s degree, choir directors needing a bachelor’s degree, and professional songwriters often requiring no degree at all. Figures above were provided by the BLS.

High School Music Teachers

  • Expected Growth: 7%
  • Average Annual Salary: $59,125

High school Music teachers work with 9-12 grade students in choir, band, or orchestra. They lead ensemble rehearsals, where students practice technique and prepare for rehearsals. They also teach music fundamentals and theory, as well as sight-reading and ear-training.

A bachelor’s degree and a teaching certificate is required to teach in most public and private schools and a degree in music theory will be useful, particularly when teaching theory to advanced students. The figures above were provided by the BLS.

Independent Music Teachers

  • Expected Growth: 21%
  • Average Hourly Wage: $21.48

Independent music teachers are usually self-employed and work with music students on an individual basis. They set their own rates, which are often based on the market, as well as their individual experience, credentials, and the level at which they teach. With a music theory degree, you may attract students who are more advanced and working toward a long-term study of music. Figures above were provided by the BLS.

Postsecondary Teachers

  • Expected Growth: 17%
  • Average Annual Salary: $80,615

College music professors teach undergraduate and graduate courses in music, such as music methods, music education, and music theory. They also supervise teaching assistants, develop and revise music curriculum, conduct research, and participate in university committees. Many also serve secondary roles as director of college choral ensembles and play a role in recruiting talented students to the music department.

Doctoral degrees are preferred for postsecondary teaching positions, and a bachelor’s degree in music theory is a necessary precursor to graduate study. The salary and growth figures above were provided by the BLS.


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