New York City has a lot going for it when it comes to studying music.
Opportunities are endless, paid gigs are abundant, accomplished musicians are available for networking, and most importantly, a number of excellent college music programs exist in New York City.
NYC is unlike any other music culture I have ever seen; you can find literally anything here. Uptown has the classical mainstays – the New York Philharmonic, Metropolitan Opera, and more.
Downtown has all the jazz clubs, rock venues; any subgenre you could possibly be interested in has representation in New York City, be it electronic, country, hip-hop, or avant-garde contemporary.
What is especially interesting about attending music school in New York City is the faculty at these schools. These are professors who are not only excellent teachers, they are dedicated professionals themselves who are members of the New York City music community.
Take Juilliard for instance. If you study an orchestral instrument, chances are your teacher performs in the New York Philharmonic or has a notable soloist career.
Or, NYU Tisch’s Clive Davis Recorded Music program. Their faculty are among the top in contemporary popular music today.
With such a diversity of programs and musicians, it is easy to see why New York City is such a haven for musicians of all genres.
Today, I outline what are, in the opinion of Music School Central, the ten best music schools in New York City.
First up on the list is Pace University, a choice that at first glance may seem unusual, however has quite a lot going for it.
At the heart of the Pace musical experience is their selective Musical Theatre program. Currently a top-20 school in terms of Broadway placement, alumni of this program are currently performing in hit musicals such as Mean Girls, My Fair Lady, Waitress, Carousel, and more.
Faculty at the school are experienced MT professionals themselves with backgrounds in Broadway as well as throughout the entertainment industry.
Another unique program at Pace is a business program with an especial focus in Arts & Entertainment Management. Although not a music program per se, it is an especially good choice for a student interested in studying music business.
In fact, students in the program in recent years have landed internships and jobs with major music companies, including Warner Music Group, Sony Music, and more.
Pace does have a strong performing arts program, and while it is acting and drama dominated, these two individual programs are excellent choices.
Brooklyn College Conservatory of Music
Brooklyn College Conservatory is a true hidden gem; many of its faculty members also teach at Juilliard, MSM, and the other more well-known music schools in New York City.
This school is among the few in the country to offer a degree in film and television scoring! Known as the Media Scoring program, this MFA degree offers students access to faculty who have produced works for major motion pictures.
This includes Jonathan Zalben, a fairly recent addition to their faculty who has scored music for television shows on HBO, Lionsgate, Discovery Channel, and Sony Pictures Classics. Another faculty member, Ron Bochar, has worked in sound editing alongside numerous directors, including Jonathan Demme and Frank Oz.
However, film scoring is hardly the only offering here. The school is complete with majors in performance, technology, and even jazz. Its location in Brooklyn is ideal, as Brooklyn has become an equal to Manhattan in terms of its artistic breadth and offerings, providing a desirable location for student opportunity both in and out of school.
Queens College Aaron Copland School of Music
I consider Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music to be the best value music school in the country when considering the quality of education in combination with affordability.
With in-state tuition costing less than $7,000(!!) a year, and out-of-state costing roughly double that, this school is an absolute bargain for the quality.
Several highly-accomplished musicians adorn the faculty listing at this school. They include Marcy Rosen, cellist of the Mendelssohn Quartet, David Jolley, horn player who also teaches at Mannes and Manhattan School of Music, and clarinetist Charles Neidich, who also teaches at Juilliard.
Historically, a number of titans in academia taught here, such as influential theorist Carl Schacter and Pulitzer-winning composer George Perle. Their legacy has continued to influence the school today, as Aaron Copland theory and composition programs are true hidden gems in the world of music.
Aaron Copland School of Music benefits greatly from its association with Queens College, making it a smart and affordable choice for a music student interested in pursuing music alone or in combination with an academic major.
American Musical Dramatic Academy (AMDA)
If this were a list of top musical theatre programs in New York City, AMDA would be in top-5.
AMDA’s only music program, however, is indeed musical theatre, and because of this, it may be better characterized as an acting school rather than a music program. However, the strength of its musical theatre program makes it worthy of inclusion on this list.
What’s cool about AMDA? You can study in both NYC and Los Angeles, the two meccas of the modern entertainment industry today.
What’s also great about AMDA is the breadth of experience the faculty have. Teachers are not just trained actors; many have actually starred in musicals and television shows you probably know well.
Alumni include Marissa Jaret Winokur, a Tony-award winning actress, American actor Paul Sorvino, and international pop stars Jason Derulo and Janelle Monae.
NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
The Steinhardt school at NYU is rather unique in the world of music in that it has something for nearly every musician.
I’m talking about music production, music business, classical and jazz performance, musical theatre, film composing, songwriting, popular music performance…
It is rare for a music program to cater to every major interest and genre.
Yet NYU does it, and does it quite well.
The faculty here are just as good as at any of the other New York City schools, like MSM and Juilliard. In fact, many of the teachers at those schools also teach at NYU!
It also benefits from its affiliation with NYU. Students at Steinhardt can dual major in music and another academic subject in either Steinhardt or the College of Arts in Science. This covers many majors and is a strong option for the student who wants to have an academic background in conjunction with high-level musical training.
NYU Tisch School of the Arts
I include NYU twice on this list for one reason – the Steinhardt School and NYU Tisch are so different in their offerings, each department deserves special recognition.
Additionally, if you apply to NYU, you can only apply to one of these schools, not both at the same time.
NYU Tisch is widely known for its musical theatre program. Possibly the most prestigious MT program nationwide, NYU is the #1 most represented institution on Broadway year after year.
While Steinhardt does have a musical theatre program, it is a BMus, while Tisch’s is a BFA.
The distinction? The BMus has more credit-hour focus on music, while the BFA has more credit-hour focus on drama. However, both programs do have courses in both subjects.
The other major program at NYU Tisch is the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music. Alongside Berklee, Belmont, and USC, this is probably the premiere contemporary popular music program in the country.
The focus at Clive Davis is entirely on musical entrepreneurship, a distinction it owns from other popular music schools. Within the school are subdivisions of entrepreneurship, including music production, performance, songwriting, and even music journalism.
The idea here is to provide students with real-world business skills to be successful upon graduation. The program is super selective and tailored towards a very specific kind of music student, so if you are interested, I would recommend attending their summer program first before applying.
New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music
When talking about jazz performance and schools in New York City, four schools come up – NYU, New School, Juilliard, and Manhattan School of Music.
What I like about The New School for Jazz that makes it standout is its focus on contemporary genres of music mixed with jazz. While jazz is no doubt the focus of the program, and best suited for jazz musicians, its program is not centered around “mainstream” or “big band” styles of jazz like some other schools are.
One program that exemplifies this cutting-edge approach is the school’s MM Performer-Composer degree. The idea behind this program is to “blur the line” between composition, improvisation, and performance, drawing in influences from not only jazz, but electronic music, minimalism, rock, and experimental genres.
The result of this approach is a philosophy wholly unique to The New School. I’d highly suggest this school for the jazz musician who wants an education not just in traditional jazz performance, but also a, dare I say, “newer” approach to jazz education.
Mannes College of Music
The profile of Mannes has changed – dramatically – over the past decade.
As early as November 2014, I posted an interview with the Dean of Mannes, Richard Kessler. Still at the school 6 years later, Richard spoke with me about how the school was internally following a new protocol called Mannes In a New Key. Essentially, the idea behind this was helping Mannes’ students become relevant musical citizens, teaching them not only performance classes, but also skills in entrepreneurship.
After all, if you are working behind the scenes of a major musical organization, you will need leadership capabilities beyond music theory, performance, and history, the core triad of courses taught at traditional music conservatory.
Another thing Mannes did to raise its profile over the last five years is hiring out new faculty, many of which are successful musicians outside of academia. These include people like Missy Mazzoli, one of the nation’s most successful classical composers.
Mannes built its reputation decades ago as “the theory school,” as it had unusually heavy emphasis on advanced theory concepts. While these courses are still available at Mannes, the curriculum has changed.
Like NYU, I felt that The New School deserved two separate insertions on this list, as Mannes is very different from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. Both, however, are premiere.
Manhattan School of Music
MSM has it all if you are looking for a career in classical, jazz, or musical theatre performance.
With students who are just as skilled as musicians from any other school, many of MSM’s programs are at the top in the country.
Very possibly, MSM has the best jazz school in the country. I would have to rank it top-7 alongside Juilliard, USC, NEC, Miami, Berklee, and Indiana, all in no particular order.
Faculty include some of the most accomplished names in jazz performance, such as jazz saxophone legend David Liebman, jazz bassist Ron Carter, and Stefon Harris, the Director of their program. Because of the opportunity to study with living legends in jazz, only a small portion of applicants to MSM’s jazz program are accepted.
Like the other classical music programs on this list, MSM’s faculty, even outside jazz, are excellent teachers. Many teachers at MSM hold dual appointments with the other major NYC schools, such as NYU, Juilliard, and Mannes.
What makes MSM unique is its conservatory atmosphere and focus. In the US, only about a dozen or so schools can call themselves independent music conservatories, meaning they are not operated by a parent university.
By staying an independent conservatory, MSM reflects a unique focus in its program unencumbered by academic expectations of a large university. While you DO have to complete academic courses at MSM to get a degree, the core focus is never questioned.
Also, unlike the next school on this list, MSM is rare in that it is an independent conservatory with a musical theatre major.
What can be said about Juilliard that has not been said thousands of times elsewhere?
No school in the country is more prestigious than Juilliard to the general public. In the world of music, Colburn and Curtis are equals, perhaps more desirable as they are tuition-free.
Looking deeper into what the school has to offer, the school is among the few where I can confidently say every musician is unbelievably talented. Because Juilliard only accepts about 5% of candidates in any given year, they only take students with the most advanced training and dedication.
You can point to nearly any program and convincingly say it is one of the best in the country. Their Piano performance program has produced some of the most successful pianists in the country, including the likes of Chick Corea and Van Cliburn. Their faculty in the same program are perhaps some of the nation’s most renowned pedagogues, including Yoheved “Veda” Kaplinsky, widely regarded as a top piano teacher nationwide.
The same goes for all their programs – strings, brass, percussion, composition, woodwind, and voice.
As I’ve talked about with other schools here, one of the biggest benefits to attending Juilliard is who you are going to study with. Especially in the world of classical music, finding the right teacher is among the most important considerations for a classical musician.
The teachers at Juilliard are at the top of their field. Some have even written the definitive texts on mastering their particular instrument, or at least widely used ones.
Juilliard is certainly competitive, not only in admission but also at the school. I liken the competition to a healthy kind, where students want to be the best, but are also supportive of their peers. More often than not, alumni of the school talk about how supportive their peers and teachers are, even if the faculty have the highest of expectations for their students.
Outside of classical performance, Juilliard has a small but elite jazz program as well.
I’m sure after reading through this you’ve gained some good insight into New York City music schools. Finding the best fit option for you, however, is a journey beyond this article.