3. Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)
The DMA is the more common alternative to the PhD since a major written thesis requirement is waived for most candidates who enter this major. In its place, musicians can submit a more creative addition to their portfolio that will have a larger impact on their career than a thesis paper.
I have seen DMA theses as varied as:
- A large scale original work orchestral work.
- A recital featuring the candidate as the star performer.
- An album of original music that was released/published/marketed, etc.
Sometimes, there are benefits to specific PhD programs over DMA programs. For example, some Ivy League schools only offer PhDs to a select group of majors, usually Composition/Theory/Musicology, and they have more stipend money to offer to their candidates.
Otherwise, the DMA makes more sense for many musicians.
As previously mentioned, colleges seek either candidates equipped with a DMA or PhD for professorships.
Best for: Musicians seeking a doctoral degree that wish to waive the written thesis requirement in favor of a more creative thesis.
2. Master of Music (MM or MMus)
The Master of Music is the graduate level equivalent of the Bachelor’s of Music.
Usually, the credit load will be significantly smaller than a Bachelor’s. Whereas a Bachelor’s is usually 120 credits, a Master’s can be as little as 30 credits and as many as 60 credits.
This degree is ideal for musicians who wish to have a very intensive graduate degree in music with a small amount of emphasis placed on the liberal arts.
Best for: Students looking to pursue the most commonly pursued graduate music degree.
1. Bachelor’s of Music (BM or BMus)
The “gold standard” for undergraduate music degrees, this degree is designed for students who wish to have an intensive undergraduate curriculum in music while still taking an appropriate number of credits to attain a Bachelor’s degree. Students pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Music will typically take 70-80% of core credits in music and an additional 20-30% of credits in academic subjects.
The Bachelor’s in Music is more musically intensive in its overall curriculum than its counterpart, the Bachelor’s in Arts.
For classical performers, composers, jazz performers, and also many singer-songwriting programs, the BM is the degree most compatible for musicians with those aforementioned interests.
If a student wishes to double major in an academic subject, there are advantages to the BA over the BM. However, the BM is more music intensive, so some double majors who want the extra-intensive education pursue both a BM and a secondary Bachelor’s in an outside field.
Best for: Undergraduate students wishing to obtain the most curriculum intensive in music possible while still achieving a Bachelor’s Degree.
Other Types of Music Degrees
Other degree types do exist, although anything outside of the 9 listed previously are uncommon.
One interesting type of program is a joint MA/PhD program. These are offered at a number of high level academic institutions, such as Harvard, Princeton, and Cornell. The students in these programs are usually Composers, Theorists, or Musicologists who have demonstrated significant academic and musical accomplishment.
One interesting degree that is offered at a few schools is the Bachelor’s of Science. The Singer-Songwriter program at the University of Colorado-Denver, for example is a Bachelor’s of Science. It isn’t clear to me why this program is a BS and not a BMus or a BA, but after looking at the curriculum, it appears more or less equivalent to the BMus.
Indiana University also offers a Bachelor’s of Science degree for musicians who wish to pursue a double major. This is known as the Bachelor’s of Science in Music and an Outside Field (BSOF).
Yale offers a special Master’s degree called the MMA, the Master’s in Musical Arts.
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