These Are the 10 Best Music Schools in California

It’s true – California is home to a number of amazing music schools.

Now, when people talk about the top music colleges in the country, we usually hear about the east coast or midwest schools.

You know them – in New York City alone we have several great music programs like MSM and Mannes, in Boston NEC and Berklee, Philadelphia has Curtis…

In the midwest, we talk about Michigan, Indiana, and Northwestern as the frontrunners. Other well-known programs in the midwest include Cleveland Institute of Music and Lawrence University’s Conservatory of Music.

However, the conversation often ends there, and most people “in the know” about music schools can usually name just 1 or 2 in California.

Today, we talk about 10 amazing music schools & programs based in California.


10. California State University-Northridge (Los Angeles, CA)

photo by Cbl62 via Wikimedia Commons

CSU-Northridge has a surprisingly large influence in the world of music.

For one, a great deal of music educators throughout the state of California received their training at CSU Northridge. That means, by association, tens of thousands of musicians were taught in high school by someone who is an alum of this school.

Outside of education, CSU-Northridge is one of the undergraduate programs in the country with a focus on two popular areas of contemporary music study – film scoring as well as music industry. 

And, they have quite an accomplished student body of jazz musicians. 

The faculty in jazz here is just outstanding – players like jazz legends John Pisano, Wayne Bergeron (also teaches at the next school in this list), and Luis Conte, percussionist who has performed with Eric Clapton, Madonna, and James Taylor.


9. Los Angeles College of Music (Los Angeles, CA)

LACM? 

It’s a mini-Berklee. 

Like Berklee, its focus is on contemporary popular music – that includes music production, performance, songwriting, jazz, the whole nine yards.

Also like Berklee, it is an urban campus.

Unlike Berklee, LACM is young and small – just 200 or so students comprise this unique school.

LACM is also, perhaps controversially, a for-profit music school. Although this is not normally associated as a positive, in this instance it is okay because the quality of the school is very high.

In particular, some of the faculty here are big names not only in Los Angeles, but throughout the entire country. People like jazz trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, previously a member of Maynard Ferguson’s 80s band, and Tim Landers, bassist for several notable acts including Al Di Meola and Gil Evans.

This is also one of the few schools in the US where you can major in guitar or electric bass performance. 


8. Azusa Pacific University School of Music (Azusa, CA)

Years ago, I ranked Azusa Pacific as one of the nation’s top hidden gem music schools

I standby this assertion today – Azusa Pacific is a fine school of music based outside of Los Angeles.

One unique program Azusa Pacific offers that few other music schools do is a major in Music and Worship. Although not required for a job in a Church, this degree would give students an advantage when searching for a job in a religious institution.

Other interesting offerings at Azusa Pacific include a Commercial Music major. Unlike the majority of Commercial music majors at schools across the country, this one is focused on the Christian Music Industry. Although a niche major, this could be the right school for someone interested in the business, production, and performance of contemporary Christian music.

Finally, APU is among the growing list of schools with an Entrepreneurship program specifically for music. Available at the Master’s degree level, this program is designed to help music students start and grow careers in music business or management.

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