A young singer exploring college voice degrees will find a veritable alphabet soup of degree options including BM, BA, BME, BFA, and BMT. Knowing the differences can help a high school singer choose the right degree for his or her career path.
by Cynthia Vaughn
BM (Bachelor of Music) in Vocal Performance
This is typically a degree in classical vocal performance with an emphasis on opera, oratorio, and art song. Several schools offer BM degrees in Vocal Jazz Studies and a few schools are now offering a BM in Popular Music (rock, pop, R&B, country) or Contemporary Commercial Music.
BA (Bachelor of Arts) in Music
With an emphasis in voice, the BA in music may offer liberal arts majors a secondary emphasis such as business, theater, or foreign language. The secondary track is more than a minor and less than a double major. In some states, such as California, a BA performance degree may be equivalent to a BM at other schools.
BME (Bachelor of Music Education)
This is a music degree for elementary or secondary vocal music teachers and choir directors.
BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts)
This is a degree offered in Music Theater and is usually housed in either the music or the theater department.
BMT (Bachelor of Music Therapy)
Voice majors in this degree often have music skills and an interest in the science and medicine. Future vocal music majors are often the top singers in their high schools. It is not unusual for talented teens to sing a variety of vocal styles in high school. They sing in select school choirs, All State Choir, jazz choirs, glee clubs and show choir. They play leading roles in school musicals; take private voice and piano lessons; compete in and win NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) Student Auditions and local talent competitions. Many top high school singers are also excellent pianists, actors, and dancers, and may be in the school band and choirs. At the college level, however, undergraduate BM, BA, and BME vocal majors will most often study and perform classical and choral music. Smaller schools and liberal arts colleges may offer more opportunities for students to participate in a variety of vocal ensembles and vocal styles.
Some Questions to Ask As You Explore University Vocal Degree Programs:
- What kind of music will I study and perform? Can I sing classical and contemporary styles? Are freshmen allowed to audition for select choirs and stage shows?
- Who will be my voice teacher? Will I study with voice faculty or with a graduate student? Will I have 30-minute or hour lessons? Do I get to choose my voice teacher? (Usually not! Freshman are usually assigned to faculty.) In some large music schools, music education voice students are not considered voice “majors”, but rather voice emphasis.
- How large is the graduate program? The larger the graduate program, the fewer opportunities there may be for underclassmen to perform in the top ensembles or play leading roles in operas and musicals.
- How important are piano skills? Very! The smartest thing a potential voice major can do to ensure success as a music major is to take piano lessons and learn the basics of music theory. Dance and acting skills are also critical for BFA music theater majors.
- What are the solo recital requirements for undergraduates? BM performance majors may be expected to prepare and perform a junior and senior recital or just a senior recital. Music Education majors may perform a solo senior recital, or no recital. BA majors may have an option of performing a recital or preparing a paper or presentation. Music Therapy majors may have vocal assessments as part of their practicum, but may not be required to perform a solo recital. At some schools BME , BMT, or BFA students have an option to pursue a concurrent Performers Certificate, which implies a level of classical vocal achievement expected of BM Vocal Performance majors.
- How long will it take to earn my degree? Many vocal performance and music education degrees require so many credits that it is nearly impossible to complete in four years without taking summer courses.
- What kind of job can I get with a voice degree? BME graduates are prepared to go right into classroom music teaching and secondary choral conducting. Jazz and contemporary music grads can become free-lance performers and recording artists. Classical BM voice majors often go directly to graduate vocal performance degrees to build skills and allow their voices to mature for the opera stage. BFA Music Theater voice majors start auditioning as soon as they graduate and may be hired by regional theater companies, touring companies, cruise ships, theme parks, and perhaps Broadway and Off-Broadway. Upon graduating, BMT voice majors often apply for internships at medical clinics and residential facilities. Music may not end up being your day job. Businesses of all types, including high tech firms, are increasingly hiring “creatives” with fine arts and liberal arts degrees. Music majors have the creativity, leadership, communication and people skills to excel in many outside fields.