ABC’s of Voice Degrees

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.

Cynthia Vaughn (BA and MA in Music Vocal Performance) co-authored with Meribeth Dayme, PhD, THE SINGING BOOK, a leading college voice textbook and song anthology (3rd edition 2014, W.W. Norton). She taught voice at the university level for ten years (Colorado State University, Cedarville University) and prepares many young singers for college auditions. Vaughn is an active NATS (National Association of Teachers of Singing) member who has performed across the country in professional classical and music theater productions, and studio recording. She is a frequent adjudicator for vocal competitions, teaches masterclasses, and is founder and director of Magnolia Music Studio in Fort Collins, Colorado.


  1. Adam

    I’m a sophomore in high school right now, and as I just made the TMEA All State TB choir, I feel pretty confident in doing something related to voice in college. I’ve taken vocal lessons for years, have participated in numerous choirs and competitions, but I don’t really have any piano skills, and I’m also pretty overwhelmed with all the options out there. What are some good career choices for me, and furthermore, how can I make those happen?

    • Congratulations for making it into All State!

      Take a look at our article, “What Can You Do with a Music Degree?”. We encourage you to read it and also to click on any relevant careers/jobs (highlighted in red) for more information. Note that keyboard skills will be required for all music majors but unless you are a piano major, you’ll only need to take a minimum number of piano classes to provide you with the proficiency all music majors need to continue on in music as a career. We also encourage you to take a summer music program – and if there’s a school you’re particularly interested in, see if they’re offering one in voice. Our 2023 Summer Music Camps & Programs page will be adding more options over the next few months but take a look at it now to get started. Wishing you well in your musical pursuits!

  2. Hannah

    Hi, I’m currently a sophomore in high school and I want to potentially pursue a career in either songwriting or voice. The problem is that I’ve never taken any vocal lessons, but I’ve always joined my school’s chorus ever since middle school. If I start lessons now, is it possible to get into a college for vocal within 2 years? Also, what are colleges typically expecting of your skill both vocally and songwriting wise? Thank you very much and any help is much appeciated

    • A lot depends on your finding a skilled teacher to work with who can help you create a steady practice schedule with healthy vocal technique. It will be a lot of work. But why not go for it and see what happens? You also have time this summer and next to take summer music programs where you can focus on vocal technique, get lots of practice in, learn about what it would really be like to major in voice and/or songwriting, and even meet people who teach these programs at colleges universities. Start your summer program search here: Summer Music Camps & Programs.

  3. Kelby

    I am a senior this year and as I am trying to narrow down my major, I want to know what the difference is between a Commercial Voice major and a vocal performance major?

    • Look at the classes you’d be taking in programs that offer these different majors. Vocal Performance is typically a classical voice major. The curriculum typically includes a focus on diction and literature, including English, Italian, German and French repertoire. Foreign language study is typically required.

      Commercial Voice refers to popular music, often a singer/songwriter focus, and a focus on working in the music industry as opposed to opera and more classical settings. Lines are being blurred more and more but this will hopefully be a good way to differentiate.

  4. Kelby

    I am going to be a senior this fall and I am trying to narrow down what I want my major to be. I love singing clssical music and I love musical theatre music as well. Is it possible to double major in vocal performance and musical theatre?

    • We don’t know of any schools that would allow you to major in both – double majors are typically in music plus a non-music field. Take a look at the audition requirements for voice programs and musical theatre programs. Also look at descriptions offered by schools and the curriculum for each major. This should help you gain a clearer sense of the path that will fit you best.

  5. Alyssa

    I am a senior in high school this year, and I have always been extremely passionate about vocal performance, musical theatre, and choir. I love performing for others, and I also love teaching others on how to improve their performance skills. I have a very classical style voice. However, my ultimate dream in life is to one day be a wife and mother, and I think it would be really amazing to be a vocal coach working from my home. What degree would help me to be most successful as a vocal coach? And what other training would I want to seek outside of school to expand my vocal performance knowledge?

    • Here are some suggestions: A vocal performance degree coupled with pedagogy training or a music education degree focusing on voice should set you up to do the work you want to do. Let schools you’re considering applying to know of your goal, and see which program would best meet that. ALSO get entrepreneurship training on how to set up a private studio, market, network, etc. More and more college-level programs are offering this, but you have to make room in your schedule for it since it’s typically not mandatory (yet). Consider joining a college student chapter of NATS (they’re actually called “SNATS” – google to learn more). Get lots of experience rehearsing and singing solo and in ensembles. Find a great voice teacher who is also a good mentor.

  6. Lovisa

    Is this the right major for someone who’s interested in being a vocalist in a band or just “normal” on stage singing? Or is it more directed towards opera and musical singing?

    • A vocal performance major typically studies classical and operatic vocal music. A popular music major typically studies songwriting and contemporary music. But every school is different and they don’t necessarily call their programs by the same name. So look at what you want to study, find schools that say they offer that, look at the actual curriculum at each of those schools, and then contact the schools if you still have questions (use the school forms on our website if the schools participate).

  7. I will be a senior this fall. My question is, what will be expected of me to sing in college? I have no problem singing classical music/ opera, but it’s not really my style of voice and what I like to sing. So would I have much of an option to get into more contemporary style of music. I will do what it takes to get my degree, I just don’t want to have a career in classical music, but want more of my own style. So would singing more classical music in choir/ voice recitals effect what I really want to do? Thanks.

    • It all depends on the school you go to and the type of program you get accepted to. We suggest that you look at the websites of schools you’re interested in and see if you can find their required courses for voice majors. It sounds like you might not be very happy in a classical performance-oriented major, where your technical training and required foreign language classes would be opera-oriented. As a popular music major, your focus and ensemble work would be very different and you might focus on songwriting and technology as well as performance, but you would still study music theory, history, and receive technical voice training.

      Read our articles on popular music to learn more. Schools we work with that have popular music programs are linked on the side of those articles to make it easy for you to learn more.

  8. Hannah

    I’m going to graduate this year and I am planning to become a vocal performance major (classical and/or contemporary). What kind of tips can you give to a music student auditioning for select schools?

    • We assume you mean you’ll be graduating next spring and applying to schools this fall for admission the following fall. So first and foremost, review the application and audition requirements very carefully on the websites of each school you’re interested in applying to. Make yourself a spreadsheet or use the Application Table here on so that you can track all of the important information. Don’t assume that any two schools will ask for the same audition! Start preparing for your audition as soon as possible, with the help of a teacher who has a strong track record of working with students with similar proficiency as yours. Be aware that some of the schools you’re interested in will require a recorded pre-screen that will determine whether or not you’re offered an actual audition.

      Also, remember that schools are interested in accepting students who are already strong musicians who they can train and bring to higher levels of proficiency. You’ll want to be able to demonstrate your passion and great interest in vocal performance as well.

      • Lauren

        I’m a freshman in high school and I’m taking music theory right now. But I want to major in like the vocal part of it. But I haven’t ever taken choir but I know the basics of music and I play piano. Would it be hard to get accepted to a college if I want to major in the singing part of it if I only take music theory? Because I really want to be a recording artist. I hope my question makes sense

        • Based on what you say, unless you get sufficient voice training between now and the beginning of your senior year, you will not be sufficiently prepared to audition for university and conservatory programs. Liberal arts colleges are less demanding when it comes to prior musical training, so consider liberal arts schools with good music programs. We highly encourage you to take voice lessons and summer music programs so you can see whether this is really the right path to pursue.

  9. Alluri

    My daughter is a freshman in High School. She goes to highly reputed Arts High School and is studying Classical Voice. She is still unsure of what she would like to become, but firmly says that she wants to double major in Music (Classical Voice) and Science. While she is clear about her music part (Classical Voice, Operas, Art Songs, Composing etc.,), she a bit confused about the science part. She loves Biology and is interested more in Anatomy and Physiology. At this point in time she says she doesn’t want to be a doctor. What are some of the tips you could give her? So far she has been a straight A student and is planning to take all toughest possible academic courses her high school has to offer. What are some of the target top tier and second tier school you would suggest her to take a look at and do some research on? Your help and advice would be highly appreciated.

    • We’re glad to hear your daughter is passionate about music and science. As she continues through high school, we hope she’ll have many opportunities to check out her interests and even explore others. As for the music part of it, we highly encourage her to look at attending summer music programs. You can find an excellent selection right on under “Summer Music Camps & Programs” (big orange button). Some of these are full by now but others aren’t. We encourage her to look and apply as soon as possible. She can do this in conjunction with taking a science summer program as well to explore that interest.

      We also encourage you and your daughter to read this article: Dual Degrees, Double Majors, and Music Minors.

      We do offer individual and family consulting to help explore all of this more in depth. Let us know if that’s something you’d like to pursue.

  10. Bibek Adhikari

    Are there music production courses for international students? What would be the possible fees per semester?

    • Several of the U.S. and UK schools we work with offer Music Production as a major field of study. Visit their participating school pages and click on the “Majors Offered” link on each one to see if they offer what you want. Then look at the “Tuition” link on the pages of schools you’re interested in, to see the tuition and fees for international students.

  11. Yeraldim

    My daughter has never taken voice lesson or lessons for any musical instrument due to financial difficulties. But she sings very well and she is dead set on studying music this fall. Will it be difficult for her to pursue a music degree?

    • f you’re talking about studying music in college this fall, we assume she already applied and was/is waiting to be accepted for an area other than music. In that case, she would likely find someone at her college, perhaps a music junior or senior with whom she could take voice or instrument lessons at a lower fee. She could also try out for ensembles and choirs on campus without being a music major. And she could minor in music if that’s offered at her school.

  12. Analiesaa

    I have not yet graduated high school, but will next year. I have been taking voice lessons for about 6 years now and I am planning on majoring in vocal performance and was curious how difficult it is to find a job with this degree and what type of jobs are most likely to hire. Would it be worth it to get this degree or should I choose something else to pursue a degree in?

    • There’s no quick answer to your question. There are many career avenues to pursue with a voice degree. And remember that many of the skills you learn as a music major are transferable to any career.

      Here are a few suggestions to help you learn more: 1. Read “What Can You Do with a Music Degree?” for ideas. 2. So much of it has to do with the training and experiences you gain in addition to voice training. Read articles on about entrepreneurship and music. 3. Talk with the schools you’ll be applying to, to find out what kinds of career development opportunities they offer. 4. Learn whatever you can from professional vocalists about the many ways they make a living with their music. 5. Be prepared to be flexible and open to putting a career together from more than one income stream.

  13. Pam

    Thanks so much for the article! I just graduated from my undergrad at Princeton, but I studied psychology (not music, though I took a number of courses in theory, jazz history, composition and have been singing in jazz groups and ensembles for a while). I am now hoping to go back to school for jazz voice. I was wondering if you have any recommendations at to which programs might make sense, given that I don’t have an undergrad music degree OR if you have any recommendations as to how to best prepare myself for auditions etc?

    • If you want to go back to a 4-year program in jazz voice, check out schools that offer such programs to see the kinds of courses you’ll need to be taking. Then check with the schools you’re especially interested in, to see whether you’re likely to get credit for any of the music courses you took at Princeton. If you continue on this path, a private voice teacher with a strong jazz performance program would be especially helpful.

      You can also look at summer vocal jazz programs where you can start to really explore this and also explore additional paths to vocal jazz beside another undergraduate degree. Stanford Jazz Workshop, for instance, offers the Jazz Institute Vocal Program for adults and advanced younger singers. Other summer programs we’re aware of for adults are at Jazz Camp West (CA), Berklee (MA), U of North Texas, New York Voices Vocal Jazz Camp, NY Jazz Academy, and NY Jazz Workshop.

  14. Allison

    Hi, my name is Allison, and I am confused as to what to major in to be a private voice instructor. Is it just a BME, or is it something else? I also want to be a theatre teacher, but i’m not sure on how to go about voice instruction. Is there a way to do both? Many thanks!

    • We are supporters of getting good pedagogical (teaching) skills in order to be an effective private studio teacher. We also know how important entrepreneurship training and business skills are for anyone who wants to create a business. One way to do this is with a Bachelor’s degree in music with a voice emphasis (the other skills mentioned may be those you need to get by taking electives, attending seminars, etc.). Another is to be a music education major with a voice emphasis. Check out schools you’re interested in to learn more. Our sense is that whether you major in music or theatre your schedule will be so full that except for a class or two in one or the other, there won’t be time to major in both. You didn’t mention dance so we assume musical theatre is not an area you’re considering.

  15. susan

    Daughter is graduating w/ undergrad degree in Vocal Perf and on the Graduate School Audition trail. We are trying to see which school in London (RCM vs RAM) might be a better option. She is a classical singer with hopes of working in the opera world… Do you have any insight as to where to look for specifics..? Obviously both schools boast their credentials, with great alumni, space and faculty….But am wondering how the match up…?

    • Our best recommendation is for your daughter to plan a visit to both, sit in on classes, take a private lesson with an instructor at each, talk with other students, stay overnight at each, and get a personal feel for both schools. Also, it would behoove her to get as good a sense as possible about the kinds of resources and support students receive for what lies ahead after they graduate. No matter what others tell her, it’s really her call as to what feels like the best environment to place herself in for the next year or two. While we realize such a visit won’t be inexpensive, finding the right-fit school will be worth the cost. Some schools will, in fact, defray all or some of the cost of a visit if they really want a particular student.

  16. Maria

    A school my daughter is interested in offers a BA in music with an emphasis in vocal performance. Would she be qualified to get into a masters program without a BM?

    • It really depends on the curriculum your daughter takes in her BA program and what the schools she applies to for her master’s require. We suggest you and she look at a few graduate-level programs’ application requirements and then look at the curriculum at the BA program she’s considering. Look especially at music theory, music history, ensemble, and language requirements. If questions remain, we encourage your daughter to contact the admission office at the undergraduate school and ask about preparation should she decide to go on for her master’s. It’s possible that she could take classes the BA doesn’t offer as part of her elective requirements (which are more plentiful for the BA than the BM degree).

  17. Maria

    My daughter has decided to major in classical vocal performance in college and and ultimately wants a masters in music education and a PhD in vocal performance and perform in operas as well as teaching at the university level. She is currently a sophomore in high school taking 3 honors courses which will be AP courses in her junior year. They are very time consuming and I am wondering if the honors/AP course will get her an edge in getting into a music conservatory of if she should take mainstream courses which would allow her more time to practice her piano and voice as well as lessons?

    • We wish there were a simple, straightforward answer. But there is not. Music schools vary on their application and audition requirements. So your daughter must carefully check these for each school she is serious about applying to, before the fall of her senior year. Conservatories have historically put far more emphasis on auditions than academics. So the audition holds a tremendous amount of weight in terms of who gets accepted. But some are becoming more demanding about academics, and some will use academics as the deciding factor if two students are vying for one spot in the program. You daughter should not overlook excellent music schools within universities that will require academic proficiency in addition to performance proficiency. Note that in terms of your daughter’s future goals: since she is just a sophomore in high school, we hope she’ll continue to explore many areas of music –– and non-musical areas as well. She – and you – would be wise to stay open to changes in her thinking about her future as she continues with high school and then goes on to pursue her undergraduate degree.

  18. Karen

    My daughter just finished her freshman year as a vocal performance major(classical music) at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota. We have told her from the beginning as she is the youngest of three children, that we are not able to afford to pay for her entire education. We paid for her first year of college. She got about half of it covered in scholarships but we are still faced with a large portion to pay that we are not able to pay for. So her father wants her to take out 20,000 plus a year to pay for the next 3 years. The problem is that she will need to get a masters degree to get a job in classical music and she will have huge loans to pay once she finishes her undergraduate degree. She says she is not worried and that it will all work out. We think she is being completely unrealistic and needs to change her major to something more practical. What is your opinion?

    • We’re posting this with the hope that others will weigh in based on experience and knowledge. We recognize what a tough decision this is for a very passionate and talented music student who just can’t imagine doing anything else with their lives. At, we think you’re smart to be concerned about the consequences of taking out loans. Your daughter should check out very carefully the interest rates and payment schedules for loans she’s considering, even talk to a financial adviser to get a dose of reality about what she’d be expected to do upon graduating. Many grad students receive teaching and other types of stipends, so your daughter may be financially better supported as a grad student. This a hugely personal decision based on so many factors. Simply saying yes or no would deny the fact that some do fine the income streams that will help them pay off their loans while others end up unable to do what they’d hoped to do after graduation because they’re burdened by their loans. We don’t know enough about your daughter to know how she’d do.

  19. Pauline

    Great article! This really helps a lot. I’m currently searching for some articles about singing ’cause I am really interested in singing career. This article is very informative. Thanks! I’ve also found help at to see what jobs are available in singing career.

  20. Katie

    Hi, I am thinking of pursuing into a music career once i’m finished with high school. I have been taking voice lessons for about 2 years now, and want to become a voice teacher. At the same time though, I really want to advance in my singing. When getting a BME, do colleges provide the option for voice training like they do when getting a BM? Or would I have to get both a BM and BME if I want to advance in my singing and become a voice teacher? What would you recommend?

    • Check the websites of schools you’re interested in, to see what they offer. Every school is different. Students interested in vocal music education choose voice (or choral) as their instrument. At some schools, there are students who pursue a dual major in music education and music performance. Note that at some schools, voice lessons would be included in the tuition, at others, you would pay an additional fee for lessons. See this article – “Music Degrees – Reviewing the Options” – for more information.

  21. Kate

    Hi, I have always thought that no matter what specific voice track I choose that the skills I learn will allow me to be able to sing other vocal styles as well. I am interested in singing all kinds of music. I love musical theater (and acting but not dancing per se) and acapella, and pop and just about all music. I have always figured I would major in voice. The only options I have ever really happened upon were jazz, classical, or musical theatre. I don’t really sing jazz. But the more I read about the specific areas the more concerned I am. By majoring in voice in college am I confining myself to one type of music for the rest of my life? Will it hurt me to learn classic over say contemporary? I will likely double major with music education and music performance, but I do not want to sing opera for my life. I hope to sing pop and country, and musical theater and broadway and everything else.

    • Most voice programs, unless otherwise specified, are classically-based. They provide a foundation for opera but also for vocal music in general. There are vocal jazz programs and popular music programs (which tend to also be for songwriters). And there are musical theatre programs including those with a voice focus. Clearly different genres of music require different skills, but all require a strong foundation in aural skills, site reading, keyboard skills, music theory, music history. We suggest you clarify what you’re looking for in a school and then start looking at schools that would meet your needs. We also highly encourage you to look at summer music camps and programs where you can immerse yourself in music and find excellent mentors to talk with and work with around your questions.

  22. Mary

    My daughter is equally passionate about flute and voice, and is torn between which to choose. She has performed in both at the county, state, and national (in choruses) level. We’ve been told double majoring in both is unwise. She is considering majoring in flute performance, minoring in music ed, while continuing to study voice through college. We are also thinking a smaller school might be better for this. Finances are also a consideration. Any advice is appreciated! She is a junior in high school.

    • Now is a good time for your daughter to start contacting schools to explore how she can study what she’s most interested in learning. See this article on double majoring. It’s also a great time to be figuring out when to visit a few of the schools that would fit her interests and needs. Note that most schools consider students for scholarships based on their applications and auditions. Your daughter can also check out our Scholarships page. Also we highly recommend a summer music program where she can immerse herself in music without the confines of the school year. See our Summer Music Camps & Programs page for more information. There’s also much to learn at many of these programs about pursuing music in college. Several programs do offer scholarships for those who apply early. . Music education, by the way, is a great path for those with a passion for teaching, but not as a back-up plan if it’s not where her passion lies.

  23. Michael

    My conflict stems from my love for theater and acting and contemporary music, and my love for vocal performance. However, if I audition for a certain degree such as classical or jazz, I fear I will find myself limited to those genres in the future. If I audition for classical, and study classical, will I be able to audition for musical theater productions in the future along with perform various genres? Which is the best degree for my time?

  24. Gloria

    Hi I’m looking to major in music therapy and am doing some research. I was recently on Berklee’s website; they state that for their program they teach contemporary music. What’s the difference in studying classical versus contemporary. I’m also from Texas; the schools which offer a music therapy degree are slim, but two of them are Sam Houston and West Texas A&M. Do you have any advice for me regarding making school choices?

    • Contemporary music refers to current, popular music that you’re apt to hear on non-classical radio stations. There are many genres of music within that category. As the renown conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein described it in one of his famous “Young People’s Concerts,” classical music is music performed exactly as the composer wrote it, and dates back over 700 years. It’s the music most often associated with symphonies and orchestras.

      To learn more about music therapy programs, we suggest you read “How to Choose a Music Therapy Program.” You’ll also find links to other articles, as well as to participating schools on with excellent music therapy programs.

  25. Maria


    My daughter has been taking voice since she was 9 and piano since she was 4. She is building her repertoire so she will be able to audition for college. She loves performing and has mainly done musical theater but is moving into art songs etc. She is also practical and realizes how competitive that field can be. So she is interested in also getting a degree in music education. I am not sure whether it is better to get her 4 year degree in music education and her masters in vocal performance or the converse? Also, I was curious about a masters is music therapy vs music education and the job opportunities and salary ranges? I remember reading the insurance does not reimburse for music therapy which would seem to limit the access to clients. Which career path would provide her with the most job opportunities. Thank you for your help.


    • Your daughter will spend 4 years as an undergraduate, so she should be studying what she is most interested and passionate about. Some schools will allow her to do both vocal performance and pedagogy, so have her keep that on her radar. As long as she is a music major, she’ll also be able to do the Equivalency program in music therapy at any school that offers it, to prevent having to get another bachelor’s degree. The equivalency program typically takes 2 years to complete, and vocal, piano, and guitar skills are all needed to pass the music therapy proficiency exams for credentialing.

      There’s no guarantee of a job or a fulfilling life in any of these areas. Salary ranges change. Your daughter’s flexibility, willingness to work hard, ability to create more than one income stream for herself, as well as her training and passion will all make the difference. Note that music therapy is a burgeoning field that’s gaining increased recognition for new avenues of application. Your daughter will be served by reading our music therapy articles and contacting the American Music Therapy Association for more information.

  26. Kevin

    My daughter is a senior in high school but has already decided she wants to earn a masters in vocal pedagogy, hopefully with a focus in musical theatre. What degree should she pursue in her undergraduate studies to best prepare her for grad school?

    • Does your daughter have the background needed to apply to schools in musical theatre? If so, we suggest she read Studying Musical Theatre with a Music Emphasis. As a way to start, she can read about each of the schools contributing to this article from their pages on Then, she can fill out the forms on the pages of those schools she’s interested in, to ask her specific questions. The pages and the forms are easily accessed from the homepage of this website.

      With the goal of earning a graduate degree in vocal pedagogy, your daughter will want to gain a strong educational background in vocal studies. To work with musical theatre students, she’ll also want to gain ongoing experience in the field herself.

  27. Brooklyn

    I am looking for a school for me and my best friend that has both a BM in popular music and Web Design or video game design. I just don’t know where to start.

    • We suggest you start by deciding which of these areas is your priority. Since you’ve come to a website for music majors, you can start by reading our articles on popular music – be sure to also see the schools on with popular music programs. Some of these schools will also offer the other programs you’re interested in. But note that each major is chock full of requirements and especially with a BM, you’ll find you have a limited number of elective credits available for other areas of interest once you get done with your requirements.

  28. Amy

    My daughter wants to pursue a bachelor of music in vocal performance. However, her interest is somewhere between music theatre and opera. Although she is interested in opera, her preference is to study/perform in musical roles that require a classical voice. She doesn’t have the dance skills or the voice for contemporary music theatre. Is it possible to major in vocal performance but specialize in classic music theatre? If so, are there universities/conservatories that are more amenable to this idea? Thanks so much for this website!

    • While vocal performance programs focus on opera, many schools will include a musical theatre production in their mix of performances each year. We asked Fred Peterbark, assistant dean for recruitment and outreach at University of Colorado Boulder College of Music and a highly accomplished tenor, for his feedback. He suggests that your daughter specifically ask schools, that meet the rest of her criteria, about opportunities to perform in musical theatre productions.

    • What do you want to do when you graduate? Once you have a clearer picture of that, ask your professors for guidance on how to get there. If performing is your goal, get as much experience as you can performing and setting up gigs. If you are interested in teaching, sign up for classes that will help you move in that direction. Look for entrepreneurial and business classes designed to help you develop your own studio and set up gigs. Consider working at a summer music program in vocal jazz to get additional experience (see our Summer Music Camps & Programs page for employment possibilities). Ask your professors, the career center, or alumni association at your school for vocal jazz alums you can talk with about the career paths they’ve pursued.

  29. Linda

    Thank you for sharing that it is possible to purse a vocal career without an emphasis in opera. What schools can my daughter attend that would focus on contemporary and popular music (she is not interested in MT)?
    Also, she is interested in having academic flexibility to take certain prerequisite courses for physical therapy meaning that it would be ideal for her to attend a school that was not strictly a music school. Could you please provide me with some ideas? Thank you!

    • Hi Linda,

      We work with several schools with popular and contemporary music programs, so those would be a great place to start. In fact, you can ask questions specific to any of those schools right from the forms on their pages. You can see the schools in this article (also see relevant articles linked from this one): Essential Tips for a Career in Popular Music. Based on your daughter’s other interest, physical therapy, she’ll probably also want to pay particular attention to schools offering popular music along with a strong science department. Our understanding is that there is no specific undergraduate major for physical therapy. Note that if your daughter is able to get AP or IB credit, she may find more room in her schedule across four years to take all the PT prereqs as well as all the required music classes she needs.

  30. Jacob

    Thanks for the informative article. I am a junior pursuing a double BA degree, and I am wondering whether a BA in music would allow me to pursue graduate studies in music at a conservatory or university. How about a music minor?

    • Excellent question, Jacob. We’re going to ask some of the participating schools on to weigh in on this one. We’ll also throw it out to the College Music Society to see if they have some input as well. Stay tuned and come back again to see how they respond.

    • Jacob – You would want to look into what the institution(s) would require for entry into a graduate program, (i.e. BA, BME, minor in music, on-site auditions etc) and of course each institution will be different. If you hold a music undergraduate degree (BM, BME, BA), you should be able to apply for graduate work. The GRE’s are usually required, but again check with the particular institution you would like to apply to for those types of requirements. I would suggest you have a discussion with your primary advisor or teacher about your goals for graduate school.

      Good luck in your musical pursuits

      Julie Johnson
      The College Music Society

    • Jacob:
      Sometimes a BA degree is not the best preparation for a master’s degree in music. Nevertheless, that depends on the requirements for the BA degree at that institution. Some BA programs are equivalent to BM programs at other schools. Still, the most important part is repertoire studied and learned. Some BA programs, like the one at CU-Boulder, only require 2 years of lessons, whereas the BM program requires 4 years. There is a significant difference in repertoire studied and learned in this time. Most graduate programs in music are looking for students to have already obtained a high level of musicianship through the music they have studied prior to pursuing a graduate degree. The amount of repertoire studied contributes to this level of musicianship.

      I would like to state that it is possible to pursue double degrees in performance and fields outside of music. At the University of Colorado Boulder, we have students that are pursuing degrees in performance as well as such fields as engineering; speech, language and hearing sciences; business-marketing; and neuroscience. Needless to say, these students are required to carefully plan and manage their time in order to complete their programs.

  31. Annelle Delfs

    Thank you so much for this article and the clarification of choices of degrees. It would be very helpful if NATS would publish, once a year, with corrections/changes from the year before, the top twenty or so colleges/universities most highly recommended for these degrees as well as those for mus. theatre. This list changes year to year depending on changes within the departments. A very good example of this is Oberlin’s struggle after Richard Miller died. I know U of M has endured changes within their classical voice department as well after the death of Shirley Verrett. As a private teacher, it is a challenge to stay on top of this. I would imagine that once the list is established, only changes need be implemented each year. Just a thought. Thank you…

    • Barbra Weidlein

      Thanks for your comments, Annelle. We’re glad you’ve found the article useful. And we will share your interest in school recommendations with NATS.

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