Online Learning for Music Majors

Music majors and others entering college today are arriving in the midst of an ongoing educational revolution: online learning. Online learning is taking place, to one degree or another, in virtually every program and course in higher education.  And there is no foreseeable end to the dramatic changes occurring in higher education as a result of rapid and continuous advances in technology.

by Stephen Hopkins

Online vs. face-to-face

Music majors: you may find some refreshing respite from technology in traditional face-to-face meetings with your professors, most especially in the area of applied music.  Not that “virtual” applied lessons have not been attempted, but most applied faculty and their students would agree that the nuance and detail of study essential to vocal and instrumental performance necessitates the physical presence of both student and teacher in the same studio.

Theory and history

In the music theory and history curricula, online technology already plays a vital role at most colleges and universities, both inside and outside the classroom.  Whether it’s the presentation of online materials during class meetings, or students’ accessing online resources outside of class—including such things as ear training—online learning continues to be a growing facet of the educational experience.

Students entering college this fall are, of course, the most technologically adept freshman class to date, by virtue of their collective experience and expertise with the technology that permeates our lives.  Over the next four years, you can expect to put that technological facility to good use.  You will likely take at least some fully online courses, and perhaps some “blended learning” courses.

Core vs. general education requirements

As a music major, the online courses you take will probably be in a subject other than music.  That’s because most undergraduate online courses are geared toward the curriculum for the general student.  While there may be a number of online music courses at your institution, chances are they are targeting the institution’s general education requirements.  And those courses may or may not be countable toward your degree requirements.

Benefits of online learning

Still, for those of us involved in online education in music, the potential of online learning within the music major curriculum is promising.  An interactive online multi-media curriculum can communicate and engage with students in ways that a textbook cannot—and in ways that can be difficult to accomplish in the classroom.  Music is one of a number of arts—and academic disciplines—that can be communicated effectively through digital media.  It is this ever-expanding technological capability that is enriching classroom-based instruction, while opening the way for continued improvement in fully online courses.


Given the rapid pace of technological change, you may even find yourself signing up for one or more MOOCs—depending on how the politics and economics of higher education play out during your college years.  Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have created one of the biggest splashes in online higher education, and it remains to be seen just how extensive that influence will be.

Online learning: here to stay

In any event, online learning is here to stay, and it’s growing.  A significant and influential portion of world culture is committed to online media as an integral part of life.  Online learning is not only inevitable; it’s inescapable!

I’m a believer in the virtues of online learning.  These are extraordinary times in which we live!  Yet I hope that face-to-face meetings will continue to be valued in higher education, not only for their intrinsic merits, but for their essential contributions to the human experience, as well.

Music theorist, composer, and performer, Stephen Hopkins is an assistant professor of music at Penn State School of Music. He holds master’s and Ph.D. degrees in music theory from Florida State University. He is the author of two online general education music courses.

Photo courtesy of McNally Smith College of Music

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