Translating Music Skills into Job Opportunities

Wondering how you can channel your music training into job opportunities? Start by thinking of a degree in music as a set of skills rather than a narrow specialization. 


By Katie Beisel Hollenbach


Music “hard skills”

Skills are often categorized as either “hard” or “soft,” especially in the context of career development. 

In the world of music, hard skills refer to the specific knowledge and abilities relevant to the area of music you’re focusing on such as composition software like Finale and Sibelius; proficiency in certain music-related languages like Italian and German; or understanding of pedagogical techniques like the Suzuki Method. 

“Soft skills”

Hard skills are only one side of the coin. Employers are also looking for team members who demonstrate strong people skills, or soft skills. 

These include:

• Can you communicate clearly and effectively? 

• Do you show empathy? 

• Are you a good listener? 

• Do you demonstrate leadership and work well with others? 

Soft skills that are often overlooked by students working to develop technical skills through their college courses. But soft skills are crucial for success after graduation. The good news is that these are skills music majors tend to excel in. 

Translating music skills into job opportunities

In your day-to-day life as a music major, you’re probably focusing on theory homework, practicing, and making it to your next rehearsal on time. 

These help develop a mature skill set that includes technical mastery in your area of specialization and overall musicianship as well as the interpersonal or soft skills that will prove invaluable in your post-college life. 

Shifting the way you think about musical activities and being able to translate them as skills can be invaluable to your career.

For example:

If you practice daily on your own (as most music majors do!), you are developing:

• self-motivation

• discipline

• ability to work independently

• good time management 

If you play or sing with others in an ensemble, you are honing skills of:

• collaboration

• communication

• listening

• leadership

And by pursuing an artistic field of study such as music at the college level, you are likely:

• creative – both as an artist and problem solver

• empathetic

• detail-oriented 

What employer in any field wouldn’t want a team member who exhibits these skills? 

Expanding your range of options

By effectively translating these skills on résumés, cover letters, and LinkedIn profiles, it becomes clear that music majors are in fact qualified for an incredibly wide range of professional opportunities, both musical and non-musical. 

In fact, many music majors pursue both musical and non-musical roles after graduation, creating custom “portfolio” careers that may include multiple income strains that allow you to flex your many skill sets in different ways. 

Christine Chu, a 2022 graduate of the University of Washington, received dual undergraduate degrees in Violin Performance and Communications. She now combines her multiple skill sets as the development communications coordinator for the Seattle Symphony. 

“Prioritizing well is a skill I carried over from being a music major,” she says, “since I was often juggling more repertoire than I could prepare on top of the more academic assignments from different classes. 

“My job now is similar in that I have to keep up with a large volume of communications pieces to proof while managing my own email builds and miscellaneous projects. And as with preparing for performances, there’s always a good bit of organizing and prioritizing beforehand to prevent getting overwhelmed and still make sure all things get done to a certain standard!”

Voice performance degree opens doors

Maia Thielen graduated from the University of Washington in 2019 with a master’s in Voice Performance. Since graduating, she has applied her musical training to a variety of roles. 

“After completing a master’s in Voice Performance,” she says, “I became an events manager for a regional symphony where my knowledge of performance planning came in handy, to say the least!

“Later, I moved into education, first as a residential faculty member in an international dorm. My language skills from my singing days were useful, as was my piano playing for singalongs! Eventually I became a communications and marketing manager for a small high school.

“Along with having the skills to truly support the arts department at my school—from understanding the appropriate language for appeals and grant writing to turning pages during concerts for our music director—it is perhaps my propensity for learning that has been the most useful. I spent years taking on constant challenges of tackling new pieces.  Now, I’m using the same drive to learn a whole new career and suite of software on the job! 

Music skills adapt to other fields

Christine and Maia’s paths are great examples of how to translate skills developed as a music major to a different kind of role. With a little creativity, thoughtfulness, and dedication — skills that music majors excel in — the possibilities start to expand for what your post-college career path could look like.

 – Photo Caption: Maia Thielen (in sunglasses) applied her musical training to a variety of career roles.

Katie Beisel Hollenbach is a musicologist and curriculum specialist with the University of Washington Graduate School. She is the former assistant director for Admissions, Recruitment, & Community Outreach with UW School of Music. She holds a B.M. in Clarinet Performance (University of  Denver Lamont School of Music), MM in Musicology (Northwestern University Bienen School of Music) and a Ph.D. in Musicology (University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign School of Music).


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