2020 Best Online Schools for Music Degrees

By OnlineU Staff | Updated March 27, 2020

Online music degrees are offered at a variety of degree levels, but an associate or bachelor's degree in music is usually the first step toward forming an academic foundation for a music career. Our list of the best online music schools highlights the 7 top schools, based on tuition rates and alumni salaries provided by PayScale. General coursework for online music degrees includes classes such as music theory, music interpretation, ear training, and composition. Before enrolling in an online music program, students should make sure that their school is accredited by a regional accrediting body.

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Music Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Music Badge

The 7 best value online bachelor's degrees in music degrees can be found at these colleges and universities. Graduates of the #1-ranked school, Washington State University, earn a median salary of $87,483 after earning their Bachelor of Arts in Humanities - Music. SUNY Empire State College, ranked #2 on the list, costs $10,943 annually, with alumni reportedly earning median salaries of $75,323.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

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2020 Online Colleges Offering Music Degrees - Ranking Details

Online Music Degree Overview & Career Information

A career in music is most often associated with being a performer. Musicians and vocalists perform in careers that range from short-term gigs on a freelance basis to performing as a member of a symphony orchestra under a seasonal contract. A successful career in musical performance requires not only talent and skill, but also a firm knowledge of music and music theory. Music performers must continually practice and train to hone their skills for jobs. While a career in music is typically associated with playing an instrument, singing or performing, the field of music offers a variety of occupations.

For example, music production degrees are interdisciplinary programs that introduce students to the technical and artistic skills for turning raw music into a quality recording. In school recording studios, students learn how to use digital and analog recording systems, as well as software like ProTools to edit and create music. Most programs also include coursework in liberal arts in addition to classes in music theory, where students learn how to compose their own scores, compositions, and songs. Marketing classes discuss postproduction issues like artist branding, sales, and public relations.

Online Associate Degrees in Music

Students seeking an introduction to the basic principles of music performance, business, or education may find a good fit in the online music associate degree.

Program Requirements

These two-year online degrees require about 60 credit hours. The online music associate degree may be an Associate of Arts program designed for university transfer, or it may be a more practice-oriented Associate of Fine Arts or Associate of Science. A high school diploma or GED is necessary to apply; some online programs may also require an audition.


The core of most online associate degrees in music focuses on music theory and musicianship. Students explore topics such as the fundamentals of music, performance techniques, music appreciation, and music history. Many online degrees require performance classes or participation in music ensembles. Other online music associate degrees combine an understanding of theory and performance with particular practical music areas. Online music business programs cover the structure of the music industry, marketing, and audio production, while education courses discuss curriculum development, student evaluation, and instructional methods.

The online music associate degree can be used to transfer to a four-year university or as way to enter a few different career areas. Depending on the student’s skill level, they may play music in religious or civic organizations, performing arts companies, or as a part of a band. Others become self-enrichment teachers, providing music lessons or instruction in private homes or community educational programs. Associate graduates may find it difficult to become opera singers, classical performers, or school teachers, as these positions typically require a four-year degree.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Music

Students in an online music bachelor’s degree program study a particular aspect of music creation in depth. These online degrees may focus on performance, music production, music composition, or an interdisciplinary combination of topics.

Program Requirements

During the four-year, 120-credit-hour program, students also complete general education requirements. Applicants are usually required to have basic music performance skills or coursework, as well as a high school diploma.


The foundational courses in many online music programs focus on musicianship and music theory. Students specialize in a particular instrument or set of instruments, such as voice, percussion, or bass. Students are also required to spend time in performance ensembles, such as the university chorus or jazz orchestra. Online students can expect on-campus auditions or performances; alternately, they may have to record videos of their performances. Other online music bachelor’s degrees focus in a different area within the production of music, such as music business, music and technology, music therapy, or music composition. While students complete courses in topics like music history and musicianship, the core of classes focus less on live performance.

Graduates of an online bachelor’s program may become music composers, choir directors, conductors, musicians, or singers. Depending on the degree specialization, graduates may also be qualified for positions as music producers or software developers. Students who focus on education may become high school music teachers.

Online Master's Degrees in Music

Online master's degrees in music are available in a few different areas. In many online programs, students have the ability to shape the music master’s degree around their own particular musical interests.

Program Requirements

To be eligible for admission to most online master's degree programs in music, applicants should have an accredited bachelor’s degree in a music-related field. Many online programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher. Music therapy master's programs require board certification. Along with the academic requirements, students are also required to submit letters of recommendation from colleagues or past teachers, as well a statement of intent. They take approximately two years to complete and may prepare graduates to teach music at the K-12 level.


Current music teachers pursuing a master's in music can deepen their understanding of music instructional techniques, musicology, and different types of music. Online music therapy master's degree programs are more specialized and less common than music education. In most cases, they are aimed at current board-certified music therapists who want to advance their skills. These online programs take two to three years to complete. In online music therapy programs, students deepen their understanding of neurology and learn to work with people who have a variety of disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, autism, or multiple sclerosis. Therapists learn how to use music to help their clients maintain functioning and improve memory and cognition.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Music

An online doctoral degree in music can help students continue their desire to receive an in-depth understanding of subjects such as music theory and musicology.

Program Requirements

Online doctoral music degrees can take five to seven years to complete, sometimes longer. Online doctoral degrees in music usually require students to have a master’s degree in music, though students with bachelor’s degrees in the field may be accepted. Students entering online music doctoral programs may be required to pass a music performance evaluation.


During the first few years of the online degree program, students take advanced courses in their specialization area. After that, they dedicate time to researching and developing a dissertation. Online doctoral classes are research-based, rather than performance based, and include the in-depth study of contemporary music and music education. Despite being online, some doctoral-level courses and examinations may require students to visit their campuses periodically, and a dissertation and a defense exercise are required to obtain a doctorate in music.

Students have several pathways when it comes to earning an online doctoral degree in music; choices include degrees in music education and musicology. Such online doctoral degree programs may prepare students for different jobs, depending on the focus of their studies. Examples of jobs available to doctoral degree holders include tenure-track professor and high-level administrative staff at a college or university. Outside of academia, having a doctorate in music may help holders of the degree find jobs leading performing arts or other non-profit arts organizations.

Online Certificates in Music

Online music certificates provide focused training in areas of performance, composition, and business to students at the undergraduate and graduate level. These online programs usually require 3 to 10 courses and one year of study. Applicants need a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree, depending on the certificate level. Some online programs require an audition, as well.

The online music certificate curriculum may vary, depending on the program’s focus. Those who play an instrument, sing, or compose music may complete a program in musical performance. This online certificate covers topics such as music history, musicianship and performance techniques, and methods for composing music. Many online programs in this vein require that students participate in a musical ensemble in order to gain performance experience. Other online certificates cover a different aspect of music, such as the music industry or music technology. Online music business programs focus on the music industry and the steps from music creation to release. Online music technology certificates cover digital music production, audio technology, and multimedia. Berklee College of Music offers two flexible "build your own" certificates in music studies, where students may design their own three- or five-course program.

The employment benefits of an online music certificate will depend on the student’s skill level, education, and performance experience. Undergraduates can use the online program as part of a bachelor’s degree to prepare for graduate study in music at a conservatory. Those with a bachelor’s degree can use the online graduate certificate to prepare for entry-level positions in music production and marketing. Others can use the online program to support performance in an orchestra or band or as a solo artist. Some may use the online program to prepare for work as private music instructors.

What Students Will Learn in an Online Music Studies Program

The curriculum of online music programs includes classes in music theory, music history, psychological and sociological aspects of music, conducting, theory and application of music education, music technology, and trends in music education. While the curriculum and organization of online music education degree programs vary, many programs require students to complete an internship or thesis project after they complete the coursework component of the degree.

Music programs delivered on campus are typically hands-on, as students practice and perform their instruments and receive feedback and guidance from classmates and instructors. Students in on-campus music technology and production programs may have opportunities to put their knowledge to work in real recording studios. Online programs try to re-create this experience by using streaming video, collaborative software, and other technologies. Some online programs may require students to enroll in individual lessons and join performance groups at local colleges and universities for credit. Consider your learning style and needs when researching online programs.

Although on-site training is not commonly required for online music schools, students interested in working professionally in the music industry, especially as performers, are advised to gain some professional experience before graduation. Working musicians must be prepared to find gigs, conduct themselves professionally, and network effectively, so students should begin practicing for their careers as soon as possible. Students hoping to work in other aspects of the music industry, like management or marketing, can also benefit from gaining professional experience before graduation to become more attractive to employers.

The following list provides a sample of some of the courses students will take in an online music studies program:

  • Legal Aspects of Music and Entertainment: Students specializing in music business or law will need a strong background in this area. Courses cover issues like copyright as they pertain specifically to the music industry.
  • Music Distribution: For both performers and managers, this course covers the various aspects of recording and publishing music. Students study forms of distribution, principles of pricing, and structures for royalties.
  • Music Management: This course is intended to provide students focusing on music business or management with a foundation of skills to prepare them for their careers. It covers topics like contract negotiations, artist publicity, and public relations.
  • Music Theory: This is an essential basic course that all music students can expect at the beginning of their education. Students learn the fundamentals of music, including melody, harmony, composition, and style.
  • Sight-Reading: Music students concentrating on performance will need to acquire the skill of sight-reading for their academic and professional careers. Sight-reading is the ability to sit down with a piece of music and begin playing even when you haven't seen the music before.

The Importance of an Accredited Online Music Degree

Accreditation is a stamp of approval which means an outside organization has independently verified that the school or program in question meets agreed upon academic standards. Musicians do not need licenses, so it is not technically required that they pursue an accredited degree. However, online students who hope to get a teacher’s license or who intend to transfer their credits from one school to another or use their undergraduate degree to apply to a graduate degree program will need to ensure they are considering regionally or nationally accredited degree programs. Prospective online students will want to look for online programs accredited by organizations recognized by the US Department of Education. The National Association of Schools of Music is one group that grants accreditation to music programs that meet its standards.

Career Specializations for Music Studies Graduates

A career in music demands dedication and a willingness to be flexible regarding one's earning expectations, especially for those who are self-employed. Greater financial stability and rewards are offered in jobs such as music education, music production, and music management. In any case, whether it's a music career in performing, teaching, or working in multimedia technologies, music is a highly desirable choice for those who would like a career that highlights their musical talent and interest. A college education in music, whether online or campus-based, can help students hone and expand their skills and knowledge.

The world of music as a business has expanded dramatically to include the need for people in positions such as music producers, managers, promoters, and record label developers. In this ever-growing industry, a music background obtained through an online degree program serves to prepare and distinguish those seeking to enter such a highly competitive vocation. Because of new and expanding media technologies, the demand for those who are well prepared in music and related fields will have the best chance to land jobs in music production, management, and as multimedia music specialists. There are typically no formal education requirements to become a musician or singer, but one exception is classical music performance; a bachelor's degree in music may be required to work as a classical singer or musician. Graduates of online music technology and production programs may find work as composers for video games, commercials, and films.

Online students who plan to teach music at a public school will need to complete a bachelor's degree and a obtain a state teaching license. Some states require teachers to hold master's degrees in either their subject area or in education. Graduates of online music education programs may use their degrees to satisfy these requirements and further their careers as teachers in either elementary or secondary schools. Music teachers may choose to become certified through the Music Teachers National Association. The certification process takes up to one year and requires the submission of a professional profile. The MTNA professional certification program is designed to establish competency for the music teaching professional.

Graduates of online doctoral programs may continue to work in elementary and high schools but may also work in research and academia at the postsecondary level. Many of the graduates of online music education degree programs will go on to teach or become band directors at a school or college. Some will facilitate music programs for community centers, nursing homes, or children's after-school programs. Another area of music education is music therapy, in which music educators help individuals overcome mental and physical obstacles.


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