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5 Fields of Study for Music Students

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours,” said Elton John, English singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer. The power of music is indisputable. An important element accompanying almost all major life events, music is essential to capturing memorable and seminal moments in our lives. And music presents many exciting opportunities to students, both for exploring their passion and for their careers. Here are five music fields of study to consider.

Jul 5, 2019
  • Education
5 Fields of Study for Music Students

“Music has healing power. It has the ability to take people out of themselves for a few hours,” said Elton John, English singer, songwriter, pianist, and composer. The power of music is indisputable. An important element accompanying almost all major life events -- weddings, funerals, commencement ceremonies, and everything in-between -- music is essential to capturing memorable and seminal moments in our lives. Songs and lyrics stay with us and evoke these memories and experiences at such poignant moments. One might ask: what is the soundtrack of your own life? Now, imagine studying music as your chosen field of study and following the path of making music, or working in the music industry, as your career!

As a field of study, music has many specialties that allow you to learn technique, history, business aspects of the music industry, and much more. Singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers, whose critically acclaimed album Heard It in a Past Life reached number two in her native USA, was discovered when a YouTube video went viral of Pharrell Williams turning up unannounced while Rogers was a music engineering and production student at N.Y.U. and listening, awestruck and teary-eyed, to a sample track she wrote and produced as coursework, Alaska. Her 20-page final thesis was her business plan, and, along with the Pharrell video, allowed her to be the "22-year-old woman who got to walk into a boardroom and be the one in control." Now she’s touring worldwide playing sold-out shows! You may not make it as big as Rogers did, but as she says, “What I love more than anything in the entire world is making music. It’s what I studied in school. [...] I love being in the studio.”

So, if you are a music enthusiast, don’t hesitate to learn more about studying this fascinating field of study. Here are five music fields of study to consider.

1. Sound engineering and music production

Two degree types for music degrees, the Bachelors of Arts (BA) and Bachelors of Science (BSc), are general introductory degrees that offer you excellent foundational knowledge. If you want to focus more on the artistic side of music, then you’ll want to look for a BFA, or Bachelors of Fine Arts. Any fine arts degree is an arts-focused degree, which sounds obvious, but it is important to note that having an aptitude for music, either vocal or instrumental, will be essential to pursuing an arts degree in music.

On the other hand, if you are inclined more towards the production side of things, and you’re more interested in the behind-the-scenes of what makes the best tracks catchy and stand the test of time, then you should consider sound engineering or music production as an excellent degree option. A sound engineer plays a vital role in the music industry. “Sound engineers or audio engineers work on the technical aspects of sound and music production by mixing, reproducing and manipulating the equalization and electronic effects of sound,” writes Heather McDonald in Studying sound waves and recording, mixing, and producing sound requires an aptitude for technology and a good ear. Also, a desire to spend significant time in the studio is key.

If you’re interested in pursuing a degree in creative music and sound production, then make sure you research degree requirements and learn more about the course offerings. Fully immersing yourself in learning how music gets made, and making your own, could be a dream come true. Just make sure you compare degree options.

2. Music technology

Music technology, which includes sound engineering and music production, is overarching field of study that guides students through coursework which gives them the “skills to needed in order to pursue a career in the field of music in a wide range of professions, including sound engineer, producer, sound systems designer, concert mixer, composer of film, stage and game music or electro-acoustic music, sound artist, performer, designer of digital instruments, expert in digital sound processing, and developer of music technology tools.” These subjects, generally, get taught in small groups, which is a great advantage for learning.

“I think technology can’t stand really alone,” says one MIT student, “so it’s really important to have courses that show you how technology can be used in different fields including music.” These classes are normally very interactive; students bring in their instruments, record things, and develop new techniques and technologies for recording. You will learn the ins and outs of different speakers and their sound quality capabilities among many, many other cool aspects of music technology in this cutting-edge dynamic degree program.

3. Music education

A popular degree for music enthusiasts is music education. This degree is a perfect fit for the student who loves music and knows they want to immediately start to share their passion through teaching and become a certified music teacher. Music education incorporates music theory and study with pedagogy and analysis of different learning styles. A recent study at the University of Southern California shows the interconnectedness between the brain and music: “Music training can change both the structure of the brain's white matter, which carries signals through the brain, and gray matter, which contains most of the brain's neurons that are active in processing information.” The study goes on the show that, “Music instruction also boosts engagement of brain networks that are responsible for decision making and the ability to focus attention and inhibit impulses.”

If you’re interested in this field of study, make sure you look for degree programs that offer certifications in it and find out if they offer student-teaching as part of your degree program. Also, you’ll want to figure out what age group most appeals to you to teach. This will help accelerate your transition from music education student to fully fledged music education professional and teacher.

4. Musicology

Elvis Presley had a twin and bought Graceland when he was 22 years old. Is knowing these types of music facts your jam? Then perhaps a degree in musicology would be the perfect fit for you! Musicology literally means “the study of music” and includes the cultural and historical periods. Just as art history is the academic study of the history of art, music can also be studied at a similar level of academic depth. With this degree, you can immerse yourself in musical movements and become an expert on all the weird and wonderful facts and musicians and songs in them.

“Because musicology is so heavily research-oriented, most programs are at the graduate level. Many professionals encourage pursuing both a Master’s and PhD if you want to follow the traditional musicology route: doing extensive research, getting published, and teaching at the university level,” writes Caitlin Peterkin in Majoringinmusic.

5. Music therapy

Or maybe you want to apply music to the real world of healing trauma and improving people’s lives. Maybe you also have an interest in psychology. Then perhaps a degree in music therapy is for you. The American Music Therapy Association explains, “Music Therapy is the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed an approved music therapy program.” Music therapy is included in the healthcare field and blends the fields of psychology and therapy with music studies.

Music can reach and help breakthroughs in healing with even the most difficult clients and cases. Deforia Lane PhD, MT-BC, in a spellbinding and emotional TEDx talk about the power of music therapy, said, “Walking into the intensive care unit I didn’t know what to expect.” The talk includes Lane singing and discussing her experience working with patients in hospital. If you are intrigued by this field of study, watch the video and it may well fully convince you it is the path is for you! Combining music and therapy might be the most challenging and rewarding career for music students; you will effect change and touch people’s lives in a unique and profound way.

The Guardian reports, “Music is a multifaceted, potentially academic subject, as well as one that involves performance, composition and improvisation. Not only will you be able to develop your musical skills to a high level, but you may be able to learn about the inner workings of music through theory, or probe the cultural richness of music in the European tradition or non-western music through music history, musicology and ethnomusicology. You will have learned to perform, present your ideas, and to organise and realise written or practical projects."

The huge, exciting field of music offers varied and multidisciplinary opportunities to students. As pop singer Michale Franti says, “Like sunshine, music is a powerful force that can instantly and almost chemically change your entire mood.” Go get happy - make music!

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