Career Paths in Music

Music study provides a foundation for many career paths, including music education, music therapy, sound production, and arts administration, to name only a few, in addition to preparation for graduate study in performance, composition, history, or ethnomusicology. We actively encourage internships, fieldwork, local outreach programs, and study abroad as opportunities for students to understand music in/as culture, and to experience music’s unique capacity to build relationships and foster community.

A solid foundation, many pathways

A person conducting an orchestra

Requirements for further studies in the field

Conducting requires a wide range of musical skills. Different programs assess these skills in different ways. Some institutions incorporate these as part of their audition process. Others assess conducting ability based only on application videos and audition, and test these skills after the student has already been admitted into the program. In very competitive programs, these skills are often considered in the applicant's transcript.

Possible additional requirements for auditioning for a Masters program in conducting.

  • Sight-reading of on the piano of Open Score Bach Chorales in C-Clefs
  • Sight-reading from a full score of an orchestral work in a transposed score
  • Sight-reading of 16-bar rhythm
  • Sight-singing a 16-bar tonal melody
  • Sight-singing a 16-bar atonal melody
  • Test of knowledge of instrumental range and transposition
  • Test of knowledge of Band, Choral or Orchestral Repertoire. 
  • Dictation of a Bach Chorale
  • Dictation of an atonal melody 
  • Conducting two contrasting works in audition with a live ensemble, one demonstrating the ability to control slow tempi and shape lyrical lines, and one demonstrating to manage mixed meter and fast tempo transitions 

Complementary skills

As leaders of ensembles, conductors are called upon to work closely as a part of a team with administrative and production staff that take care of work in stage management, marketing and promotion, education and outreach, fund-raising and development, libraries and score editions. In addition, conductors are often required to have some proficiency in a language other than their first language.

To that end, we recommend volunteering for board positions within college ensembles to get a more holistic perspective of the job of a music director and to develop competencies in leadership and organization.

Courses

Relevant music courses (Mount Holyoke)

  • Chamber Music (Music 143, Music 147)
  • Composition (Music 115, Music 215, Music 315)
  • Conducting (Music 242)
  • Keyboard Skills (Music 151)
  • Large Ensembles (Music 155, 191, 193, 293, 297)
  • Music History (Music 128, Music 281, Music 282, Music 371)
  • Music Theory (Music 231, Music 232, Music 334)
  • Orchestration (Music 222)
  • Solo Performance Study (Music 151)

Please look at the current course offerings at the department to ascertain what is available in the current term. 

Relevant non-music courses (Mount Holyoke)

Courses available in the Five Colleges

Off-campus opportunities

Listings of Competitions, Masterclasses, Summer Festivals, Workshops:

Professional organizations

An archival sheet of music lying on a table

These constitute the three main humanities disciplines of graduate study in music (as opposed to musical performance, composition, conducting, digital music, music therapy, music administration, and music education).

Traditionally, musicology has referred to the study of Western art music, or the music of the past, while ethnomusicology has been associated with the study of non-Western and traditional musics, or of living musical traditions. But these historical boundaries are more porous than before. The two disciplines overlap and influence one another in their methodologies and subjects, and both are increasingly interdisciplinary. But because of their roots in different nineteenth-century intellectual endeavors, they maintain distinct approaches to musical evidence. Ethnomusicologists typically conduct field research and use ethnographic methods to understand and analyze the significance of music as a cultural phenomenon.

Music theory is usually defined as the study of musical structures and elements, or how music is put together. It overlaps with music analysis, acoustics, music psychology, and other empirical approaches to music and sound.

Requirements for further studies in the field

Graduate study in music as a humanities discipline draws on multiple skills. The main requirement is a curiosity about music and its cultures and discourses, and the ability to read and write critically. You do not need to have majored in music, although music literacy and knowledge are required. It also helps to have reading knowledge of at least one foreign language, particularly one relevant to the genre(s), time period(s), and/or geographical area(s) of music that interest you.

Graduate study in musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory usually leads through an M.A. degree (2-3 years at most North American universities) to a Ph.D degree (an additional 4-6 years at most North American universities). The goal is usually an academic position in the discipline of the Ph.D. at a college or university, which involves teaching, research, and publication. However, there are other careers open to Ph.D. holders outside academia, such as music librarianship, applied ethnomusicology, and music administration.

Most (but not all) programs for graduate study in musicology, ethnomusicology, and music theory require the following application materials:

  • Undergraduate transcripts 
  • Letters of recommendation from two to three instructors 
  • Two to three samples of your academic writing 
  • A statement of purpose and/or personal statement 
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination)

If you are considering graduate study in musicology, ethnomusicology, or music theory, here are some things you can do while an undergraduate to get to know your discipline:

  • talk with music department faculty in your area(s) of interest to learn more about their scholarly work and career paths 
  • browse some of the journals and blogs published by the main American societies that represent your discipline(s) — AMS, SEM, and/or SMT (for titles and links, see “Professional Organizations” below) — and seek out other journals and blogs representing smaller societies and sub-disciplines in the United States and abroad 
  • attend a chapter meeting or annual national conference hosted by AMS, SEM, and/or SMT, or a conference hosted by another society or sub-discipline of music scholarship 
  • subscribe to the email listservs hosted by AMS, SEM, and/or SMT, and to other email listservs representing your academic interest(s) 
  • reach out to graduate students, faculty, and Mount Holyoke alums working in areas that interest you, to hear from them about their experiences in graduate school, in the field, on the job market, and in academia

For more information about graduate study in these three disciplines, see the following websites:

Courses

Relevant music courses (Mount Holyoke)

  • Music History: Music 128, Music 281, Music 282, Music 283, Music 371 
  • Ethnomusicology: Music 226, Music 228, Music 229, Music 374 
  • Music Theory: Music 231, Music 232, Music 334 

Please look at the current course offerings at the department to ascertain what is available in the current term.

Relevant non-music courses (Mount Holyoke)

Selected courses available in the Five Colleges

See music courses in the Five College Catalog for up-to-date course information.

Sample courses in Musicology and Ethnomusicology:

  • African Popular Music (Amherst) 
  • Master Musicians of Africa (Amherst) 
  • Hip Hop History (Amherst) 
  • History of Opera (Amherst) 
  • Seminar in Popular Music (Amherst) 
  • French Art Song (UMass Amherst) 
  • Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (UMass Amherst) 
  • Popular Music, Gender, and Sexuality from Rock to Rap (Smith) 
  • Popular Music of the Islamic World (Smith)

See also the Five College Certificate in Ethnomusicology.

Sample courses in Music Theory:

  • Jazz Theory and Improvisation (Amherst) 
  • Twentieth-Century Analysis (Amherst) 
  • Post-Tonal Theory (UMass Amherst)

Professional organizations

American Musicological Society (AMS) 

Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) 

Society for Music Theory (SMT)

A student working as a DJ in a music booth

Music administration, as a specialty within arts administration, generally refers to professional work that helps music and musicians connect with audiences. It can cover a host of careers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, including (but not limited to) such industries and career paths as:

  • Orchestra management, opera management, and artist management 
  • Publicity and public relations and concert promotion 
  • Record label and streaming media management 
  • Music librarianship and orchestra librarianship 
  • Music museums and music programming for museums 
  • Music publishing 
  • Music licensing 
  • Outreach, fundraising, grant writing, development 
  • Music advocacy and policy 
  • Startups and entrepreneurial initiatives

Requirements for further studies in the field

A career in music administration does not necessarily require graduate study, but there are a growing number of graduate and post-baccalaureate certificate programs in arts administration, arts management, music business, etc. These programs are often 1-2 years in duration and include networking and internships alongside coursework. Many programs are offered online to accommodate professionals’ work schedules. If you are considering a career or graduate study in a field of music administration, here are some things you can do while an undergraduate to get to know your options:

  • talk with Mount Holyoke music department faculty in your area(s) of interest to learn more about their career paths and experiences 
  • browse some of the websites for the societies and organizations that represent your area(s) of interest in music administration (for links, see “Professional Organizations” below) 
  • attend a symposium or conference hosted by an organization or graduate program in music or arts administration 
  • subscribe to an email listserv hosted by an organization in music or arts administration 
  • reach out to Mount Holyoke alums working in your area(s) of interest, to hear from them about their experiences 
  • seek out internships and entry-level jobs in your area(s) of interest

Complementary skills

Professionals working in the music industry need a host of skills in addition to a passion for and familiarity with music, such as:

  • entrepreneurial thinking 
  • collaboration and leadership 
  • self-motivation, resilience, and flexibility 
  • an awareness of global, social, and sustainability issues as they impact music industries and economies 
  • an eye for arts-oriented business principles, especially communication, marketing, and fundraising 
  • strong computer, web, and social media skills

Courses

Relevant music courses (Mount Holyoke)

  • Music and Technology (Music 102) 
  • World Music (Music 226) 
  • Music Ensembles

Please look at the current course offerings at the department to ascertain what is available in the current term.

Relevant non-music courses (Mount Holyoke)

See courses in:

Selected courses available in the Five Colleges

See music courses in the Five College Catalog for up-to-date course information.

Sample courses in Arts Management:

  • Introduction to Arts Management (UMass Amherst Arts Extension) 
  • Arts Programming (UMass Amherst Arts Extension) 
  • Greening/Nonprofit Arts Organizations (UMass Amherst Arts Extension) 
  • Intro to Community Engagement (UMass Amherst Public Policy & Administration) 
  • Theater Public Relations and Outreach (UMass Amherst Theater) 
  • Principles of Management (UMass Amherst Management) 
  • New Ventures (UMass Amherst Management) 
  • Social Entrepreneurship (UMass Amherst Management) 

See also the UMass Amherst Arts Extension Service, which offers online and on-campus courses, certificates, and a BA in Arts Management.

On-campus and regional organizations, non-profits, and opportunities

See also:

Professional organizations, non-profits, and opportunities further afield

Note: this is only a selected list; there are many more organizations representing specific genres, instruments, and aspects of the music industry.

Industry organizations:

Museums and Government Centers:

International Music Organizations and World Music Initiatives:

Flexible Immersive Teaching blends traditional classroom and lab experiences with the cutting-edge technologies that have become a staple of a Mount Holyoke education.

Music Technology is a broad, interdisciplinary field that might include electronic and computer music creation or performance, audio recording and production, sound design, and various forms of research and innovation at the intersection of music and current or emerging technologies. Music technology is also a hybrid field; while basic to advanced musical skills are often necessary, additional technical skills are also required. It is a quickly changing field with a wide range of creative opportunities available.

Requirements for further studies in the field

The requirements for additional study in music technology differ greatly depending on the type of program or degree. Some students will move towards applied work in the field and will benefit from on the-job-training. Short vocational courses are available with some programs offering certificates or other forms of accreditation. Masters and Doctoral degrees are available in a range of music technology related fields, as well interdisciplinary programs that involve a range of music, arts, media, and engineering technologies. Program durations range from one week or a few months for short-format vocational courses, two years for most master’s degrees, and four to six years for most doctoral degrees. Some programs will expect a high level of previous music training, but this also varies widely. The same situation applies to previous technology training, with the expectations based on the specifics of the program. One common factor influencing the requirement expectations is the college or department that houses the degree. Degrees offered by music departments will normally expect undergraduate training in music, but degrees focused on recording, hardware/software design or similar technical areas will often expect previous computing and mathematics skills.

If you are considering further studies in a music technology related field, here are some things you can do while an undergraduate to explore your options:

  • talk with faculty in your area(s) of interest to learn more about their work and career paths - this might include seeking out faculty in related areas (such as music tech and computer science) or visiting with faculty and staff in the Fimbel Maker and Innovation Lab
  • take some of the available music tech classes offered at MHC and the Five College Consortium (see specific course info below)
  • attend a conference related to music tech - this might include conferences by the International Computer Music Association, the Society for Electroacoustic Music in the US, New Interfaces for Musical Expression, the Connecticut College Arts and Technology Symposium, the Ableton Loop Summit or other conferences or symposiums
  • reach out to graduate students, faculty, and Mount Holyoke alums working in areas that interest you, to hear from them about their experiences in graduate school, in the field, on the job market, or in academia

Complementary skills

While skill expectations vary greatly depending on the specific field, some  generalizations can be made. Given the diversity of work within the field and the rapid rate of change, the ability to learn quickly and adapt to changing technologies is essential. Music tech favors the self-directed and those with an entrepreneurial mind set, since there are a number of opportunities available through self-employment or freelance work. A good balance of creativity, basic musicianship and strong foundational tech skills will be helpful. Some exposure to computer programming will also be beneficial.

Courses

Relevant music courses (Mount Holyoke)

  • Music and Technology:  MUSIC-102
  • Electronic and Computer Music: MUSIC-202
  • Acoustic Ecology and Sonic Art: MUSIC-203
  • Projects in Sound and Media Arts: MUSIC-269
  • Creative Career Strategies and Music Entrepreneurship: MUSIC-299

If you are not already majoring or minoring in music, please consider taking some complimentary music courses. This could include any of the introductory theory courses, as well as courses in music history, ethnomusicology, composition, private instrumental lessons or performing in an ensemble.

Please look at the course offerings in the course catalogue to see what is available in the current term.

Relevant non-music courses (Mount Holyoke)

Depending on your interests, there are many potential non-music courses that would be beneficial for music tech studies. High on the list would be taking at least one introductory computer science class; please see the Computer Science course page for up-to-date information.

Course work in mathematics and physics could also be helpful, depending on the area of interest. A hands on making class in the Fimbel Maker and Innovation lab would be an asset. Given the self-directed nature of career paths in music tech, entrepreneurial studies through EOS could be helpful. Studies in related creative arts areas could also be beneficial, including Film Studies, Studio Art, Theatre, and Dance. Please consult with your advisor for specific course info.

Courses available in the Five Colleges

The Five Colleges Consortium is a valuable asset and should be considered as part of your course planning. You can start by searching the music courses in the Five College Catalog for up-to-date course information. Potential highlights might include:

  • Sound Design (Amherst College)
  • Electro-Acoustic Music (Smith College)
  • Midi Studio Tech (Umass)
  • Electroacoustic Music (Hampshire)
  • Audio Culture (Hampshire)

Additional resources

For more information about additional studies and career paths in music technology, please explore the following resources: 

Related organizations

Contact us

The Music Department offers a program exploring the history, theory, literature, performance and cross-cultural study of music.

Lynn Baraszcz
  • Academic Department Coordinator