What Education Do I Need to Be a Composer?

If you're an aspiring composer, entering a postsecondary music degree program could help you enhance your musical skills. Both undergraduate and graduate programs in composition are available. Schools offering Ethnomusicology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

Composers create music in one or more of the many musical genres. Classical music may be the genre most closely associated with composers, but they can also write jazz compositions or scores for theater, television, and film. Often, composers have piano-playing skills, but they might also know how to play other instruments. As a composer, you must have a firm foundation and understanding of musical theory, as well as a highly trained ear.

Important Facts About Composers

Median Salary (2018) $49,630 (for all music directors and composers)
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 6% growth (for all music directors and composers)
Work Environment Concert halls, recording studios, religious organizations, self-employment
Similar Occupations Musicians, singers, producers, directors, writers, authors, dancers, choreographers, actors, teachers

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Requirements

Becoming a composer requires extensive training and experience. Most often, aspiring composers complete a postsecondary degree program in music composition.

Baccalaureate Degree

Admission to a four-year program in music composition likely will require that you send in a portfolio of original compositions. If accepted, your program should provide you with a firm foundation in music and composition, including ear training, piano skills, and music theory coursework. Additionally, it's common to take conducting, music history, and harmony and counterpoint classes. Composition majors may be expected to attend music recitals where their own original works are performed. Oftentimes, you must create an original composition in your senior year.

Graduate Degree

Master's programs in composition typically take two years to complete. The application process generally includes submitting an original piece of music. During your graduate studies, you may encounter more theory and analysis classes, as well as courses in conducting, orchestration, and interpretation of existing pieces. You'll also be required to participate in school ensembles and attend recitals. As a graduate student, your final project likely will be an original, full-length composition.

Doctorate Degree

Doctoral programs in composition are highly competitive. To be considered for such a program, you generally must have a master's degree in music, submit original pieces of work, and pass a music history and theory exam. Oftentimes, coursework is designed around the student's musical and composition abilities.

As a doctoral student, you'll typically work closely with a guidance professor throughout the program, which is intended to help you develop your thesis. In addition to creating original works, composers with a doctoral degree frequently hold positions in academia.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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