Music Theory

If you enjoy music and want to understand the ins and outs of a musical composition, a career in music theory may be a good fit for you. Read on to learn more about the career opportunities and degree options for music theorists and professionals.

Is Music Theory for Me?

Career Overview

Music theory explores the creation of music, from the placement of notes to the tones selected for a piece. Rhythm, scales, harmony, melody, phrasing and timbre are all important aspects of this discipline. With a background in music theory, you could pursue a career in music education and teach at a private school or studio, or at a public elementary, middle or high school. You might also work as an assistant or full music professor at a college, university, music conservatory or vocational school.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), an average growth in employment nationwide is expected for elementary and middle school teachers in general between 2012 and 2022. While a slower-than-average increase in job openings is projected for high school teachers, college and university professors in general can look forward to a faster-than-average growth in employment from 2012-2022.

In May 2012, elementary and middle school teachers earned median yearly salaries of $53,090 and $53,430, respectively. In the same month, the median annual salary for a high school teacher was $55,050, while college and university art, drama and music teachers earned $70,850 (

How Do I Work in Music Theory?

Undergraduate Degree Programs

Bachelor's degree programs can be found both on campus and online and can lead to a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science with an option in music theory, as well as a Bachelor of Music in Music Theory. An audition or portfolio of your musical compositions may be required for admission. Sample courses might include topics in composition and arrangement, 18th-century counterpoint, orchestration and post-tonal aural skills. You may also learn about the different types of musical instruments and groups.

Graduate Degree Programs

At the graduate level, you can earn a Master of Arts or Master of Music in Music Theory. Master's degree programs in music can include the study of musical concepts and arrangements, atonal analysis, music history and pedagogy, and usually culminate in a thesis.

If you want to continue your education or teach music theory at the postsecondary level, you'll most likely need a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Music Theory. Ph.D. degree programs typically include advanced coursework in Schenkerian analysis and post-tonal theory, ethnomusicology and historical musicology. You may also attend doctoral seminars in music theory or learn how to teach at the college level. Additional degree requirements include independent research and completion of a doctoral dissertation.

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