This section will address how to select which program you should apply to.
MOTIVATIONS FOR DEGREE
Should you get a Master’s degree in Music?
The answer to this question really depends on the area of music you hope to focus on. If, for instance, you hope to have a career in singing or performing in a band, you will not require a Master’s degree for it. But if you are interested in pursuing a degree in music conducting, music education, music stage directing, or even something like music technology, a Master’s degree can be useful.
If you are interested in something other than the above-mentioned areas, it does not mean that you should not apply for a Master’s degree in Music. There are still many things you can gain from the degree, i.e. an enhancement of your musical knowledge, a polishing of technical skills, and an improvement of your craft. But you should -- of course -- weigh the benefits of this degree against the cost you will incur (it may be difficult to receive scholarship/financial assistance as an international student in some places, so you may have to fund a substantial portion of the degree yourself). Keep in mind: this career may not be as lucrative as some others, so you may not get a high financial return on your financial investment immediately. So you should take some time and decide if the additional knowledge and insights you are gaining from music school are worth the overall cost.
You can also go through this link and this link to learn more about why you should pursue a graduate degree in music (and then decide if it is the right choice for you or not). This and this link are also good resources that you can gain some insight from: they compare the pros and cons of attending graduate school for music.
TYPES OF DEGREE
- Master of Music (M.M. or M.Mus.)
- Master of Art in Music (MA)
- Master of Music Education (M.M.Ed.)
Master of Arts programs typically focu on the following areas: Music Theory, Music History and Musicology. Master of Music Education is an education-specific degree. The Master of Music degree is broad: you can find MM degrees in Music Education, Music History/Theory/Musicology (different universities may just confer different degree types - for the same area/concentration).
You can find most of the areas/concentrations in music listed below:
- Music Education
- A degree in Music Education will typically cover topics such as: the philosophy of music education, history of music and research methods. (If you hope to become a music teacher (specifically at a higher education institute -- at a high position such as Head of the Music Department), you can consider doing a PhD in Music as well.)
- Music Composition
- If you are interested in composing music, and learning more about computer music, recording techniques, and the analysis of tonal and non-tonal music, a degree in Music Composition may be appropriate for you.
- Music Technology
- If you are interested in audio engineering, production and post-production, sound editing for film and multimedia, audio mastering, signal processing, acoustics, music informatics, and game audio, a degree in Music Technology may be most appropriate for you.
- Music Conducting
- A Master’s degree in Music Conducting will primarily focus on helping your improve your craft by teaching you orchestration, analytical techniques and keyboard skills.
- Stage Directing for Opera
- If you are interested in the Stage Directing for Opera specialization, you can expect to learn more about music theory whilst also tackling subjects in opera production and opera performance.
- If you are hoping to advance your existing knowledge and skill in a particular instrument, an MM in a specific instrument (like voice, guitar, organ, percussion, strings, harp, guitar, winds and brass etc.) might be a suitable option for you.
- Musicology (Music History and Theory)
- If you are interested in learning more about the eras and history of music, and wish to expand your current base of music knowledge by using research, writing and analytical tools to learn more about music, a degree in Musicology may be appropriate for you. For information on what to consider when choosing amongst Musicology programs, click here.
- Film Composition/Film Scoring
- If you are interested in immersing yourself into writing music for film, television or other media, and wish to gain the skills to start a career in this field, an MM in Film Composition might be a suitable degree for you.
Note: this may not be an exhaustive list, there may be other specializations/areas of concentration available at some universities. It is therefore recommended that you visit your prospective program website, and go through the different degree types/programs on offer -- and then decide what the most suitable option is for you.
How to select the best option for yourself (among degrees/programs within this field)
- Before you consider the degree you want to pursue, you need to figure out a career plan (USC provides a good resource, which goes over various career options to consider after your undergraduate degree. Note that this is a US-based resource and so some information may not be relevant to the Pakistani job market, or to Pakistani students trying to work in the US, i.e. it is likely to be biased towards the US job market and US citizens). Then, based on these professional goals, you can find degrees and programs that can cater to your unique needs. Try to make your career goals as specific as you can, because that can help you find programs with modules/resources that can be useful and relevant to you. For example, there is a difference between wanting to be a music teacher and wanting to be a ‘transformative’ music teacher. If your goal is to become a music teacher, you can search up music teaching degrees. If however, you specifically want to be a ‘transformative’ music teacher, i.e. a teacher that can cater to the needs of a diverse student body using a variety of latest music technology, you need programs that can train you for this purpose. For the latter, Peter Webster (Scholar-in-Residence and Director of the USC Thornton’s K-12 Contemporary Teaching Practice program) comments that a traditional Master’s degree in music education may not be enough. So generally, if you are more specific about your professional goals, you can evaluate programs more critically.
- Another thing you need to consider is the student body. These students can be your competition, friends, colleagues, advisors and more. Since the classroom sizes for music classes tends to be small, you will have the opportunity to develop close relationships with your peers. In this way, it is important to consider the kind of student body various programs have. For example, a very good, top-tier conservatory can have a very intense competitive environment, which doesn’t suit everyone. You should try to find programs that have a student body and culture that matches your interests, strengths etc. One way to do this is to try to contact current students or alumni. If you contact the university/conservatory, they may be able to connect you with relevant alumni -- note that these alumni can present very biased views, so their opinions should not be the only thing you consider when evaluating a program.
- The location of the program can also be another consideration. It is recommended by USC that students who plan on entering the music industry should be in Los Angeles so that they can build connections. This is relevant if you plan on working in the US -- it may not be as relevant for students who plan on coming back to Pakistan after studies.
- Another thing to consider is your skillset -- different programs will have different audition requirements. Some programs specify that they are going to examine a particular repertoire, while others don’t. So make sure you find programs that are looking for skills that you can match.
- The kind of professional network a program has is also an important consideration. During your graduate level studies, you can take up internships or work experience opportunities, which can add to your resume and also can boost your career prospects in the US (if you plan on working in the US). In this way, it can be useful to apply to programs that have a strong and relevant professional network (i.e. has relationships with businesses and organizations in your relevant industry). Note, even if you don’t plan on working in the US, having work experience with good and relevant organizations can add to your CV and so help you during your job hunt in Pakistan.
- You can find this information out either by consulting the university website, or by asking the university/faculty/alumni directly.
- The faculty is another very important consideration -- the professors you work with will be valuable mentors during and possibly after your studies, and can also be potential recommenders for your future job hunt. In this way, it is important to find faculty members that meet your study and professional needs. Some questions you can ask yourself, include: (extracted from USC)
- What technology do they incorporate into their teachings?
- What experience do they have in their field as a professional or artist?
- What’s a typical week like for a student?
- Are students assigned an advisor to discuss projects and career opportunities?
- You should also look for programs that have a degree of flexibility -- the kind that you can tailor to meet your individual needs, if possible. For example, some have core courses that are required, but then they allow students to pick a combination of courses otherwise that suit their study and professional needs.
If you are interested in Music, you should also go through the following tip sheets:
- Performing Arts UK
- Performing Arts USA
How to select the best option for yourself (among allied fields)
Go through the relevant country profile and tip sheet on our website for more information on these fields, and then decide which field is most appropriate for you.
- No. of universities to apply to: There is no restriction on the number of universities you can apply to. But it is highly recommended that you apply to those places which seem like the right fit. Don’t apply just for the sake of applying, especially since you will have to pay more to submit each application.
How to select which school to apply to (information for this section has been extracted from MajoringinMusic):
- Opportunities to continue playing your instrument of choice: if you are applying for a performance-based degree, then you will have plenty of opportunities to play the instrument of your choice. But if you are specializing in music education, or music conducting or music composition, you might not find time to play or sing very easily (because such activities are not a “mandated” part of the curriculum. If you are hoping that you find the opportunity to play your instrument in graduate school, make sure you actively apply to those places that give such opportunities
- Research resources: this is important for some music-related specialties (like music education, music conducting etc.). Find out the kinds of research opportunities that exist at the institution. You should also try to find out if the school has a music library, and music librarian.
- Size of the student body/student-teacher ratio: if it is a large student body, you need to ask yourself, “Are there enough ensembles and professors for each of you to receive adequate podium and one-on-one time?”. If it is a small program, then you need to ask yourself, “does the school have “sufficient resources” to provide a wide variety of electives and opportunities?”
- Cost of living: do some research on the probable cost of living of the state/city your prospective university is in. A lower cost of living means that you will have lower apartment rent, cost of food and utilities.
- Assistantship opportunities: find out if your prospective schools offers assistantships to its students. This is a valuable way for you to gain some valuable experience through “organizational tasks, leadership roles, and as a teaching assistant for relevant courses”.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on program selection (under the tab of ‘selection’).
A lot of our tips talk about how you can strengthen your application, but you can build a stronger application when you’ve done the things this program values in the years prior to the application. The application itself is the communication part (in which you communicate what you've done to the admission committee); but this section gives guidance on the substance part (what you can actually do before you apply). In this section we talk about what you can do in the years leading up to applying that can make you an ideal candidate. Supplement the following tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘Pre-Application’) to become a competitive applicant.
You will typically be required to have a 4 year Bachelor’s degree or its equivalent to be eligible for applying. Some schools will accept a degree in any field. But if you are applying for a technical field, the program may have specific requirements (they might need you to have taken specific courses to be eligible etc.). This is just a general guideline; for more specific information, please visit your prospective university website and follow the stated instructions.
While GPA requirements and cut-offs are not explicitly mentioned on a number of university-based websites, you should try to aim for the best possible GPA. One middle-low ranked university requires that you have a CGPA of at least 2.8 if you want to join their program. So you should aim for at least this much if you are hoping to be eligible for the les competitive programs. If you wish to apply to more competitive programs, a higher CGPA might be required. This is just a general guideline, for more specific information you should visit your prospective university website.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on transcripts (under the tab of ‘transcripts’).
Research experience may be required if you are applying for musicology or music education, especially because you may need to submit a scholarly writing sample as part of your application. Make sure you have adequate research experience, and your writing skills are honed by the time you apply.
Getting some professional experience will definitely add to your overall application. If you are interested in teaching or conducting, make sure you have experiences relevant to that (you will also be required to submit video footage of yourself as a part of your digital audition/screening process when you apply). If you are interested in a performance-based degree, you should try to gain more experience relevant to that (e.g. you can try to perform solo/orchestral pieces in public etc.).
Volunteer work is typically not required for this degree, but if you can work in a capacity that seems directly relevant to the specialization you hope to be pursuing in music graduate school, then you should definitely go for it. For instance, if you are hoping to study music education, you can consider teaching children in low-income areas/underprivileged schools how to play instrument XYZ, or you can provide music training to other learners etc.
If there are music clubs or societies in your university, you can consider becoming a part of them to gain more experience and practise your instrument of choice. You can also consider attending music competitions, participating in open-mics/concerts etc. at your university (if applicable) for further exposure. This is not mandatory but may add positively to your overall application. You should also visit your prospective university website to find out what kind of experiences it recommends applicants to have.
This section provides an overview of general guidelines pertaining to the application process. It also delineates the key components of the application process.
The most important components in your overall application are: your personal statement, your letters of references and of course, your audition/portfolio submission. You should make sure you are putting your best foot forward in these components. In addition to that, some specializations of music may require a writing sample. If you are required to submit a writing sample, make sure it is of high-quality and accurately represents your abilities. Transcripts and standardized test scores are usually required and are fairly important when they are required. Most universities are willing to accept unofficial transcripts, so you will usually not need to worry about sharing your official transcript during the application process (note: a few universities may require official transcripts at the time of application submission as well; for those universities, you should make sure that you are submitting the official transcript). Finally -- the resume is an integral part of your application; some schools may make it compulsory to submit a resume; others might make it optional. If you do submit one, make sure it accurately sums up your music trajectory (in the last few years) and lists down all relevant achievements/experiences.
Refer to the Program Selection Section for further information.
Is this component required?
How important is this component (in the overall review of the application for admission)?
Standardized tests or entry exams
May be required
Transcripts (past academic records)
Letters of recommendation
Resume or CV
May be required
May be required
Very important when required
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on overview (under the tab of ‘overview’).
Pakistani applicants suffer most because of inadequate information -- or wrong information -- about essays and personal statements. This section will address those inadequacies specifically in relation to applying for this program. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘essay’) to craft a stellar personal statement.
You will most likely be required to submit one statement to each program that you apply to, along with your application. The length of the statement and other guidelines (like what to include etc.) will typically be specified on the website or the online application. Make sure you go through these carefully to find out what you need to talk about in your statement.
The main purpose of your statement is to explain how graduate study in this particular program at this specific university will contribute to the development and pursuit of your professional and/or personal goals. You can expect to receive some of the following prompts for your statement: ‘Describe your professional goals and plans. How has your background influenced your goals and how will your graduate studies help you to achieve them?’; ‘Outline your objectives for graduate study, career plans, and reasons for applying to our program.’; ‘What are your reasons for undertaking graduate study? Indicate any specific areas of research interest. You may wish to discuss past work in your intended field or allied fields’ (Musician’s Personal Statement Tip Sheet).
Which resources should I make use of?
TIPS ON GOOD AND BAD STATEMENTS
Information for this section has been extracted from Musician’s Personal Statement Tip Sheet
What is essential in the statement:
- You should try to address the following questions in your statement: why do you wish to pursue this particular degree program at this specific university? When answering this question, you need to come across as an applicant who has made an informed decision by applying. The admissions committee wants the assurance that you have considered your current interests, short-term and long-term plans and the university offerings -- and then decided to apply. You should also mention your long-term goals and vision for the future, and show how it aligns with the university offerings.
- Make sure you conduct thorough research on your prospective university. This means that you need to go through each of its degree options, faculty expertise, ensemble offerings, and the potential courses you would take as a part of your intended track. Once you have done this foundational research, use it to explain why this university appeals to you or is the right fit for you. Make sure you are not “generic” -- “if you can swap one school name for another and it still applies, it means there is still work to do.''
- Make sure there is a logical, coherent and smooth flow to your essay. Make sure that your paragraphs are connected (you can use transition sentences to improve the readability of your essay). You should also ensure that whatever you are writing is genuine, authentic and representative of you and your goals.
- Mention relevant past experiences. But avoid giving a “chronological account” of all your music-based experiences. Talk about how specific incidents or moments compelled you to apply for a graduate degree in music with XYZ specialization. Instead of simply stating “I am good at XYZ”, show that. “Highlight your record of recent successes...and point the reader’s attention to patterns or dominant themes in your career trajectory”.
- You should also communicate to the admissions committee why you feel you are well-suited for the program at this particular point in time. What sort of preparation have you had that makes you feel you are equipped to deal with the program? Here you can try to show your knowledge of the field and your reasons for applying to it.
- If you are applying for performance or composition or any other sub-field that does not require a research statement or written scholarly sample, you can discuss your areas of interest in your personal statement. You can refer to “your previous research, thesis papers, lecture-recitals, or any other special studies” that have influenced/indicate your past research interest. Your main objective should be to help the reader understand what path you might pursue when you come to university (note: this is not binding, so even if your plans change, it is okay).
- Showing you are passionate, motivated and committed to your area of interest in music is very important. Make sure you convey this motivation in a sensible manner -- avoid using statements like “I am really excited and simply cannot wait to join this program”; they do not provide any additional information and if anything, take away space that you could have used for some other important information.
- You can mention faculty by name -- if their work is of great interest to you. This would show that you have taken out the time to conduct research on the school and its faculty and can help you come across as a dedicated candidate. Make sure that whatever you are saying comes across as genuine, and does not look like an attempt to deliver meaningless praise. It is suggested that you ideally contact the specific faculty member whose name you want to mention in your statement before you submit your application -- have some professional communication with them, so that they may remember you.
What are bad statements/ what things to avoid:
- Avoid listing your weaknesses/flaws. Try to come across as a positive candidate -- make sure you are highlighting your strengths, your personal motivation and discipline as a student of this field. “Nobody wants to read ‘I didn’t win the competition in 2016 because I had a memory slip on stage.’ Instead, flip statements such as these to point to personal development, like ‘I learned a great deal about being fully prepared for a significant solo performance when I took second place in the 2016 concerto competition.’”.
How can applicants manage the process of writing?
Make sure you review your essay multiple times. Your essay should flow well, should not sound too complex or have excessive words. There should be no spelling mistakes or grammatical errors in your essay. Once you have completed reviewing your statement (a few times), you can request your advisor/family member/friend/mentor etc. to review it and share their feedback.
This section will cover the basics about recommendation letters, which are one of the most important parts of the application process. Supplement the following field-specific tips with general tips (under the tab of ‘recommendations’) to ensure you have strong letters of recommendation.
You will typically be asked to submit 2-3 reference letters alongside your application. Please visit your prospective university website for more information on i) the format of the recommendation letter, ii) the number of letters required, and iii) who makes for a good recommender. Typically, it should be a teacher/mentor/advisor with professional knowledge of your abilities as a musician. If you are applying for music education or musicology (or even conducting), an academic reference may also be acceptable - and in some cases, even preferable.
This section will cover everything else related to the application process; including transcripts, interviews, resumes, and standardized tests.
AUDITIONS AND PORTFOLIOS
You will usually be required to submit some pre-screening recordings as a part of your online application -- before you are called for an interview. Make sure the file that you sent has high audio and video quality. If you pass the pre-screening round, you will typically be invited to attend a live audition (in case you are unable to attend it in person, please contact the admissions office of your prospective university immediately, and ask them if they have online auditions).
Please make sure you visit your prospective university website to find out more about the exact guidelines that exist for the pre-screening and audition repertoire. For instance, this is what the Yale School of Music uses -- please go through similar pages on other university websites to find out what their guidelines are.
Some universities might have a ‘digital audition’ -- in which you will be required to upload a portfolio of your scores and recordings (the number and type of work will typically be specified by the school). In the situation that this is required, please make sure that the work you are submitting is of high-quality and is representative of your skill and ability. And you should, of course, also ensure that the files you are sending have high audio and video quality.
If you are applying for Conducting, you may be required to submit a video (or multiple videos) of yourself conducting a vocal ensemble -- there may be some specifications that you should make sure you are following. For instance, you might be required to upload different excerpts from contrasting periods. You should also try to submit footage that has been recorded from the stage (i.e. it should show your front side).
If you are applying for Music Education, you may be required to submit a URL link/video of a recent lesson you have taught as part of your application. For more specifications or guidelines, please visit your prospective university website.
For more information on auditions (in-person and digital) and portfolio submissions, please visit your prospective university website.
- It can be useful to work on your fundamentals -- Paul Edmund-Davies Warm-Up Book can be useful for this. Such exercises can help you identify and work on weaknesses.
- It is recommended not to use too many different pieces for your audition -- try and overlap or reuse as much as you can.
- You should choose pieces that you are familiar with and feel strong about.
- If you have to record your performance/recording, make sure to minimize or avoid technical issues. Have a backup recording device if possible, in case there is an issue with the recording device.
- An example of a potential issue is the recording only playing through one headphone etc.
If you are applying for musicology/music history/music theory or music education, you may be required to submit a scholarly writing sample (or multiple samples). Please visit your prospective university website to find out if: a) this requirement is applicable to you, b) if so, the number of samples you should submit, and c) general guidelines on the writing sample selection and submission process.
The writing sample should demonstrate your writing and research style -- and your paper should display that you have critically engaged with a subject in the field of music, at a level that is equivalent to that of graduate work. Typically, an essay, a review, a (part of) a term paper/thesis might all be suitable samples to submit. But you should confirm this by visiting your prospective university website.
Writing Sample Tips:
The resume is an extremely important part of your overall application. It may be required by some admissions committees. In the situation that it is, make sure it is updated and completely accurate.
The resume will help give the admissions committee a full representation of your musical background and experience. Make sure you include information about which schools you have attended in the past, who you have worked with in the past (i.e. who have your music teachers/mentors been), the sort of musical experience you have had (solo, chamber, orchestral), music festivals you have attended, and relevant professional experience.
In some universities, an impressive resume can help you land a graduate assistantship.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on building a resume (under the tab of ‘Resume/CV’).
You may be required to take the TOEFL or the IELTS. Please visit your prospective university website to find out: a) if you are required to take these tests for graduate music school, and b) what the score requirements are for your particular specialization.
For some specializations in the MM degree, you will need to take the GRE. Please check your prospective university website to confirm if it is required or not.
Complement the above field-specific tips with general tips on preparing for standardized tests (under the tab of ‘tests’).
These tips were compiled with the valuable help of SHAHEEN volunteers.
We thank our volunteers for their contribution, and hope their tips and advice help you in your application.
The following sources were also consulted in developing this tip-sheet: Should I get a Master’s degree in Music?, Majoring in Music - Grad School, 10 reasons to pursue a graduate degree in Music, Music School Central, Personal Statement tip sheet