How Do I Become a Music Professor?

Bobby R. Goldsmith
Bobby R. Goldsmith
Man playing a guitar
Man playing a guitar

Although there are several paths for you to become a music professor, the most direct path leads through obtaining a master's or doctoral degree in music composition or theory at an accredited college or university. It is possible to become a music professor without a post-graduate degree in music, but the chances of success are significantly lower, and you would need to have had a long, successful career as a composer. Generally, your education will begin with obtaining a bachelor's degree and then either obtaining a PhD directly or earning a master's degree before completing the doctorate. You will then need to apply for an available position at a college or university.

The first step to become a music professor is obtaining an advanced degree in music that focuses on one aspect of that discipline. You will need to earn a bachelor's degree and achieve a high grade point average, especially in the courses that are directly related to your music major. Once you have completed the degree, you will need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which has two components — a general test and subject-focused test. You will need to score well on both sections, but you should get the highest possible score that you can manage on the specific subject section. Once you have completed the exam, you must begin looking for a graduate program in music.

Generally, you have one of two options for graduate coursework to become a music professor. You can apply directly to doctoral program to earn a PhD in music composition or theory, or you can apply to a master's/PhD program to earn both advanced degrees. To become a college professor, most institutions require only the PhD, but the more extensive your educational background, the more competitive your curriculum vitae (CV) will look in the applicant pool. The advanced coursework will teach you how to be a scholar of music, and the numerous presentations you will be required to conduct will prepare you for classroom instruction. To complete your doctorate, you will need to successfully pass an exit exam and successfully defend a dissertation.

Once you have completed your PhD program, you can begin applying to open positions at colleges and universities. You will need to send a comprehensive application packet for each open position, including a copy of your up-to-date CV, a cover letter explaining your ideas and scholarship regarding music, and three letters of recommendation from your own professors. If your packet is chosen to move forward, you will be called in by the administrators of the college or university's music department to interview for the position. The interview may take several hours or more and may include a university tour, an introduction to the music department faculty, one-on-one interviews, an interview with a committee, and a demonstration of your teaching.

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