What You Need to Get a Music History Degree

Music History Student holding a book with a bookbag on his shoulder
Image from Pixabay.

A degree in music history could be the career path for you if you’ve always been fascinated by music, its history, and cultures. Imagine turning something you had a passion for in high school into a career you can enjoy for the rest of your life. Before you begin your journey, you should be aware of what a music degree in history is and what it may entail.

Music History Student
A student visiting the library.

What is Music History?

The study of music history, or historical musicology, is one of the most important aspects of musicology, which examines the development of musical art and culture over time. It is closely related to other arts, the history of general culture and history, as well as the entire development of human society as a whole, combining elements of philosophy. 

Historically, music scholars study the way musical and musical-historical facts are related and the role music plays in society. Studying music history means gaining an understanding of the history of music from all over the world, including all eras, styles, and genres.

It is important to keep in mind that music history requires scholars to be well-versed in many areas of the music world. This includes not only music theory and history but also music in and of itself and including the ability to read and perform music.

Music majors are generally skilled in an instrument and usually perform in school ensembles. Most majors in music history, however, concentrate on an area of music other than music production.

Music by Mozart
Sheet music behind an image of Mozart.

Educational Requirements for a Degree in Music History

Many schools of music that provide the opportunity for students to get a bachelor of music history often require them to take classes across a variety of areas so they are more well-rounded. This includes coursework in music history, performing arts in music, as well as enrollment in general education.

Most educational institutions also require those seeking an undergraduate degree in music history to take foreign language courses such as Spanish, French, and German so they will be able to read music in those languages. 

Educational degree requirements typically include music theory, studies in various musical styles such as world music, baroque, and renaissance and including the history of them as well, music and gender, popular music, media studies, and much more. Taking this wide range of courses will allow students to acquire a skill set that will make them stand out from the crowd.

They will be able to recognize music features within musical compositions, various elements, music that comes from various cultural contexts, various instruments just by sound or sight, and much more. Students will gain knowledge in all things music and musical artists to be able to be successful in their field.

Students may also be required to participate in various ensembles and other music productions throughout their degree program. This ensures that they have an overall understanding of not just history, but also how music works.

For many, this may require a degree in music history and literature that is offered at several universities around the world.

Many schools encourage students to pursue graduate degrees that focus on ethnomusicology and/or musicology. This is because graduate studies will expand their knowledge into the study of culture and social aspects of musical history.

Historic Sheet Music
An example of old sheet music that will need to be deciphered in a music history class. Photo by Henryk Niestrój.

Music History Degree Plan 

Most schools that offer degrees in music studies in history have degree plans set up for students to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in the area of music history. This often requires a wide variety of core elements that have to be met as well as a range of electives to choose from.

In most cases, at the beginning of their study, they are often required to take prerequisite-type classes such as Introduction to Music History, and various music courses on ear training. These are designed to give students a foundational understanding of the degree ahead of them.

Once they move past the introduction classes, most universities have students take many classes to satisfy their requirements to get as much knowledge about the theory and historical aspects of music as possible. During this time, they also continue with ear training and performance-type courses.

In addition to the various music classes, students have typically required to take general skill classes such as language, writing, and various core classes such as English, Math, and so on. This in addition to a variety of electives and humanities classes ensures that students graduate with a well-rounded education.

University of Washington
A photo of Johnson Hall at the University of Washington which offers a music history degree program.

Do All Universities Offer a Degree in Music History?

While many colleges and universities offer degrees in a variety of musical fields, not all of them offer a specific degree in music history. This is mostly because of the demand they typically have for a specific discipline of study.

Some areas of the nation and world are more interested in studying music history than others. Because of this, not all universities offer this specific type of degree.

Many offer a degree in Music History and Literature to ensure that students receive the opportunity to gain much musical knowledge in a variety of areas.

When searching for the right college or university, especially you desire to get your degree in music history, you will need to do your research to be sure that you choose the right school for you. Starting with schools you may be interested in the most, you can begin to take a look at the degrees they offer.

University of Minnesota
New building at the University of Minnesota, but fits fairly well with the early 20th century buildings filling this campus. Photo by John Lloyd.

Colleges and Universities Who Offer a Degree in Music History

Depending on where you want to attend college you will most likely find a school that offers a degree in music history, or some kind. You may, however, have to think about attending a school outside of your original plan depending on if they offer your degree.

When searching for the college or university that is right for you, you may want to consider having a conversation with their financial aid department to ensure that you can qualify for assistance, if needed.

You will also need to ensure that you can meet any admission requirements they have such as GPA, and any test scores that you have. In addition, if you plan to pursue a degree beyond a bachelor’s degree, you may check to see if they offer graduate-level courses in music history as well.

Below is a list of some universities and colleges that offer a degree in music history that you might find interesting:

While some schools only offer undergraduate programs in music or music history, some universities have graduate programs in music history that you may wish to consider in your search. Some career paths require you to have a master’s degree in music.

Historic music performance
A special music performance in Sonnenburg, Germany in 1931.

Careers You Can Have With a Music History Degree

Those who seek a degree in music history are often referred to as music historians, or sometimes musicologists. These are individuals who study not only music but the history that it encompasses.

Many music historians study or specialize in a wide variety of areas when it comes to music including the study of various composers throughout history or even individual pieces of music. They may even work for museums or other institutions that work to preserve musical artifacts that are important to history.

While there are many career paths a person with a degree in music history could follow, the most important thing to remember is that they typically have a love for all things music. This is why many individuals choose to educate others about music either through writing or through teaching opportunities.

Here are some of the most common career choices for those majoring in music history:

  • Music Historians typically study the history of music and report it to the world through published articles and/or books, and possibly even through various live events such as seminars or workshops.
  • Music Librarians usually are found working in a library or a musical library of sorts helping people to find information on various topics in music. They often perform librarian-type duties but with a specialization in the music industry.
  • College Professors have to be well-versed in the area in which they are teaching. Music professors can pass on their knowledge about music to the next generation, therefore keeping music history alive.
  • Music Educational Program Directors are those who work for institutions such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, National Public Radio, or other museums or organizations. These directors create educational programs so others can learn about various parts of musical history.

It is important to keep in mind that some of these career paths only require a bachelor’s degree, however, many of them require or prefer you to have a master’s degree in music history.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Guitar Exhibit outside of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.

Salary and Employment Outlook

Since there are a wide variety of careers that someone who majors in music history can have, the salary and employment outlook can be vastly different. This is because when it comes to choosing a career, people tend to lean towards the area they are most interested in.

The chosen career path is also determined by the level of education an individual has. If they have decided to only get a bachelor’s degree, then they may be more limited in their career choices as well as salary.

When an individual chooses to get a graduate degree in the area of music history, the doors of opportunity open a little wider. This is especially true if you desire to be a college professor since most require a terminal degree such as a doctorate in the area you wish to pursue.

When you consider the various career paths for music history majors, salary ranges can vary depending on several factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the BLS, the median salaries and expected job growth for each career path depend upon education and the specific hiring entity.

Here are some of those statistics concerning salary and job growth potential:

  • Music Historians– Median Salary: $63,100; Job Growth Expected: 3% (over 10 years)
  • Music Librarians-Median Salary: $60,820; Job Growth Expected: 5% (over 10 years)
  • College Professors-Median Salary: $76,890; Job Growth Expected: 9% (over 10 years)
Music history professor
Glenn Gass, “Doctor Rock”, a music history professor at Indiana University, on Abbey Road in London.

Best Way to Get Started with a Music History Degree

The best way to get started with a music history degree is to begin your research of what you would like to do with your education. This is the most important step to discover, however, it is not a requirement before you start your program.

Additionally, you will need to do some research on the degree programs that are available at various universities and colleges that you may be interested in. When diving into the research, you may discover that you are interested in areas that you had not thought about before.

It may be important to note that while many universities offer the music history degree, many combine it with other areas such as music history and literature. They often do this to make sure students are well prepared for any career path they may take.

Keep in mind that you should also make sure that you understand the requirements it takes to get into the college of your choice and also what your course load may look like. Understanding all of these things will help you decide if getting a degree in music history is for you.

Written by Hope Davis

Long-time music lover Hope became a full-time writer in 2020 after being laid off from her regular job due to COVID-19. She now spends her time traveling the world to see her favorite bands while writing about them!


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