College Connection: Navigating Voice Majors

College Connection: Navigating Voice Majors

“Which degree is for me?” poses a challenge for freshmen entering music programs in the U.S. Learn more about each type of Bachelor’s degree for music offered by many schools and how you can select the best fit for your long-term goals.



The summer before your first fall semester in college is a wonderful time full of possibilities. You’ve decided where you want to go, and now you need to choose a major. Being a music major, especially a voice major, often leads to questions from peers in other fields like “What are you going to do with your degree?” “What kind of job do you want?” and, our favorite, “How will you make any money majoring in music?” While these questions all have different answers, how you achieve your goals can be helped or hindered by your degree choice. Looking through curriculums at different types of schools in the United States brings up several choices for aspiring singers.

In looking at different programs, we decided to compare a few state universities with a top conservatory. While there are many similarities, the nature of the programs differed. Many degree-granting institutions are governed by the National Association of Schools of Music (NASM), and most conservatories are not. NASM schools have required courses to certify a degree in music while non-NASM schools are free to justify their course offerings as they see fit. State schools also have more general education credits that often serve as at least two-thirds of the total degree credits; conservatories don’t have that restriction. 

While there are many different programs, we wanted to examine the state school versus the conservatory to see where certain curricula overlap and what degree choices are offered.


Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance

The Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance (BMVP) is the standard for students wanting to be full-time performers, generally in the classical music field. All voice performance programs focus on providing applied voice (voice lessons), diction, and song literature/repertoire courses. Other required courses are piano, music theory, ear training, and music history. Institutions also require a set of recitals in your junior and senior years as capstones of the BMVP degree. Options for vocal pedagogy courses are available at the state schools, and acting and performance craft are required for the conservatory. 

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A primary difference between schools is that the conservatory focuses on performance practice, while the state schools provide a multidisciplinary experience with a possible attention on multiple genres. State schools also require general education credits for their degrees. The conservatory seems better suited to prepare a student to perform, but it doesn’t provide support outside of performance craft. In contrast, the state schools cover much more general material but most of it isn’t music focused. 

In the current opera industry, most young singers start their professional careers sometime after completing a Master of Music degree or artist certificate, both of which come after the Bachelor of Music.


Bachelor of Music in Music Education

The Bachelor of Music in Music Education (BME) offers many similar experiences to that of a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance. However, because of the demands of the career trajectory (K–12 classroom teaching), pursuing this major requires standard education courses for state certification. State schools can have different emphases—for example, one requiring a moderate amount of education psychology courses and practicum experience, and another focusing on conducting and methods for other instruments. 

The potential jobs with this degree are focused on K–12 classroom teaching and ensemble leadership. At some state institutions we looked at, the depth of topics such as diction or song literature are more limited or not an option. The solo performance is part of the degree, but not as in depth as the vocal performance degree.

This degree path is not offered at the conservatory we examined.


Bachelor of Arts in Music

The Bachelor of Arts in Music degree (BA) might be the best option for a student who knows they want music to be a part of their career but is not sure of the way. Note that this degree path is not offered at the conservatory we examined.

All BA degrees in voice require voice lessons, but at some of the state schools investigated, the singer chooses the style they want to learn. Contemporary commercial styles of music are an option at all the colleges we studied. And an important point to consider is that courses like Business of Music or Recording/Music Production may not fit into a BMVP or BME degree because of the time commitment of their required courses, but could fit into the BA due to more freedom granted by that degree. 

While the BA is “choose your own adventure,” it does not have to stray far from either of the other degrees. The BMVP and BME degrees’ intensity of requirements make them specialized for those career paths. The BA is potentially best suited for someone who wants to sing it all or write their own music. 


How to Choose?

As a new student, it’s important to see how each degree fits with your intended career aspirations. The colleges allow double majors, minors, and various concentrations depending on the institution. Advice differs, but many students add minors in different connected fields to flesh out the experience they want for their specialized degree (e.g., a BMVP minoring in a language that they would sing in or minoring in business to understand that aspect of the industry). 

Look at what you want to do when you graduate and follow the degree and the type of school that best give you the skills to succeed. Every degree will help you develop your voice, so now it’s time to figure out what the degree offers beyond “I want to sing better.” Remember that you aren’t limited to any one degree and that you should always ask yourself if your degree is serving your dream!


All Paths Are Unique

We here include our personal paths to show that every journey is unique and that there is no set standard to finding your success.

Chiang: My journey through college started at the University of Alabama double majoring in Vocal Performance and Accounting. I ended up finishing my BMVP at the University of South Alabama with a minor in general business. I then went to the Manhattan School of Music to get my masters, and after graduation I went through the young artist circuit. I had a spark of joy when working with some students and began an adjunct position at my alma mater. I then earned my Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Louisiana State University. I didn’t know I wanted to teach until I was nearing the end of my young artist days.

Vargas: Since I was about 10 years old, I wanted to perform. I went to the State University of New York at Fredonia and majored in vocal performance, choosing opera because my voice fit that style. During my degree, I took vocal pedagogy and realized that I had a strong desire to teach. However, I was told that you needed to have an extensive performing background to teach at a university. I immediately applied to graduate school and went to the Manhattan School of Music for my Master’s degree. I also continued honing my performing skills through young artists programs. During my final year at Minnesota Opera, I began a private studio. I applied for teaching positions and have since taught at a variety of collegiate institutions.

Andre Chiang and Victoria Vargas

  • André Chiang, DMA, is a multigenre baritone performer whom Opera News described as “handsome of voice.” Some company credits include Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Portland Opera, Virginia Opera, the Glimmerglass Festival, Dayton Opera, Opera Delaware, and regional symphonies. He was a part of the first cohort of the Pan American Vocology Association’s Recognized Vocologists distinction and a 2018 National Association of Teachers of Singing Intern, and he currently holds office at the national and regional levels with NATS and CMS. Chiang is currently an Assistant Professor of Voice at the University of Nevada–Las Vegas and an Instructor of Voice at the Interlochen Summer Music Camp. For more information, visit and follow @drechiang on Instagram.
  • Mezzo-soprano Victoria Vargas has sung over 25 roles for Minnesota Opera, including multiple world premieres, and has performed with Opera Theater of Saint Louis, Chautauqua Opera, Sarasota Opera, Ash Lawn–Highland Festival, and others. Her concert credits include performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Chautauqua Symphony, South Dakota Symphony, Phoenix Symphony, Billings Symphony, and Minnesota Orchestra. She has placed seven times at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, at both the district and regional levels. Vargas is currently an assistant professor of voice at the University of Minnesota.