For Singers Who Want to Perform and Teach: College Search Strategies

For Singers Who Want to Perform and Teach: College Search Strategies

Many singers love both performing and teaching. As faculty in Voice and Choral Music Education, we offer strategies for choosing a college that nurtures both passions. First, you can gather information from websites, then determine program specifics, gain insight into auditions and scholarships, and ultimately decide where to audition.

Visiting individual school websites is an effective way to learn what each program does well. There are also general websites that can jumpstart your search. The U.S. News & World Report’s Education Division has a section dedicated to colleges ( where students can search individual schools, make comparisons, and see how schools rank regionally and nationally. A college with high marks in undergraduate teaching, for example, indicates a student-centered focus on undergraduates. A low faculty-to-student ratio indicates smaller class sizes and possibly more individual attention. For more information about specific programs, is a great resource.

School and program size, degree plans, and music faculty bios can be discovered without contacting anyone or visiting campus, and well before your senior year. Consider programs with an option to double major in Music Performance and Music Education.  A double major allows you to earn two degrees and develop your skills in both teaching and performing.

Getting your eyes on an actual degree plan will show you what classes are expected for the double major. Ask what percentage of courses are shared between the two degree plans (Music Theory, Music History, Keyboard/Piano Skills). Would you take music education and performance-focused classes at the same time, or are they scheduled for different semesters/degree phases? Are the majority of education courses music-specific and offered by the music department/school, or are they general education classes?  If there isn’t a double major, could you add a performance concentration to the Music Education degree?

Researching faculty requires some decoding of job titles. Titles like Assistant/Associate Professor or Professor indicate full-time, long-term faculty positions. Titles like Instructor or Adjunct could indicate either part-time or short-term positions. Artist/Teacher or Artist in Residence positions may indicate the faculty member travels often to perform. If you notice more faculty in part-time than in full-time positions, you may want to ask more specific questions.

Now that you’ve narrowed your list, start to figure out who is teaching what. This may require reaching out to a faculty or staff member. You might ask whether lessons for education and double majors are taught by voice faculty with long-term connections to the school. Are all voice students learning the same amount, styles, and genres of repertoire, or do education majors learn fewer solo pieces or study a wider variety of vocal styles than performance majors? How about vocal literature, pedagogy, and repertoire courses: what topics are covered and who teaches those subjects?

You will want to find out how closely performance opportunities are tied to your major. Perhaps certain auditions are limited to performance majors. What about solo opportunities with the choir/orchestra, or concerto competitions? Are leading roles in opera/musical productions reserved for students pursuing certain degrees? You might ask how often education majors or double majors were cast recently.

Find out which ensembles (choirs, jazz ensemble, opera) count for the degree and which are elective. Prospective students tend to wonder if they will have enough opportunities to sing. However, the real challenge will be fitting all their activities into limited time. If one ensemble is required, you will need to budget time to take it plus whichever ones most interest you.

There are considerations specific to Music Education. Notice whether there is a Choral Music Education faculty member. Working with a professor whose primary role is to design and teach the Choral Music Education curriculum provides an intentionally aligned/sequenced curriculum and long-term mentoring. Ask how often and how early in the degree plan you would get into the field (i.e. “real” K-12 music classrooms). By taking advantage of consistent opportunities to spend time in classrooms, you’ll be more prepared to transition into full-time music teaching.

Once you have found the best matches for your ideal curriculum and faculty, start thinking about funding. Instead of aiming to get as much funding as possible, find out what you’re agreeing to do if you accept a scholarship. Many scholarships require participation in a specific ensemble and/or enrollment in a certain type of lessons. As you study, you may find that one part of the degree calls to you most strongly or even discover another passion. It would be valuable to know what would happens to scholarships if students change majors.

If you investigate these factors well in advance of your audition year, you will be more likely to find the perfect match for both your love of singing and your desire to share music through teaching.

Becky Marsh and Dana Zenobi

Becky Marsh, Assistant Professor of Choral Music Education, and Dana Zenobi, Assistant Professor of Voice, are on faculty at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Zenobi, a compelling performer and accomplished vocal pedagogue, serves as the NATS Indiana District Governor. Her vocal students consistently earn recognition at state, regional, and national competitions. Dr. Marsh, in addition to being a teacher educator, sings with the professional women’s choir mirabai. In 2022, she was recognized as Indiana Music Education Association’s Outstanding Collegiate Music Educator. For an opportunity to work with both Drs. Marsh and Zenobi, consider the Butler University Vocal Competition.