The Music Major Minute : Why Major in Music Education?

This article was originally published in Classical Singer magazine. To subscribe to the print magazine, go to www.csmusic.info/subscribe.

Have you been reading the trending articles about college graduates struggling to find work in their chosen field of study? This is not a problem if you answer yes to the following: 

Do you love teaching? 


Are you ready to change the world? 


Do you have the talent and patience to guide the youth of tomorrow? 

 

The most common reason music majors choose an education degree is to certify for public classroom teaching. There is currently a national shortage of certified music teachers, so most graduates looking for work will be able to find jobs teaching general elementary music or middle school and high school choirs. Smaller schools might hire a teacher to cover both middle and high school choir or possibly K–12 general music. Private schools do not require certification, but they often offer incentives for teachers to get certification or a master of education degree because it can improve their accreditation. If public school teaching sounds like a good fit for you, then a master of music or a master of education degree can increase your salary by 20–30 percent, depending on the state where you teach. 

The current music education student is essentially double majoring in music and education. As a vocal music education major, you will take the same theory, sight-singing, and music history classes as vocal performance majors. You take weekly private lessons and work toward a full junior or senior recital, depending on your school requirements. All university music departments partner with education departments, and there is an entrance exam to be admitted into the required education courses for the degree. 

Upperclassmen will be required to complete observation hours, and the final semester of the degree is an internship, a.k.a. student teaching. The student teaching experience is typically the final semester of an undergraduate degree. Student teachers are placed with collaborating teachers to assist and learn on the job how to put theoretical knowledge into practice. Welcome to the real world of rehearsing and performing in the cafetoriums of public schools within your university’s jurisdiction! 

Once upon a time, music education might have been a “fallback” degree—but as RuPaul says, “Not today, Satan, not today!” There are many requirements that will be exciting for those who strive to be innovative educators and, likewise, those courses and assignments will feel like torture if you are not interested in teaching. We have banned the antiquated saying, “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach,” because music teachers perform for their students every single day. It is noble work. The salary will not make you wealthy, but it offers stability. 

For students who feel torn between following their dreams of being professional opera singers or pursuing teaching, here is some truth: your voice only gets better with age. Teaching for a few years can offer you rewarding life experience and some time to pay bills while your voice simmers. Although your teaching schedule will be demanding for nine months out of the year, your vacation time tops all other fields. Summer breaks are a golden opportunity for those who choose to keep up with lessons, practice, and auditions. 

 

What Is Included in a Teacher’s Salary? 

Each school’s compensation strategy is governed by federal measurements, including years of experience and level of education. First year teachers with a bachelor’s degree make the minimum and, in all states, the annual salary increases with years of experience and advanced degrees or credited courses. Your compensation and benefits package will include the following: 

Base pay 

Stipends (additional sum for directing a musical, show choir, etc.) 

401(k) or 403(b) employer contributions 

Health, life, and other insurance

 

Average Starting Salaries and Pay Raises for Public School Teachers1

Salaries in private schools are comparable to public schools, but they are not mandated by the state. An anonymous private middle/high school choral teacher in the southern region of the United States reported a starting salary in 2015/16 with a bachelor of music education at $37,000. There was a third-year salary increase in 2018/19, and at this time the teacher also completed a master’s degree. Both pay increases moved the salary to $52,000. 

 

Options for Part-Time Teaching 

A music education degree can qualify you for many types of teaching jobs. Some schools bring in a part-time music specialist for specific programs once or twice per week. Private music theatre studios around the country are one of the first places parents look for private voice lessons for their children. 

Some churches host Kindermusik or similar early childhood music programs during the week and, of course, many musicians find church jobs directing church choirs for both the general congregation or the primary age group. You can make more money as the choir director than as the soprano section leader in a church job. A music education degree can provide you with skills to climb to the top of the part-time music gig scene. 

 

University Teaching Positions 

If you dream of teaching in a university, buckle up for a longer and more competitive career path. State universities require a terminal degree (DMA, PhD, DM, etc.), demonstrated excellence in your field (choral conducting, solo singing, or mastery of K–12 music education), and college-level teaching experience. Many singers take adjunct work to accumulate necessary college experience for future full-time professor jobs while working on their doctorates. Tenure track university jobs are few, and the candidates applying for them are many. 

A music education degree doesn’t necessarily help or hinder this process unless you are looking to be a university music education specialist. These professors often have a music education undergrad and several years of teaching in public schools, which qualifies them to teach education courses including classroom management, choral methods, mentoring student teachers, etc. College voice professors, opera directors, and choir conductors are recruited for their demonstrated skills, not necessarily their degree specialties. 

For example, my university title is assistant professor of voice and director of opera. I have a BM in music education, an MM in voice, and a DMA in voice and theatre. I never taught full time in a public school, but my education degree proved helpful in securing enjoyable jobs as a part-time teaching artist in public schools and as head teacher in some prestigious early childhood music programs. 

My priority was always to sing professionally and work toward becoming a university voice teacher. Part-time teaching jobs along the way helped me become a better educator and allowed me the flexibility to take singing gigs when they came along. My university teaching colleagues have vastly different career experiences, but they all include a doctorate degree and several years of professional musical experience. 

 

Endnote 

  1. Salary schedules for teachers are available online for individual school districts. Many teachers with a bachelor’s degree will take credited courses and be eligible for higher salary increases by the six- or seven-year mark. Similarly, teachers with a master’s may accumulate more credits and be eligible for higher pay increases by their sixth or seventh year. This chart is a simple comparison of starting salaries for education levels in different areas of the United States.
Christi Amonson

Soprano Christi Amonson’s recent concert engagements include touring China as a soloist with Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, “Easy to Love” pops concert with the Sacramento Choral Society & Orchestra. Opera News described her sound as “liquid silver” after singing Nannetta with Chautauqua Opera. Amonson earned her DMA in voice and theatre under the tutelage of Grayson Hirst at the University of Arizona, where she has been an instructor. She earned her MM in Voice at the Manhattan School of Music and her BM in Music Education at the University of Idaho. In New York City, she sang with several opera companies and directed choirs for the Metropolitan Opera Guild’s Urban Voices Program. She is currently assistant professor of voice at Troy University.