Updated: Mar 30, 2019
So you’re curious about studying music in college? Great!
Choosing a school can feel overwhelming; weighing each aspect of every program seems daunting. Today, however, we’re going to focus on only one aspect: the degree path. Each degree path differs slightly; some run through the school of music, some through the school of theater. Some develop the next generation of public school teachers, others hone in on performance skills. Let’s take a look at the main undergraduate degrees you’ll run into so you can decide which one suits your needs best.
BME: Bachelor of Music Education
The BME is the degree path you’ll take if you’re looking to teach choir and/or band in a public school district. This degree path helps you gain the skills needed to direct BOTH band & choir at a K-12 level: this makes you more marketable once you’ve graduated. For whatever reason, students sometimes find themselves surprised at the difficulty of these programs: in addition to your basic music theory, aural perception, music history, and piano, you’ll also study conducting, child psychology, classroom management, education classes, and you’ll need to learn to play every instrument. This degree takes five years to complete. The last year is when you’ll complete your student teaching in a classroom setting.
*Sidenote: I often have parents asking if their performance-oriented child should pursue a BME to have a ‘backup plan’ if their performing ‘doesn’t work out.’ While I have colleagues who have a BME and are successful professional performers, they are generally the exception to the rule. In my opinion, this track should be for those who wish to teach in a classroom setting. In my opinion, those with a true desire to perform should look at other degree paths or training programs.
BA: Bachelor of Arts
The Bachelor of Arts is potentially the most flexible of the degree programs we’ll talk about. Usually, the requirements to graduate with a BA are slightly lower than that of a BME or BM: this allows those students to explore other areas of interest while obtaining their music degree. BA students either double major in another subject, or minor in a supporting area, like business, entrepreneurship, marketing, etc. You’ll still study music theory, history, piano, aural perception, and voice, but then you’ll have more options to choose electives that are suited to your ultimate goals.
BM: Bachelor of Music
The BM is the classical music performance degree. Like the BME and the BA, the same basic classes are taken: music theory, music history, aural perception, piano. After those requirements are complete, however, students generally are required to perform in the university’s productions, sign up for scenes classes, and other more performance-oriented opportunities. They generally receive longer lessons, and are held to a higher standard of performance excellence.
BFA: Bachelor of Fine Arts
Generally not found in the university school of music, the BFA can usually be found in the school of theater. A BFA in Musical Theater still has some of the elements of a music degree: basic music theory, ear training, voice lessons, and piano skills are a given. But students have the added benefits of dance classes, acting classes, opportunities to direct or get involved in other parts of production, and often, more performance opportunities.
Not all schools will have all of these degrees, so you'll need to look at each program carefully. Also keep in mind that these degree options vary at each university & college, and degree requirements vary greatly between programs. Now that you understand the basic difference between these degrees, you can decide which path aligns best with your goals, and ultimately, choose the path that is best for you.