Music, by nature, is an inherently international field. Dating back to the middle-ages (and even before that!), music in various forms began emerging all around the world, so why concentrate your studies to the same country or the same state you’ve lived in most your life? Music degree programs are generally going to consist of similar curricula no matter where you go, so there are big advantages to taking your studies abroad.
Why Earn a Music Degree Abroad
Studying music abroad is a phenomenal opportunity and resource for you as a musician, but obtaining a full music degree abroad takes your learning 10 steps further.
As is the case with most international opportunities, the chance to open yourself up to new experiences and cultures is immeasurable. However, when the focus of study is culture itself, that value increases exponentially. Earning a music degree abroad will grant students the opportunity to fully immerse themselves in the countries and environments where some musical practices literally began to take shape and develop as legitimate art forms. The feeling of following in the footsteps of famous historical musicians and approaching the musical process the same way your idols did will be indescribably valuable to your education and personal motivation in the field.
Specific countries approach theoretical aspects of music differently, so having the opportunity to study music in a new country will prove to be an incredible tool for the future, and provide you with a plethora of insight into the international music community.
Even before beginning the conversation about whether or not to earn your music degree abroad (let's just assume you’ve decided you are doing it, since you should), there are a few important factors, regardless of location, that need to be considered. One of the most important details to consider is whether you would like pursue music education at a conservatory or in a college of music. The difference between these two forms of education, along with your preferences, will help you decide which music degree programs and which schools will be the best fit for you.
Highlighted below are just a few options of locations where it is popular to earn a degree abroad in music. These locations have been selected not only for their crucial role in the development of Western music, but also for their outstanding and world–famous degree programs.
England. When it comes to music, England is always one of the first countries to enter the discussion. Maybe it’s because of the Beatles or the development of consonant harmony (but probably just the Beatles), but England has always been a major player in music’s history, both past and present. Home to some of the most famous concert halls, recording studios, and orchestras in the world, you can earn your music degree in England while immersing yourself in the incredible British musical culture, from London to Leeds, and everywhere in between.
Germany. From the high renaissance on, Germany has been a major hub in the development and performance of music. From Mozart to Beethoven, the storied Berlin Philharmonic and beyond, Germany has always been at the forefront of music. Germany also continues to be an important European breeding ground of new and emerging artists. Travel around the country and visit famous musical cities like Hamburg, Liepzig, and Berlin, and surround yourself with history and culture while earning your music degree in Germany.
United States. Every year, thousands of students from around the world come to American universities to study music, and for good reason. The United States is home to some of the finest music conservatories in the world, and it is also home to world renowned faculty. Additionally, some of the more elite American conservatories and music departments have exceptional resources that can provide musical experiences that other degree programs simply cannot begin to offer. The U.S. is also home to a plethora of well known conferences, performance competitions, and other musical gatherings that draw audiences and musicians in from around the world. Stationing yourself within the States will give you a better opportunity to attend, participate, or compete in some of these events.
Another important factor to consider (arguably the most important when considering earning a degree abroad) are the faculty at each of the programs. Music students work very closely with their professors, conductors, mentors, and private instructors at the collegiate level, and this kind of attention and personal interaction needs to be weighed into your decision. Some teachers are not right for every student, and certainly vice versa. The best (and most successful) music student is one that has a strong relationship with their professors, so take time to research, get to know, and even reach out to faculty before auditioning and applying.
Music Degrees Abroad
Studying music at the collegiate level can essentially be broken down into three degree categories: performance, education, and composition. While many music degree programs abroad offer other liberal arts options, such as musicology, ethnomusicology, or music therapy, these are much less common at the undergraduate level. All music degree programs will begin with a similar structure, grouping students into core classes of music theory, history, and aural skills, regardless of sub-discipline.
After completing “universal” music general education requirements, students will then move on to study and take upper division courses in their individual disciplines. Most education departments require students to apply and get accepted to the education department before beginning that coursework, which sometimes involves an exam (or two) and consistent good grades. Students enrolled in composition programs will be expected to have excellent grades in music theory, for example. But, some music degree programs will have a minimum grade point average requirement across all courses.
Earning music degrees abroad will take roughly the same time as the “standard” university degree. However music degrees can fluctuate, especially for those students in the education program, since they generally will have double the coursework. Most schools will require all students, regardless of discipline, to remain in their private studios and continue to perform for the student body and put on recitals. Performance majors will be required to perform more than others and will generally have an extra major recital to plan.
Benefits & Challenges
Perspective. Everyone knows that traveling gives you a broader perspective and worldview, but nothing quite like actually attaining a full degree abroad. Four years is a very long time, and this is certainly more than a vacation, or even a summer of study abroad. Earning your music degree abroad is an opportunity to become a part of a new society and culture, and with that gained experience, comes a new set of values, and perspective.
Techniques & Methods. Especially in the field of music, this new perspective goes beyond a “worldview.” Many countries have different approaches to fundamental concepts in music theory and performance technique, and learning them will not only make you a better musician, performer, and educator, but will increase your appeal to future employers. It may seem challenging at first to adapt to a new way of teaching and learning, but ask any string player how much a Suzuki coach can earn and you will know instantly why this is an advantage. Especially relevant for those students interested in conducting, there could not be a music discipline more diverse and geographically fascinating than conducting styles and techniques. A quick visit to Youtube will prove this to be true.
Local Practices. On top of everything else, one element that is always overlooked are local music practices. Sure, you might be studying classical guitar at a conservatory in Australia, but that is far from the style of music indigenous to the region. Earning a music degree abroad will provide students with an opportunity to surround themselves with styles of music they might not be familiar with, opening their minds, and ears to something completely new and different. Something that can only be experienced in that part of the world.
Beethoven (maybe you’ve heard of him? And no, not the St. Bernard) said, “Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.” Combine that with the profound impact of international travel and intercultural exchange and you’ve basically reached nirvana (again, not the 90’s grunge band).