Applying for Master's without Bachelor's in Music

November 16, 2004 at 06:46 AM · Greetings,

In applying for graduate violin performance programs, does anyone know how or if not holding an undergraduate degree in violin performance will affect an applicant's chances of admission?


1) Will the application even be considered?

2) If so, would the applicant have to be substantially better than the next student who had an undergraduate degree in music performance?

I have been browsing the websites of some schools and most do not specifically state that a bachelor's degree in music performance is required for consideration into a master's program. But, in my opinion, an applicant who did not undertake a degree in music would have missed out on 4 years of academic and performance development compared to those who only kept music as a hobby. Is this a big concern for conservatories, or is playing ability still BY FAR the overriding criterium?

Does anyone have any experiences or stories they can share?

Replies (17)

November 16, 2004 at 12:53 PM · Hi,

I think most schools require you to get a Bachelor's degree first in order to enter to be in their MM program. The only school I can think of that doesn't require a Bachelor's degree is the Yale School of Music. To get into that program is okay, you should be able to play at a graduate level however the levels of all schools vary so it is hard to say what a definitive graduate level in performance is. I would highly recommend going for a Bachelor's program at a good school before going to graduate school.

November 16, 2004 at 09:12 PM · Hi Gabriel,

Here in the UK it's how you play at the audition that matters. It's ok not to have an undergrad from a music conservatoire.

November 16, 2004 at 09:25 PM · I think as long as you have a bachelor's degree in music you'll be fine. I know many music education majors who got their master's degree in performance. I'd check with the schools, though.

November 16, 2004 at 09:32 PM · Hi there! The most important thing that I have found, is that you work on communication with the 'potential' teacher(s) that you're after. Your chances are enhanced if they:

1. Know who you are

2. Know that you're serious about studying music

3. Understand your level and knowledge of music

4. Know how well you work with them...if there is a good teacher/student connection

among others.


My sister received a BA in foreign language studies and then went on for a MM at Cleveland Institute of Music. She developed relationships there, worked on her instrument in the meantime (as much as possible when it was not her primary focus for a degree) and made sure that they knew who she was when preparing for there wasn't a question about her entrance.

In my case, I received a BA's in Business and Music and am now studying performance in Austria. This is due to the connections that I made with profs., finding out possibilites and sending out recordings, writing letters...getting them to know who I was.

If you think about it, the music industry is concerned a great deal with the 'connections' you can make. (That's also the business coming out in me!)

Good luck and practice hard!


November 16, 2004 at 09:48 PM · Hey Gabe, I can't speak from personal experience, but I know a girl who has BS in Architecture and a MA in music. I suspect it depends on the school and the all important audition.

November 17, 2004 at 01:04 AM · Greetings,

I think first, you must ask why you want the graduate degree? What is your goal in music? :)

There are many ways to go, and I agree that a bachelors is great, yet it depends on what you wish to do in music.

In the Yale program which was mentioned above, I had a special conference with all three Deans of the School of Music, who on several occasions explained in great depth the purpose of their program and degree. It is true, you can step over the bachelors degree and obtain a certificate in music performance by undergoing a 3 year program at Yale. In this program, you will complete 'masters' work for 3 years instead of 2, leading to a performance certificate. The courses are Orchestra, Chamber music, private instruction, seminar with your major instructor, and 2 additional courses. To complete the degree program you must also pass a class in theory and music history. A total of 96 credits will earn the certificate (72 cu if you entered the 2 year Masters program, for which a bachelors degree is required). If you wish later to convert the certificate to a Masters degree, you must also pass proficiencies in keyboard and foreign language. After the 3 years, if you wish to convert the certificate to a Masters degree, you must go back and earn the bachelors. In essence you spend an extra year on college: 6 for the price of 7! :)

I believe the option of the "master's in advance of the bachelors" degree is to allow the student the option of having a ceritificate should they decided not to continue toward an academic degree program (bachelors at the 4 year traditional university) or a bachelors at a music conservatory (NEC, Curtis, Juilliard, Oberlin, etc.)

I asked, why a Masters degree for a good reason. The Deans explained to me that their program was designed to provide a 'generalist' education. In this manner, the student learns a little about all the areas in music.. the goal is to enter a teaching profession, hopefully at a university. There are some students who go on to professional orchestras as well as some who form chamber ensembles :).

The Deans explained that they were not geared toward soloists, feeling that this area need not the higher educational aspect! To tell you the truth, the information they shared with me I found odd. Yet,they hold a bit of truth, in that they said experience in solo career work was more important than time in the classroom. Well, I guess they should know: They are the Deans afterall!! :) Perhaps it is their slant on graduate level education, and there is a good deal of truth to it. Yet, as in anything, there are always exceptions to the rule.

So, to sum up the question...I think the graduate degree will go far, but the bachelors degree must be there as well: whether prior to or after, it's up to you! In my opinion, there is no greater a life than as a professor and for that end, the higher the degree the better! Best of luck! :D

November 18, 2004 at 06:09 AM · Thank you everybody for your comments!

For those who knew others who have had similar experiences, how did they fare?

November 21, 2004 at 05:12 AM · I have a different picture of the Yale school of music than that mentioned above. It is by no mean a perfect school however there is no perfect school or program for that matter. First of all to clarify there are people who have successful solo careers after graduation from YSM i.e. Jian Wang (cellist), Carter Brey, Shauna Rolston (who's playing here in 2 weeks), Min Lee, Nai yen Hu sp.? (queen Elizabeth competition winner), our fellow member Emil and many others. That's proof that not all former students of this school choose to go into just teaching, chamber music, and orchestral careers as suggested, some even become bankers :) This is in no way to take away or sound derogatory towards those who do choose to go into teaching, chamber music, or orchestral careers as they are very demanding fields. If you take a look at the top conservatories in the world, they maybe have produced 1 or 2 major soloists if that in the last decade in regard to violinists. I have never heard the Deans (one of whom is a close friend of my family) say the school is not geared toward soloists. I agree that in order to achieve success at the violin it takes more things than just sitting in a classroom but that goes without saying. One really has to look into more things than just trying to find out if the school is soloist friendly.

For the person interested in a music program or conservatory like Gabriel I would suggest to first try finding a teacher then the school :) If you are of college age I would recommend going to an undergraduate program unless you do find that ideal teacher that is better than anyone else for you.



November 21, 2004 at 04:05 PM · Nate, we don't disagree on the point that soloists can come from any school, and naturally you should be very proud to be a student at Yale! :-) And if you will permit me to add to your list, other YSM artists are Kim Cook:


What the original question involved was education, and in that vein, I was giving the best information I had available from private conversations with the Deans of the School of Music. I asked very pointed questions regarding the appropriateness of their program for my artists (I represent several). The replies from All three Deans were that upper level degrees from the University will go far to support future professorial positions. Yale has a superior reputation for academics and there is little doubt that a higher degree from Yale will go far, as emphasized by Dean Masse. Deans Blocker and Duffy were very adamant about their program and they emphasized that artists signed to rosters should pursue their careers or attend part-time programs elsewhere (Blocker mentioned Harvard, where Yo-Yo Ma attended). I hope this clarifies my previous statement, which I don't think is contradictory to what you mentioned. Programs vary by the administration who create or modify them, or so I have come to learn. Frank Tirro was no doubt the Dean when Emil was in attendance. (Hi Emil, if you are reading! :-D )

Finally, with respect to earning a Masters degree without a Bachelors; as far I have ever known, it can't be done! There are many fine programs, all being said. Again I wish Gabiel all the best in pursuit of a school that will accommodate the desired goal.

November 21, 2004 at 05:14 PM · >>Finally, with respect to earning a Masters degree without a Bachelors; as far I have ever known, it can't be done

Sez who? There are many ways to go straight to an advanced degree. Many Mds went straight to a medical program and completely bypassed a bachelor's. Heck, Wynton Marsalis got a Doctorate from Rutger's with attending a single class there.

November 21, 2004 at 04:54 PM · Yes, I must say Wynton Marsalis earned it in all the work and recognition he deserves! However, honorary degrees are granted in recognition of outstanding achievement in your field and this isn't necessarily that which you apply for.

There are other examples as well, but these do not help Gabriel, I fear. :-)

November 21, 2004 at 10:25 PM · Michael Sachs, Principal Trumpet of Cleveland Orchestra, has a BA in History (not even MUSIC history)

There are COUNTLESS numbers of fantastic musicians that are devoted and focused in music and didn't let the history books dictate their future careers purely by what degree they earned.

November 22, 2004 at 04:52 AM · I think if you lack a BA in music or a music-related field, most Masters programmes would require you to fulfill certain criteria to indicate that you're up to scratch in whichever areas you propose to study. For example, to enter my LRSM diploma in violin teaching without a music degree, I had to have passed the preceding violin diploma and Grade 8 (top level) Theory.

November 23, 2004 at 09:42 AM · I apologize if I have been vague. Perhaps I can help by explaining my reason for even posing this question at all.

I am about to finish undergraduate studies in a non-music field. Before that, I was a dedicated violinist. I considered music as a career four years ago, and am reconsidering it now. Four years ago, I also did my rounds at some of the major conservatories.

Prior to that, I had a good musical development - chamber music, orchestra, masterclasses, music history/theory/solfege classes through two different conservatory diploma systems, piano lessons, summer music camps, etc. My "output" in the last four years, however, has been close to nil.

So, why a Master's? I have spent four years in school already, the prospect of another four just isn't that appealing to me!

I believe, in terms of playing ability alone, I could be competitive in applying for a Master's program. But since I have missed out on four years of repetoire and musical development, I fear that will exclude me from even being considered.

Is applying to a Master's program the right step? Or am I just wanting to have cake and eat it, too?

November 23, 2004 at 09:36 AM · Gabriel,

I think you would be an asset in any program to which you apply! :)

Education never hurts anyone; it helps in more ways than one could expect. For a Masters Degree in music, it is my impression that the program would be school specific and you would need to meet with the Deans of the institution to which you wish to apply. Additionally, it wouldn't hurt to meet with the prospective professor with whom you would wish to study. They would be able to guide you more.

In your case, having a bachelor’s degree has provided the entry key :) in most academically geared universities. Many who hold a BA (or BS for that matter) begin in a program major and often times switch when seeking the higher degree. It happens when you start working in the field after achieving the degree, and then decide "this really isn't for me!". Your capability in command of violin technique will be the factor which will allow for your acceptance. And Yes, Gabriel, I feel in your case there are programs available for you to achieve the Masters degree. It may require some preliminary course coursework (a prerequisite), but not another 4 year hitch! :)

Best Wishes!

November 23, 2004 at 10:03 PM · I think it really depends on whether you've kept up your playing standard during your years 'out' (and you may not be the best judge of this, btw). I also studied a non-music related subject at college, however I practised every day, had some lessons and played in the college orchestras. When studying hardcore violin again last year, I met someone who was in the position you are in now. Although he had been an advanced player in his teens, he had been without playing for so long he had regressed back to intermediate level and study at college level was no longer a plausible option. It depends on your playing as well as your musical background, and I don't think any of us here are really in a position to comment on your chances without hearing you.

November 24, 2004 at 12:59 AM · If you have the chops your lack of a BM or BA in music will not hinder you. Most of the programs will base admission on your audition. You might have to do some remedial work in theory, however.

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