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What does a Music Professor do?

By D. Jeffress
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A music professor is a man or woman who teaches music courses at a college or university. He or she is usually very involved with a school band, orchestra, or performing arts company, helping to set up events and prepare for live performances. A music professor might also participate in committees geared at improving university policies and developing music programs. Most professionals are required to obtain doctoral degrees in music and work for several years at a university before attaining professor credentials.

Most music professors are very accomplished musicians who have spent many years in formal training to master an instrument. They must fully understand music theory and be able to communicate their knowledge to students of all abilities. A music professor might teach general courses in music appreciation, focus on instructing students who play a certain instrument, or both. Like other professors, music teachers are often responsible for developing a solid curriculum, administering tests, grading papers and performances, and helping students make decisions regarding their academic and professional goals.

Skilled professors frequently direct university orchestras, bands, or choirs. In addition to leading practices and performances, they may assume administrative duties such as organizing events, acquiring necessary uniforms, instruments, and other materials, and raising funds. A music professor might be responsible for acquiring the rights to use a certain piece of music, or creating an entirely original score alone or in collaboration with his or her students.

In order to maintain academic standards and create opportunities for students in a college's music department, a music professor can become involved with school committees. He or she might help to analyze policies and procedures, determine the need for extra funding or programs, and come up with ideas on how to make necessary improvements to the department. A professor may write official reports and requests, organize school and community-wide meetings, and communicate directly with other university authorities to ensure the success of students and programs.

An individual who wants to become a music professor is usually required to hold a doctoral degree, obtain teaching credentials, and demonstrate his or her proficiency with one or more instruments. Many prospective music professors work as teaching assistants or actual instructors while attending graduate school in order to gain experience. After graduation, individuals usually begin applying for faculty positions by submitting resumes and samples of their musical achievements. Once hired, a person may be required to work as an assistant professor for seven years or more before earning full music professor status.

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Discussion Comments

By helene55 — On Dec 12, 2011

@behaviourism- I love stories about dedicated professors, no matter what the subject. I had many good teachers in high school and college. I especially admire that they can be so devoted to a job I don't think I could ever do myself.

By Perdido — On Dec 11, 2011

@Oceana – I don't know for sure if all positions are required to learn multiple instruments. However, I do know that for a music professor, employment can be very competitive. Schools are cutting budgets right and left, and the music department is usually the first to suffer.

If a music professor wants to improve his chances of landing a job in a scarce environment, he should do all he can to make himself more desirable to potential employers. That would include learning to play as many instruments as he could.

Personally, I would rather have a professor who could play the majority of the instruments that students must play in his class. My high school band director could play them all, and he taught every student how to use his instrument. I would think that music professors should at least know as much as a high school band director!

By Oceana — On Dec 11, 2011

@cloudel – I think that music teachers working toward becoming professors know that they are in it for the long haul. They plan to teach for the rest of their careers, so waiting seven years is just a part of the process, rather than something that they get impatient about.

I am just amazed to read that they need to know how to play more than one instrument. I wonder if this applies to music professors who teach beginner theory classes or just those who are in charge of a band or orchestra?

In my first music class, all we did was listen to different types of music, learn a little bit of basic theory, and write about our thoughts on each piece. Neither the students nor the teacher ever once had to pick up an instrument.

By cloudel — On Dec 10, 2011

Wow, I had no idea that music teachers had to work for so long to become professors! Seven years is a long time, and you have to really want it to hold out for that long.

I wonder how it feels for them to work under people who have already attained professor status? They have the same education as the professors, but they just have to get the work experience. I bet they feel belittled sometimes.

I had an assistant professor teach my music class in college, and she was very knowledgeable. I can't imagine her needing any further experience to be deemed an official professor.

By shell4life — On Dec 09, 2011

I met with a music professor at a college before starting school there that fall. I wanted to major in music, and he told me that the music department offered music scholarships to talented singers. I decided to audition for a scholarship.

I had no idea about the type of music that most people would be singing. I had come with two songs prepared. One was a pop song, and the other was a hymn.

When I got to the audition, I saw several students before me singing opera in foreign languages. I knew I was not in the right place, but I went ahead and sung my songs.

I think the judges, who were also music professors, were confused by my choices. Also, they didn't like the fact that I closed my eyes while I sang. I didn't get the scholarship.

In hindsight, I think I should have asked more questions of the music professor when I had a chance. If I had gotten information out of him about what was expected of me, I wouldn't have bothered trying out.

By behaviourism — On Dec 09, 2011

I only seriously considered two colleges, and I visited both a few times. On one of my visits to the college I didn't attend, my parents I attended an evening of talks from music professors. I listened to a great talk from one of their piano and composition teachers where he talked about how many students "love" music, but discover later on that they don't love it enough to study it seriously or pursue it professionally.

I was so impressed that someone who was a professor of music was willing to be so candid about the fact that his focus of study was not for everyone. Especially now that I have graduated college, I'm impressed when professors can say that. While I'm glad I didn't attend that school for other reasons, I do sometimes regret not getting to have that professor and others who I found really inspiring.

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