The 30 Best Music Schools & Conservatories in the US

For most musicians, attending a college or conservatory is the start of a productive career in the arts. 

Studying music in college comes with several discernible benefits. Among these benefits include 1-on-1 instruction with a faculty member in music. The opportunity to learn with a faculty member can significantly accelerate a student’s musical progress.

Additionally, many music schools serve as “microcosms” of the music industry. This means that students can participate in ensembles, concerts, and intellectual discussions in a way that would be hard to do without any prior established connections.

With over 600 music schools and departments in the US alone, it can be challenging to navigate what schools are worth a family’s hard-earned savings.

Treat this as a guide to starting your journey towards finding the best music schools. In this list, we only discuss undergraduate music programs.

Without further ado, here are our picks for the top 30 music schools in the country.

Oberlin College & Conservatory (Oberlin, OH)

Oberlin College
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

Oberlin is a small liberal arts college based in Ohio. With less than 3,000 total students, the population at Oberlin is best described as left-leaning. The genres available for study at Oberlin are predominantly classical as well as jazz.

One thing that makes Oberlin interesting is its almost entirely undergraduate student population. This means nearly all the resources and funding are reserved for said undergrads.

Several notable classical musicians have called Oberlin their alma mater. Perhaps the most prominent one in recent years is the ensemble Eighth Blackbird, a new music tour de force who received their undergraduate educations at Oberlin College and Conservatory. 

Oberlin is a decorated liberal arts college in and out of their conservatory, having graduated seven Pulitzer winners, 16 Rhodes Scholars, and three Nobel Laureates.

Bard College & Conservatory (Annandale-On-Hudson, NY)

Bard Conservatory of Music
Daniel Case, Bard College Fisher Center, CC BY-SA 3.0

Like Oberlin, Bard is a primarily undergraduate liberal arts college specializing in classical performance and composition.

Unlike Oberlin, all students in the Bard Conservatory program must double major in both music and an outside subject. Completing the program at Bard’s Conservatory takes typically five years to complete to account for the music and academic credits.

Bard shares faculty with other major music schools throughout the east coast. They include faculty who share concurrent teaching positions at Curtis and Juilliard.

This school is the perfect option for students seeking an undergraduate degree with the best music and academic education.

Lawrence University Conservatory of Music (Appleton, WI)

Lawrence University
photo by Shutter Runner via Flickr Creative Commons, CC BY-NC 2.0

Fittingly starting our list with liberal arts colleges, Lawrence, like Oberlin, Bard, and Ithaca, are primarily undergraduate colleges. 

Founded in 1894, Lawrence Conservatory of Music is among the oldest schools of music in the country. While the school may be over 125 years old, that does not mean they are not continuing to make news today.

Recently, one of their faculty members placed into the top 3 finalists of the hit NBC show The Voice. Vocalist and faculty member John Holiday is a rising star in music whose impressive resume includes appearances not only on television but also in major music festivals, including Spoleto and Glimmerglass music festivals.

Lawrence’s program excels in the arts and is a perfect fit for a student desiring an excellent music education in a premiere liberal arts setting.

UCLA – University of California at Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA)

Alton, Royce Hall, CC BY-SA 3.0

UCLA has a distinguished reputation for, of all things, musicology and ethnomusicology! 

However, UCLA is far more than just a school for studying music history. 

UCLA’s faculty lineup includes Richard Danielpour, a composer and longtime faculty member at the Curtis Institute of Music, Grammy-winning jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard, and distinguished voice professor Juliana Gondek.

UCLA is a smart option for California residents financially; in-state students get a significant tuition discount compared to out-of-state students, just like at any major university.

Indiana University Jacobs School of Music (Bloomington, IN)

Indiana University
Kzollman (Kevin J.S. Zollman)., IU Art Museum, CC BY-SA 3.0

Frequently ranked among the top music schools in the country, Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music has three leading classical music, jazz, and music education programs.

Additionally, they are home to a well-established music production program.

Historically, IU has produced several influential musicians, including jazz educators Jamey Aebersold and David Baker, prominent cello teacher Paul Katz, violin soloist Joshua Bell, and 15-time Grammy-winning saxophonist Michael Brecker.

Students from the Jacobs School of Music have won many awards for their musicianship. These include at least 20 BMI Student Composer Awards and 33 grand winners of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.

University of Miami Frost School of Music (Coral Gables, FL)

University of Miami Frost School of Music
Darkflowerthree, Shalala Student Center, University of Miami, CC BY-SA 4.0

The University of Miami has made strides in recent years with its classical music faculty. Current appointments include violinist Charles Castleman, one of the most successful violin teachers who was previously on the Eastman School of Music faculty, and conductor Gerard Schwarz.

Outside of classical music, Frost has vital programs in contemporary and jazz music performance. It is also a widely recognized Music Business school, having been cited by Billboard magazine in 2018.

The New School (New York, NY)

New School
Beyond My Ken, New School University Center, CC BY-SA 4.0

Although named only once on this list, the New School has two music schools with different focuses.

For classical music, the New School is home to the Mannes College of Music. Formerly in uptown New York City, in the last decade Mannes moved downtown, upgrading its facilities and making it closer to the heart of the arts scene in New York City.

Once known as the college with a prestigious music theory reputation, Mannes has expanded in recent years as one of the best classical performance programs, particularly excelling in classical voice.

The other music school in The New School is aptly called The New School for Contemporary Music and Jazz.

Vanderbilt University Blair School of Music (Nashville, TN)

Vanderbilt University
Jbaker08, Peabodyvu, marked as public domain

According to the Princeton Review, Vanderbilt University ranks among the top 5 “happiest schools” in the nation. 

With its location in Nashville, students at Blair gain close contact with the music industry itself. Indeed, many of the nation’s top music companies and venues find themselves headquartered in the aptly named Music Row, a historic district of Nashville complete with record labels and music publishing houses.

One incredibly unique program of Vanderbilt is the BMI Composer-In-Residence program. Sponsored by Broadcast Music Incorporated, successful composers are brought to Vanderbilt every year to work with students. Past composers-in-residence include Pulitzer winners William Bolcom, John Harbison, and Joseph Schwantner.

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