If you want to study any type of art, you have plenty of options when it comes to schooling. Institutions across the United States and around the globe have excellent programs, giving you plenty of choices regarding education.
But if you’re interested in music, you probably know that the top of the list schools, the best of the best, are in New York. These programs take advantage of the cultural life in the area, pulling in some of the greatest living composers, jazz musicians, and music producers to serve as faculty in their program. Likewise, schools that want the best students set up shop in New York, resulting in an embarrassment of riches for music students in the area.
Of course, there is a matter of cost. Everybody knows that New York is one of the most expensive places in the world to live in.
But there’s good news there as well! While many good music schools are in the city, you can find excellent programs all across the state. Top-flight music schools are in each of the five boroughs of New York City and in every county in the state.
With so many options, music students can easily get overwhelmed. Ranking the schools according to the faculty, placement of students into the industry, and selectivity, this list will give you everything you need to find the right school for you in the Empire State.
10. Queens College Aaron Copland School of Music (New York, NY)
Most people assume that a quality music education means an expensive education. In most cases, that’s true, but the Aaron Copland School of Music (ACSM) at Queens College is the exception. One of the oldest departments at Queens, ACSM features majors in general music, performance, and music education, all for $5,130, plus fees for a full year of study.
No matter which program they choose, all students take academic courses in theory, history, ear-training, sight-singing, performance, as well as private lessons.
The star of ACSM is their newly renovated music building, which features Steinway pianos in all practice rooms, a music library that has more than 35,000 scores, 30,000 books, and 20,000 recordings. Performances take place in LeFrak Concert Hall, with its acoustics and the Maynard-Walker Memorial organ. ACSM produces over 300 concerts, including recitals, orchestra, choir, ensembles, new music, early music concerts, and opera productions.
9. SUNY Potsdam Crane School of Music (Potsdam, NY)
Founded in 1886, the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam is one of the oldest music schools in the U.S. But despite its rarified history, Crane is not stuck in the past. The school continues to innovate, as demonstrated by a recent $3.8 million purchase of 141 Steinway pianos, including three new concert grand pianos.
The pianos are simply the latest addition to Crane’s outstanding resources. The school already features the 1290-seat Hosmer Concert Hall and a fully appointed music library, complete with a MIDI Computer Lab.
Students attending Crane can use those resources in one of the many ensembles provided by the school. The Crane Symphony Orchestra is the second-oldest college orchestra in the United States. Additionally, students can participate in the award-winning Crane Wind Ensemble, or the Crane Chorus, and the Crane Opera Ensemble, both of which have nearly 100 years of history.
8. The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music (New York, NY)
The New School is one of the nation’s most respected and innovative liberal arts schools, a fact demonstrated that it appears two times on this list (once for its jazz program, and another for its classical program). That fact is also shown by the many legends teaching at the school, including MacArthur fellow Mary Halvorson and NEA Jazz Master Reggie Workman.
The New School amasses such an impressive faculty of performers because it believes that artists should be mentors. The school’s core curriculum focuses on performance, analysis, composition, music history, and liberal arts. Additionally, students take private lessons with one or two instructors to achieve mastery of their instruments.
One benefit of an education at The New School is its desirable location. Placed in New York City’s downtown area gives students close proximity to venues, nightclubs, and many of Manhattan’s finest artistic institutions.
7. Ithaca College School of Music (Ithaca, NY)
Founded in 1892, the School of Music at Ithaca College has grown into one of the nation’s most popular music education programs. That popularity is the result of the school’s world-class faculty, which includes musicians renowned for their teaching and performance abilities.
Students get to hone their skills by working alongside that faculty in organizations such as the Ithaca College Contemporary Ensemble. Emphasizing music from living composers, the Ensemble performs two concerts a year. Students can also participate in ensembles for everything from classical chamber music to vocal jazz to every type of instrument.
Regardless of which ensemble they join, students get ample opportunity to perform. Ithaca sends its ensembles on regular tours, teaching students how to perform for a live audience and on the road. Over just the past five years, Ithaca students have performed at Lincoln Center, Kennedy Center, Strathmore, and ACDA.
6. Bard College-Conservatory of Music (Annandale-On-Hudson, NY)
Bard College is well known for its exacting standards, and its Conservatory of Music is no exception. In addition to their music major, students must also have another major outside of the program. So high are the standards that most students take five years to graduate.
While those expectations may be off-putting to some students, those who take the challenge will be richly rewarded by Bard College. The Conservatory encourages intellectual curiosity and an analytical approach to performance, heightening the art and technique of music.
Students hone their skills in Bard’s remarkable facilities. Constructed thanks to a $9.2 million gift from a Bard alumnus, The László Z. Bitó ’60 Conservatory Building contains a 100 seat performance space, classroom and teaching studios, two percussion studios, a student lounge, student instrument lockers, and the main Conservatory office.
Designed by legendary architect Frank Gehry, the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts seats approximately 800 people and features a proscenium stage accommodating opera, music, dance, and theater. A concert-shell insert can be used to accommodate orchestral and chamber concerts.
5. New York University (New York, NY)
At New York University, music majors can learn every part of the business, from performance to business.
Those attending the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music (CDIRM), learn about music production and the music business. The program gives students everything they need to succeed in the industry, build their intellectual and creative abilities, and develop their business skills.
Students learn from faculty members who have experience in every aspect of the industry, from research scientists to game designers, from musicians to engineers.
On the other end, NYU Steinhardt emphasizes music production, technical skills, and even traditional performance.
At the center of the program is the school’s new James Dolan Music Recording Studio. Not only does the studio feature a control room with class space and a 40-channel SSL console, but it also has New York City’s first Dangerous Music 10.2 surround installation.
4. Mannes School of Music (New York, NY)
When you’re going to Mannes School of Music, you’re not only learning the tools of your trade; you’re also following in the steps of greats such as alumni Burt Bacharach, Bill Evans, and conductor JoAnn Falletta
The second music program from The New School on this list, Mannes continues to grow, hiring excellent faculty members such as classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and composer Missy Mazzoli.
In addition to classes on performance and theory, students at Mannes learn music technology classes, improvisation ensembles, teaching artistry, arts journalism, film music composition, creative entrepreneurship, and more.
Located on The New School’s Greenwich Village campus, Mannes also strives to make music accessible to the public, thanks to regular, affordable performances. As this initiative demonstrates, students at Mannes learn to approach music as a vital part of everyday life.
3. Manhattan School of Music (New York, NY)
When one thinks of great music schools, Juilliard and the New England Conservatory leap to mind. But the Manhattan School of Music (MSM) deserves to be mentioned alongside these storied institutions. Located near the Columbia University campus, MSM has been training generations of musicians since 1917.
In addition to the degrees in musical theater, performance and composition in jazz, and classical performance and composition, MSM partners with Barnard College at Columbia to offer cross-registration classes.
Students at MSM have ample opportunities for performance, including the MSM Symphony, the Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Chamber Sinfonia. Ensembles for students cover everything from chamber music to every type of Jazz.
These groups can perform in one of MSM’s many performance spaces, such as the recently renovated Neidorff-Karpati Hall. Operas and modern chamber music is presented in the Ades Performance Space, while various performances and recordings are done in the Carla Bossi-Comelli Studio.
2. Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)
All of the schools on this list have their respected alumni. But it’s hard to beat the former students from the Eastman School of Music, which includes singer Renée Fleming, cellist Robert deMaine, flugelhornist Chuck Mangione, drummer Steve Gadd, and trumpeter Allen Vizzutti, as well as composers Maria Schneider and Cardon V. Burnham.
With such an impressive list of alumni, it should be no surprise that the Eastman School is highly selective.
Only 13% of applicants are given offers of admission, making it one of the most challenging schools to enter. This low rate creates a challenge for those who want to study at Eastman, but those who do get in enjoy specialized attention from faculty.
Students also enjoy opportunities to participate in excellent orchestras and ensembles. The Musica Nova orchestra emphasizes new music, performing the greatest works of the past 100 years.
Music from the 16th to 18th centuries is the focus of the Collegium Musicum orchestra. Additionally, Eastman offers four choral groups, an opera theater, and multiple jazz ensembles.
1. Juilliard School (New York, NY)
While Eastman is definitely selective, it’s even harder to get into the Julliard School. In 2020, a microscopically small 8% of applicants were accepted.
There’s a good reason that Julliard is so exclusive. Simply put, it’s one of the best music schools in the entire world.
Alumni of Juilliard are among the who’s who of classical music, including Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, John Williams, Philip Glass, Leontyne Price, and countless others.
Rather than rest on its laurels and reputation, Julliard is continuing to expand its knowledge and resources. Recently the school has added a focus on Black composers, work that better represents the current state of the classical world.
Combining the time-honored and the new, Julliard has clearly earned its reputation as not only the best music school in New York but one of the best in the world.