The road to a professional career in music is a long and difficult one, but it absolutely rewards those who are brave and hard-working enough to pursue it.
The field of music ranges from classical performance to production engineering to pedagogy to business and more.
The lines between these disciplines have become increasingly blurred over the years, as musicians have had to become more versatile professionally.
Gone are the days when an instrumentalist could just practice, gain performance experience, and expect to be competitive in the industry.
Nowadays, business savvy or production skills are often needed to supplement a performer’s value when booking gigs or recording music.
That’s why it’s important to have a well-rounded music education, which covers all the aspects of a music career on top of performing well.
Many of the best music schools are located in the U.S., but other international institutions produce excellent musicians and attract top teaching talent.
The following 10 best music schools in the world span the U.S. and Europe. These programs offer world-class education, unique opportunities, cutting-edge music equipment, historical prestige, or some combination of all the above.
10. Yale School of Music (New Haven, CT)
The only music school in the Ivy League gives students unparalleled access to historical instruments, high-tech computer programs, and vast scholarly resources.
Yale is home to the Morris Steinert Collection of Musical Instruments, an invaluable resource for academics, musicians, and instrument makers. The venue is free to the public and regularly hosts concerts and exhibitions.
Another perk of attending this prestigious school is free tuition. About 100 graduate students are admitted every year, and competition is fierce.
The only program open to undergraduates is the BA/MM, a joint program open to both music and non-music majors.
They can choose any major for the bachelor’s degree, but they must audition successfully for the School of Music before matriculating into Yale College or during their third year of undergrad. This program is designed for those interested in a broad liberal arts education rather than a conservatory-style experience.
9. Eastman School of Music (Rochester, NY)
Eastman is part of the renowned University of Rochester and offers the BM, MA, MM, PhD, and DMA degrees in many musical fields.
The school receives about 2,000 applications per year (1,000 undergraduates and 1,000 graduates) and only accepts 13% of them.
Eastman alumni go on to professional careers in orchestras, bands, chamber ensembles, opera companies, music schools, the recording industry, and many other subsectors of music. That’s because the support they receive as students allows them to explore almost every avenue they can think of.
For example, the Beal Institute for Film Music and Contemporary Media gives students access to education and experiences related to composing, producing, and performing music for film and contemporary media. Emmy Award-winning composer and conductor Mark Watters directs the institute.
Notable alumni include Grammy-winning soprano Renée Fleming, flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione, and Grammy-winning jazz double bassist Ron Carter.
8. Rice University Shepherd School of Music (Houston, TX)
The Shepherd School of Music emphasizes opera, orchestral, and chamber music as central performance areas.
In fact, instrumental performers particularly benefit from their time there, as the school is home to some stunning performance venues.
The Brockman Music and Performing Arts Center is a sprawling complex boasting studios, rehearsal halls, practice rooms, music labs, classrooms, and performance halls.
The James Turrell Twilight Epiphany Skyspace is an outdoor venue that combines visual beauty and superb acoustics. The venue features LED lights that complement the natural light present at twilight. Guests can view the light show nearly every day of the week, and music students regularly schedule concerts there.
The Shepherd School attracts world-class musicians to give masterclasses and concerts, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma, pianist André Watts, and violinist Itzhak Perlman.
7. Liverpool Institute of Performing Arts (Liverpool, England)
The birthplace of the Beatles is also home to one of the world’s foremost performing arts schools, which was actually co-founded by Sir Paul McCartney.
The music program at LIPA emphasizes performance in popular music. The school offers a one-year certificate program in popular music & music technology and a BA in music, with options to specialize in songwriting and performance or songwriting and production.
The bachelor’s degree programs are personalized for student needs, lasting either three or four years total.
Students learn the ins and outs of songwriting, musical performance, business skills, and more, all through real gig and festival experiences. Graduates emerge ready to build a successful career from their craft.
Every week professional musicians visit to give masterclasses. Past guests have included Paul McCartney, Amy Winehouse, and Mark Ronson.
Famous alumni include singer-songwriter Dan Croll, The Overtones singer Mark Franks, indie rock trio The Wombats, Emmy-nominated composer Hannah Peel, and indie pop band Clean Cut Kid.
6. Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory (Moscow, Russia)
The Moscow Conservatory — also known as the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory — is steeped in history and tradition.
It was founded in 1866 by pianist, composer, and conductor Nikolai Rubinstein and Prince Nikolai Trubetzkoy.
World-famous composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, a friend of Rubinstein, became a professor of theory and harmony shortly after.
The school emphasizes classical performance and research, with emerging departments in music technology and contemporary music.
The most prominent musicians to come from the Moscow Conservatory are pianists, violinists, cellists, conductors, and composers.
The conservatory has produced world-class virtuosos, including pianists Vladimir Ashkenazy, Lazar Berman, and Emil Gilels; violinists Yuri Bashmet and Leonid Kogan; and composers Dmitry Kabalevsky, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Aram Khachaturian, and Sofia Gubaidulina.
5. University of Southern California Thornton School of Music (Los Angeles, CA)
Founded in 1884, the Thornton School of Music is the oldest continuously operating arts institution in Los Angeles. Its location in the heart of the City of Angels continues to make it a premier destination for musicians, educators, and researchers around the world.
Unlike some top music schools, Thornton puts equal emphasis on the classical, contemporary, and research aspects of music.
Plus, students of any of these programs will learn the technical skills necessary to make it in the music industry, such as entrepreneurial and technological know-how.
Like that of LA itself, the culture at Thornton celebrates diversity and talent wherever it comes from.
Students like Mircea Gogoncea go above and beyond to expand access to musical instruments and education around the world, and the Thornton School opens up opportunities for students like Malik Taylor, who was one of just four musicians chosen to join the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship in 2020.
4. Curtis Institute of Music (Philadelphia, PA)
Curtis’s tuition-free policy began nearly 100 years ago in 1928 and persists to this day.
The goal of this prestigious conservatory is to train exceptional young musicians to the highest levels of mastery.
Acceptance is based only on a student’s artistic ability and potential. That said, Curtis’s acceptance rate hovers just below 4%, on a par with many schools in the Ivy League.
Total enrollment is around 150 students, just enough to fill a full symphony orchestra and opera program, plus programs in piano, guitar, composition, conducting, and organ programs.
The faculty consists of 120 world-class artists and teachers. With this excellent student-to-faculty ratio, students can actually have more than one teacher for their principal instrument.
Curtis puts on more than 200 public performances per year, and students perform alongside peers from diverse ethnic and national backgrounds.
Famous alumni include composers Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber, violinists Hilary Hahn and Ray Chen, and pianists Lang Lang and Jonathan Biss.
3. Royal College of Music (London, England)
Located a stone’s throw from Royal Albert Hall and Imperial College London, the RCM is a great place to study music with established performers and scholars.
The school offers degree programs in western classical music for undergraduate and graduate students.
The four-year Bachelor of Music is adaptable to every student’s unique aspirations, and graduate students can choose from advanced degrees in performance and composition, as well as a Master of Science in Performance Science.
The MS is a unique interdisciplinary program that studies musician health and wellbeing, musical development, and other intersections between art and science.
Some of the most well-known names in classical music were RCM alumni, including composers Benjamin Britten, Ralph Vaughan Williams, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Michael Tippett, Rebecca Clarke, Gustav Holst, and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
2. Juilliard School (New York, NY)
Music students at Juilliard learn how to make music their own, to carve out their unique artistry in the competitive landscape of music performance.
Juilliard offers various instrumental, vocal, jazz, historical performance, composition, and conducting programs taught by top-tier faculty.
These names include pianist Emanuel Ax, oboist Hassan Anderson, clarinetist Anna Maria Baeza, and baritone Darrell Babidge.
Students in both undergraduate and graduate programs regularly perform in solo recitals and group settings.
Being located in New York City gives performers the benefit of picking from many venues: Carnegie Hall, Blue Note Jazz Club, the Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, David Geffen Hall, and Juilliard’s four main performance halls.
Notable music alumni include singer-songwriter Nina Simone, composer John Williams, and violinist Isaac Stern.
1. Paris Conservatory (Paris, France)
If you’re fortunate enough to learn at the Paris Conservatory, you’ll be surrounded by the history and culture of the City of Lights.
The school was founded in the late eighteenth century during the French Revolution. Education largely follows the “French School”, a tradition of music-making in France that has roots in medieval times.
However, students can learn from a wide variety of historical and modern musical disciplines, including ancient music, jazz, conducting, pedagogy, musicology, and production engineering.
A tough three-round selection process results in a 3% acceptance rate. But if you make it, you’ll be part of an exclusive group of students and alumni who have achieved international renown.