The 10 Best Music Schools in California

With a plethora of culture, favorable weather, and music scenes in major cities like Los Angeles, it is no wonder California is among the most desirable places to study music at the collegiate level. 

When people discuss the major music schools in America, they often name one of the many high-quality schools in the northeast. The most famous names the everyday person knows? Berklee and Juilliard.

While these are both great music programs, a student’s search need not stop in Boston and New York. Rather, the two major cities in California, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have tremendous music programs fitting the tastes of nearly any music student. Additionally, there are a number of excellent music programs in the suburbs of California’s major metropolises.

Today, we examine 10 incredible music programs in California. For this particular list, we are looking at excellent non-profit music programs at both conservatories and universities throughout the state of California. Collectively, these 10 schools are home to some of the world’s best faculty musicians, classical performance programs, jazz improvisation talents, and rising music songwriters and producers who will shape the world of music forever.

Here are the 10 best music schools in California.

10. University of California at Irvine Claire Trevor School of the Arts (Irvine, CA)

UC Irvine
Allyunion, UC Irvine, CC BY-SA 4.0

Starting our list today is UC Irvine, a small, unique program situated in the heart of Southern California. For those unfamiliar with the geography, Irvine is within an hour or so to both Los Angeles and San Diego on the California coastline.

UC Irvine has produced many students who have gone onto unusual careers in music. One person, Miles Vinson, launched one of the most popular music practice apps in late 2020

On the theme of “unconventional,” UC Irvine is home to one of the most interesting Doctoral programs in the country in music, ICIT, an abbreviation for Integrated Composition, Improvisation, and Technology. In this department, students’ education blends traditional and contemporary practices, with the ultimate goal of becoming a modern artist capable of complex musical and software tools. 

However, UC Irvine is not only for graduate students. Several of its undergraduate programs have “big names” on faculty; one such program, jazz performance, features Kei Akagi on faculty, one of the most accomplished living jazz pianists who has worked with the likes of Al DiMeola and Joe Farrell.

Outside of music, UC Irvine is one of the country’s highest-ranked schools, placing at #35 on the US News Best National Universities list.

9. California State University, Long Beach Bob Cole Conservatory of Music (Long Beach, CA)

CSU Long Beach
Summum, Walter Pyramid, CC BY-SA 2.5

A true hidden gem tucked away in Southern California near Los Angeles, CSULB’s Bob Cole Conservatory of Music offers an education in both classical and jazz music styles. Named after a prolific Long Beach real estate investor, the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music received a substantial gift of $16.4 million in 2008 from Bob Cole himself.

Faculty members at Bob Cole represent an interesting mix of academicians and professionals alike. They include Chad Wackerman, former drummer for Frank Zappa’s band; John Proulx, a Grammy Award-winning vocalist; and Ted Atkatz, former Chicago Symphony Principal Percussionist turned alternative rock artist who formed the band NYCO.

Alumni from the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music have gone into the world’s great music ensembles. They include a New York Philharmonic Principal Tubist in Alan Baer, a leading jazz drummer in John Hollenbeck, and a virtuoso trombonist in Andy Martin who has performed in over 100 movie soundtracks.

CSULB’s tuition is among the most competitive of any music school in the country. It is an absolute steal for a California resident seeking a low-cost music education at a high-quality music school.

8. University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music (Stockton, CA)

University of the Pacific
GeneWright, UOP – Burns Tower, CC BY-SA 3.0

Established in 1928, the Pacific Conservatory of Music is the oldest accredited music school on the west coast. A small school comprising less than 300 total students, approximately 90% of the PCOM population is undergraduate, with the last 10% reserved for graduate student study. Although the majority of students are from California, musicians hail from all around the world, with some students coming from Japan, China, and Taiwan.

In an effort to bring in high-profile guest artists for students to study with, the University of the Pacific will feature a new artist-in-residence program, the Lynelle F. Wiens Master Class Series. This program brings to campus successful artists and musicians from around the world. Its inaugural artist is Irene Roberts, a vocalist who made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 2012 and even graduated from the University of the Pacific herself in 2006.

In addition to the standard fare of traditional conservatory offerings in classical and jazz performance, PCOM is home to some less common music degrees. These include programs in music industry studies, which is the study of the music business, and music therapy, the study of using music as a healing modality. 

7. Azusa Pacific University School of Music (Azusa, CA)

Azusa Pacific University School of Music is widely recognized as a “hidden gem” music school housed in a highly-regarded Christian university. APU would be one of the very best choices for a student seeking a music school with a faith-based integration near a major city in Los Angeles.

The APU School of Music is home to many unusual programs found only in a handful of American music schools. One such program is “Music and Worship,” a degree designed to help musicians gain significant work in Churches and religious institutions. 

However, APU is an equally good option for students seeking a more traditional degree in performance or music education. Speaking of music education, APU has one of California’s most comprehensive programs, partnering with local public schools and organizations to give their students quality time to work with K-12 music students. 

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