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    Online Music Theory Degrees


    Apologies for the newbie question. I'm wondering if there are any institutions offering online MAs in music theory. I know that it might not be an area of research particularly suited to online learning, but there are remarkable things happening in the world of online learning, and I was looking around for any MAs or something similar devoted to music theory.

    If anyone has any insight, I'd be grateful to hear it.


    Graham Freeman

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    • 2 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • I currently work in student affairs for a prominent non-profit online university (60,000 online students). Frankly, we only have one music class (music appreciation). I think there are a few things that are preventing the spread of online MAs or MMs in music theory.


      1. The demand isn't there. Unlike MBA programs (to contrast), the demand simply isn't there to justify the upfront costs of developing an online program. The average online class takes about $70K to develop, although I would imagine point #2 would drive that cost into the upper echelon of examples here.

      2. There aren't a lot of good online friendly music computer programs. Outside of free streaming sources of music, such as Spotify, there aren't a lot of good and inexpensive music programs that really lend itself well to online learning. That's not to say that they aren't there. They're just not that great and certainly not dependable enough to design a course around it. The closest thing I have seen is Noteflight, but it's still a very long way away from being suitable. Even if it were, to develop a curriculum that uses this software, there probably would have to be some licensing cost.

      3. A lot of the Masters curriculum doesn't lend itself well to online learning. I would make the argument that a online PhD in Music Theory curriculum actually has more efficacy than a MM in Music Theory. The reason being--most doctoral courses are seminar based. There is a lot of discussions and a lot of paper writing. Discussions and papers are two things that online schools do well. What online schools don't do well with are more interactive assignments such as Schenker and counterpoint. The way online courses get around this is by having great interactive online materials. As mentioned in point 2, we're not even close to having a suitable alternative that is not imbedded in a textbook. We're a long way away from seeing this in the music world (if ever...)

      4. Music theory doesn't really scale well. The biggest trouble with online universities is making sure that teaching is consistent over multiple sections taught my multiple teachers. With a small faculty, this is manageable as it is easy to keep communication and stay on the same page. (Ex. We will label cadential 6/4s as V6/4). The problem is, as you scale the program in size (which would be needed for the program to be profitable), it becomes very difficult to keep that message consistent. And as we all know, the beauty of music theory is in that grey area. And without extremely careful implementation, this could get lost easily.


      These are just some of the reasons that I can think of. There are also outside factors that play into this. Most of the major online players (both profit and non-profit) do not have a substantial stake in the field of music theory. 

      Don't get me wrong, I would love to develop an online program in music (more broad than music theory). I have a feeling there is a chance my own school could explore offering other courses (History of Popular Music, Music Fundamentals, World Music, etc.) But where my university is constantly expanding its offerings online, I think having a full-on music program is all but a pipe dream.

      One last reason why we likely won't see these programs...there are also very few nation wide offerings for Education degrees online. For instance, despite being one of the largest non-profit online universities, we do not offer a Bachelor degree in Education and it's insanely unlikely that we ever will. This is because it is a logistical nightmare to coordinate a program with 50 different certification requirements. Many of us that teach music are teaching in schools were the majority of our students are probably music education majors. That's because music education classes are some of the more profitable courses in a music program (outside of the large general education courses). 

      Anyway, I've gone too long on this subject. It's a very interesting one and I'm hoping that either I can prove myself wrong or someone else does it for me. The one thing that I can say about my institution is that it's really making a positive change for a demographic of student that is historically underrepresented and underserved. It would be really great to capture that lightning in a bottle and be able to spread it to other programs/universities.

      Devin Chaloux

      Indiana University

    • Devin,

      Thank you very much for your excellent and thoughtful response. I really appreciate it. I agree that this is a very interesting subject. I've done some online teaching, and there is a healthy mix of frustration at the constraints and excitement at the future possibilities. Online graduate degrees in music might be a long way off, but perhaps the potential is there.

      Thanks very much once again.