Degree Spotlight: Master of Music in Music Education

July 28, 2022 - Rick Robb

a woman and man playing viola

A master’s degree has become de rigueur for K-12 music educators; many school districts are requiring it within five years of obtaining a teaching license or as a credential for advancement to the next level. In most states, a master’s degree can equal a higher salary. In fact, in New Mexico, the legislature recently passed legislation raising the pay for teachers with a graduate degree. 

As part of its Accelerated Online Programs (AOP,) The University of New Mexico offers a Master of Music degree with a concentration in Music Education (MMU). Earning a degree in music online — especially an advanced degree — does seem a bit odd. After all, as people have asked us, how can you do rehearsals or performances over Zoom?

To answer that question and dig deeper into what this degree is all about, we talked with Dr. Olivia Tucker of the Department of Music at UNM’s College of Fine Arts. Tucker is an assistant professor and the head of music education. She teaches both undergraduate and graduate-level music education courses. In the MMU accelerated online program, she teaches Intro to Research, leads various seminars, and guides her students through their capstone projects. 

Tucker has been with the university since 2020 and has come to love teaching graduate students in the MMU Accelerated Online Program. 

“I get to work with teachers who are doing the hard, practical, rewarding work of making music with K-12 students every day,” she declares. “I respect and appreciate the authentic, well-reasoned approach AOP master’s students have exhibited in completing this degree, and it is a joy to work with them and get a window into their classrooms as we get to know each other throughout the degree.”

WHAT IS THE MMU DEGREE ABOUT?

Since this is an advanced degree, the program is not about learning how to play music, but rather about how to teach music and generate a passion for the craft.

“This is one of the more affordable fully-online graduate degree in music ed in the United States,” Tucker says, “and I can say with confidence that the investment is worth it.”

Because they understand that each K-12 classroom is different, Tucker and her colleagues strive to create content that is personalized for each of the grad students with whom they work.

As well, the instructors want their Accelerated Online grad students to feel seen, heard, and responded to. “We work to be available to them whenever they are completing their coursework,” she says. With most of her students being working professionals, that time is typically outside of school hours.

Before she came to UNM, Dr. Tucker taught middle school band; she knows firsthand the constraints of time and finances that teachers face.

“I’m proud that UNM offers such an affordable, high-quality opportunity to hard-working music teachers, and I believe the AOP helps them successfully navigate those constraints.” Teachers deserve the best, and she works to provide them with the best graduate experience possible.

THE THREE FOUNDATIONS

The UNM Online webpage for the Master of Music AOP, states that the program “offers a comprehensive curriculum in music education that provides a strong practical, theoretical, and philosophical foundation.” Tucker elaborates on those three foundations:

Olivia Tucker, adult woman with dark brown hair standing outside
Olivia Tucker, Ph.D. of the UNM College of Fine Arts Department of Music.
  1. Practical – “We want everything we do in the AOP to be useful and relevant to music teachers in whatever setting they teach music. Helping music educators become better teachers and providing them with resources to keep growing and serving their students is important to us.”
  2. Theoretical – “Theory can be a scary word, but to us, theories are simply magnifying glasses. We use them as different ways of looking at teaching music and reflecting on teaching practice. While rigorous theory undergirds a lot of what we do in the AOP, we focus on applying theory in practical ways.”
  3. Philosophical – “Again, philosophy can imply a dense, academic world of books and dust. To us, philosophy simply refers to the major foundational beliefs that shape how a teacher interacts with their students. As such, there are moments in the AOP in which students are encouraged to reflect on their philosophy of music education and develop practical applications for their students.”

REHEARSALS AND PERFORMANCES IN AN ONLINE ENVIRONMENT?

In answer to the previously asked question about rehearsals and performances, Tucker notes that “one major goal of our online program is for music educators to be able to earn a graduate degree without leaving their jobs or paying for expensive accommodations over the summer.” To that end, the course content doesn’t typically involve conducting or rehearsal techniques.

“Master’s students may grow in those areas if they choose them as capstone projects,” she clarifies. Because personalization is an important component of the program, students enjoy a good deal of autonomy in the required courses when it comes to what they study and reflect on.

A SHORT INVESTMENT IN TIME WITH BIG DIVIDENDS

Many prospective students are concerned with the time commitment involved with a master’s degree, especially those who work. “We’ve had students complete the degree in as fast as eighteen months,” Tucker says. And she’s noticed a pattern of career advancement that roughly coincides with degree completion.

She’s careful to note that, as with any degree, there are no guaranteed outcomes. “But this program,” she says, “has such rich opportunities for growth and exploration that we tend to see outward manifestations of the internal reflection and application of new ideas that students engage in as they complete the coursework.”

USEFUL BEYOND K-12 INSTRUCTION

But is the MMU degree useful only to K-12 music educators? Will others involved in teaching music find the program relevant? “Absolutely,” says Tucker. “Private studio teachers, community music organizers, and church musicians could benefit from the coursework.” One graduate, who teaches private piano lessons, found the program to be a time of personal growth.

Graduates’ capstone projects represent both their success and their new career directions. One recent graduate moved from teaching elementary to high school music and created an excellent sight-singing curriculum for her high school choir. Another created a beautiful website for helping other music teachers learn how to teach guitar. She is now thriving in an online doctoral program at a premier U. S. university. Yet another created a system for music teacher evaluation that he plans to use in his role as district music coordinator. You can see what another former MMU student had to say about the program on our testimonials page.

CARING ABOUT STUDENT SUCCESS

In summing things up, Tucker emphasizes that the affordability and convenience of the online program do not indicate a lack of quality. “I care deeply about the AOP students and their success,” she says, “and we all engage with them one-on-one, get to know them as people, and are super responsive to them.”

Are you interested in earning a degree that affords you personal interaction with professors as well as providing an individualized, open-ended experience that will help you grow and take your career to the next level? Learn more about a Master of Music with a concentration in music education. Or take the opportunity to discuss your goals and questions with UNM Online. You can reach our Student Success Specialists at 505-277-9000 or by email at online@unm.edu. You can also join them on Zoom for virtual office hours Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 a.m. to Noon. Meeting ID: 967 7118 3893

[Want to Learn More Bout the MMU Program?]

NOTE: Obtaining this degree from the UNM College of Fine Arts does not guarantee approval for licensure by the State Public Education Department, as additional requirements exist for students seeking New Mexico Administrative Licensure. If you plan to teach outside New Mexico, UNM cannot confirm whether this program leads to licensure or advanced certification in another state. Prior to applying for admission, contact your state board of education to assure that, upon completion of the program, you are qualified to obtain a license or other form of certification. Please contact the Department of Music for more details.