Australian tertiary music education

Professor Richard Vella explores the diverse music courses and careers opportunities in Australia.

Tertiary music study in Australia offers a wide variety of experiences and opportunities for a career in music.

All tertiary institutions in Australia acknowledge the importance of musical diversity. A look at the National Council of Tertiary Music Schools website will show the richness of activities and courses on offer. The range of subjects that can be studied in Australia cover all areas of music making be they in the commercial music, art music, community, health and well being, humanities or the information technology domains, to name a few.

To date there are twenty three institutions offering a Bachelor of Music degree. The degrees are generally three years in duration. Many institutions offer a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in music. Undergraduate degrees are three years in duration with the possibility of extending to a fourth year via an honours degree. Four year double degrees are on offer in music education, or in combination with law, sciences, information technology, etc.

There are also private providers in tertiary music offering degrees in music performance, composition, production or sound engineering. Adjacent to the university system is the TAFE (Technical and Further Education) system for school leavers wishing to attain a certificate, diploma or advanced diploma in a wide range of music courses. These are shorter in duration and like the university system cover a wide range of subjects including music business, technology, music theory, production and popular music. Many of the TAFE courses can be used for accreditation into the university sector.

CareersMusic careers in Australia can range from teaching, performance, music theatre, freelance work, arranging, music direction and conducting, publishing, production and music technology, journalism to niche careers such as army, navy and air force bands, orchestra performance, opera, music librarianship, musicology and music research and music therapy.

A career in music often necessitates the ability to be diverse and multi-skilled. It is for this reason many degree programmes focus on a mixture of classical, jazz and popular repertoires with music production and computer skills underpinning the delivery of various outputs.

PerformingPerformance opportunities are numerous. Many institutions provide access to orchestral training, jazz and popular band performance, improvisation, early music, opera and music theatre performance. In many regional universities the university is often the major provider of music performance providing students with valuable professional experiences. Creatively, the sector has many courses in composition, production/music technology, experimental music, DJ-ing and improvisation with many students exploring hybrid combinations.

The mixing of musical styles to create hybrids through creative music making is encouraged in institutions across the national landscape. A high percentage of these students after graduation combine film and theatre music, jingle writing and concert commissions or become independent composer producers.

Contemporary music making and world music is common to many tertiary institutions, with some institutions focusing on the role of music in the creative industries sector and others who are more community based. Contemporary music production and its associated musicianship skills are taught in many universities such as Queensland University of Technology, the Gold Coast campus at Brisbane, the Australian Institute of Music (Sydney), and Monash University. Some institutions have specialists in early music such as Melbourne Conservatorium, Newcastle Conservatorium and Brisbane Conservatorium of Music.

The Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts has a very successful music theatre programme that is closely linked to the music theatre industry. Many institutions offer courses on the business and legal aspects of the music industry.

PrestigeThe prestige of many music institutions is very high on the national or international level. Many institutions have international links with many staff maintaining contacts and performance links with orchestras, musicians and other networks. International links with universities are considered essential be they with institutions and organisations in the US, Europe, Asia or Africa. Students are able to study across many campuses and many universities have partnerships or affiliations with music teaching institutions. At the postgraduate level, most institutions offer either a doctor and master of philosophy, or doctor and master of music, or both.

Written by Professor Richard Vella
Chair of the National Council of Tertiary Music Schools
Professor Vella is also Chair of Music at Newcastle Conservatorium of Music and
Head of School of Drama, Fine Art and Music at the University of Newcastle