Source: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
Source: Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

The best music degrees are found at conservatoires. Think of it as a school specialising in performance-based higher education. It’s where music, drama, screen and production students, at bachelor’s and master’s levels, can focus on learning experientially. That is, it’s very much practical, with a lesser focus on the history, analysis and philosophy of the performing arts compared to university education.

It’s ideal for those seeking a leg up to their dream careers. With tailored facilities and no shortage of working professionals interacting with students daily, conservatoire students are getting all the knowledge, experience and insights they need to apply for jobs after graduating.

Below are the best conservatoires in the UK and the US that all aspiring performers should consider:

The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Located in Glasgow, a multi-cultural city that blends the traditional with the cutting edge, and set against picturesque landscapes, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) is a place like nowhere else, powered by performance, its people, and their passion. Collaboration sits at the heart of all programmes at RCS, opening the door for students to not only develop their art but their power to use it in an ever-changing world. RCS is internationally renowned, having consistently been ranked within the world’s top ten performing arts institutions over the last decade. Most recently, RCS was ranked sixth in the QS World Rankings 2023 for performing arts.

Being a student at RCS is to be immersed in a dynamic arts community with artists from more than 60 countries. Students work and learn alongside award-winning teaching staff and internationally acclaimed guest artists, where they develop their craft and collaborate across art forms in one of the finest multi-disciplinary education environments in the world.

There’s the opportunity to work across disciplines, from soundtracking filmmaking projects and working with composers to performing in the orchestra for ballet and musical theatre productions.

Music students receive weekly, 90-minute one-to-one lessons on their principal study, one of the few conservatoires in the UK to offer this level of contact time. From day one students are treated as professionals-in-training and are given non-competitive access to national orchestras and side-by-side opportunities with partners including the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Scottish Ensemble, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Scottish Opera and The National Piping Centre. Students also work alongside RCS visiting artists, who are a central part of the institution’s creative community. Students can also perform at iconic festivals, such as the Edinburgh International Festival and Celtic Connections – the annual celebration of folk, roots and world music. RCS offers the UK’s only Bachelor of Music degree dedicated to traditional and folk music.

Graduates of RCS make their mark all over the globe – on cinema and TV screens, in concert halls and classrooms, and everywhere in between. Music alumni includes film, television and theatre composer Patrick Doyle; composer C. Duncan and jazz pianist Fergus McCreadie, both Mercury Prize nominees; conductor Ryan Bancroft and folk singer Iona Fyfe.

Elsewhere, graduates include actor Ncuti Gatwa, TV’s latest Doctor Who; Oscar-nominated Hollywood screenwriter Krysty Wilson-Cairns; Outlander star Sam Heughan; Game of Thrones actor Richard Madden; global opera singer Karen Cargill; actor and X-Men star James McAvoy.

Visit the website to find out more about life at RCS.

Curtis Institute of Music

The Curtis Institute of Music has delivered excellent education for nearly a century to a small student body of 155 students. The small fraction of applications accepted every year is purely considered on their talent and artistic promise.

Curtis provides complete and diversified musical training from diploma studies to undergraduate and postgraduate degrees as well as professional studies certificates in opera. Rooted in a “learn by doing” philosophy, there is a three-to-two student-faculty ratio which ensures every student receives adequate personalised attention during classes.

Faculty members here are world-renowned performing musicians themselves and are passionate about teaching. With their guidance, it’s little surprise that students here gain valuable industry insights and expert training to work towards their musical ambitions. 

Students pursuing the Bachelor of Music programme explore a wide breadth of subjects not restricted to music. The curriculum includes additional subjects in career studies and in the liberal arts such as social entrepreneurship, ethics, citizenship and creative life. The Master of Music programme will provide students with comprehensive training covering composition, orchestral instruments, piano, guitar, organ and opera. They learn with distinguished artist-teachers in private lessons and studio lessons.

San Francisco Conservatoire of Music

San Francisco Conservatoire of Music (SFCM) combines academic study, one-on-one instruction and performance opportunities that set students up for success — as both a person and a musician in the 21st century. 

An education here is well-rounded, offering students a variety of disciplines from the humanities and science to professional development subjects that can be added to their repertoire. 

What’s more, SFCM’s performance programme allowws students to challenge themselves while trying their hand at different music styles in a variety of settings and groups. Whether you’re looking to add your voice to a brass choir, play first oboe in the Conservatory Orchestra, or try your hand at Baroque music, there’s always a place for you to try something new. 

Not only will SFCM students gain valuable performance experience, but they’ll also have a chance to sharpen their ability to play with others in an ensemble. In fact, SFCM presents over 500 performances a year, including solo recitals by students, faculty, and guest artists, small ensemble concerts, fully staged operas, and symphonic programs.

Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance

Located in the heart of southeast London’s creative music scene, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance is a playground for the creative mind. Campus is a dynamic mix of nine music departments and programmes such as composition, jazz and popular music. Each is tailored to nurture the pioneers of tomorrow.

The curriculum is as rigorous as it is experiential with countless performance opportunities. Students immediately apply their newfound knowledge through performance, partaking in concert opportunities and chamber music competitions in a variety of settings. Trinity Laban even hosts an annual Chamber Music Festival which offers masterclasses, workshops, and competitions. It provides students with the opportunity to perform alongside their mentors.

Trinity Laban Strings alumni can be found gracefully navigating the ever-changing arts industry in several of the world’s top international orchestras such as the Berlin Philharmonic, the Belgrade Symphony Orchestra, and closer to home — the BBC Symphony Orchestra, the Liverpool Philharmonic and the Philharmonia, to name but a few.

Others can be found in celebrated ensembles including the Carducci Quartet and The Jubilee String Quartet. Solo careers are an option for students too — they would follow in the footsteps of Stjepan Hauser of 2 Cellos, violinist Lana Trotovšek and harpist Claire Iselin.

Trinity Laban is one of the UK’s top institutions for graduate employability, as consistently listed by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. So whether your calling is to be an acclaimed soloist, a principal player in a top orchestra, a chamber musician, a cross-arts collaborator, an educator, or the CEO of a record label; Trinity Laban has all the tools, resources and inspiration you could ever need to truly contribute to the creative arts.

*Some of the institutions featured in this article are commercial partners of Study International