The future of music

10 Best Music Schools in California

December 29, 2023
music schools in california

Without a doubt, California is one of the best places to study music.

Los Angeles is one of the world’s centers of the music industry, and the rest of the west coast is also vibrant and full of opportunities.

Plus, there are about 50 college and university music programs in California, so you have plenty of options to choose from. 

But to make your decision process a bit easier, we’ve made a list of the best music schools, based on their reputation, student experiences, and other relevant factors. 

So here are 10 of the best music schools in California! 

1. CSU Northridge

CSU Northridge is one of the best music schools in California.

The music industry studies program at California State University Northridge is regarded as one of the best music business degree programs in the US.

But CSU Northridge is also known for its performance degrees as well as its Music Education, Music Therapy, and Composition programs.

And they have an outstanding faculty in jazz.

The campus is located in the San Fernando Valley region of the City of Los Angeles, 15 miles from Los Angeles.

All things considered, CSU Northridge is arguably one of the best music schools in California, especially for those interested in entering the business side of music. 

2. Thornton School of Music – University of Southern California

Thornton School of Music is one of the best music schools in California.

Located in Los Angeles, Thornton School of Music is a top-ranked music school offering a variety of music degree programs.

It’s a conservatory-style music school housed at the University of Southern California, and it’s ideal for students who want to pursue a career in performing.

But they also offer excellent music education and music business degree programs. 

Generally, their areas of study include:

  • Classical Performance & Composition
  • Contemporary Music
  • Research & Scholarly Studies

Thornton’s versatile curriculum prepares students for a career in music through cross-genre experiences and diverse styles and techniques.

And students can benefit from proximity to L.A.’s film and TV industries.

3. Los Angeles College of Music

Los Angeles College of Music

Los Angeles College of Music is sometimes referred to as mini Berklee.

Just like Berklee (one of the top music schools in the world), LACM’s focus is on contemporary popular music.

They offer a variety of music study programs in the fields of music performance, music production, music business, and music composition.

And their faculty roster includes Grammy, BMI, and People’s Choice award-winning musicians, recording artists, producers, and entrepreneurs who worked with Jason Mraz, Michael Bublé, Celine Dion, and many more.

That said, LACM attracts many students interested in entering the music industry for a good reason.

And it attracts students from all over the globe – LACM’s international students make up a third of our student population.

4. Azusa Pacific University School of Music

Azusa Pacific University School of Music

Ranked among the top music schools and programs, Azusa Pacific University School of Music is another good option for students who want to study music in California.

The University is located close to Los Angeles, and it offers a variety of degree programs, including a Commercial Music Major, Music Education Major, Performance Major, and so on.

Since it’s based on the Christian faith, Azusa Pacific also offers Music and Worship programs. 

So, this music school might not be for everyone, but thanks to its reputation and quality, it’s certainly worthy of consideration. 

5. Herb Alpert School of Music – University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) 

Herb Alpert School of Music

UCLA’s Herb Alpert School is also regarded as one of the best music schools in California.

They offer degree programs in Music Performance, Composition, Conducting, Music Education, Musicology, Music Industry, and Global Jazz.

As they claim on their website, their programs combine classical, jazz, popular, and traditional music from around the world, as well as emerging forms in composition and new media. 

They have a rather unique and innovative approach to music studies, and regardless of what area of study you want to focus on, Herb Alpert School will prepare you to build a successful career. 

All things considered, UCLA is a top choice for music students, especially for in-state students, as the tuition is much lower. 

6. San Francisco Conservatory of Music

San Francisco Conservatory of Music

If you’re searching for reputable music schools on the west coast, you should also check out the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

Just like many relevant conservatories, SFCM is affiliated with the San Francisco Symphony, California’s tier-1 orchestra.

It has many departments, including Brass, Composition, Conducting, Percussion, Guitar, Woodwinds, Technology & Applied Composition, Historical Performance, and so on.

SFCM students can expect rigorous training in a tight-knit atmosphere while having the chance to learn and grow in a vibrant San Francisco music scene.

Besides many graduate and undergraduate programs, SFCM also offers the Artist Diploma – a highly selective non-degree program designed for students who want to pursue a professional performance career. 

7. The Colburn School

The Colburn School

The Colburn School is sometimes referred to as the “West Coast Curtis” – it’s small, highly selective, and free of tuition. 

And their alumni include some of today’s most promising young soloists, chamber groups, and orchestral musicians.

That said, this reputable music school is ideal for instrumentalists and conductors.

The Colburn Conservatory of Music’s Negaunee Conducting Program is led by world-renowned composer and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen, previously the Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

But Colburn is also a great choice for anyone who wants to become a classical musician and hone their music skills.

Thanks to its proximity to the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Colburn students also have a chance to connect with the LA Philharmonic. 

8. Stanford University

Stanford University is one of the best music schools in California.

Stanford is widely known as one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

And their Department of Music covers fields such as composition, conducting, performance, music history, ethnomusicology, and music theory.

Their music courses are also focused on innovative practices as well as research in cognitive science, intermedia, and computer-based technologies.

After all, Stanford is a leading research university, and it’s located in the heart of Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

Stanford students also benefit from their state-of-the-art facilities and venues, including the Braun Music Center, Bing Concert Hall, and Dinkelspiel Auditorium.

9. Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music – Chapman University 

Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music

Chapman University’s Hall-Musco Conservatory of Music is a popular music school located in Orange, California. 

The conservatory provides a well-crafted musical curriculum in a liberal arts environment, and it’s also known for its outstanding Piano Performance program.

All students benefit from their excellent facilities, personalized teaching approach, and working closely with world-class faculty.

There are several undergraduate and graduate music programs to choose from, including Composition, Guitar, Percussion, Vocal, Piano: Solo, and so on.

Apart from a Bachelor of Music, Hall-Musco also offers a Bachelor of Arts, a study program designed to provide a foundation in musicology, music history, and music research.

10. California Institute of the Arts (CalArts)  

California Institute of the Arts

California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) is an arts-based school located in Santa Clarita, California.

The Herb Alpert Foundation is also the benefactor for music programs at both the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and the Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts.

The Herb Alpert School of Music at CalArts is based on personal mentoring, rigorous technical instruction, and professional development training.

They offer different specializations, such as Experimental Pop, Music Technology, VoiceArts, Jazz, Composition and Experimental Sound Practices, and World Music Performance.

It’s a very innovative and unique music school ideal for students interested in one of the areas of study we just mentioned.

Is Majoring in Music Hard?

As you can see, there are plenty of great music schools on the west coast, especially around Los Angeles.

Most of the schools we mentioned today are reputable and popular, but many of them offer rigorous programs.

So, if you’re worried about how hard it is to study music, you should explore more about the schools and programs that grabbed your attention.

Also, some music schools are extremely selective – so if they don’t believe you’re the right fit for them, you wouldn’t be accepted anyway.

Nonetheless, most music programs require focus and dedication, and they include a ton of classes, rehearsals, and performances.

women playing the violin

However, some music degree programs are more flexible.

It all comes down to your career goals – if you want to become a professional musician and join an orchestra, you’ll have to be ready to put a lot of effort into it.

After all, people who decide to major in music tend to be very passionate about music.

And it’s easier to be dedicated to something you’re passionate about.

That said, the difficulty of music degree programs also depends on your attitude.

If you’re motivated to learn and grow, it will be easier for you to get through tough times, and it will ultimately all be worth it in the end.

How to Choose a Music School?

Many outstanding schools in California offer music degree programs, so you just need to find a program that meets your needs.

But making a list of the potential schools to apply to is easier said than done.

With so many great options out there, how are you supposed to know which music school is right for you?

First of all, you need to determine your career goals.

You can think about which areas of study you’re interested in, and what type of music career you can easily see yourself pursuing.

Also, are you more interested in the creative or technical process of making music?

What music genres and styles do you prefer?

What are your abilities, special skills, and strengths, and how can you incorporate them into your studies?

woman reading a news paper

By determining your interests and goals, you’ll be able to determine which music schools are right for you.

When making a list of the schools, you should also consider the following factors:

  • Location
  • Tuition fees
  • Courses offered
  • Facilities
  • The faculty
  • Networking opportunities 
  • Student experiences

Also, some of the schools on our list offer an in-state tuition discount for California residents.

And others provide study-abroad and internship opportunities.

So, in order to make a college list, you also need to think about what matters to you as a student.

Once you’ve narrowed down your list, you can start checking for application dates.

Most music schools require an essay, letters of recommendation, and some kind of music portfolio, and some of them require you to complete an audition.

Applying for college might seem daunting, but if you approach the whole process one step at a time, you’ll realize it’s not rocket science. 

Meeting the deadline for each aspect of the application is essential, so try to prepare everything in advance to avoid any stressful situations. 

And once you get accepted, this will be the beginning of an unforgettable journey.

Majoring in music will allow you to focus on your passion, but it will also help you make connections, get to know the secrets of the field and find your own unique career path. 

Best Music Schools in California – Final Thoughts 

We hope our overviews of the best music schools in California helped you narrow down your college list.

Some of these music schools are hard to get into, but they are worth trying.

Enrolling in a good music degree program would undoubtedly improve your career prospects.

More importantly, it would provide you with valuable experiences, skills, and knowledge necessary to pursue a career in music.

You may also like: Best Music Schools in the US

Will Fenton

Will, the founder of MIDDER, is a multifaceted individual with a deep passion for music and personal finance. As a self-proclaimed music and personal finance geek, he has a keen eye for futuristic technologies, especially those that empower creators and the public.

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