Contemporary Teaching Practice

Master of Music – Curriculum

The Master of Music in Contemporary Teaching Practice degree is designed to build upon a strong undergraduate degree in music. Students are expected to begin the program with a robust knowledge of music theory, aural skills, keyboard skills, music history, and performance experiences (including playing, singing, conducting, and ensemble work), and understand how they relate to music education. Deficiencies in these concepts and abilities, as noted by transcript review or by the results of the Music Graduate Entrance Exam (MGEE), may have to be filled by appropriate course work.

This degree is overseen by the USC Thornton School of Music, but is offered in association with the USC Rossier School of Education and includes some coursework from Rossier’s award-winning Masters of Arts in Teaching. Thornton’s Music Teaching & Learning faculty work closely with Rossier faculty and administrators to certify graduates through the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California State Department of Education. In addition to the Master in Music degree from USC, students will earn a five-year preliminary credential from the State of California, which will allow for employment in public and private schools in California and many other states.

Students can expect thoughtful and intensive mentoring from Thornton faculty throughout the degree and certification processes. Based on research documenting the success of this experience post-graduation, mentorship will continue into the first year of full-time teaching.

The degree is designed to be completed in 12 months (three semesters), beginning in the summer session preceding the academic year. While most of the courses will be completed in residence, students can anticipate some online coursework. Students may accept a teaching position at the start of the following academic year, satisfying any final course requirements during the intervening summer as necessary.

There are four major components to this degree program:

  1. A set of three pedagogy courses based on contemporary teaching practice in music. This coursework occurs sequentially beginning in the first summer and continues until the last eight weeks of full-time guided practice in the schools. These courses feature a hybrid approach to music teaching that includes more traditional topics related to instrumental, vocal and general music, combined with small and large ensemble work with traditional band, orchestra, and choral groups, rock ensembles, jazz groups, and folk music ensembles. Improvisation and composition pedagogies are stressed, as well as the application of digital technology resources in both formal and informal settings. Course-based competency tests in selected instruments and voice are required.
  2. Parallel to these courses are field placements in Los Angeles area schools. Students are expected to start the teaching process with children from the earliest weeks in the program, applying the concepts of contemporary teaching practice. Full-time guided practice in the last weeks of the program (sometimes called “student teaching”) will take place as a final capstone. A portfolio of teaching experiences will be recorded from the outset and be an integral part of the accreditation process as required by California’s participation in the edTPA external teaching assessment process.
  3. Core courses in general education principles on a continual basis. These are courses offered by the Rossier School of Education and include important work in (1) curricula and structural dynamics of schools in urban settings (2) school equity, access, and student agency; and (3) language and student development across the curriculum. Thornton will offer its own supplement to these courses by engaging a specialist in teaching music to children with exceptionalities.
  4. Music teaching courses specially-designed by USC Thornton faculty will round out the curriculum. Informed by the latest research in the field, these courses encompass psychological and sociological dimensions of music education, philosophical and advocacy issues, and principles of assessment and reflective practice for music teachers. These are complemented by courses on composition and improvisation, as well as community engagement and entrepreneurship.

Refer to the USC Catalogue for complete course descriptions and degree requirements.


In addition to the Thornton Music Graduate Entrance Exam (MGEE), instrument and voice competency tests and the completion of the edTPA portfolio noted above, students must complete the CBEST (California Basic Education Skills Test) as soon as possible after arrival on campus for the degree. This test is required by California statute and is simply a basic reading, mathematics, and writing skills assessment based on skills found to be important for the job of an educator. Students may also have to pass the CSET (California Subject Examination for Teachers) for music. Consult the Department advisor chair about this test.

Verification of training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) that covers infant, child and adult CPR skills may also be required (American Red Cross) as well as a background check (fingerprinting).


  • The program details described above are subject to change. Actual degree requirements for a given academic year may differ from what is listed here.
  • See the Thornton Admission page for specific application information.
  • Current students should refer to the specific requirements list for their major, which is available through the Thornton Student Affairs office.