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Music Composition And Arrangement Careers

Career Description

A Music Composer creates original music such as symphonies,  operas, sonatas, radio and television jingles, film scores, and popular songs.  They transcribe ideas into musical notation, using harmony, rhythm, melody, and tonal structure. Although most composers and songwriters practice their craft on instruments and transcribe the notes with pen and paper, some use computer software to compose and edit their music.

A Music Arranger transcribes and adapts musical compositions to a particular style for orchestras, bands, choral groups, or individuals.  Components of music—including tempo, volume, and the mix of instruments needed—are arranged to express the composer’s message. While some arrangers write directly into a musical composition, others use computer software to make changes.

Common Work Tasks

  • Apply elements of music theory to create musical and tonal structures, including harmonies and melodies
  • Use computers and synthesizers to compose,  orchestrate, and arrange music
  • Determine voices, instruments, harmonic structures, rhythms, tempos, and tone balances required to achieve the effects desired in a musical composition
  • Experiment with different sounds, and types and pieces of music, using synthesizers and computers as necessary to test and evaluate ideas
  • Write changes directly into compositions, or use computer software to make changes
  • Transcribe ideas for musical compositions into musical notation, using instruments, pen and paper, or computers
  • Guide musicians during rehearsals, performances,  or recording sessions
  • Score compositions so that they are consistent with instrumental and vocal capabilities such as ranges and keys, using knowledge of music theory
  • Write musical scores for orchestras, bands,  choral groups, or individual instrumentalists or vocalists, using knowledge of music theory and of instrumental and vocal capabilities
  • Confer with producers and directors to define the nature and placement of film or television music

Other Job Titles

Music Composer and Arrangers are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Music Conductors
  • Music Director
  • Musicians
  • Lyricists

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
  Composers and arrangers directors usually require a bachelor’s degree in a related field.  Courses typically include music theory, music interpretation, composition,  conducting, and performance in a particular instrument or in voice. Music composers and arrangers need considerable related work experience or advanced training in these subjects.

  Composers and arrangers must be knowledgeable about a broad range of musical styles as well as the type of music that interests them most. Having a broader range of interest, knowledge, and training can help expand employment opportunities and musical abilities. Voice training and private instrumental lessons, especially when taken at a young age, also help develop technique and enhance one’s performance.


The median annual salary for a Music Composer and Arranger is $40,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $111,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $16,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of music composer and arrangers are:

  • Religious Organizations - $41,490
  • Performing Arts Companies - $62,080
  • Elementary and Secondary Schools- $48,080
  • Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers – N/A
  • Motion Picture and Video Industries- $70,940

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  13%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 8,800
  • Employment 2006 : 68,000
  • Employment 2016:  77,000
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