Top 5 Best Online Doctor of Pastoral Music Degrees

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Updated: March 13, 2024, Reading time: 13 minutes

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Pastoral music, which derives from the Latin word “pastor” and means “shepherd,” is, in essence, music that celebrates and portrays the countryside. Sometimes, composers have captured particular rural noises, like the weather or birdsong, while on other occasions, they have chosen a more general approach to capture the rural setting and the feelings it evokes. 

Students interested in pursuing careers in church music are the best fit for a Doctor of Pastoral Music degree. While this doctorate is rarely found online or in general, other alternatives have almost the same coursework as DPM, such as Church Music and Christian Worship.

Quick audio summary:


Believers regard Sunday worship as a celebration of God and His people. Without church musicians, this celebration would not be possible. The Doctor of Pastoral Music is designed to help students focus on creating meaningful songs used for worship and taking musical expertise to a higher level. You can use your burning passion for music to spread the gospel by pursuing a doctorate in pastoral music.


The academic pursuit of Pastoral Music at the doctorate level emphasizes an individual’s dedication to gaining skills advancement for an enriching career as a musician within the religious realm.

If you’re considering attending an online program, we’re here to give the best from the country’s leading graduate schools. Each of the universities and their online programs were picked based on these factors:

Learn about our university or doctorate program ranking process. Visit our Methodology page.

The Top 5 Online Doctor of Pastoral Music Programs

Liberty University

Liberty University - Online
Online Doctor of Worship Studies

Liberty University offers a fully online Doctor of Worship Studies degree program for experienced musicians who want to learn about church music. Students must complete 45 credit hours that can be finished in 2.5 years of full-time studies. This online doctor of pastoral music degree will help students, whether working in ministry or wanting to create their own music industry, gain valuable and in-demand skills for creating music that worships God in the 21st century.

Applicants for the doctor in worship studies program are required to hold a Master of Music or an equivalent with a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Online students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience through a series of optional on-campus intensive sacred music courses before graduation. These music courses will help students create a vast network that will help them grow as students and musicians.

Students can also participate in a worship self-study and apprenticeship practicum, which allows them to apply their studies to real-world music ministry settings and further assess their existing ministry or seek mentorship from a more seasoned worship minister.

William Carey University

William Carey University
Online Doctor of Arts in Music

William Carey University offers a Doctor of Arts in Music available entirely online with two emphases: Music Education or Worship Ministry. Students are required to complete 51 hours that can be completed in 2 to 3 years and involve interest areas, such as Leadership, Conducting/Performance Pedagogy, Marching Arts, and Worship Theology.

The degree helps musicians become leaders in their current roles as educators, worship leaders, or church leaders and prepares them for careers in collegiate education.

Candidates must have a master’s degree in music and provide transcripts proving that they have maintained a 3.0 GPA in all of their master’s-level coursework. Students who have courses in Survey of Music History and Survey of Music Theory, or their respective equivalencies, are eligible to reduce up to 9 credit hours.

Upon graduation, students will demonstrate advanced knowledge in their chosen specialization to help them identify and locate pertinent research and inquiry subjects to be used as resources to improve professional practice.

Students will be required to make a Doctoral Thesis or Two Research Articles Proposal to help music professors evaluate their overall knowledge about the doctoral program and assess whether or not they are ready for careers in parish music ministries.

Claremont Graduate University

Claremont Graduate University - School of Arts and Humanities
Online Doctor of Church Music

Claremont Graduate University offers a hybrid Doctor of Church Music degree. Students should complete 72 units of coursework in an average of 3 to 5 years, including one area of concentration: Organ Conducting or Choral Conducting, three recitals, a DCM paper, and one Transdisciplinary Studies course.

Because most students in the church music program are music writers, the school provides a capstone project that will give these students the chance to present an original composition.

Applications for the church music program are accepted on a rolling basis. Applicants should hold a master’s degree in music or its equivalent and participate in an audition to be considered for the doctoral program.

CGU’s Doctor of Church Music is one of the best church music degrees. Aside from being the home of Performance Practice Review, the school’s music department allows students to participate in historical performance practice programs that connect them to various period instruments.

Additionally, the extraordinary pool of musicians in the greater Los Angeles area and The Claremont Colleges is the source for studio faculty.

Graduate Theological Foundation

Graduate Theological Foundation
Online Doctor of Sacred Music

Graduate Theological Foundation offers a hybrid Doctor of Sacred Music degree. Students are required to complete 36 credits in an average of 18 months of full-time study, 30 focused on 10 core subjects and 6 for exit projects. Students in the sacred music doctoral degree will have a Doctoral Committee to guarantee the highest level of academic rigor and to offer constructive and valuable input.

Applicants are required to hold a bachelor’s and master’s degree in sacred music or other music areas, plus a minimum of five years of experience in the music industry.

The exit projects are one of the best features of the sacred music degree at the Graduate Theological Foundation. Depending on the student’s specific area of interest and the needs of the context, the exit projects may take the form of a recital or lecture-recital, a choral or instrumental performance, the writing of a traditional thesis, the composition and performance of an original religious music work or set of pieces, or the creation of an in-ministry activity.

SMU Perkins School of Theology

SMU Perkins School of Theology
Doctor of Pastoral Music

SMU Perkins School of Theology offers a Doctor of Pastoral Music that is available in a hybrid learning format. The degree requires students to complete 39 credits, including online and on-campus coursework, that can be completed in 2 to 3 years of full-time study. The intensive one-week format of classes enables students to keep their jobs at churches or other organizations with a religious focus.

Applicants must be holders of a master’s in Sacred Music or Church Music or other 48-credit music-related master’s degrees. Master-level coursework should reflect a minimum of 3.0 on a 4.0 GPA scale.

The degree provides a setting for the professional renewal of working and seasoned church musicians to equip them for changes in the field of church music. Students will have the opportunity to participate in supervised practicum experiences and a range of thesis alternatives to become more productive in their current roles with the congregation and the community.

Additionally, students will have individual coursework, practica, and thesis procedures that are directly related to the student’s ministry objectives and context.

Online Doctor of Pastoral Music Common Courses

History of Congregational Song

This course studies the theology, history, and practice of congregational songs from old traditions to more modern developments. Additionally, it discusses Christian hymnody’s history along with analyses of current hymnology, the theology of song texts, how musical performance frames these texts, performing the various musical genres used in Christian hymnody, and choosing congregational songs for worship and the different times of the Christian year.

Worship: Word and Music

The theological foundations and practices of Christian worship and worship music are covered in this course. The relationship between God’s Word and music in the worship experience is established, as is a scriptural foundation for a theology of worship and liturgical music.

Planning and Leading Christian Worship

This course studies the resources, abilities, and tactics for organizing and directing public worship services. The exegetical reading of the Bible, congregational prayer, the development of lay worship leaders, and the rites of baptism and the Lord’s Supper will receive special attention.

Introduction to Research in Church Music

This course is an introduction to the procedures for conducting and writing scholarly work on church music and a study of bibliography, research tools, and research techniques focusing on church music.

Sacred Choral Music

This course examines the social and spiritual roles played by adult and youth church choirs. This study’s careful consideration of choral repertory will be a key component of one’s pastoral music education.

Research in Music Ministry

This course studies many facets of music ministry, their history, connections to traditional pastoral care, compatibility with contemporary worship styles, and potential roles in the future of local churches.

Necessary Qualities to Become a Pastoral Musician


This trait enables you to control expectations so that you don’t exhaust your workforce or frustrate them with assignments that are too challenging for their current skill level.

By having a heart for your people, you will want them to prosper and have the best ministry possible to serve. Additionally, this trait makes it easier for you to be patient and understanding when things do not turn out as you had intended.


A setting like a church music ministry can swiftly alter. Changes may occur throughout the workweek, on Sundays, or even in the middle of the service. Avoid having a tight mindset that makes serving others unpleasant. 

Effective parish musicians can level with swift adjustments. 


One of the reasons some churches have a massive following is the music they sing as a community of the faithful. A church may often have a music director or a lead singer, but the pastor will still be in charge. To become a good pastoral musician, you need to have loyalty. 

As a musician, your role is to compose music that will garner influence and adherents, given the public nature of musical performances within the church. When done correctly, this is a beneficial thing that builds community inside the church. But if the music director publicly attacks the pastor’s leadership because they disagree on anything, it might be very damaging.


Many people are anxious and uncomfortable when they perform in front of others. Coupled with a pessimistic or neutral mindset, it will only make everything worse for you.

To draw in new participants, you need to be enthusiastic and energetic. Nobody wants to be a part of a toxic environment or what seems to be going downhill.


Keep in mind that you are collaborating with volunteers. Most musicians and singers have full-time jobs and are also attempting to raise families. Respect their schedule and show enough patience to allow them to develop in a healthy, timely manner. 

An effective music ministry takes time to develop. Although there may be certain aspects you can improve immediately, actual expansion requires hiring additional employees and giving the ones you already have more training and confidence.

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Doctor of Pastoral Music Professional Organizations

Contrary to what others might think, pastoral musicians do not have the easiest job in the world. Creating music for religious events is a hard thing to do. As a result, most church music directors and other professionals in the music industry join at least one professional organization to seek professional advice.

Here are some of the best professional organizations for doctoral students:

How to Build a Career in Pastoral Music Ministry

Although there are some fundamental standards, there are no rigid criteria for becoming a worship leader. Here are some tips to have an influential career as a pastoral musician:

Must Pastoral Musicians hold a license to practice professionally?

Frequently Asked Questions

Must Pastoral Musicians hold a license to practice professionally?

There isn’t an official license or certification for pastoral musicians. However, degrees from church-related institutions are required before beginning to lead church services.

Is sacred music important to our lives?

Sacred music has a crucial role in assisting believers in their active participation in the holiest mysteries, the public and solemn prayer of the Church, and in raising the spirit to God.

How do you become a Church Musician?

The fundamental requirements for a church musician include proficiency in an instrument and knowledge of hymns or traditional church music.

How does a Doctor of Pastoral Music degree differ from a Doctor of Musical Arts degree?

Both degrees require students to have theoretical backgrounds in music or a relevant music degree and be actively engaged in music-related vocations. The main distinction is that a doctoral program in pastoral music, or a program of a similar nature, adds a second level of concentration and concentrates on music about worship, religion, and spirituality.

What is a Church Musician?

Church musicians perform musical accompaniment during a church service. Many different instruments can be used for this, either solo or ensemble. When the congregation or church choir sings hymns, these musicians frequently play in accompaniment.

Key Takeaways

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