Volcanoes are an expression of their underlying magmatic systems. Over the past three decades, the classical focus on upper crustal magma chambers has expanded to consider magmatic processes throughout the crust. A transcrustal perspective must balance slow (plate tectonic) rates of melt generation and segregation in the lower crust with new evidence for rapid melt accumulation in the upper crust before many volcanic eruptions. Reconciling these observations is engendering active debate about the physical state, spatial distribution, and longevity of melt in the crust. Here we review evidence for transcrustal magmatic systems and highlight physical processes that might affect the growth and stability of melt-rich layers, focusing particularly on conditions that cause them to destabilize, ascend, and accumulate in voluminous but ephemeral shallow magma chambers.