My Advice to Aspiring Music Majors

So you want to be a music major?

…are you sure?

I don’t mean to be cynical. But I was you once, too. Looking back, I was extremely naive entering college as a music major. Although I am very happy with the path I have chosen, I wish I was a bit more informed on exactly what I was getting myself into. Music school isn’t just glorified band camp, my friends.

As someone who is nearly done with their music performance degree, I have some tips. These tips are based on my own experiences and will likely vary from school to school. Take it as you will and please don’t hesitate to ask me questions!

  1. Making the choice: pursuing a college degree in music is extremely difficult. Sure, it can be easy if you take the easy way out of everything and never practice and get Cs in all your classes. But if you want to be a great musician, it’s going to be brutal. This isn’t just honor band every day of your life. There will be hard theory and music history classes, hours of practicing a day expected from you, and so many rehearsals for ensembles you never knew you signed up for. There will be days you want to throw your instrument at the wall. There will be days when you’re on a cruise ship in Mexico (yes, I have), or camping on the coast (yes, I have), or away for a weekend with friends (many times), and you’ll have to be practicing for your recital or the next audition. These times are hard. There will be days when you’ll question your love for music. There will be days when you will have know idea what you got yourself into. But there will still be days when it’s all worth it, for that amazing feeling performing music for an engaged audience with a group of people you have worked so hard with. For that time you inspire a young musician to play your instrument. Pursuing music is difficult and all things crazy, but it can be equally as rewarding and beautiful. Make sure you know what you are getting yourself into before you willy-nilly put music major on your college application.
  2. Talk to everyone you can. Along the same lines as above, talk to anyone and everyone you can talk to. Reach out to your band/choir/orchestra director and ask them about their experience. Believe it or not they were in your shoes once. Talk to everyone you know, or your friend knows, or your mom knows who is a music major. What do they like about it? What don’t they like about it? What schools do they recommend? What’s their daily life like?
  3. What school do I choose? Applying to be a music major is a bit more complicated than seeing if a college simply offers a music degree. You want to make sure where you are going fits with your personality and goals as a musician. Email prospective teachers in your instrument or voice and set up a time to talk, or preferably take a lesson. Do you like their teaching style? Do you like their musicianship? This is someone you will spend 4 years with for at least one hour every week. Trust me, you want to like them. Email undergraduate advisors and talk to them about your interest in the school. Take a tour. Is this somewhere that you could see yourself living? Is there a lot going on musically in the community? Is there a symphony nearby? These aspects will become increasingly more important as you grow during your time in school. Get your hands on as much information as humanly possible so you can make a well-informed decision.
  4. What music degree do I choose? Performance or education? Composition or music history? There are many different music paths you can head down, and you can always change your mind, but you do want to have a relatively good idea of what you want to do before you enter college because school goes by really quickly! A music education degree is fantastic if you can picture yourself teaching elementary, middle, high-school or college music classes in the future. But music education is not for everyone. Talk to more people, shadow your band-director’s daily life, and gather as much information as you can to see if this is something you would want to do. If it is, great! If not, there are other options. A performance degree is different for different focuses, but for an instrumentalist your schooling will be preparing you to be a successful performer in a symphony, opera, chamber ensemble, etc. Choose to the best of your ability, but don’t sweat it too much. You will be able to decide more once you get to college.
  5. What about a minor or a double major? So your Uncle keeps telling you to minor or double major in business, right? There is some truth in this advice. I say definitely take on a minor if you are a performance major. I don’t necessarily recommend a double major. Depending on your performance aspirations, this may take away too much from your practicing which is extremely important. With that said, add some diversity to yourself. Find other passions and take classes. Even if you don’t take on a full minor or double major, these classes will be important and could be a great way to take away from the stress of the daily life of a musician. If your school offers arts management classes, TAKE THEM. If there’s anything I wish more musicians knew about it would be the business side of music. As a musician in the field, you must know about how it works in the world. If there’s anything you take away from this article, it is this advice right here– learn about the business side of music. Not just any business, those are different. Music business and administration will be extremely vital to your success as a musician.
  6. Believe in your decision. After you have talked to current music majors and learned a bit more about what being a music major entails, ask yourself if this is something you can picture yourself pursuing. If after all of this you still come to the decision that you love music so much you want to pursue it every day of your life for four years and more, then choose it with your whole heart. There will be people who look down upon you and tell you that you’re foolish to be pursuing such a useless degree. You have to own it and not let anyone get in the way of your dream. And above all you have to believe in the power of music. Whatever that is for you. It will be easier to believe in music when you recognize the worth it has outside of yourself. Sure, you may love listening to music, but what does it give to others? Focusing on what you give to others as a musician is where you will find the beauty and the profound impact music has in creating a better world.

Pursuing a music degree is hard, hard work. Not just for the daily practicing that feels so insignificant compared the all of the other events happening in the world, but also for the many concerts with only a few people in the audience. It’s difficult, but it’s also extremely beautiful. Music is as human as language. Pursuing a degree in the field requires constant self-directed learning, teamwork, and creativity which can be translatable skills in any field of work.

Get your hands on all the information you can, talk and network with people in the field, and believe in your decision. If you don’t decide to pursue music, that is definitely okay. But don’t forget to support your local musicians by attending their concerts and listening to their work. That’s the biggest gift you can give.

This is an exciting time, but don’t worry too much. You can always switch schools and/or majors. It is possible! I hope these tips help your decision on whether or not to pursue a music degree and where to go to college. Let me know if you have any questions!

Want to be a musician? Check out these other great articles: 

Music Major Blog – Guidance for Majoring in Music

What Can You Do with a Music Degree?

John Legend Has The Realest Advice For College Students – MTV

Do You Need a College Music Degree?

The Value of a Music Degree

Orchestra Musician: It’s Not a Cush Job | Brian Lauritzen

Thanks for reading!

~Courtney

 

 

 

 

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6 thoughts on “My Advice to Aspiring Music Majors

  1. I have a Masters Degree in Music Ed and my husband has a PhD in Music Ed and is a 25+ year veteran university music professor. I believe I speak with some insight and experience when I respectfully disagree with your #4 point. The music performance, theory, history degrees are absolutely worthless in most cases. Most of my college friends who have these degrees deeply regret this decision. Many have gone back to get their teachers’ certificate so that they can actually earn a living wage with their music. Most are not working in the music field at all. If a student gets a music education degree they have all the opportunities available in the music field, whether they decide to teach, perform, compose, arrange, produce, etc. With those other three degrees they face very limited opportunities in the music field. Yes, there are some who make it as a performer. But even those people usually need to supplement their income with teaching lessons and that’s where the ed degree comes in again. The person who is able to become a concert pianist or opera soloist is very few and far between. And, surprise, they don’t need a degree at all. How many super talented high school musicians has my husband seen come in as freshmen performance majors that crashed and burned once they found out that there were a hundred other super talented high school musicians just like them in the freshman class. College should be preparing students to have a marketable skill in the real world. I would recommend all music majors obtain an education degree or, in some special instances, a degree in music business or management. If they are of a caliber that they can perform to make a decent living, I would hope and pray that they would also teach at some point in order to pass their knowledge on to the next generation.

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    1. Thanks for reading and for commenting! I definitely see your point and agree that in most cases it’s definitely a very good option. I know where I attend school (University of Oregon) the music education curriculum is extremely demanding, so if someone is shooting to be an orchestral musician, it wouldn’t leave a lot of time to practice, which is vital for a successful performance career. My viewpoint is from that perspective, so I greatly appreciate your viewpoint from a different perspective. Thank you for reading the blog!

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