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The Value of a Music Degree

  
  
  

It isHappy Graduation graduation season! Many high school musicians are now preparing to move on to college to study music and many music majors are now entering the workforce. To all of these new grads: CONGRATULATIONS! And, to ask the question that many people are probably asking you, “What are you going to do with a music degree?”

I have been asked this question many times and I confess that I have now begun to ask the question to myself. What is the value of a music degree? Is really worth all of the time, energy, and expense? When I decided to pursue a performance degree in college, many people tried to talk me out of it because they thought that I should be working toward something more realistic, more lucrative, and more practical. Were they right?

I have some thoughts.

First, of course, there is the practical element behind a music degree. It provides you with valuable playing and/or teaching experience. It may qualify you to teach. It is a powerful method of networking within the tightly connected music world. And, of course, it should make you a better player. In short, it provides the tools that you need to be a professional musician.

But you have to fight. It has been and will continue to be the same through all of human history: you must fight for what you love. If you love music and you want to devote your life to it, then it will certainly seem like an uphill battle much of the time. New high school grads will have to work hard in college not only to increase their playing skills but also to network, to find their own opportunities to perform, and to experiment in different genres and venues. New college grads will likewise have to work just as hard to make a place for themselves in the workforce. They will need to market themselves, network, and continue to advance their playing while working to make ends meet.

I mean this to be encouraging. It is an exciting frontier not because you will immediately have a high paying job upon graduation but because it is an honor and a privilege to dedicate your life to what you love. When the majority of Americans hate their jobs, the musician has the special honor of being an ambassador of beauty in a world that seems often to have forgotten what beauty is.

I am thankful for my performance degree because it has enabled me to work and perform in positions that I would not have otherwise been able to do. I am proud to have pursued what I loved. I value every performance that I’ve had. Besides, I think that studying music is not just a pursuit of technique but is very often a study of what it means to be human. Thus enriched, I do not count it as loss that I, by my own choice, have not “used” my degree in the sense of becoming an orchestral musician or a teacher. Instead I am thankful for the time I had in which I was able to fully devote myself to learning how to speak about love, joy, and the human condition without ever using words.

A music degree, thus understood, is invaluable. Sincere congratulations to all who are newly graduated!

Comments

Bravo! Life without music and art has little meaning. Those who have pursued degrees in music know the supreme satisfaction of bringing joy not only to themselves, but to others - and often to an "audience" that they never knew they would have. My son, who now has his master's in violin performance, has been working with a two year-old for the past year. He has been enriched by that experience, and so has the child and her mother.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 5:41 PM by Marianne Drumm
We must remember that school does not give you an education. Leaning is not inherent in the ivory towers of our “learning institutions.” From my experiences it would appear that (music) schooling will be especially torturous if your real goal is to learn as opposed to getting a degree or diploma. A theory teacher of mine at the UNCSA, Ron Rudkin, hinted at this while addressing the first class meeting, “If you want to be the best performer you can be, you should drop out now, and spend your money on many private lessons.” Why this is true? What about music school inhibits us from becoming the best musician we can be? There are many probable reasons. Ron went on to say that music school was for becoming a “well rounded musician,” which is true to the extent that, it is what the academic world has decided (and faultily perceives, I might add) a well-rounded musician is. Real musicians are earthy (natural), not cerebral. In other words, real musician’s music resides not solely inside their heads, but is embodied fully. Music (sound) is natural. We do not need to understand sound, beyond some very basic knowledge (how to listen), in order to hear; we simply notice and let ourselves react (listen). Similarly, when we read music, we simply notice (read) what the rhythms and pitches on the page and react (play). Any other thought only distracts from this flowing, spontaneous state. Similarly, we do not need to think about music theory to be musical. Therefore, we do not need (music) theory to perform music; music theory has little to do with the act of playing music beyond the basic reading what is on the page. Just like a roadmap doesn’t contain any scenery, the score doesn’t contain any music. But don’t you need to know where the scenery is to find it? The roadmap may point us to some scenery but it doesn’t help us appreciate or understand the beauty or power of the scenery and misses a lot along the way. Sheet music is our roadmap. Exactly, in way mentioned above, sheet music (theory) doesn’t really help us appreciate or understand the beauty and power of music (a claim that theorists often make). Unlike a play, which uses language (words with meaning) as part of the vehicle for the art, notes have no inherent meaning. It is up to the performer to give life and meaning to the notes. Music theory ridiculously tries to explain something that needs no explanation. It doesn’t tell you the much more important: how, the process. I love music work, I hate theory, and therefore music work is not theory. 
 
Looking into what the composer did “theoretically” is interesting, but it is not helpful to the actual art of playing or feeling of the music, it adds an unnecessary step if it even comes into play at all. Like wolves in sheep’s clothing, academics (who are mostly failed performers themselves), have infiltrated the music world and spread the plague of forcing years of advanced theory and piano down our throats (to the point that the pure childlike joy of music can be, at least temporarily, lost). Music is emotion and feeling more than thought. Actually, in its purest form music is not thought at all. This is the power and beauty of music (and art in general); you step aside and let the music (or art) flow through you. When there is nothing breaking the flow from performer to listener (such as faulty technique) your mind is quiet, no thought or theory is required to have a physical and emotional response. 
 
So you are saying that performance majors shouldn’t be required to take music theory? Not beyond theory 101, certainly (and that could be cut in half); Piano? No. Why? Also that would put a lot of so-called “academics” out of work. If you are majoring in viola performance why do you need to take piano? Piano is not very helpful in playing the viola, the skills are very different. If anything violists should be required to take a couple years of violin (and vice versa) a very closely related instrument, not piano. Similarly, I believe the other instruments would be helped with this kind of thinking. Oboists should play bassoon; Clarinetists should play saxophone; cellists should play bass; etc. and vice versa. It is no surprise that the most skilled theorists are pianists; they can feel the complexities of the theory in their hands all at once, unlike most other instruments. It is also no surprise that once they have failed as performers, for whatever reason; they are bitter about having had to learn so much for so little in return. Their revenge is forcing everyone they can to learn those useless complex theories. I think “musical-academics” realize that they are useless and sometimes even redundant in their uselessness; this is why it is so deeply required in the curriculum. Not many performers would willingly subject themselves to these useless classes. Why? They would rather be practicing something that wasn’t a complete waste of their time. I am open to the possibility that theory may be useful for pianists, but I’m not convinced. Also, composers (keep in mind they are not performers) would seemingly need to know how to notate, but considering the typical modern composition these days, this also may not be true. Ask any non-pianist performer out of music school, young or old; novice or master, how much theory (or piano) they remember? The answer is almost a unanimous: nothing.  
 
Also musical-academics tend to go on to be administers, further deepening the requirement of such courses. No real musician would subject themselves to the tortures of an administration job; it is too cerebral for someone with a strong connection to the body and soul. This (the loss of connection to the body and soul) is how “higher” education has become more about a track than real learning. This is why I came to the conclusion that I need “music school” about as much as I need a hole in the head if my real goal is to become a great violist. The worst case where the musical-academics went wrong was compartmentalization. They try to educate your brain solely, rather than taking a holistic approach to educating the body, mind, and soul. This is why you must educate yourself to educate your self.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 6:42 PM by John
Now wait a minute... are you saying that to be good violist, you shouldn't bother using your brain? There's got to be a viola joke in there somewhere...
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 7:10 PM by K
A music performance degree is the most useless degree there is. You can't get a teaching job with it, and unless it's from a major conservatory you probably didn't get a good education. Not to mention if you try to get a non-music job it's completely useless. Don't do it kids. Keep playing but don't waste your time.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:01 PM by Dan
Whether you are a painter, a dancer, a poet, a composer or even a violist, you are a creator, for you can take very mundane objects (paper, clay, wood and/or your body) and create something that did not exist before. The notes on the page of our music are solid enough, but they are NOT music for that is created in the mind and exists in the air for a brief time only. A CD or YouTube video has a certain physical dimension but neither IS the creation. A poet's words are concrete objects on a stanza but what they are about is the way they spark our imagination and make one see the world in a different way. 
 
In the arts we learn that what we can imagine, we can create.  
 
This is not easy; and to be able to do it with even a hope of success we need all the help we can get. If "talent" is a measure of our capacity to take on this role then hard work is the means by which we achieve it. While studying string technique with a master may seem the most direct path to our own mastery, it may be the visit to an art exhibition, or a dance concert that provide the spark to take that hard work and turn it into a creation that can change out lives. Does it matter that we know how to label a German augmented sixth chord - not really, but the fact that you have to look deeply into the music in order recognize it provides a passport for imaging all the ways a phrase could be imagined and moves the music from dots on a page to something which is alive and being created inside your head (and then out into the air if you have prepared your body and mind to do it.) 
The task is daunting, let alone any idea of making a living doing it, and you need every bit of help you can get. Our society has evolved a very imperfect means of providing that help through lessons, coachings, competitions, and degrees at colleges and conservatories. The institutionalization of inspiration and discipline in these activities is at best a kind of "scatter-shot" approach and as we like to say about democracy - it is the worst form of government but better than any known alternative. 
 
It is easy and important to point out all the failings of music education in all its forms but also important to realize that given the very human nature of of the interaction between students, parents, teachers and professors we seem to be producing remarkable artists. 
 
Wouldn't it be a different world if our politicians and lawyers actually experienced the creative process and saw that whatever can be imagined can be created and that we are not forced to reduce everything to the lowest common denominator?
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:24 PM by Andrew Jennings
I am a music teacher who went to college as a music major, but, due to finances, was not able to complete my degree. However, I took every music class I was allowed to in order to get the knowledge in class even though I would not get the degree. I loved music theory! It opened up a world in music to me that I had never understood before and helped me appreciate music composers like I never would have been able to. I tell my students in violin, viola, piano, or classical voice to pursue what they love. A music degree is not a waste of time. Even if you can't use it to become your livelihood, you will never regret studying and becoming proficient in the one thing you love more than anything else. We already have enough people who hate what they do. You might not make very much money in music, but it's still the best way to live if you love it. You do learn how to live on a very limited budget, but you get up every morning excited about your day and you go to bed every night looking forward to the next. My advice is, as someone who almost made it to a music degree, but who has been teaching music for over 20 years now, GO FOR WHAT YOU LOVE AND DON'T LOOK BACK!!! Live with no regrets! The discipline you gain in attaining your degree will carry into anything else you choose to do. Go for it!
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:25 PM by Rachael
I mean this to be encouraging. It is an exciting frontier not because you will immediately have a high paying job upon graduation. 
 
So they get high paying jobs? 
 
Immediately upon graduation? 
 
Was English included in the subject 
matter you studied? 
 
 
 
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:26 PM by hers1
When I graduated from high school, I was discouraged from getting a music degree----so, instead, I got an MSEE and and MBA and spent about 40 years working in hight tech. Now that I am nearing retirement, I want to pursue a Master of Arts in Music performance----oh yes, I have been taking music lessons all this time I have been in high tech and enjoying "pick-up" chamber groups as I find them (or they find me). I have been asked what do I want the MA for as I do not really intend to pursue performance as a professional nor do I neccessarily want to teach (although I have taught classes to graduate students in management). Not sure how I am going to respond to that question, but the study of music as a formal discipline is what I am looking for---the future will take care of itself !!
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:29 PM by David
"I mean this to be encouraging. It is an exciting frontier not because you will immediately have a high paying job upon graduation."  
 
So they get high paying jobs?  
 
Immediately upon graduation?  
 
Was English included in the subject  
matter you studied?  
 
 
I meant this previous comment to indicate that it was her comment, neglected the quotes.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:36 PM by hers1
I take issue with the statement that theory and related subjects don't help with performance. They enable me to understand the structure of the piece I'm playing. I attempt to show the listener this structure. I can tell when a performer doesn't know anything about the composition he or she is playing. This is especially vital in playing chamber-music. Instrumental skill is only part of what makes a musician.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:37 PM by Aaron Krosnick
Thank you for your thoughts! I was told during my audition at Moody Bible Institute that there will never be enough trained musicians to praise the Lord. I'm going for it! :)
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:38 PM by Josiah Kaniarz
Thanks for the encouragement. And so true.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:48 PM by namesarentimportant
I got a degree in Music Education and never taught or performed music as a career. But as an avocation, I couldn't be happier to have had the experience that a degree in music has given me. I just had my 70th birthday and I am retired from the daily work grind. But I still play viola in two symphonies and am an active folk fiddler in several groups. Skills learned in music theory have enabled me to improvise and to play with many different styles of musicians. I am so grateful for my musical education and playing music continues to nourish my soul, hopefully for a good long time!
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 8:57 PM by Lynnie
I would have loved to have gotten a music degree. I started viola in 10th grade and was good at it, but there was not enough time to get myself to the level needed to audition for a good school. I got dually certified to teach both English and music, but the band teacher always rubbed it in my face that it would never be like her music degree. I noe teach privately and have been for 13 years. One of my former students was accepted into the Peabody Institute for viola. Another won a $500 scholarship for violin and at least two of my students that I know if, teach students of their own. It has brought me so much joy. I think how much more I could have done had I been able to earn a music degree.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 9:50 PM by Vicki
Wow! reading this blog is interesting! The above mentioned Ron Rudkin graduated from ECU about the time I started. I was in the symphony with him. Anyway.. I have two degrees in Music, an undergrad and Masters. Honestly, in general I learned more about music once I left school than I ever did in school. I did well in school, but until I was able to apply what I "learned" in real life, I never really knew the stuff I was taught in college. It was like I learned it all over again and this time I really learned it. The best teacher I had in college was Dr. Rodney Schmidt at ECU who completely took me apart technically as a violinist and slowly and painstakingly put me back together. Even then, I didn't put things together really until long after graduate school. I quit playing for about a year.. burned out... then when I did pick the violin back up it felt like a foreign object (scary) and I reapproaced and reapplied myself to the violin utilizing the wonderful techniques that I had been taught by Rodney. Kinda like when you do a forced quit on your computer and let it sit for a while before you reboot it. Studying with him at ECU all those years made me the violinist I am now and I will never be able to thank him enough. However the other stuff.. I feel I learned more by applying myself than I ever did sitting in a classroom. I think the best education I got during my college years was the weekend late hours I spent putting myself through college singing and playing with the old guys in the big bands in the clubs. I learned so much from them.. practical stuff. Stuff I use to make a living. I learned to compose and arrange because I had to do it. Now with my best violin students, I try to teach in a practical way. I don't worry about getting through all the concertos or Bach unaccompanied (tho we do some of that).. but I do get my best students gigging professionally as soon as they are able.. sightreading, transposing, etc in all styles.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 9:59 PM by Dee Braxton-Pellegrino
... but I would like to add... I don't think my years spent getting my music degrees were worthless exercise. I made connections with other musicians who are lifetime friends and colleagues. Also I had professors who demanded a lot of me as far as being albe to communicate and express ideas in a clear and logical way. There are a lot of musicians out there who are wonderful but have a difficult time getting themselves and their ideas recognized. There's a lot more to being a successful musician than just being able to play your axe.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 10:09 PM by Dee Braxton-Pellegrino
I have a Master's in Music Performance, violin. 10 years and 2 kids later, I think it was a mistake. Not only am I limited to teaching privately, I do not have the time or energy to practice enough to keep in top playing shape. My time and energy goes to my family first. And because I am not in top playing shape, I will not get that orchestral job I once dreamed about. I do not regret having children or getting married, I regret my choice of major, since I am not using it, am still paying for it, and will never use it the way I once intended to. If I had majored in music education, I would now be able to teach during the day and be home with my children during after-school hours. Even better, if I had majored in something completely different and kept up the lessons, I'd be qualified for a wider variety of jobs and would probably be able to help pay off my student loans much sooner! My poor husband is working hard to pay my loans, while I do nothing with my degree! Being a stay-at-home mom is the best job in the world, but when they are in school full time, what will I do during the day in my field?? Nothing!!!
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 10:14 PM by ME!
I got my performance degree 32 years ago and it has helped me enormously but it was from an top tier school and the cost of an education has changed drastically. My advice is to go for it if you would be miserable doing anything else( as I would). Also you must be a very hard worker and a self starter. Be able to network and learn all you can about other aspects of the music business. You are going to have to sell yourself as a player. Learn about money and how to manage it. Stay out of debt as much as possible. Once you have your degree a low debt will allow you to continue to do the kinds of things that will lead to a successful career. I tell my student that they should major in music if the have 3 of the 4 following assets. 1) A rich uncle willing to support your habit 2) you are and EXTREMELY hard worker willing to make personal sacrifices to achieve your dream. 3) you have natural talent. People tell you that you are good and sincerely mean it. 4) you are a good business person and have a charisma that people find pleasant to be around. A professional musician friend of mine stays busy performing constantly because he dressed properly for the gig, practices the music, shows up on time, listens to the leader and is very likable BUT he is not the best player for the gig. Being versatile will help a lot as well. If you can play more than one instrument well, you will increase you odds of being gainfully employed. I hope that helps. Good luck and remember, The world needs great musicians and artist regardless of what the world tends to reward. At the end of the day you want to have a life well lived with a sense of purpose and meaning. I think of a young lady who got her law degree only to discover 10 years latter that she hated law. She went back to school and got a doctorate in music. She now plays in a symphony orchestra, teaches at a college and has a fulfilling life. Just my 2 cents
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 10:41 PM by kenneth Ozimek
I am a stay-at-home mom and have a suggestion for "ME!" How about bringing your kids home from school to homeschool them and use your music degree to begin teaching them lessons. I have two 15-year-old twin daughters who have just finished their high school courses and are currenty making the big decision about which degree to pursue, if any. Their main desire is to be stay-at-ome moms, but they are exceptionally talented on the violin, partly due to the practice time and opportunities afforded by homeschooling. They currently play in 2 orchestras and one symphony, and will begin playing for another symphony in the fall, each have several private students. Homeschooling has been the best choice we ever made. Teaching all 5 of the kids academics, music, and especially our values is something we couldn't have done nearly as effectively if they hadn't spent so many hours at home with us. So far, we have produced two very confident, capable young women. We're thinking now that if they can continue to teach more private students and succeed in professional symphonies, we'd be foolish to spend a ton of money on a couple of music degrees. I hope this has been some encouraging "food for thought," from one happy mama.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 10:59 PM by Denise
The idea that learning theory is effectively a way that music schools kill the ability of musicians to be performers is, quite simply, ludicrous. First and foremost, I'd like to know just what the commenter's experience in theory was. For most serious musicians, learning theory and piano are simply additional skills acquired to help get a broader perspective on music, and certainly for me they don't overwhelm my cello playing. Theory isn't really all that difficult either. It's simply a description of what normally happens in most music, which is why most musical individuals normally have no trouble learning its language. I also know very few professional performers who do not have basic to advanced piano skills. In addition, music school gives the opportunity to study history and conducting, the first of which gives a broader vision for what music is, and the second simply a very useful skill that helps you understand the other side of orchestral rehearsals. I know some musicians that have only taken private lessons and are trying to be musicians. They are, to be honest, very narrow-minded individuals with very poor ensemble technique and a preference for the flashy and superficial (typically being rather egotistical) rather than having any real musical depth.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 11:01 PM by Alexander
I earned a Bachelors in music performance, major in viola and minor in violin, in 1980. I did not put it to use until 2002 when I started teaching both privately at home and privately as a contractor with a music academy. Nothing that I did previously in my life is even a tenth as rewarding as teaching. The music degree certainly prepared me for teaching and playing, but learning is still taking place and becoming the best teacher I can be is still a work in progress and always will be. I am not getting rich monetarily, but I am getting rich in spirit. I love what I do and so I would not trade my music degree for anything. I suggest to my students who wish to pursue a career in music to look at things practically though, and to strongly consider a double major in music education if a performance degree is number one on their list. With an education degree they can always work in the school systems and have an income while waiting for that big performance break.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 11:02 PM by Steve
Also, if you want to put your family first and be a stay-at-home mother, that is a personal choice, but you have to accept the consequences for the choice. You are either participate in a highly competitive field, or you don't, and the degree has nothing to do with the issue. This question would really only apply to those who are actively involved, or who otherwise pursued another career in addition to it and music affected their lives personally. If you want a different career, you have to pursue that as well.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 11:07 PM by Alexander
I have a masters in cello and a teaching credential for strings--I teach Suzuki cello and orchestra classes at two schools and private lessons, and play in a second-tier professional symphony. I sort of make a living at it (my wife has the family health insurance) and love everything I do. I am sometimes fearful for my two kids, since I don't make very much money, but at least everyone can put up with me because I am usually in a good mood from my work.
Posted @ Wednesday, June 06, 2012 11:42 PM by Jonathan
Should one's vocation or status in life determine the value of music? If one is a stay at home mom (with a degree in music) does not the importance of music and a love for it still remain? Does one learn music simply to get a job? Do we study music at college to get a piece of paper which allows us to make more money or to get a better job? Of course this part is important, but is it the end? Or perhaps we pursue music for a chance to become world famous, but what then? I think we should aim higher than simply getting a degree to receive a job and a chance for public acclaim. Does not music point to something greater? Does it not give the one encountering it a glimpse of our Creator's Goodness, Beauty, and Truth? Does it not indeed allow us to transcend above the ordinary mundane life we live to something greater?  
I also believe it is really important for one to have a well rounded education in music. I do not believe we should become strictly a "musician" who knows nearly no theory but can play any advanced exercise or piece, nor should we become strictly a theorist who knows how the piece or instrument is constructed but do not know how to make it come alive. Both extremes in my mind can become fruitless and lifeless. I believe everyone should ask themselves these questions (and many more! as questions give life to learning!): Why is music important? Why should I pursue it? How can I communicate music with its great importance and beauty to others? As Socrates says, "The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being." 
Hope this makes some sense...forgive me if it doesn't. Just my 2 cents and some things to think about...
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 12:03 AM by Truth Seeker
I'm a BM Major in Cello Performance. I've always loved my music, but lately I've been fearing that I wont be able to support myself once I get out of college.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 2:45 AM by Casey
Thanks Alberta for sparking some thought about a valid question especially in today's economy. Imagine if a music education was free here, like it is in some countries? I wonder how that would change the perspective?  
 
About John's fluid comment about music theory, music is a universal language, anything that may help the understanding of that language is not the enemy. It can and does help to perform and improvise. I never thought it got in the way of that. I agree it can be tedious, but that's probably because of the teacher, and composers are or can be performers too. One is actually a natural outgrowth of the other. Back to Alberta - I agree we must fight for our art to succeed or even be active. It is more of a calling than a profession. If you want the degree for a job become a music ed major and take that path. That is probably more tangible today if there is such a thing or consider the business/production side of the profession or another profession altogether, doesn't mean you can't play music. Keep playing! If you really love music you will find a way to keep it active in your life even though you may not make a living from it. 
 
JP
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 5:29 AM by JP
I am not a music major, no degree of that kind, but I have enjoyed the previous comments and thoughts about pursuing what one loves, regardless of what it is. I have a Fine Arts degree, started doing successful freelance as well as steady work for Hallmark, but eventually got scared and anxious about the next job. I went into medicine and now practice part-time as a Physician Assistant... happily! I just took up the cello about a year ago and LOVE LOVE LOVE it! I play for my own enjoyment. I find it a nice balance to have a good paying job and the guts to pursue something I love during my free time.... Good luck to all the musicians and artists out there! I don't regret my art degree one little bit! It is a huge part of who I am and even what I do even though it is not being 'used' in the strictest sense of the word... Play on.....
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 5:52 AM by Hillary
To the stay at home mom with the MM in music. You can always take classes towards teacher certification. Then, when your children are in school, you can teach in the public schools. That way you have a job you enjoy, teaching a subject you love, with benefits and retirement. Education jobs are difficult to find right now, but hopefully that will change soon. Be prepared to teach general music as well as strings and you will be fine. I embarked on this path 15 years ago, after having taught privately for 20 years. Now, my kids are older and I have both a public school job and private students. For the most part, I am happy with what I do.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 5:56 AM by Jenny
Hayden spent most of his life as an indentured servant to the Esterhazys, Mozart, who was too independent and proud to fit into the prevailing model of the times for funded careers in music, struggled with finances, and Schubert was always too poor to be able to afford to get married. The mind boggles at the struggles that performing artists back then must have experienced, and the sorts of choices they had to make between survival and their love for music. Nevertheless, music managed to flourish back then in the most extraordinary way.  
 
Is it any different today for professional musicians? Other than the elite few that have established careers as soloists or with small chamber groups, musicians fortunate enough to establish careers in symphony orchestras or on music faculties of colleges and universities can lead comfortable lives and have satisfying musical careers, provided that they can be content to live within the narrow definitions of their job descriptions.  
 
So is it any different? If you replace "symphony orchestras" and "colleges and universities" by "the nobility" and "the church", not very much, perhaps, in terms of funded careers. This seems inevitable in the arts. There are probably a lot more opportunities today for independent performing artists to pursue their dreams and develop their talent, but the path is, I'm sure, often not a smooth or easily predictable one. In either case, I would think a degree in music performance would open doors to all sorts of opportunities for employment and continuing development. It takes courage and persistence to turn talent for and love of music into a lifelong career, but a degree in music performance will do a lot to establish and smooth out the path.  
 
I'm an amateur musician, and went into math instead of music. I often wonder what would have happened if I'd made a different choice when I was younger. Mathematicians are frequently asked why they made such an impractical career choice. The stock reply is "I didn't go into it because of the money." I guess the same can be said of music.  
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 6:03 AM by Rob
I'm sorry to say that classical music as taught in major schools is getting less viable each year. The audience is shrinking at a rate which cannot be sustained. Even in 1989, when I graduated from Juilliard with a cello performance degree, work was only available for the supremely well-connected, or those with parents able to bribe teachers and conductors. The attraction of classical music is so powerful that it enables us to ignore these realities. My plea for graduates is not to get drawn in, and to get into a different field, whether medicine, law, or a type of music which actually pays the bills, as soon as possible.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 7:35 AM by Richard
I was inspired by your blog comment and you can see that the response was tremendous. 
 
I am now at age 56 years. I was originally a woodwinds major, but after a successful audition, I quit school early to pursue music without a formal education. If there is a regret in my life, this is it. 
 
I later quit attempting to play music professionally and eventually settled into other jobs and another profession. I recently obtained my Master's of Public Health degree. Even though I like and feel blessed in my current occupation, I still wish I had completed a music degree. 
 
 
I no longer play woodwinds but five years ago took up the violin. I am loving learning how to play this instrument (and finding it very challenging!). I've also been singing for years with my church's music ministry--so even without the degree, making music has somehow remained in my life. I have wild ideas about maybe trying to get that performance degree, despite my advanced age, in violin--who knows? 
 
I would encourage anyone pursuing a music degree to stick with it and not worry so much about the outcome. It is very possible that you may not achieve full-time employment as a professional musician, but it will certainly enrich your life and you will probably end up doing something professionally that is somehow related. Also, a college degree is a college degree! Only 6% of the world's population has one.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 7:42 AM by Paul Riley
This is a really great topic and interesting comments! Thank you for writing it! 
 
Nine years after graduating with a masters in performance, I still can't find a job in any field, much less music. Cobbling together bits here and pieces there -- teaching, gigs, emergency subbing -- doesn't provide any security and doesn't even begin to pay the bills. If I wasn't married, I'd be on food stamps to feed my kids, it's that bad. 
 
I keep wondering what these HR people are talking about when they say a masters is valuable enough that it will get you a job in any field. If that is indeed true, I must be doing something really wrong.  
 
I followed my heart and went for the music degree. But as I've discovered, a college degree is NOT a college degree. And unfortunately, there is not a "follow your heart" clause for music students in their student loan master promissory note.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 8:13 AM by Julie
I've had this question on my mind ever since graduating with my Master's when my internship turned out to be a dud. Since then I've worked every job I could find and they were all crap, providing few benefits, bad paychecks, and no personal satisfaction. With my first baby due in July, after being laid off from the last stupid job, I'm excited to stay home with my baby girl and write music like I always wanted to. Performance opportunities are slowly expanding too, and that helps confirm what I knew all along... that this is what I need to be doing. I'm certainly not getting anywhere in the "real" job market, so why waste any more time there?
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 8:35 AM by Sarah
I think each musician is unique and so is the solution to each of their situations. I have a music performance degree in voice but have played violin at the college level as well as piano. I think that adaptability can be your best friend in the music field. I have taught private lessons, sang with local theatres and the local opera company. Be ready to play or sing or try something new. I have taught elementary music ed. in the classroom and have been an associate lecturer at the college level. If I believed what everyone said about having to have a Masters degree or a teaching degree(neither of which I have), I woudn't have done anything. I did not like music theory, but it does have great value. Anytime you can get educated in something you are doing whether it be from a single teacher or a school system can be very valuable. I have been doing these things for over 20 years now and am grateful for each experience given to me. Music truly is a universal language!
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 8:39 AM by Michelle
From reading all the blogs, I think that baasically we are saying that a college degree(s) are not necessarily a requirement to a sucessful career in the music field, but for some, persuing a degree can be rewarding and helpful. Like I said before, I have two degrees in Music. Early in my career when I was a public school orchestra teacher, they came in handy... but otherwise I have learned far more through simply doing the job of music. Now (at least here in eastern NC) they don't want you to have a degree or an advanced degree in music. They are hiring lateral entry (ie on experience vs. degree) because those teachers are cheaper. I couldn't get a job now because of my degrees and experience. They are actually trying to cull out all of the experienced and degreed music teachers in order to save $$. As a result, the string programs here are languishing and dying and not being revived. Also, you do not need a college degree to get a certification as a Suzuki teacher. We have Suzuki mothers who learned with their kids teaching here and getting the same thing or more.. that I make when I teach (the violinist with the two music degrees). You do not need a degree from a music school to be a sucessful musician or teacher. You just have to do it. I do not regret getting my degrees.. the funny thing is.. I really wanted to be a horse vet and my mother (a professional musician with two music degrees) forced me to go into music instead because she wasn't going to pay for me "to go to college to ride horses". My mother died in 1985 after making sure I got my graduate degree. However now, at the age of 58, not only am I a successful self-employed musician but I also raise  
 
American Shetland ponies.  
 
: ) 
 
I'm having my cake and eating it too!  
 
If you have the money.. get the degrees. If you don't.... just do it. And if you want to ride horses.. you'll get around to that sooner or later. Thanks mom.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 9:07 AM by Dee
From reading all the blogs, I think that baasically we are saying that a college degree(s) are not necessarily a requirement to a sucessful career in the music field, but for some, persuing a degree can be rewarding and helpful. Like I said before, I have two degrees in Music. Early in my career when I was a public school orchestra teacher, they came in handy... but otherwise I have learned far more through simply doing the job of music. Now (at least here in eastern NC) they don't want you to have a degree or an advanced degree in music. They are hiring lateral entry (ie on experience vs. degree) because those teachers are cheaper. I couldn't get a job now because of my degrees and experience. They are actually trying to cull out all of the experienced and degreed music teachers in order to save $$. As a result, the string programs here are languishing and dying and not being revived. Also, you do not need a college degree to get a certification as a Suzuki teacher. We have Suzuki mothers who learned with their kids teaching here and getting the same thing or more.. that I make when I teach (the violinist with the two music degrees). You do not need a degree from a music school to be a sucessful musician or teacher. You just have to do it. I do not regret getting my degrees.. the funny thing is.. I really wanted to be a horse vet and my mother (a professional musician with two music degrees) forced me to go into music instead because she wasn't going to pay for me "to go to college to ride horses". My mother died in 1985 after making sure I got my graduate degree. However now, at the age of 58, not only am I a successful self-employed musician but I also raise  
 
American Shetland ponies.  
 
: ) 
 
I'm having my cake and eating it too!  
 
If you have the money.. get the degrees. If you don't.... just do it. And if you want to ride horses.. you'll get around to that sooner or later. Thanks mom.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 9:08 AM by Dee
I have a bachelor's and master's degree in music performance, violin, from a small music school. While pursuing my master's degree, I worried constantly about how I would support myself when I finished school. Well, since then (2009), I have been consistently been employed at full-time jobs, with part-time work on the side -- all in the music field. Currently, I work in communications and public relations for an orchestra, am a regular freelance contributor to two national music magazines (where I was previously a full-time staff writer/editor), play in numerous regional orchestras, and teach a handful of private students. At one point, I was also a part-time host on a classical radio station. Without a doubt, my music degree helped me to earn each of these jobs -- but only because I was willing to be open-minded about what I could do with my degree. A degree can be a valuable stepping stone to a career, but like anything in life, it is what you make of it.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 9:16 AM by Meredith
I have had music in my life since I was 6 years old.I went to college and studied Business and Finance, but I always took a music class. I took piano lessons at one point. then I took up the cello. The years passed by but the constant desire to pursue more in music kept kneedling me. I could not ignore it, It actually made me feel unhappy, but I did not know at that time why I felt unhappy. 
 
I found out when I decided to act and take some music classes at a college. Long story short, I winded up auditing and PASSED the audition. WHAT A FEELING. PURE JOY. UNHAPPINESS GONE. I start my second year in the fall. I am usually the oldest one in the class, but who cares. I am doing some thing that I love.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 10:32 AM by Jennifer Philogene
Truth Seeker wrote a very beautiful comment. I don't know how things are now because I received my doctorate in 1991. At that time the curriculum at the graduate school level was not very good in terms how it prepared you for the real world of music. That was/is one problem. Another problem is the lack of work available to musicians. If every school offered instrumenta, computer and choral music the people with diplomas could easily find work. We have forgotten what the Greeks knew: music is a "core" subject, ("the harmony of the spheres")not an just an amusement. Modern science has figured out that the building blocks of matter are waves. Everything around us is music!
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 11:03 AM by Enrique Lasansky
This blog and the consequent responses really interest me. I have my Bachelor of Music in Violin Performance (1998) and have completed most of my Masters in Performance. 
 
 
 
While teaching private lessons is very much something I love to do, it is an inconsistent and unreliable source of income. I freelance and own and operate my own chamber music group which is a fulfilling way of continuing to perform and share music with others. However, it too is unreliable and inconsistent. Teaching in the schools is NOT my calling in life. 
 
 
 
I have one child and make my living without the support of a spouse or family endowment. I have been applying for jobs for over a year with a few interviews along the way wherein I am asked, in a very quizzical manner, repeatedly, "So how do you think your degree applies to this position?" I explain how it means I am very dedicated, detail-oriented, hard-working, able to multi-task and reliable...in which the typical response has again been: "So, how do you think your degree applies to this position?" 
 
 
 
It is extremely frustrating. These are jobs such as Administrative Assistant, Client Coordination, and Patent Infringement Research. Typically, the basic requirements listed are to have at least graduated from high school, college degree preferred. 
 
 
 
I am considering removing my degree from my resume. I do not think it is helping me. 
 
 
 
I advise my students to minor in music and obtain a degree in a field which they will be able to make a consistent and adequate living. 
 
 
 
The university I attended did not and still does not prepare music performance majors for the business aspects of their existence. You are on your own to figure out how to pay taxes on self-employment, market yourself, and keep financial records. Head shots, bios, and audition preparation is an afterthought and only covered with a select few whom the department has usually brought in from out of state or another country. 
 
 
 
I am currently receiving a certification in another field, but with the economy the way it is, I am still looking at being eligible for only entry level positions. 
 
 
 
If I had it to do over again, I would have minored in music and continued my pursuit of biology. 
 
 
 
Still struggling at almost 40 years old with a child to take care of is not what I really pictured as my life when I was practicing and studying so hard for my degree. 
 
 
 
Thanks anyway, as much as I love having the knowledge and the skills, it seems the music performance degree was a waste of my time, energy, and emotion and should have been done as an afterthought once I was established in a lucrative career.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 11:41 AM by Love Music
I have an MM from a conservatory, I studied with some of the best musicians and teachers in the world, and I went to the some of the finest summer training programs and festivals. Several thoughts… 
I am earning a living IN music along with my musician husband. We are raising our 3 kids and paying our bills. I love music, I love teaching, I love performing, but this is a VERY hard life. We each work 5 jobs and have very little time to try and balance our lives and enjoy this art that we make. After 20 years in the business, “loving what you do” and the other high art ideals are very hard to hold onto when you “fight” every day to make a living. The bank doesn’t care how much you “love your job”- they still want you to pay your mortgage in actual dollars. When I look at the number of orchestra colleagues who have DMA’s from prestigious conservatories, I like to joke that we are the most highly educated employees earning a part time wage disguised as a full time salary! 
The things you learn in ANY degree only become meaningful or practical once you actually use them in everyday life/work.  
As musicians we need to recognize that we have MANY extremely desirable “transferable skills” that ANY employer would welcome. We are self disciplined; self motivated; we are problem solvers; we know how to give and receive immediate feedback on our job performance; we work well in high pressure situations; we meet deadlines; we work well independently, in small groups or in large group settings; we are good promoters, book keepers, time managers; we are entrepreneurial and highly organized; we are creative and imaginative. We might need a little computer training or job specific training, but we are employable in other fields. 
To those women who have chosen music as a career. The fact is men can’t have babies. They are not the ones who carry the babies, birth the babies or nurse the babies. And, unlike men, we can’t decide at 50 to have a child. Even the most hands on and involved father can’t take a mother’s place. In the end, one person has to be the stable parent and someone still has to make decisions regarding the kids schedule, school, playdates, activities, etc. In my experience as a parent and teacher, most of the time it is the mom who ends up taking on this role -regardless of degree! We haven’t even touched on the cost of childcare which is extreme, since most musicians have irregular hours and irregular schedules. My advice, make sure you are in a job that you can see yourself in for the next 10 years BEFORE you start having kids.  
As musicians, we are privileged to be able to create something from blobs of ink on a page. We can express ourselves in a way few others can. In our lifetime, if we are lucky and prepare well enough, there are those incredible moments, that can’t be adequately described, that transport you and your audience. Making music is a gift that does not come without a hefty price, however. Working as a musician now is not the same as it was in the 70’s or 80’s. There are fewer jobs and the cost of everything is so much higher. Salaries for musicians have not kept up with the changing times.  
In the end I think I would still have chosen this life, but I wish I had been told what that choice would entail, and I wish that I had been given me the information I needed to make an informed decision.  
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 12:16 PM by Dana
I wish that I had considered music studies earlier in life!! 
 
 
 
Thanks for your help and patience with me!!
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 12:18 PM by Lloyd Roby
What a healthy discussion, with such interesting and helpful comments from everyone! I saw this great quote on a car bumper sticker awhile ago,(but I can't remember which comes first : ) "Do what you love. Love what you do."
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 2:51 PM by Carol
I earned two degrees in music, but most of my employed life has not been in the music field. However, I don't regret studying music. EVERYTHING I know about how to work I learned practicing piano; and everyhing I know about how to work with people I learned singing in groups and directing groups. What I do, I do well; and I 'play' well with others. I don't regret studying music at all.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 4:03 PM by Cindy
Me and my wife are both professionals with advanced degrees. When my son told us he wanted to obtain a degree in Music Education, we had the "how are you going to make a living" conversation. He knows his standard of living will likely not be the same when he is on his own as it is now. Nonetheless we are happy and supportive of his decision to pursue his passion. More importantly, he is happy. How many of us can unequivocally say they love what they do for a living? I envy his desire, passion and love for music. If success is only measured by the size on one's bank account, how many of us are truly successful? He recently gave me a CD of several pieces he recorded for my birthday and I can't describe how much joy listening to this everyday brings to my life. Life down the road may be a struggle for him, but I won't be the one to tell him how he is to pursue his dream. "The only measure of success is the amount of joy we are feeling" - Abraham Hicks
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 4:44 PM by WRS
I like how Alberta's blog post describes the balance between the practical realism and the ultimate passionate intent of a musical career. Her succinctness, thoroughness, and accuracy in addressing the details of both points is satisfying. For someone who keeps ineffectually toying with the idea of getting more serious about musical pursuits, reading this plus the input from all of the good comments about musical lives compiled on a single page provides a good de-couching impetus... 
 
 
 
I wanted to write a criticism of the long negative rant at the top, but having read through the responses, I'm just happy it was posted. It served as a good reason for a lot of people to say a lot of coherent things. 
 
 
 
There is one factor that I don't think has been mentioned. Not having relied on music for income, I feel some other tensions. I feel guilt for the luxury of the art, in addition to the guilt for having ignored it. It feels frivolous to work so diligently on something that can be seen as purely a source of pleasure. Not that I think this is the case. Maybe that's just because I'm concerned about being spoiled generally. At the same time, music feels like the most import thing to be doing, and to not be engaged in it is like ignoring myself or ignoring who I am.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 6:23 PM by B
If it were easy everyone would do it. Of course it will be tough to both get an education in music and maybe even tougher to make a living at it. But, that is a challenge for any profession. I have worked as a railroad engineer (furloughed in 1980 for 5 long years) and currently as a professor and scientist in a medical school (due to returning to school during the furlough and following my dream to go into biology). I am happy in my current job, but need more than science, grants, committees etc. I've played piano for 45 years, guitar now for 4 and love it for what it gives me, peace of mind and the ability to express myself. It is hard some days, but so is getting grants rejected over and over, and papers rejected from journals that have published much worse. When our daughter decided that she wanted an education in music, after 8 years of playing violin and cello in grade and high school, I was happy for her. Yes it will be tough, but it is what will make her happy. I have good days in the lab and am 'happy' in my job, and have always tried to make science fun and have always wanted the same for her. She also likes psychology and has thought about music therapy and teaching. Should I force her to do something she won't like, only because the job market may be better there? That usually proves futile and the person is never truly happy in their job. We don't know what the future brings, but know that she should follow her head and heart and be happy in her life. If she chooses later to do something else, then we'll support that as well. No one says you have to keep doing the same old thing over and over, especially if you find something better to take its place. I like to think of some of the older star treks (I think that this is where it came from....maybe ancient greek scholars as well...) but the thought was that above all else, the arts were the purist and noblest things in life that we should aspire to. To create dreams and ideas that make us and others happy and think of better things than war or disease or global warming. Hopefully, there will always be kids who will strive to achieve this level in life. And adults who keep trying to move on to that level as well and understand the need.
Posted @ Thursday, June 07, 2012 9:41 PM by Dr C
pls. read this
Posted @ Friday, June 08, 2012 5:58 PM by janice
Well said! Thank you for posting!
Posted @ Saturday, June 09, 2012 6:44 PM by Michelle
I think what John was saying, albeit not how I would have said it, was theory without practical application is useless. And as many of you pointed out, universities are not teaching practical application. I agree with him and others than a music degree is not required to become a skilled and well-rounded musician. The current system exaggerates the divide between the haves and the have nots. The rich can go into music without fear of economic failure. Also the rich can buy a better degree than the poor. $35k tuition at Juilliard, Mannes, Manhattan. Who can pay back $200k for an undergrad (including living expenses)? Certainly not a middle or lower class family or a musician. Also with every state school and college offering a Bachelors of Music, it's causing a type of degree inflation where you need a a Doctoral degree just to separate yourself from the pack. And that will be the next step that everyone will just get a PHD. What I see in the music world today scares me. Some examples: Rich Koreans and Chinese girls that could care less about music sent to conservatory for finishing school to make them more attractive wives. Rich snobby Americans that are buying an interesting life of lesure, taking gigs away from poor musicians who can barely get by. The music schools are so hard up for money they will take an untalented student who can pay full tuition over a talented one they have to give scholarship to. Rampent nepotism and cronyism: perfect example Alisa Weilerstein winning every grant imaginable when there are musicians that are more deserving and actually need those grants. Rampant sex scandals in music schools. Orchestras paying millions to CEOs and cheating the musicians. It's sick, and we the musicians are to blame for standing idly by while all of this happens. We should go back to the master & apprentice days. Music doesn't belong in the university, at least not in it's current form.
Posted @ Sunday, June 10, 2012 7:04 PM by Dina
interesting article
Posted @ Monday, June 11, 2012 9:04 PM by Deb
Wow, there are a lot of differing opinions here. First, I loved the article Alberta, and I think it was well written.  
 
Those who disagree are allowed their opinions, but perhaps don't know how difficult it can be to keep a blog interesting and up to date while working several full time jobs. 
 
Chosing to major in music was one of the stupedist and best things I've ever done. 
 
Stupid because I'm working four jobs in my field, and can barely pay rent and my loans. Stupid also because I will never be "the best."  
 
But it was one of the bravest and best decisions of my life because I decided to spend my life pursuing what I love, what occurs naturally in me, and refining it. I don't know that I made the smartest choice, but I made the only choice that would make me happy. 
 
Majoring in music isn't for everybody; some people regret having majored in music, and others just wouldn't like it. But then again, being a doctor isn't for everybody, nor is being a writter, or a public speaker. I apperciate that Alberta is encouraging those who love music so much that they want to dedicate their lives to it, to do just that. Dedicate their study and engery towawrds what makes them the happiest. Thank you for your heart-felt post Alberta.
Posted @ Saturday, June 16, 2012 7:57 PM by Susan
Thanks to all who have taken the time to contribute to this subject. As a mother of three, I have always loved and tried to keep music in my life. My husband and I have enrolled our kids in music lessons for all the well-known reasons. I'm sad that my oldest is minimizing the amount of time she spends with her instrument, though she plays beautifully. We struggle to keep our 2nd child playing as she would rather spend time playing with a ball (she also plays beautifully). And my youngest is playing beautifully as a result of all the music that she's exposed to in our home. We've had MANY different music teachers, but neither my husband nor I can really call ourselves "musicians." I often dream of my kids having a happy and fulfilling life by possibly choosing music as a major or a career. Reading all these opinions is very helpful in keeping a balanced perspective in whatever results from their music education.
Posted @ Monday, June 18, 2012 9:45 AM by Loves Mountains
Music involves the body, mind, emotions, and soul in a uniquely holistic way. If your mind is open, anything you learn about it will help your musicianship.  
 
I would like to challenge John from June 6 to prove any of his sweeping claims. He reminds me of an old acquaintance, a jazz musician, who claimed that classical musicians are not musicians because the can't improvise. Are orchestral string players "failed" soloists? Only if they think so. 
 
I know "academics" who are also amazing performers and composers. I know untutored musicians who are also amazing--but limited by their narrow knowledge. I know people who are passionately interested in theories of music, just as some scientists become more passionate about theoretical physics than practical engineering. And they contribute. Where would the period instrument movement be without the work of scholars? 
 
Music performance, composition, and theory have been inexorably linked since music became a distinct discipline. You'll find theoretical treatises from the European middle ages, but also from China, India, and Arabia. And these aren't just speculative nonsense. When Zarlino and Galilei were figuring out triads and why parallel fifths were not useful back in the 1500s, they influenced compositions for the next five centuries. 
 
If you find learning the piano useless, I feel sorry for your poor pianist who performs a Brahms sonata with you, and you have no idea how their part is put together relative to your own. 
 
I am a cellist and a composer. Some of my greatest lessons in music making have come from singing in choirs. All those "useless" theory skills come to life when the awesome score of a Bach Cantata or Mendelssohn Oratorio is there in front of you. It's too bad that orchestral players can't enjoy that same experience by playing from a score. But of course then you have to be able to transpose and read four different clefs--more "useless" knowledge. Can you imagine a conductor without that depth of knowledge? 
 
Finally, your comment about notation reveals your naiveté. Yes, computers can do a lot of the work nowadays, but unless you really know the art of notation, computers will not prevent you from creating poor and unclear notation. I face it all the time. 
 
In short, I pity the attitude your comments reveal. A music degree is surely not for everyone. But for many, it is worthwhile; and for many who are engaged in teaching and even administration, the work is invigorating and essential. 
 
So John, you may be satisfied that Theory 101 and cursory knowledge of a related instrument is sufficient to become the violist and musician you want to be. But don't foist your limitations on the rest of us.
Posted @ Monday, June 25, 2012 5:55 PM by arnold
To arnold, 
Obviously your mind is closed and you are in a reactive attack mode, as I never said that you didn't need to know the score. Go back and read what I wrote again. What does knowing the score (the music, phrasing, character, composers markings about HOW to play the piece) have to do with knowing chordal analysis and all the extra things theorists insist you need to know. Do they teach you those things in a way you can practically apply to your performance? In my experiences the answer has mostly been no. What I was getting at is that a college education in music is overbalanced toward theory and the mental side of music in a way that doesn't show you how to use it practically. I do think that musicians should be able to improvise. I can't improvise jazz but I can improvise in the Baroque, Classical, Romantic, Modern, Post-modern styles (bc that's what I play obviously). Go listen to Paul Neubauer and Fred Sherry improv on youtube. A friend of mine did all Paul's theory homework in college and look where he got without it. I know the scores to the Brahms sonatas well and it's from listening and reading the piano score, not from examining every chord out of context. Don't get me wrong, if you want to be an arranger of music those skills are invaluable but let's not pretend that they help in the moment of performance. & I didn't mean the computer's notation ability I meant the random crap most composers are calling music today shows they don't have any idea what music is; they may know theory really well but when bow meets string it's crap. In 50 years we'll have the gold left over but its buried in a sea of crap now. Hopefully your washed away with the sea. And the administrations are for sure the problem and will continue to be. Sad so many of us blindly defend the broken mess we partook in just to reassure ourselves we made the right decision.
Posted @ Tuesday, June 26, 2012 9:34 AM by John
John, 
Perhaps I allowed by annoyance at your nasty generalizations come through too much in my previous writing. But I can agree with some of your response. Of course theory must be taught in a way that connects it to music-making. Dry figured bass exercises and analyzing isolated chords are, of course, useless abstractions by themselves. Your theory teachers obviously did not bridge the gap between rudimentary understanding and real music.  
 
But I can't imagine interpreting a Bach suite or a Brahms sonata well without having an understanding of its harmony and form. That's hardly extra, that's the whole underpinning of the music. Ask any organist who improvises in classical styles as part of his living. 
 
I have heard Paul Neubauer improvise--as an encore to his performance of the Bartok concerto with an orchestra I played with several years ago. It was okay, rather nice in fact, but doesn't hold a candle to Eugene Friesen or Eric Friedlander. And obviously Stephan Grappelli's time at the Paris Conservatoire did not cramp his style in the least. There's a Harvard pianist and theorist named Robert Levin who improvises all of his cadenzas to classical concertos, and they are incredible. 
 
As for the 'sea of crap', I'm quite confident that every generation produces far more bad music than good, and that much (but not all) of the good music survives.  
 
So we can agree to disagree, more civilly I hope. By the way, listen to some recordings by the pianist Edward Aldwell. Full of passion and intelligence. He was a masterful theorist and performer. The two can support one another, and should. 
 
Finally, to get back to the actual subject of this blog, I'll reiterate, majoring in music is not for everyone. Music schools would be much more honest by taking many fewer students, and giving them more holistic training, including some business. Especially in our fast-changing world, we all need every tool possible to succeed, no matter what our calling is. I think we can all agree with that.
Posted @ Tuesday, June 26, 2012 8:19 PM by arnold
Wow... what a great article... I have been teaching for almost 38 years, and performing professionaly longer than that... I will retire after one more year with more memories, and joys than there is enough space here to write.... While in college, I changed my music major three times finishing with a Music Ed. degree.... and eventually my MA in music.... my life has been rewarding both on stage and in the classroom MORE than money from any high-paying job could have ever given.... to you young, and newly graduated, or soon to be.... develop your musical craft, teach, perform... share! :-) ~bill~
Posted @ Friday, June 29, 2012 9:33 AM by ~bill~
If all goes according to plan, I will be graduating with a degree in piano performance from a private liberal arts college in the spring. I decided on general/performance rather than education because, quite simply, I want the freedom to do whatever I want. Work in churches. Accompany choirs. Teach in my home as a stay-at-home mom. Play with orchestral and jazz groups. Play for weddings and the like. Record for feature films. Play on Broadway. Who knows?! (I just plan on staying out of the public school system if at all possible!) Plus, with a liberal arts degree, I have gotten a top-notch education that also happens to be very well-rounded. I feel that I have been prepared for a lifetime of playing, service, worship, and meeting all kinds of people. Playing the piano and experiencing music in a personal way is what I truly love - I honestly do not love teaching, although I understand the necessity of teaching and will gladly pass on my knowledge and heart to others. If I choose, I could go on to get a higher degree - and nowadays, countless music schools won't accept you to their programs without a performance degree. I have been trained generally in music and will remind my family to remind me in 10 or 20 years why I got this degree in the first place :)
Posted @ Sunday, July 15, 2012 9:18 PM by Erin
My oh my, this article prompted a huge response. So, for someone who has got the time to read further, I'll post my two cents. 
 
I have Bachelor's and Master's degrees in viola performance from a large Midwestern university. 
 
From 1976, when I successfully auditioned for my first paid music gig until 1995 when I left the Midwest and returned to California, I was on and off a freelancer (also bottle washer, waiter, cook, cab driver, sales clerk, printer's assistant, and many other odd jobs). During that time I also managed to earn those degrees and get a music teaching credential. In 1982 a university string quartet in which I was the violist played at a upscale residential club and were hired on the spot to play Sunday brunches. That one three-hours-a-week job was enough for my rent and utilities and we (the first violinist and I) kept that job for something like 6 or 7 years through several 2nd fiddle and cello personnel changes. 
 
By 1987 I was the principal violist in 4 union-pay orchestras, all part-time, of course. But I was having fun and making a small living and not teaching at all. 
 
But, for some reasons, including the lack of funds, I inquired about getting my teaching credential and, because of all my music background, went into music teaching instead of English, which is what I thought I wanted. It took me 5 quarters to do it and I landed my first school orchestra job with a differential of about $3,000 a year simply because I had a master's degree! And, every teaching job since, I have received a similar differential boost because I have that degree. Worth it? Heck, yes. I am in my 20th year as a school music teacher. That has been at least $60,000 in extra income over the years including the current school year. 
 
From the time my quartet got the weekly job back in 1982 till now, working with high school string orchestras and choirs, I have used the music theory I learned as a performance major to arrange hundreds of tunes for my quartet(s) and my students. I love doing that. My favorite music is that of Bach and he didn't write any string quartets. But he constantly re-worked his music to suit the needs of the current employer (all his music was written on salary!) and so I have also done with his stuff. I have a file drawer full of my arrangements of Bach and others, gig-tested and fun to play. 
 
I audited a jazz improvisation class at a HS where I taught and learned the fundamentals of how that works - from a master alto saxophonist - and so I can play a little jazz. 
 
If I could do it all over again, I would just go search out more opportunities to play and improvise in jazz, fiddle, and other, more popular styles. 
 
As a result of my work, I have traveled all over the Midwest playing operas, have played in orchestras in foreign cities (New Delhi, India and Shanghai, China), conducted student orchestras in those same places as well as in the state of Washington. 
 
I wouldn't trade my life with anyone. But I have been lucky and I worked hard: earning that teaching credential, I was up at 6:00 AM to get to school to practice horn and clarinet for a half hour each before the first classes. The 20-somethings weren't there at that time of day. . . I was motivated and that's made a difference, I think. 
 
Posted @ Monday, June 03, 2013 6:49 AM by Reid B.
I have a BM in Piano Performance and also play the organ. I've taught music and played for churches for 25 years. Although I am a good sight reader and have a lot of experience and connections, it's been a hard road. I don't recommend this path to people unless they can't see themselves doing anything else. I write music and play several other instruments--have a house full of music, records, instruments... played at lots of venues like parties, restaurants, you name it. It's been my whole life, beautiful but very challenging. You can have this ability and amazing life but you really pay the price for it.
Posted @ Monday, August 05, 2013 8:40 PM by music nerd
All people need to study. Only with the advent of education can people gain knowledge and enlarge their view over the world..
Posted @ Tuesday, August 13, 2013 1:57 AM by pmp exam prep
I really enjoyed reading your article here, thanks for sharing this page, I will definitely share this article to my friends out there.
Posted @ Wednesday, August 14, 2013 10:53 PM by pmp practice test
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