Ask The Insider, Music Advice Column, Music Blog

What is required of music majors in college? I'm considering a music performance major as a career, but I'm not sure at this point. Signed, Mikey.

Remember that we still learn to perform music the old-fashioned way. One-on-one we sit with a great teacher and learn the craft. Find a teacher who is qualified, not just convenient. Sometimes that means traveling a good distance. Then soak it in like a sponge just like Luke Skywalker did with YODA! Are you thirsty to learn?

I met a lot of frustrated musicians in music school. Most of them weren't prepared to enter college in music. They didn't have a clue what is required of a music major. So you are asking good questions, Mikey. Keep asking those questions, and you'll make good decisions, and you'll go far in whatever career you choose.

If you are considering becoming a music major, you need to know some basic facts. The following five disciplines are required of every music major (unless, of course, you attend Podunk U where there is no commitment to quality in education). The five disciplines to get a grip on now are:

  1. Music Theory: required of all music majors. Minimum four years of theory are required even for a Bachelor of Ed. in Music. If you haven't had much theory, get ready for your fill of it. Theory is different from some aspects of music (for example, style and interpretation) in that theory has black or white answers with little gray areas for discussion. Theory is the MATH of music, and it is either right or wrong. Many talented folks flunk out of college because they can't or won't pass the theory requirement. This is avoidable by enrolling in theory courses (like the ones we offer at Living Water Music) while you are yet in high school, or preferably, even younger. When I got to St. Olaf I tested out of most of the theory requirements because I was prepared when I got there. The results? I was TEACHING theory and keyboard at St. Olaf my freshman year! You can too, if you prepare well beforehand.
  2. Singing: required of all music majors. Surprise, Surprise! No, you won't have to sing a recital (unless voice is your major or cognate field), but you will have to be able to sing a melody at sight that you have never seen before without touching an instrument. You'll have to do this in class in front of your classmates, and in tests with your teacher or assistant teacher. You will not NOT be graded on your tone production, but you WILL be graded on singing the correct pitches, intervals, rhythms, basic intonations and melodies ~ some of which are surprisingly complex. Sight singing is a required part (lab) in every quality music curriculum.
  3. Piano: Important! All music majors, regardless of their major or their principle instrument are required to pass what is called piano proficiency, which is a certain level of competency on the keyboard. Specific requirements vary from school to school, but take my word for it, if you haven't had a piano lesson before you go to college, you will be wasting hour after hour in the practice room learning keyboard fundamentals, and you'll wish you had that time for other classwork, extra curriculars, or free time for your own sanity. Why not get prepared BEFORE you go? I have taught piano classes at St. Olaf College, Indiana University, and Louisiana State University, so I do know a bit about piano proficiency requirements. Drop a line if you need help or want to register for a piano class if you live in Northern Minnesota or Wisconsin.
  4. Live Performances/Memorized Music: I'll never forget at Indiana University when a doctoral student lost her place in a major Bach work and tried repeatedly to jump start it. She forgot to bring her music to the recital as a back-up, so she couldn't even finish the piece. She stormed off the stage leaving her audience in limbo, and I heard she never did graduate. Sad. I inherit students from other teachers all the time, and I'm alarmed at how many of these students have never memorized a piece of music. They are in for a rude awakening in college, where memory is required in recitals, especially for vocalists and pianists. Some teachers never have their students play in public, and this is another requirement of any performance major. The better schools usually require at least a half recital by memory even if your major is not performance. So get busy now performing in public by memory. The faculty and graduate students at Indiana University were so impressed by my ability to memorize the most complex (and extremely dissonant) 20th century music, that they hired me to teach a course on memorization. Anyone can learn to memorize with my five-point system. Interested? Write me at contact the insider. You can have my memorization system for just $9.95 which includes C.O.D. shipping and handling. Simply request "Music Memorization in 5 Easy Steps", offer #300. C.O.D.'s only, please, or order online from our catalog. Concerning public performance, my students (I have 170 currently) are all encouraged (not forced) to do so, and most think it is fun. My students have appeared at virtually every festival and venue of stature in Northern Minnesota ~ Including Hibbing's Jubilee, Virginia's Land of the Loon, Ely's Blueberry Arts, Tower's Wild Rice Festival, Grand Rapids Judy Garland, Ironworld U.S.A., area schools and colleges and the DECC. By PARTICIPATING, students always learn more.
  5. Heavy Course Load: To the uninitiated, it might seem like music curriculum could be a cakewalk. Unfortunately, unless you attend a small community college program where little is offered in the music department, you will find the coursework to range from heavy to downright impossible. I roomed with a pre-med student as an undergraduate at St. Olaf, and I know my course-load was heavier than his, mainly because, in music, you put in comparable hours to earn 3 credits in another major but it earns you just a third or half of one credit in music. The labs are time-consuming, tedious, and you can expect to receive little reward for your intense labor, other than the pride in your work and (hopefully) a nice GPA. It seems the music faculties do this on purpose to weed out those less-industrious, less-disciplined characters from the rank and file.

If you want to excel in music school, then expect to pay your dues big time. Please don't take it as boasting, but just the facts ~ I had a graduate school GPA of 3.98. That does not come about by sitting on the sidelines and watching the world go by.

Trust me, there are a lot of hoops to jump through. But all through the journey, and definitely after you're completed the journey, with all the struggles and difficulties inherent in this field, it's all worthwhile. You must first decide that you love music enough to do whatever it takes to succeed. That's not lip service. Take it from one who has been there, who has tread those long and lonely paths. Is it possible to be successful in music? Without a doubt! But you need to be prepared to work hard and never give up.

The author is pleased to relate that, having worked full-time in the music field for over 26 years, he now DONATES more to worthwhile causes each year than the average American MAKES in four years. If I can do it, you can do it. So yes, you can be very successful in this field, and you can use that success to help others, to influence this world in a positive way, and really make a difference. If you're so inclined, I could help you get there, too.

Visitors: to explore any of this information further, please utilize the contact form, and I will reply to all legitimate queries. Thanks, and best wishes!

The Insider


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