Should I get a music degree?

If someone asks, “Should I get a Music Degree?”, about 95% of the time I will say “No.”

The 5% of the ones I would say yes to are those obsessed with music, want to do nothing but it, and most specifically those seeking a job in academia.

About myself-My degree is in Chemistry, not music.  I’ve never had anyone ask me what my degree is for a job, but then again I don’t apply for teaching jobs at colleges.  Nor am I trying to get on with a big orchestra.  I’m certainly at a disadvantage for not having a degree if I wanted to do very specific things.

My advice to most musicians is the following:

1)Hire the best musician you can find that teaches and learn everything you can from them, an apprenticeship if you will.  When you’ve spent awhile doing that you might want to move on to another person and learn some more.  I’ve had a number of teachers.

2)Go out and play gigs in a variety of styles of music.  This is networking and this is socializing.  This will force you to work on your people skills.  Trust me I used to never like to be sociable at gigs and speak to everyone; however, when the audience comes up afterwards you better learn how to be congenial and communicative.  It took me years to get there I’m afraid.

3)Learn non-music skills such as marketing, advertising, some basic graphic and website design.  You don’t need years of knowledge in these things just some basics.

4)Learn Music Technology-Get a Recording software, learn how to record yourself, basic mixing

5)Learn Video editing-Imovie or another simple setup is ok.  This way you can put videos of yourself playing music online.  This is part of marketing and advertising.  Don’t live your life in obscurity.

6)Hit the books! Get some harmony books, composition books, learn all that you can.  It’s better to have the knowledge and not use it than be confined to a few chords and positions on an instrument.  The more you know, the more freedom you have on the fingerboard.

7)TRANSCRIBE-This is the big one, you have to learn the vocabulary of the language.  Spend a lot of time with recordings, training your ears, learning licks, chord progressions, phrasing, other people’s solos.

8)Work on your sight reading-it may seem irrelevant in your style of music and you may not need it every day.  However, I will say it’s a skill that can come in handy when working with popular music on gigs.  Sight Read Rhythms above all.

A college degree is expensive and music is one of those things you don’t necessarily need a degree for, depends on what you want to do.  As seen above, there is so much one can do without a degree in music in their spare time.  If you do choose to go for a music degree due to professional reasons, I would say hunt around for a school that has produced some serious players.  Unfortunately lots of schools are putting out musicians that lack the proper skills to succeed in many environments.  However, it is up to you alone to make sure you get the proper education and training and not some curriculum.

 

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Jody Hughes Written by:

I am a full-time banjo and acoustic guitar teacher, performer and composer. I have performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry and The Ryman Auditorium. My interests include developing educational materials for the advancing banjoist and composing Original Music mixing my background in Bluegrass, Jazz, Classical and Latin Music.

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