Should I get a music degree?

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

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

To get a music degree or not?

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.  I’m also not trying to get on with a big orchestra.  I’m certainly at a disadvantage for not having a degree if I wanted to do these very specific things.

What is my advice to most musicians?

1)Hire the best musician you can that teaches and learn everything you can from them, an apprenticeship if you will.  When you’ve spent awhile doing that, you may want to move on to another teacher and learn more.  I’ve had a number of teachers.  I’ve had instrument teachers, singing teachers, improv instructors as well as a composition teacher.

2)Go out and play gigs in a variety of styles of music.  This is networking and socializing.  This forces you to work on your people skills.  Trust me, I used to never enjoy being sociable at gigs and speaking 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.  Lots of great musicians sit around practicing all day and shelter themselves from normal people interaction; I don’t think this is good for their career.

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 basics.  If you are going to make it as a musician you should be more well rounded.  Learn to treat your music like a business and the more successful you’ll become.

4)Learn Music Technology-Get Recording software, learn how to record yourself, and basic mixing.  Nowadays you can get a mic and Logic Pro pretty cheap.

5)Learn video editing-Imovie or another simple setup is good.  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.  It doesn’t matter how awesome your music is if nobody gets to hear it.  You need an audience.

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 with your instrument.  Never settle and stop learning.

7)TRANSCRIBE-This is the big one.  You must learn the vocabulary of the specific genres you’re interested in.  Spend lots of time with recordings, train your ears, learn licks, chord progressions, phrasing, and other people’s solos.  I believe it was Wynton Marsalis that said, “It’s no one’s fault but your own if you don’t learn with all the recordings out there.”  It is your library of ideas and material.

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.  It’s also a skill that comes in handy when you want to learn stuff like Popular music and classical music.

A college degree is expensive and music is one of those things you don’t necessarily need a degree for.  It depends on what you want to do.

As seen above, there’s so much one can do in their spare time without a music degree.  If you do choose to go for a music degree due to professional reasons, hunt around for a school that has produced some serious players. Choose an environment that helps you grow and motivates you.

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.  You can literally take yourself to school these days.

As always, please visit my front page and sign up for my email list.  I’ll notify you when my youtube and blog is updated.

Jody Written by:

Professional Musician of 27 years. I've played Banjo and Acoustic Guitar on the stages of Carnegie Hall, The Grand Ole Opry, and The Ryman Auditorium. I've also played in six different countries.

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