Majoring in Music: Is It Worth It?

Dr. David Lee FishGENERAL

‍From the passionate performances of an orchestra to the soulful tunes of a jazz band, music is a universal language that connects us all. But for some, this connection goes beyond simply enjoying the music. It becomes a calling, a profession, a life. If you find yourself drawn to the harmonious world of music, you might be considering a degree in music. But is it worth it?

The Road to a Music Degree: No Easy Strum

Contrary to popular belief, pursuing a music degree is no walk in the park. It demands not only talent but also a deep commitment and rigorous training.

Eugene Uman, the executive and artistic director of the Vermont Jazz Center, cautions prospective music students about the demands of this degree. He explains, “If you’re going to get a music degree, you’re also going to have to practice your instrument – no matter what – and that requires hours and hours a day on top of your academic requirements.”

Indeed, a music degree is more than just jamming sessions and spontaneous gigs. It requires discipline, passion, and a significant investment of time and effort.

Choosing a Music Degree: A Symphony of Considerations

Before deciding to major in music, it’s crucial to evaluate your aspirations and potential in this field. Mark Clodfelter, interim director of the University of Delaware School of Music, emphasizes that success in music goes beyond natural talent.

“A good ear and a knack for producing lovely sounds are not sufficient to become a successful professional musician,” Clodfelter explains. “The person well suited to pursue a career in music will be one that can embrace the grind of incremental, systematic improvement for the sake of their passion.”

It’s also worth noting that a music degree doesn’t guarantee a high-paying job. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median hourly wage among U.S. instrumentalists and singers in May 2020 was $31.40. The bureau also highlights the stress of finding paid gigs as one downside of being a musician, with competition being fierce within this field.

While a music degree can bolster your credibility and potentially make it easier to secure auditions, it’s not a mandatory requirement for all roles within the music industry.

The Sound of Success: Career Prospects with a Music Degree

A music degree can open the door to a wide array of career opportunities. Here are some examples of music-related occupations, many of which require a specialized credential:

  1. Music agent
  2. Music educator or teacher
  3. Music historian
  4. Music composer
  5. Music performer
  6. Music producer
  7. Music promoter
  8. Music scholar or researcher/musicologist
  9. Music therapist
  10. Music theorist
  11. Songwriter
  12. Sound engineer

Your career choice will largely depend on your musical interests and professional goals. Whether you aspire to compose original scores for Broadway shows or become a successful music promoter, your music degree can be an instrumental stepping stone on your journey to success.

The Different Notes of Music Education: Types of Music Schools and Programs

Music degrees can be earned at either performance-focused conservatories or general colleges and universities. Both types of institutions have their unique advantages and considerations.

Performance-focused conservatories provide intensive training for individuals determined to become musicians. These institutions place a strong emphasis on honing your music and performance skills, making them ideal for those who wish to concentrate on preparing for their dream jobs.

On the other hand, general colleges and universities offer a more balanced curriculum, supplementing your music lessons with courses in other areas. This approach provides more flexibility, allowing you to switch concentrations if you decide music isn’t the right course of study for you.

No matter where you choose to study, you’ll likely need to audition or submit a portfolio of your work to demonstrate your talent. However, talent alone usually isn’t enough. Top-tier music programs also evaluate candidates based on their ability to read music and their receptiveness to critical feedback.

The High Notes and Low Notes: The Challenges and Rewards of a Music Degree

While pursuing a music degree can be demanding, it can also be incredibly rewarding for those truly passionate about music. Deanna Witkowski, a pianist, composer, arranger, and scholar, emphasizes that a career in music is a calling for most professional musicians.

An undergraduate degree in music doesn’t necessarily require you to pursue a career as a musical performer. Brandon Elliott, a music professor, notes, “What we get our degree in does not have to directly translate into what we call our profession for the rest of our lives.”

However, if you’re considering a graduate degree in music, it’s crucial to seriously consider whether you want to make music the focus of your career.

The Symphony of Skills: What You’ll Learn as a Music Major

As a music major, your curriculum will be diverse and challenging. Beyond learning to play an instrument or mastering your vocals, you’ll study music theory, music history, and aural skills. You’ll also work on expanding your keyboard proficiency and take classes to help you succeed as a performer.

Additionally, you’ll learn to communicate effectively, use criticism constructively, and prevent repetitive motion injuries. This comprehensive training prepares you for a wide range of careers in the music industry and beyond.

The Encore: Career Opportunities Post Music Degree

A degree in music can open up a wide array of career opportunities. Some music graduates find work as sound engineers, high school music teachers, private music tutors, music DJs, music directors, musicians, musical actors, music agents, studio managers, social media planners, or writers.

The salary and job outlook for these roles vary widely, so it’s essential to research and consider your desired career path before embarking on your music degree journey.

The Grand Finale: Is a Music Degree Worth It?

Ultimately, the decision to pursue a music degree is a personal one. If music is your calling and you’re prepared to dedicate the necessary time and effort, a music degree can be a rewarding path.

However, it’s essential to understand that a music degree isn’t a prerequisite for a successful career in the music industry. Many successful musicians have carved out their path without formal music education.

The key is to align your passion for music with your career goals and personal circumstances. By doing so, you can create a harmonious path toward a fulfilling career in music.

How to Make Your Decision

Before enrolling in a music program, consider your passion for music, your career aspirations, and your willingness to commit to the rigorous training required. If these factors align with a music degree, then it could be the right path for you. However, if you have doubts, take the time to explore other options.

Remember, your degree doesn’t have to define your career. The skills and experiences you gain during your studies can open up a world of opportunities, both within and outside the music industry.

Conclusion: The Music Plays On

Deciding to major in music is a significant decision that requires careful consideration. It’s not an easy path, but for those who are truly passionate about music, it can be an incredibly rewarding journey. With the right mindset, dedication, and training, a music degree can open up a world of opportunities and set the stage for a fulfilling career in music. So if music is your calling, don’t be afraid to take the leap and pursue your passion. After all, the world always needs more music.

Remember, the music plays on, and the choice is yours to make.

About the Author

Dr. David Lee Fish

Dr. David Lee Fish, Ph.D. is the founder of College Music Major. A veteran figure in music and education whose extensive career spans decades, he's known for his unique approach to music and for sharing his passion with others. His expertise ranges from performance and songwriting to education and private consulting.