What Can I do Now to Prepare for Majoring in Music in College?

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This is the third in a set of three articles designed to help potential music majors decide if it is right for them and where they can go with it.  The articles are:

Making the Decision to Major in Music in College
Why Major in Music?
What Can I Do Now to Prepare for Majoring in Music in College

What Can I do Now to Prepare for Majoring in Music in College?

young piano student What Can I do Now to Prepare for Majoring in Music in College?

Becoming a music major in college requires a set of skills and attributes that take years to develop before you enter the program.

You have been preparing your whole life in school to enter into a major such as math, science or literature in college.  Music is no easy exception.  A music major entering into college is expected to have a set of skills and knowledge that also take years to develop.  Here is a quick overview of what those expectation are:

Basic Musicianship: It is expected that an entering music major be familiar with basics of musical notation such as note values and pitches, clefs, meters, dynamics, articulations and expression markings.  They should also be familiar — reading, writing and hearing — with scales (major and minor), basic chords (triads and sevenths), and chord progressions (I – IV – V – I, etc.).   While they do not take too long to learn, a student not “fluent” in these fundamental symbols and concepts will be unable to learn the higher music theory concepts being taught.

Basic Instrument Proficiency: Every music student (almost without exception) will be required to focus on one instrument for which they will take private lessons and be tested.  In almost all cases, this should be an instrument that they have been studying with a private teacher for years.  Every semester each student will be graded according to a set standard for their instrument and poor performance can lead to having to retake levels and remain in college longer.

Solo and Ensemble Performance Experience: While not required, experience in performance groups is highly encouraged and valued for music majors.   An important part of every music major’s curriculum (with the possible exception of piano majors) is performing with small and large choirs, orchestras and bands.  Students considering majoring in music should take the opportunity to perform in community and school choirs, orchestras and bands to gain this experience.  Participation in solo recitals and competitions also gives valuable experience to any musician and should be encouraged when possible.

Practice and Study Skills: Any student who thinks they can avoid a challenging time in college by being a music major is grossly uninformed.   The variety of music courses and experiences required will call for all of the skills they have learned both with their private teacher as well as in all their classes in school.  Music majors must be able to write term papers, study for tests on history and theory concepts and facts, as well as met long-range performance goals practicing daily alone in a practice room.  Music majors must be exceptional, self-directed students to succeed and typically graduate with high honors from their high schools.

To best prepare for majoring in music in college, a student should study hard and get good grades in school.  They should take lessons from a good private music teacher on the instrument of their choice.  They should join musical ensembles in their school and community and be leaders in the group.  Additional experience that will prove helpful are: studying foreign languages, taking Music Theory AP in high school (if available), listening to and familiarizing oneself with different kinds of music and composers — especially Classical, and taking all available opportunities to perform publically both solo and with others.

Here are two articles from music schools that give some of their advice for in-coming music majors:

http://nasm.arts-accredit.org/index.jsp?page=FAQ%2017

http://www.menc.org/careers/view/what-it-takes-to-be-a-music-major

About Gregory Blankenbehler

With over 25 years of experience training, performing and teaching music, Gregory Blankenbehler has performed in Italy, England and France and completed a Masters of Music in Vocal Performance. From his focused studies into comparative vocal pedagogy and private teaching experience, he has become an expert on teaching effective vocal technique to singers of all ages and specializes in rehabilitating "troubled" voices and helping them to reach their full potential. Gregory maintains a large studio of voice and piano students in the Sacramento, California area where he also performs regularly and teaches community music classes for adults and children.