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On Being a Music Major

A lot of people play guitar.  Generally speaking, people start with rock and pop and keep doing the same thing or move on to more of an “art music” type activity (including jazz).  With the rise of programs that cater to popular/commercial music training, it’s becoming easier for those pop/rock players to get higher degrees in music.

I happened to have “moved on” (ha! I still play metallica.  Sometimes.  Don’t tell anyone.) to classical guitar.  The school where I did my undergrad was very much “art music” oriented.  However, the jazz program was very strong there and I managed to do jazz combo, big band, lessons and jazz theory.
Here are some things that those considering being a music major should know:

  1. Music Theory Sucks.  Between this and music history, a music major has a tough course load.  To give some perspective, a little over half of my theory class failed at some point along the two year journey–theory I started with about 45 people and by 20th century theory (theory V) there were less than 20 of us.
  2. Practicing is not an option.  Most amateur guitarists have no clue how dedicated music majors have to be.  Progress has to be made, and that means spending at least a few hours/day locked in a small room with nothing but the instrument and some music.
  3. Expect to take a piano class.  That’s right.  Piano.  Almost all music majors are required to take a group piano class.  If an incoming student has had previous piano experience, they may be required to take private piano lessons.
  4. Gen Ed classes get in the way of being a music major.  To put it another, less-kind way Gen Ed classes suck.  And they take up practice time.
  5. 15-18 credit hours/semester is the norm.  Sounds fun huh?  Essentially this means that the normal music student is a full time student like any other major…but they have 2-6 credit hours of lessons which they are required to practice for.  Also, the average music major will participate in one “large” ensemble.  For the wind players this means Band or Orchestra.  For guitarists, this might mean jazz band or guitar ensemble.  These are 1 credit hour courses that might take up 3-4 hours of time during the week.
  6. Changing majors?  Coming to a music major a year or two late?  Expect to add another year to the time spent on undergrad.  Most music programs are highly sequenced and require people to take classes in a very specific order.  Combined with a massive amount of credit hours required for the average major, it’s a recipe for the five-year plan.

These things are not meant to scare people away.  With these in mind, here’s some stuff that can help:

  1. Be sure that music is for you from day one.  Music majors don’t have time to question and add years to their degree.
  2. Be strong on the rudiments of music from day one.
    This includes, but is not limited to:  strong reading ability in all clefs (treble, bass, the C clefs–alto and tenor), thorough knowledge of scales/modes and how they are constructed. Be FAST at interval recognition on the staff or aurally, and have basic knowledge of the type of chords (major, minor, augmented, diminished, dominant 7th) and how they are constructed.
  3. Get in the habit now of practicing 3-4 hours/day…or more.
  4. Take a few piano lessons.
  5. Learn the entire guitar fretboard…really well…to the point where it can be visualized mentally.  Also learn what various intervals and chords look like on the fretboard.
  6. Practice music reading everyday.  This might be sight reading or just figuring out notes on the various clefs.
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