What It Takes to Be a Music Major

Teaching Music, February 1998, © MENC

Through the years, I have recruited hundreds of students - both music majors and students in other disciplines—to participate in performance ensembles. Some of these students enjoy their ensemble experience so much that they seek me out and announce their decision to become music majors. In these cases, my initial response can best be described as "guarded optimism". I wonder whether this student has what it takes to be a music major.

It's easy to identify a committed music major. This student has expressed a desire to play, teach, or be involved with music at some professional level. This individual has either contacted me directly or has received an endorsement from his or her music teacher. I hold personal recommendations in high regard because they are an indicator that the student is well prepared for challenges and will not wilt when tackling harmony, conducting, piano proficiencies, and other rigors of a collegiate music curriculum.

The other type of student raises some concern. It's distressing to see students who have been studying another discipline suddenly declare themselves music majors and then fail their courses because they did not expect the rigorous academic curriculum or did not have sufficient preparation. It is important for students to realize that becoming a music major entails more than simply playing or singing in an ensemble.

First, students who want to become music majors must acknowledge the importance and comprehensiveness of music theory. Many students become discouraged when they're entrenched in cumulative music theory and harmony courses that span several years. Even some fine performers have trouble with harmonic concepts, but these concepts are essential if students plan to teach or perform on a high level. A fundamental mistake students make is to underestimate basic musicianship skills, as well as knowledge of scales, triads, and intervals. These form the groundwork for the study of and success in every other harmony and form course. If students fail to acquire basic skills in the beginning, they will have trouble in later music theory courses.

Second, students must acknowledge the significance of music history to their professional lives. A common complaint among undergraduates is that music history is a long, drawn-out trivia search. However, all teachers can attest to the value of music history as a tool not only in helping to select literature but also in properly teaching performance practices. A firm grounding in music history is indispensable as one continues to assimilate information through reading and research. A student's knowledge of music history will be called upon daily in the music profession.

Third, students must realize that applied lessons are serious groundwork for future growth. What is most distressing about some students in the applied studio is that they do not see the logic in practicing fundamentals such as scales, intervals, technique, articulation, long tones, and all the other skills that build technical proficiency. To achieve advanced musical proficiency, ιtudes and knowledge of repertoire are indispensable. Without solid and refined rudimentary skills, the student's full potential will not be realized. The repetition of solid fundamentals is the price one must pay for true technical mastery to be reached. In a sense, one of the most important lessons a student must learn is how to practice. Many students cannot formulate a viable, tangible study and practice plan. Without this, progress is curtailed significantly. At this juncture, a student who thinks majoring in music is just singing with a group or playing an instrument faces his or her first real test. Does this student have what it takes to become a total professional musician?

Fourth, students must develop basic keyboard skills, which are helpful in studying scores, teaching harmony, and providing basic accompaniment. As a matter of fact, a non-keyboard person can never get enough time at the keyboard. At the very minimum, students should acquire fundamental keyboard skills. To do so, all students should take applied piano instruction even if it is not required for one's particular major. Students do not realize until they are out in the professional world that they will never again have the time or motivation to improve their piano skills. Time for professional music teachers is at a premium.

Faculty members must see a student grapple with music theory, music history, applied studio study, and keyboard skills before acknowledging the student as a serious music major. These four areas can serve as checkpoints along the path to becoming comprehensive musicians (see the sidebar for recommendations for preparation at the high school level). It is important to reiterate that these checkpoints do require skills that develop over time. While the skills of some students may already be adequate, other students may require more time to practice and refine their skills.

For successful completion of a music major program, I give students the following recommendations:

Preparation:

1. Private Lessons. Students who want to become music majors should begin private study on their instrument or in voice as soon as possible, as experience in a band or choir alone will not be sufficient, they must also be proficient in music reading.

2. Aural Skills. Unless a student is blessed with a natural gift, these skills take the longest to develop. Among other skills, students must be able to identify by ear the degrees of a scale being played or sung, the type of triad being played or sung, the interval being played or sung, and the chord factor in the bass or soprano of a chord being played. Students should also be able to tap back rhythms being played or sung and to notate simple tonal melodies being played or sung.

3. Music Fundamentals. Learning the fundamentals of music notation in freshman college theory can be daunting; knowledge is either assumed or is covered very quickly. The material students must know includes meter signatures, rhythmic values, elementary principles of form, written intervals and triads, treble and bass clefs, major and minor scales and key signatures, and key relationships.

4. Vocal Ability. All college music majors, no matter what their principal performance medium, must be able to sing intelligently and in tune. In fact, singing is required for most college entrance auditions. Students must be able to sing back pitches played within and outside their vocal range, sing back notes in a major and minor triad, and sing the major scale with numbers, letters, and solfeggio, and sight-sing simple folk tunes, among other things.

5. Keyboard Skills. All college music majors, no matter what their principal performance medium, must be able to play and read intermediate keyboard literature with ease and fluency. Students should also be able to sight-read one level of difficulty below their performance level and have a beginning knowledge of I, IV, and V harmonization of simple songs.

6. The Right Attitude. If students are passionate about and dedicated to music - as well as being aware of its rigors - then they belong in a college music program.

EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR AN NCMC MUSIC GRADUATE: (Often you will participate in several areas.)

Music Education:

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges*

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

• Early Childhood Music Educator Aide $6–$60/hour

•  Public School Music Educator

$29–$110,000/year

• Music Supervisor, Consultant $25,000–$70,000/year

• Music Professor $23-150,000/year

• University Music School Administrator $46-182,000/year

•Studio Teacher $25–$150/hour

 

• Ability to work with people

• Ambition to continually study and improve

• Desire to help others learn

• Inspirational and patient personality

• Leadership qualities

• Musical talent

• Ability to read music

•Private instruction in piano and primary instrument or voice

• Skill in teaching

•Administrative ability necessary for supervisor, university administrator, and studio teacher

• Broad cultural background

• Extensive music knowledge

•Keyboard skill

•  Knowledge of National Standards for Music Education

• Performance skill on one instrument or voice

• School Music Educator: teaching certificate, bachelor’s degree in music education

• Music Supervisor/ Consultant: successful experience as music teacher; advanced degree often required

• Music Professor: doctoral degree or equivalent training

•University Music School Administrator: successful experience as a professor

•Studio Teacher: degree not always required but equivalent training and performing experience is necessary

 

 

Instrumental and Vocal Performance:

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges Instrumental:

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

• Armed Forces Musician $21,000–$77,000/year

•  Orchestra Musician $300/week–$170,000/year

• Small Ensemble Musician (salary varies widely)

• Concert Soloist $500–$33.550/ performance

• Dance, Rock, or Jazz Band Musician $150–$355/ performance

•  Clinician $300–$5,000/ clinic

• Ability to work with people

• Ambition to continually study and improve

• Musical talent

 •  Perseverance and initiative

• Ability to read music

• Participation in instrumental ensembles

• Private instruction in primary instrument

• Solo performance experience

• Business savvy

•  Knowledge of instrumental literature

• Performance skill on at least one instrument

• Skill in ensemble playing

• Skill in sight-reading, transposition, and improvisation

 

• Music performance degree usually required

Vocal:• Jazz, Band, Gospel, or Nightclub Vocalist $150– $355/ Day

• Concert or Opera Chorus Member $12+/rehearsal; $100+/performance Met Opera Chorister $110,000/yr

• Concert Soloist $450+/performance

 • Opera Soloist $1,100- 45.000/performance

• Qualities in instrumental above plus the following:

• Showmanship

•  Experience in singing solos

• Foreign language study

• Participation in vocal ensembles

•  Private instruction in voice AND piano

 

• Qualities in instrumental above plus the following:

• Knowledge of foreign languages

• Knowledge of vocal literature of ALL styles

• Practical facility at the piano

• Skill in sight-singing and

 

             

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conducting and Composing:

 

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

• Choir, Orchestra, or Opera Conductor $15,000–$275,000/year

• School Music Composer (Commissions vary)

• Commercial Jingle Composer $300–$50,000/ commercial

• Television Show Composer $1,000–$5,000/30-minute episode

•  Film Score Composer $2,000–$500,000/film

• Ability to work with people

• Dynamic and unique stage personality

• Leadership qualities

• Musical talent
• Creativity

•  Musical talent

•  Perseverance and initiative

• Decisive and expressive baton technique

• Extensive knowledge of music history, literature, and orchestration

• Specialized skill on at least one instrument or voice

• Superior musicianship

• Business savvy

• Experience in playing an instrument and singing

• Extensive knowledge of music history, theory, literature, and orchestration

• Familiarity with computers, MIDI, and music notation software

 

• Undergraduate music degree

• Graduate music degree not always required, but equivalent training necessary, especially at professional level

• Ability to read music extremely well

• Conducting music ensembles

• Participation in music ensembles

• Private instruction in piano and one other instrument or voice

• Experience in composing and improvising

• Keyboard skill

• Participation in music ensembles

• Private instruction in piano and one other instrument or voice

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music for Worship: (Professional only, not volunteers)

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

•Organist/Keyboardist $9,000–$57,000/year

• Church Choir Director $5,200–$70,000/year

• Director of Worship $29,000–$97,000/year

 

• Cantor/Hazan $75,000–$150,000/year

• Qualities in conducting above plus the following:

• Ability to work with people

• Commitment to your faith and sacred music

• Musical talent

• Organizational skills

• Ability to read music

 

• Qualities in conducting above plus the following:

• History of music and liturgy

• Keyboard transposition and improvisation

• Knowledge of languages, especially Latin and German

• Skill in sight-reading and open score reading

• Choral and instrumental techniques

• Degree in piano/organ or sacred music not always required but equivalent training and professional certification necessary

• Foreign language study

 

Music Therapy:

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

• Hospitals, Psychiatric Facility $20,000–$62,000/year

• Special Education Facility $22-$42,000

•Clinic for Disabled Children $15,–70,000

•Mental Health Center $21,000–$65,000/year

•Nursing Home, rescue mission $17,000–$65,000/year

•Correctional Facility $23,000–$58,000/year

•Private Practice $18,000–$77,000/year

• Ability to work with people with disabilities

• Compassion

• Emotional stability

• Enjoyment of people and desire to improve their physical and mental health

• Musical talent

• Physical stamina

• Facility on piano, guitar, or other instrument

• Knowledge of behavioral and physical sciences

• Skilled in adapting music for people with special needs

•Skilled and versatile musician

• Bachelor’s degree in music and minor in Psychology, including six-month internship

• Graduate degree in Music Therapy needed.

• Ability to read music

• Keyboard skill

• Participation in music ensembles

• Private instruction in piano and one other instrument or voice

 

Music Business and Music Publishing:

 

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges

Music Business

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

• Music Dealer Sales Person $13,000–$50,000/year

• Music Dealer Manager $17,000–$56,000/year

• Marketing/
Advertising Specialist $28,000–$116,000/year

• Music, Instrument, and/or Accessories Distributor $19,000–$75,000/year

• Ability to work with people

• Commitment to the music community

• Interest in music and business

• Business savvy

• Skill in using computers

• Specialized skill and knowledge in one or more of the music industries

• College degree in business and music not always required but recommended.

• Experience in one or more of the music industries

• Participation in music ensembles

•  Private instruction in instrument or voice

Music Publishing:

 

• Publishing Sales Representative $20,000 - $50,000

• Copyright Licensing Administrator $20,000 - $60,000

• Publisher or Editor of Music Books or Periodicals $24,000–$100,000/year

•Music Reporter or Music Critic $20,000–$150,000/year

• Public Relations Specialist $21,000–$141,000/ year

• Appreciation for music as a commercial product

• Highly Well developed musical preferences

• Interest in music publishing business

 •Ability to interact positively with public

• Desire to continually expand knowledge of music

• Interest in music and writing

• Business savvy

• Knowledge of composition and arranging process

• Knowledge of music theory, including notation, style, and form

• Understanding of copyright laws and licensing

• Excellent grasp of grammar

•Excellent writing skills

• Knowledge of music theory, history, and literature

• Undergraduate music degree; for some positions, advanced music degree or a business degree may be required and one or more second majors or minors: journalism, public relations, or English.

 

• Ability to read music

• Participation in music ensembles

• Private instruction in piano

• Keyboard, vocal and/or instrumental skills

• Participation in school or other newspapers

 

 

The Recording and Television and Radio Industry:

 

Opportunities for Employment and Approximate Salary Ranges

Personal Qualifications

Knowledge and Skills

Recommended College Education and Other Training

• Producer, Engineer/Mixer

• Solo Artist

• Repertoire Person or librarian

• Studio Arranger

• Music Copyist

• Copyright, Music License, Clearance Administrator

• Program Director (radio)

• Post Production/ Scoring (NA)

• Music
Adviser/Researcher

• Disc/Video Jockey

•Multimedia Publisher

• Sound and Video Editor

• Technology-based Music Instruction Designer

 

Salaries vary so wildly that it is hard to give an hourly or yearly rate for the above careers.

• Radio/Television Commercial Musician $227–$1,650/week

 

• Adaptable

• Interest in music and business

• Participation in music ensembles

• Ability to work under tight deadlines and intense pressure

• Ability to work with people

• Interest in music and the media

• Creativity

• Interest in music and computers

• Musical talent

 

 

 

• Familiarity with ALL genres of music (classical, jazz, pop, gospel)

• Knowledge of music theory, arranging, and composition

• Specialized skill and knowledge in one or more of the television and radio industries

• Knowledge of digital technology

• Music composition or arranging skills

• Producer, Engineer, Mixer: College degree not always required but recommended; Degree in sound engineering and an internship if possible

• Artist: BM Degree in music not necessary but usual.

• Studio Arranger and Music Copyist: Degree in music; knowledge of instrument capabilities, music notation, and computers

• Multimedia Publisher and Sound and Video Editor: Degrees in music and computer information science

• Technology-based Music Instruction Designer: Degree in music education; experience teaching music; computer study

equivalent training necessary, especially in production-related areas

• Participation in music ensembles

• Work or intern at a school or community access radio or television station

Specific Job Descriptions are also available separately.

 

ALTERNATE TEACHING VENUES

FOR SOME MUSICIANS, though they enjoy teaching, working in a school or college classroom may not be the choice for them for any number of reasons. Many who choose performing careers supplement their income by teaching in a private studio. Some teachers prefer to work in a smaller environment, perhaps at a Kindermusik or day care center. Whatever the reason, there are numerous ways to share your knowledge and instill a love of music in students.

American Orff-Schulwerk Association - www.aosa.org/ - Dedicated to the teaching approach of Carl Orff and Gunild Keetman, offers training, workshops, conferences, etc.

Dalcroze Society of America - www.dalcrozeusa.org - The Dalcroze Eurhythmics method of music learning for children and adults, certification, training, etc.

Kindermusik - www.kindermusik.com - Become a licensed Kindermusik teacher, resources for teachers and parents, etc.

Organization of American Kodaly Educators - www.oake.org - To promote the Kodaly music education method, summer courses, workshops, etc.

Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc. - www.suzukiassociation.org - History of the Suzuki method, job postings, conferences, etc.

MUSIC THERAPY

American Music Therapy Association, Inc. - www.musictherapy.org - Career information, professional requirements, frequently asked questions, etc.

Berklee College of Music, Music Therapy - www.berklee.edu/html/ca_muth.html - Study and career information, links to music therapy resources.

Music for Healing and Transition Program - www.mhtp.org - A certification program for training musicians and music educators to provide music at the bedside of the ailing.

PRIVATE TEACHING

American String Teachers Association with National School Orchestra Association - www.astaweb.com - Membership for string teachers, conferences, workshops, etc.

Excel-ability Learning - www.excel-ability.com/ - Guidance in running your own music school or studio can be found by clicking on "Music Teachers' Teaching/Pedagogy Centre".

Music Teacher's National Association - www.mtna.org - Help with setting up a private studio, locating teachers, MTNA certification program, etc.

National Association of Teachers of Singing - www.nats.org - Conferences and workshops for voice teachers, locating teachers, student competitions, etc.

Suzuki Association of the Americas, Inc. - www.suzukiassociation.org - History of the Suzuki method, job postings, conferences, etc.