Thinking about a Graduate Program for Music - Advice?

I recently graduated from a state university with a B.S. in Psychology. I also received a minor in music. During my time in school I was interested in all sorts of areas - psychology, music, art, and Latin were among my favorites. I was very close to majoring in music composition, but thanks to a few too many curmudgeonly professors in the department, I decided not to pursue it.

This is a decision I have ended up regretting. I feel as though I’ve wasted four years of education studying a subject (Psychology) that I have no intention of using in the future. During my last year of school I realized that I didn’t want a career in psychology after all, and finished my classes only in order to graduate and to rethink my life’s direction.

I’d like to start studying music again (not that I have ever stopped studying on my own time). But I’m certain that I lack the credentials that a graduate program would be looking for. Although I know a lot of theory, I don’t have the courses to prove it. For the most part, I have studied music theory in my free time, with some assistance from my mother (a piano teacher) when I was younger. But I know this wouldn’t impress anyone. I have taken years of violin, piano, guitar and clarinet classes during my life, but my transcript wouldn’t reflect this either.

Basically - I fear that any graduate program would not give me a second look, given my major and my apparent lack of formal music education. I’d really love to immerse myself in the world of composition and orchestration, but I feel like I’ve already blown my chance .

I’d appreciate any advice from Dopers who studied music at a graduate level. Programs you’d recommend, the experience you had before applying, that sort of thing. What was your audition like? And please let me know if I have no chance at this. :smack:

In most fields, a minor is enough background that you’ll be able to do graduate work, although you may have to do some extra classes to catch up. You should take a look at some music programs, see what they expect you to know coming in, and really examine how far behind you are.

What are you planning on doing with your music degree?

Most graduate programs will require you to audition if you are in performance, or submit compositions (usually recorded) if you are in composition and theory.

I think you might have to consider going to a smaller school without a music major background. Master’s students prepare heavily for their auditions (like 3 hours of practice a day)

I did a five year bachelor of music / education program. I worked my ASS off for the music classes because I loved it, and just coasted by for the education classes because I felt they were bullshit. I think for the most part I made the right choice. Now I am an EMPLOYED music teacher, who teaches music lessons on the side for extra cash, and also composes in the remaining spare time. Beats having a performance degree and working at Boston Pizza (like some of my friends!)

If you want my opinion (I have a bachelors in music), I have thought about it for a long time. But I’ve learned that I’m resourceful enough to teach myself about such things. Schooling is great because of the environment you are in pushes you, and the resources are there to help you. But I can’t justify the time / money investment. I’m also more inclined to less academic music so I’m not as interested…

Heres some books I recommend for self study:

Study of Orchestration: Samuel Adler
Rimsky-Korsakov’s book on Instrumentation / Orchestration
Fux’s book on counterpoint.

I wanted to get across in the above quote but didn’t say it properly…maybe a bachelors is a better first step? An education degree is a good angle! People always want music lessons!

A degree in music pretty much qualifies you to:

  1. teach music (maybe)
  2. go to law school
  3. wait tables

This sayeth the guy that majored in equally high-demand theatre as an undergrad.

I’d suggest you look for a job, gig or teach music on the side, and think about it for awhile before making the kind of commitment it takes to get through grad school.

Depending on where you live, there might be a University/Conservatory that has continuing education, evening, or dip your toe in it type classes that you can take before committing yourself to years of curmudgeonly composition profs.

Quasimodal gives some very sound advice there. In addition to the ‘core’ textbooks such as those suggested, I’d strongly recommend listening and reading across a more broad spectrum than perhaps you would otherwise choose to do. Find a composer, or a piece of music, or a genre, which piques your interest, and delve into it, reading any books that might seem of interest. When I was at still at school, this is what I started doing, and realised just how much there was to learn, how much music there was to hear, and how rewarding it could be to do so.

If you’re interested in composing, then start doing so. If you’re coming from an atypical background, the most important thing is that it’s clear that you’re capable of doing this, albeit in a less experienced way. It’s also vital that you can talk about music, and write about it. Try setting yourself simple ‘compare and contrast…’ essay questions, and practice writing 1000/2000 word responses. (We’ll always look them over for you when you’re done :wink: )

Here’s a list I put together a while back of the various careers, that I know of, of people I studied alongside (at a British undergraduate level, i.e. Bachelors degree but specialising solely in music from day one).

Teaching (classroom or instrumental)
Restaurant manager
Stage school owner
Something to do with computers (I’ve not idea what her actual job is!)
Orchestra manager
Editorial assistant
That’s from one unashamedly old-fashioned music department, and ignores all those I studied alongside at a graduate level.
(Edit: one of the teachers has a long-term plan to become an airline pilot, too, and spends her holidays clocking up hours in the air.)

Why don’t you call the dean or department head of a music school and ask? WHen I went to grad school in music the assistant dean was in charge of Graduate admissions in the music school. He encouraged all applicants to call him with questions.

Secondly, go to a school where there is the possiblity of lots of outside gigs. This means that schools in large cities are going to be a good bet. Then you can put the learning to work and earn some while your at it.

Thirdly, realize that if you are accepted that there are going to be proficiency tests that you will need to take. If you pass them you get to take harder classes. If you fail them you get to take the remedial class that usually is a grind of work.

Fourth, the degree gets you almost nothing other than an expensive piece of paper. If you can perform you will be hired by people looking for those able to play. The degree is only required for potential academic work and employment. Then after all the work for the degrees you can apply for a job in the boonies trying to land tenure.

Most of my classmates from grad school went on to get doctoral degrees. Most of them were really talented. They are now teaching at really small schools. The most talented of the lot was denied tenure and is looking for employement from a remote town in the northern tier of a really cold state.

Some minor additions to the good suggestions already made upthread…

-Don’t assume that the lack of a B. Music degree will disqualify you in the eyes of an admissions committee. Music schools look for talent above all else, and if you have enough of it to interest them they’ll look for ways to help you make up your deficiencies in coursework.

-If you are interested in composition as a vocation, make sure that any schools you apply to have a big enough pool of student performers and ensembles around to give you a decent shot at having your music performed by some of them. Also, a school with more than one composition teacher is preferable, just for the diversity of viewpoints.

Absolutely. A location which has a vibrant musical life outside of this academic sphere would be a bonus, as it can offer further or more varied performance opportunities, although it’s probably you’d be looking for anyway.

I have an MA and PhD in musicology.

My bachelor’s degree is in biology. I took a few music classes as electives, but that’s it. Between the BSc and entering the MA program, I did take a few years of lessons to learn how to sing. I also took piano as a kid and played piano/organ well enough to do church gigs for a little cash on the side. That’s as proficient as I was in music.

I got into a master’s program in vocal performance. Bear in mind that standards are different for singers than for pianists, string players, and whatnot – so take this with a grain of salt. However, I basically put in a bunch of applications and sent in audition tapes. I didn’t get in everywhere, but a couple of schools accepted me. What made the difference, I believe, was taking singing lessons with someone who knew some other people in the music departments. You might try that route in. Most applied music profs also teach lessons privately on the side. Having a personal recommendation helps.

Getting into a graduate program in musicology, theory, or composition rather than as a performance major requires less proficiency in performing on your chosen instrument(s). What it does require is some aptitude with music theory, a decent ear, and a reasonably sharp mind. Most programs have “remedial” theory classes that can bring you up to speed. If you approach it from the academic side, you may also find that a useful route into a degree program.

Personally, I don’t use my degree now, because I chose not to move around the country to get at academic position. Family stuff. But it could have been a decent living – teaching and performing.

If GorillaMan’s sample is anything to go by, a music degree is less of a handicap to other employment over there than it is here.

I’ve always believed Americans are prejudiced against the arts to the degree that the marketable skills they develop are not as marketable as they should be.

Music grads, for instance, do well with details and pressure and tend to be efficient, perceptive, and conscientious. As hinted at above, they also do well with autocratic superiors.

James May of BBC’s Top Gear has a degree in Music.

I think I’ve heard it said, on these boards, that music as a subject in British higher education in general is viewed as one broad field of academic study, within which exist specialisms including composition and musicology, rather than having clear boundaries from early on between musicologists, performers and composers. This is beneficial at the undergraduate level in that a degree programme can be expected to offer a wide variety of study, to varying depths, with an increasing specialism without losing touch with other fields. This means that the degrees are very much respected by (knowledgeable) employers in many fields as evidence of all-round general abilities.

I discovered just how different the experience could be at an American university, with as I can see it only detrimental effects, during my graduate studies, when spending a week visiting my professor while he was teaching for a semester at one (and certainly no small-town college, either! :wink: ) It turned out that the graduate students had a Friday afternoon habit of getting some beers, and polishing them off while catching up with one another. I fully approved :slight_smile: So we settled down on a terrace in the music department, chatting with a guest who had presented a paper earlier.

The composers arrived, with their own beers, walked inside, slid the doors shut and gathered together. I was gobsmacked. My normal experience in Britain was of all sitting down together, and discovering all sorts of common interests. This has included my research work directly inspiring a friend to write several pieces of music, a fact he acknowledges directly in the programme notes. Also, even though I was studying late medieval music, I was quite happy to hack away at any new fiddle music somebody was turning out, far more so than many of the ‘serious’ violinists around (see Figaro’s post), and these American guys would never have found this out!

(It’s worth mentioning that the description of the British principles apply to universities, whereas true specialisation in performance is the preserve of the conservatoires, which are degree-awarding institutions in their own right. A degree from there really is a concentration on performance, although they are obliged to have a minimum ‘academic’ content, and also increasingly place a necessary emphasis on other training, especially with the fact that 99% of their graduates will, at some point and at any level, teach.)

Indeed, and from Lancaster, not bad at all.

I know a fairly high up management type at my company who has a music composition (I think) degree, so you can add that to the list. :slight_smile:

Regarding disconnects between degree and subsequent career, we have a nice spread of degrees in my department of tech writers – English, Communications, and/or CS are fairly common, but then you get to more unusual degrees like forestry, photography, mushrooms, what have you. It’s fun to ponder how one winds up where one is, isn’t it?

It’s been a while since I have been able to post, hope this isn’t too old to revive.

That’s a good question. I’d really like to compose original music. Maybe for film, television, ads, videogames… whatever I could get into.

I’d also love being a producer, in the George Martin sense of the term. I’m not interested in the technical side of recording bands, but I could see myself arranging other people’s music - adding strings, playing piano, that sort of thing.

Most of all, I’d just like to be in an environment where I had the opportunity for real musicians to play the music that I write, instead of only hearing it with lifeless computer samples.

And… less egotistically, I wouldn’t mind teaching. Preferably younger kids though. Maybe that will change as I get older.

I think this is true of any degree outside of engineering, medicine, law, comp sci, or business administration in the US. Not just music and the other arts. My opinion (perhaps poorly founded) is that American respect for arts and liberal arts degrees has diminished as our focus on standardized testing and “practical” education in grade school has increased. If every class a student takes can’t be mapped directly to a “real world” application, then it’s worthless. ::rolleyes::

Sorry I missed this thread the first time around. My wife is a professor of music history at UCLA and I read your original post to her and asked her for advice. Here’s a brief summary of what she said:

  1. It’s never too late! She herself was a political science major as an undergrad and music was only a hobby for her. When she graduated she found herself similarly dissatisfied with her degree. Coming from a non-standard background can even be a strength sometimes because it can give you a unique perspective on the material.

  2. However, you will have to work harder to catch up. You’ve already said that you’ve studied many aspects of music theory outside the normal classroom. Keep it up.

  3. If you’re really interested in being a composer for films or videogames, you should be thinking about going to UCLA, USC or a smaller school out here in L.A. This is where the industry is, and doing graduate work here will give you an edge.

  4. That gives you a starting place to look. Start researching a few programs that interest you. Contact the admissions directors and explain your situation.

If you’d like to exchange email with my wife, she’s willing. She’s not on the Straight Dope, so send me a private message and I’ll put you in touch with her.