It’s only relatively recently that we’ve seen a proliferation in music programs at the college and university level. Up until about 50 years ago, an aspiring musician would have had limited choices of where and what to study after high school.
The conservatory model was prevalent, and in some places it still is. We will talk more about the conservatory approach below, but for now, keep in mind that college and university music programs used to be very limited compared to what we have today. This is a good thing because you now have more choice, but more choice also makes for a more difficult decision.
Before applying to any schools, it’s important to prepare yourself by doing research on the programs. This means studying the college bulletin (list of courses), teaching faculty, program philosophy, and of course the costs for any place you are considering. All of this info can be found easily online, usually on the college’s website. The Barron’s Profiles of American Colleges can also be helpful as you conduct your search for music schools and become better informed, as can our schools pages.
It’s worth noting that many schools and colleges view music programs, and especially music industry programs, as an important growth area. As the music industry has grown and matured, colleges have followed suit by designing and implementing curricula to meet the need for training.
The training for entering the music field extends well beyond the more traditional performance and composition courses, and may include everything from electronic music production, songwriting, and music business/management, to highly specialized courses in areas such as composing for video games or music therapy.
The list of subjects can be daunting and the industry roles in today’s music field seem almost endless. Would you choose to study West African drumming, songwriting, and stage performance, or would you rather focus on entrepreneurship and music marketing?
You might want to do it all, or perhaps you prefer to focus on some very narrow specialized niche. The choice will ultimately depend on where your interests lie, and where you see yourself fitting into the future music industry.
It can seem overwhelming to have so much choice, and yet when it comes time to choose your major you will be forced into making decisions you might not feel quite ready to make. My advice is to relax because gaining knowledge in anything is never a waste of your time. Over time, the industry will change, and so will you. It’s important to have a plan, but having a plan doesn’t guarantee that things will unfold as planned.
Most people end up straying from their intended path, finding themselves later in situations they hadn’t counted on or even considered. Since this is the norm, you should embrace uncertainty about the future, and think about what you can do right now and in the near future. Choosing a major is a great opportunity to do all this in a semi-formalized way. You will be learning about the opportunities that exist, and about yourself.