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Debunking 5 Myths of Being a Music Major

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

A young woman with tan skin and short brown hair sits at a piano in a small, wood-paneled room. Her hands are on the keys and she looks down at them. She wears black headphones and behind her is a laptop with colorful pink and purple blocks on the screen.

Thinking about majoring in music but something is holding you back?

Maybe you doubt the practicality of a music degree. After all, you will spend four years of your life (and four years of your money) studying something you can’t foresee the future for.

As someone majoring in music education, many of the obstacles I’ve encountered were myths about the career I wanted to pursue. Not only did the judgment come from the outside world, but it also was internalized within myself due to the values instilled in me by other people.

As with other majors, there is a lot of commitment needed to succeed in music, often requiring time and dedication to perfect the craft. 

“Music majors have it easy.”

I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard this one.

While music is considered a hobby more often than it is considered a career, a common misconception people may have is thinking studying music is the same as doing your hobby full time.

Music isn’t the first career to fall under this stereotype. In fact, most who study the performing arts are frowned upon, simply because doing a hobby as a job “isn’t as hard” as doing something ‘more important,” such as a career in the STEM field. 

When looking into the lifestyle of a music major, aspects of life are sacrificed to ensure success in the field, especially due to how competitive it can be. 

On average, most students take fifteen credits a semester, which adds up to about five classes (if each class is, on average, worth three credits). However, as a music major, not only are you taking on more credits, but you are also participating in more classes.

While an average student takes five classes with a total of fifteen credits, music majors can take about eighteen to twenty credits a semester, with nine to twelve classes included in their schedule! This is due to many classes only counting for one credit.

While some of these classes may only meet for ninety minutes once a week, some can meet for more. For example, many required ensemble courses meet twice a week for three hours, and this is just rehearsal time.

This does not include the hours spent in dress rehearsals, the time spent in performances on your schedule’s off hours, or the time it takes to travel to an out of school venue.

This is not to mention the time you take to practice outside of class. The craziest part is, ensembles are typically only one credit!

If you are dedicated to music being your career, you are guaranteed to do well in college and beyond graduation. Your lifestyle changes should not come as a surprise. Those who are majoring in music in hopes of “having it easy” will definitely run into future strife.

Between classes, rehearsals, and performances, music majors are quite busy and rarely have downtime for themselves. Therefore, it is not the easiest major for any student.

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“Performing won’t get you a job.”

While many may frown upon music majors because its performing opportunities can be scarce and unstable, there are actually plenty of respectable jobs in the music field to pursue. 

Of course, the most common job that is thought of when you tell people you study music is a performer. If you become a performer, you will most likely start out with freelancing work, meaning there is no regular paycheck.

There are plenty of musicians unions and groups you can join in your area to be informed on the next available job openings. Freelance performing jobs vary greatly and can be solo or ensemble work.

As a freelancer, you can work at personal events, such as weddings and funerals. Some freelancers are more into show business and sign up to perform under the stage in a pit orchestra.

Some musicians play for dinners and cruise ships, and some are hired to play for private miscellaneous events. While freelancing may not be for everyone, there are a wide range of freelancing performance jobs you can take.

If freelancing is not for you but you still want to perform, there are many ensembles that pay paycheck to paycheck. If this is what you are looking for, consider joining one of the United States military bands!

Each branch has a wide variety of bands to perform in along many different locations nationally and internationally. You’ll get to play for festivities and memorial services while accompanying many of the important people who lead our country today. 

“You don’t have to study anything else other than music.”

Whether you are thinking of a liberal arts college or a music conservatory, you could not be more wrong about this misconception.

Music majors are required to learn more than just music. Many colleges do this because they realize the importance of being a well-rounded individual.

If you study music at a liberal arts college, you will often have to take liberal arts requirements to graduate. This includes math, science, and humanities classes and perhaps a college specific class, such as a freshman seminar.

If you are studying at a conservatory, you will still have some of these same requirements, but they may be more music-centered (ex: the math requirement is a personal finance class rather than Calculus I). 

This is also helpful for those who don’t know whether or not they are fully committed to music. By taking these liberal arts classes within your first few years of college in addition to your music courses, you can take the time to experience music classes and see if it’s the right fit for you.

If it is, great! You are one step closer to becoming a musician. If you decide it’s not for you and want to switch majors, that is okay, too. Your liberal arts requirements will help you graduate with any other degree you decide to switch to. 

“You need to sing/play an instrument to have a career in music.”

While it is important to learn how to be a performer as a music major, many careers in music don’t actually require performing. This is great news for those who love music but have performance anxiety or if performing is not something they want to make a career out of. 

There are plenty of careers one can enter in the music field that do not require constant performance.

One career you can look into is becoming a music teacher. There are many opportunities to work in music education at a variety of levels.

You can work in a public or private school setting for children grades K-12 either as a general music teacher or one more specific to your study, such as voice if you sing soprano in college or strings if you play the cello.

While the most common setting to teach music education is at a public institution, you can also opt to teach private lessons to an individual student, either to an after school music program or on your own as a freelancer. You can also teach at the collegiate level as a professor.

If you are looking for a position of leadership, look into becoming a music director. Many director positions require background musical knowledge as the position centralizes more on the planning and execution of different music programs. Director jobs exist at the K-12 level of education as well as at the collegiate level.

You can also become an artist agent or manager. An agent’s job is to help a musician find employment as well as assist in advertising and marketing of the musician. Management helps in creating projects for the musician, such as setting their own tours and more.

If you are technologically savvy, try becoming a music or sound engineer. A sound engineer is responsible for capturing authentic sound from a musician as well as enhancing highlights of a certain ensemble piece.

Sound engineers work with a variety of genres. Not only is this a way to help with the execution of an artist’s work, but you will also get the opportunity to be the first to hear a potential future star!

Make sure to do your research on careers that require musical knowledge. From music therapy to music and the law, the possibilities are nearly endless!

“It’s too hard.”

While many misconceptions are centralized around the idea that music majors are not as important as other majors, many often shy away from becoming a music major for the opposite reason.

Yes, it can be difficult becoming a music major due to the time commitment and hard work needed to thrive in the major. However, it is important to remember that it is a passion, and studying music can be the greatest experience of your life if you do it right.

 

From getting to know new music, to traveling with your peers and getting to know the world, being a music major will have enjoyable experiences!

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