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What My First Month As A Music Major Was Really Like

An illustrated photo of a woman standing facing away from the "camera." Her arms are up and in one hand she holds a conductor's baton. In front of her are musical instruments made out of red neon light.

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.

As a second year college student studying during the pandemic, I had not once stepped foot in Rutgers University‘s classrooms.

My musical instruction consisted of recording projects, YouTube music theory videos, and Discord rooms of colleagues I had never seen in person. I longed for the day I could experience my first day let alone my first month as a true music major and that time came at the beginning of my sophomore year. 

Things are much different this year, and as a sophomore, the adjustment was difficult.

Not only do I have to handle an unforgiving workload that is now presented in person rather than online, but I also have to handle the challenges of being a first time on-campus student maneuvering buses, understanding the dining hall, and finding my classes.

While I am a sophomore in college, I truly consider this to be my FIRST semester as an involved music major. Today, I’m here to tell you about my first month. 

Misunderstanding of music majors

When someone asks me what I major in, I simply say “music” as it is much easier to say than to describe everything that goes into it.

However, this misinterpretation of what a music major is can affect overall perspective of how much work is put into being a music major.

While a full-time college student takes 12+ credits in a semester, music majors take around 18 or more. In addition to this extreme workload, music majors have to allot time for multiple rehearsals and sectionals, not to mention the countless hours a semester needed for individual practicing.

Finally, add on the hours spent at 1-3 part-time jobs to help music majors get through specific expenses for each month. This is not a career where classes are simply spent practicing a hobby. 

Adjusting to the workload

The workload is something I had to become accustomed to during my first month at music school. While my major is music, I technically study music education which requires more classes than the typical ensemble and private lesson.

The first class I attended on the first day of school was adolescent psychology, and then I ran to math class. While you may think that being a music major means you don’t have to study other subjects, this is far from the truth.

Not only am I studying subjects that do not relate to music, but many music classes also require a significant amount of textbook reading, analyzing, and studying.

During music school you will encounter classes such as music theory, music history, etc. These classes require a lot of time to dedicate to reading and studying.

There are tests that are not performance-based in these classes, and during my first month I noticed I had to read a lot more. It takes time management and organization skills to be a successful music major, and if you can nail the skills during your first month, you’ll be golden for the rest of the semester and year. 

Learning the ropes

Special protocol was also something I had to quickly adjust to during my first month. Many students have a new student orientation, but I had my new student orientation in addition to my new student music orientation, which differed from overall university information.

During these information sessions, things such as ensemble placements, audition repertoire, and special major protocol were discussed. It is key that you attend these information sessions during your first month since this information will not be given at your overall first year information session by your general university.

This is your chance to ask those specific questions about classes you have to take for your major, information on performance classes finals (those that are not written down), and scheduling issues that may occur when trying to register for general education classes. 

Being a part of the community

The music school has a closely knit community. While Rutgers University is a diverse school with over 50,000 students currently studying, the school of the arts (Mason Gross School of the Arts) is composed of a small but close group of students.

Not only am I close with an extremely small graduating class, but I have also gotten to know a large majority of the upper and lowerclassmen on a first name basis.

Most classes I take are with the same group of students, which makes it easier to plan study sessions and morale events. Collegiate music students are friendly, open, and ready to make connections.

While the atmosphere is competitive, it is a healthy kind of competition. Music majors focus on building each other up, not tearing each other down.

During my first month, I have found significant support amongst the music major community. Upperclassmen are willing to help underclassmen with workloads, locating classes, and simply connecting them with others.

Underclassmen support each other by organizing study sessions, going out to the dining hall together, and sharing textbooks when needed. Music majors always travel together when needed and while having friends outside of the music school is beneficial to your friendship circle, music majors will always be there for you.

I have found the music major community to accept me with open arms. My instrumental studio has been nothing but helpful, and students ranging from people in my graduating class year to people studying for their doctorate degree are more than happy to help.

If you come from a high school music program that was competitive and unhealthy emotionally, do not be afraid to try college music. 

Debunking 5 Myths of Being a Music Major

Branching out

During my first month, I noticed the amount of professional and extracurricular activities available and not just for those who are best at performing.

While many ensemble acceptances are determined by a placement audition, many others are not. Music therapy clubs, certain jazz ensembles, choirs, and other leadership organizations are open to any music major.

As a music education major, I joined Rutger’s chapter as a sophomore representative. In this position, while it is important to know music, I was involved in public affairs with organizing events and delegation between students and faculty.

During my first month, I debunked the notion of music majors not being able to join outside organizations. Wanting to pursue a career in the military band, I decided to join the ROTC program.

The music school was open and accepting of my decision. While many organizations are open specifically for music majors, music majors also have the option of joining external organizations such as sports fraternities and other clubs.

As a music major, I learned that I am allowed to pursue my other interests aside from music.

Performing

During my first month, I learned who I was as a performer. Whether you major in music administration, music education, music technology, music performance etc., you enter the music field because you are a performer.

However, to be a specific performer you have to learn what kind of student you are. Are you more of a textbook student? Are you one that learns from examples? These are all things you will get to know at music school.

Many music majors are required to take private lessons based on their craft. It is during these private lessons where you will begin to understand who you are because of the one-on-one nature of the class.

Use your first month as a music major to learn how you learn so that you can become a more effective learner. Learn your limits on practicing and how to communicate with your professors.

Budgeting and financing

An obstacle I encountered during my first month as a music major was learning how to properly finance and budget. Living off campus on my own was difficult enough. Now, I needed to learn about additional expenses when being a music major.

First, the performing arts school is separate from the rest of my university. Parking was a big issue and I did not have a parking pass at the start of the semester because of how expensive it was.  If I knew that being a music major would require additional parking, I would have financed for my parking pass much earlier.

Second, you must take into account the rainy days and start a rainy day fund as a music major. Accidents happen and your study materials can easily be damaged, whether it be a conducting book or a whole instrument. Make sure you set up a rainy day fund for yourself; you do not want to be stuck in a financial situation that will halt your studies.

Because of the heavy workload, music majors barely have time to eat, and take out will become a viable and easy option. However, this is not the best idea financially so you have to learn how to manage your spending on food.

If you’re on campus, the dining hall is a great place to go whenever you can. Make sure to always leave the dining hall with fruit or snacks so that you can nourish on the go before ensemble rehearsal or your aural skills class.

Lastly, before your first month as a music major, make sure that all of your textbooks and materials are accounted for. Many items such as staff paper and certain textbooks cannot be found in a regular bookstore and have to be ordered online.

Make sure you order them with enough time to spare so that you do not have to pay for expedited shipping and so you do not fall behind in class.

Making time for self-care

Finally, make sure you’re caring for your physical and mental health as a music major. The coursework is unforgiving and the amount of hours you have to put in to be a successful music major is intense.

It can be easy to forget to take care of yourself, which will decrease your productivity. Be sure to set times to eat, bring food along with you to eat between classes, and plan to have at least 2 to 3 meals a day.

Make sure you are exercising a little bit every week and look up what your university’s gym features. Oftentimes, a university gym will feature not only a gym but also activities you can join to stay active such as cycling classes, yoga classes, and kickboxing classes that are included in your tuition.

There are plenty of activities to take part in. Mentally, make sure you are engaged in other ways aside from your classes.  While it is common to be caught up in work, make sure that not all of your mental strength is used to study. Participate in other engaging and relaxing activities such as playing games, reading books, etc.

Staying healthy emotionally is the most important one as your morale and motivation for continuing your program is dependent on your emotional health.

Make sure you take the time to do self care whether it means taking a trip or staying in and relaxing. Make sure you are communicating with other people such as peers and family.

Take the time to go out and spend quality time with people. Do not stay silent if you are suffering from poor mental health. If you start to feel off, talk to someone.

 

While being a music major comes with its own set of challenges, it is fulfilling and life-changing if you truly love music.

There are many things you can do as a music major aside from attending your classes and performing. The community that surrounds you is exceptional, and the opportunities you can take advantage of are endless.

While the music student life is different from other majors, it is one I recommend experiencing!

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