Becoming a Successful Music Major
Students who come to college with the hope of majoring in some aspect of music may have a wide variety of background experiences in music. During the first year or two, there are opportunities to strengthen some areas which may be weak at the beginning of the freshman year, but proper preparation for college level music study during high school increases the probability of a successful entry audition and satisfying accomplishments in music courses and lessons. Here are some essentials:
Facility in reading musical notation: All music majors need to be able to identify the notes of the treble and bass clefs virtually instantaneously. They also need to be very familiar with the key signatures for major and minor keys, the standard meter signatures, and the most frequently used Italian tempo/dynamic/style terms. Recommendations about preparation in music theory should be given serious consideration.
Private lessons on an instrument: Music majors refer to private lessons as “applied music”. Experience in band or chorus, without some private instruction, is rarely sufficient preparation for college music study. The amount of study which is necessary varies from performance area to performance area (pianists often have the most years of precollege study, while singers usually have the fewest), but there should be enough study to prepare a person to perform an audition of two or three works of art music which are of contrasting style. In piano and voice, these works should be memorized. For all areas, working closely with a professional teacher who has been through a college music curriculum is strongly advised.
Although voice principals/majors may have waited until they were in their teens to begin vocal study, piano lessons during high school will enhance their chances of doing well in college. Precollege piano study is equally beneficial for instrumental principals/majors.
Ability to sing on pitch in a clear, natural voice: Not everyone can sing like an opera singer, but all music majors must be able to match pitches with their voices and to sing diatonic melodies in tune. These are skills which can be learned, and some vocal or choral experience can go a long way in easing an instrumentalist into college level courses.
Experience in listening to the best known works in Western art music: Potential music majors can benefit by listening to recordings or live performances of some of the best known works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Stravinsky. Compare some different types of jazz. Listen to some music from Africa and Asia. Explore some of the earlier European music such as Gregorian chant. While this would only be a sampling of the type music which college courses will address, learning to be able to hear what characterizes and distinguishes each type of music is an important step in becoming a professional musician.
A clear understanding of why you want to major in music – Majoring in music can be an exciting experience which challenges a college student to achieve more as a musician than he or she ever dreamed. But it usually requires more hours of daily work and study than many other major areas; it requires a good deal of self-disciplined work alone in a practice room; and it requires developing broader musical skills and knowledge than most high school students suspect. If a potential music major has a clear idea of why this is important to him or her, what the end goal is, and how much he or she values daily contact with art music, it becomes easier to sustain the level of effort needed for success. It may prove helpful and lend perspective to discuss these issues with a professional musician who has completed a college degree in music.
A clear understanding of how college is different from high school: College years are an exciting bridge to professional and personal maturity. Take a minute to review some comparisons of how college expectations and experiences differ from those of high school.