A CAREER IN MUSIC
Most music students and the parents of music students do not fully grasp what a career in music is. For this reason, many qualified students do not even consider the prospect, and many parents discourage their children from such a pursuit. On the other side, some students begin the pursuit without knowing what it entails and either fail early on, or become disillusioned at some point which can be so devastating after years of financial and time investment.
The greatest fear for any professional music teacher is not that a highly qualified student might choose not to go into music, nor even that an unqualified student might choose to try. The greatest fear is that a student chooses a music career at a point that is too late or almost too late to prepare. Even the most talented student cannot possibly prepare for auditions starting in his or her Junior year of High School. There is simply not enough time.
For this reason, we have added this section so that all our students and parents may have a better understanding of what a career in music is and what it requires. Unlike becoming a doctor or a lawyer, the decision to pursue music must come much earlier. Unlike a doctor or lawyer, the high school and college education do not automatically provide the prerequisites needed for more advanced study. Music school begins at the college level, and preparation for music school begins in the 9th grade with your private teacher.
The brightest and most capable students will generally want the widest variety of options available. Such students who think that music, even if only as a 5% chance, might be a career should plan their entire high school years for that possibility. At KMI that means they should enroll in and graduate from the KMI Young Artist Program. Even if they change their minds at a much later date, they will have kept that option open for as long as they needed, whereas changing decisions in favor of pursuing music when the background has not been established is a decision that reaches further outside the grasp of attainability.
A music school is any school that provides undergraduate and/or graduate degrees in music. At the undergraduate level students may get a B.M. (Bachelors of Music), a B.F.A. (Bachelors of Fine Arts), or a B.A. (Bachelors of Arts). The B.M. is generally offered by music conservatories, and the B.A. is generally offered by large universities or liberal arts colleges. The B.F.A. can be offered by both conservatories and universities, depending on their desire to offer this degree. Although they are virtually equivalent, there is a fine distinction between the three in that a B.M. or B.F.A. implies a more intense performing experience than attributed to a B.A, and students who receive a B.M. will probably have met stricter performance and recital requirements. The B.F.A. can often imply fewer musicology and liberal arts requirements, and hence even more performance requirements.
For any student pursuing a career in music, the music school is actually the first academic step. Symphonies and schools will only consider applicants who actually have an undergraduate music degree, and will often not consider any who do not have some sort of graduate music degree. In the theater world, there is more flexibility but only if the applicant has a list of credentials that literally trumps the need for a school degree. The greatest majority of performers at all levels of theater and opera have an undergraduate degree in their chosen profession (acting, music, theater, etc.)
Conservatory vs. University: There are two types of music schools: conservatories and universities. The difference is primarily one of structure rather than one of quality. A conservatory is a music school that is devoted 100% to music and a university is any college or university that has a music program, a music department or even a full school of music within its much broader academic structure.
Many conservatories may embrace other performing arts such as dance and theater (as Juilliard does), and many conservatories may be part of a college which provides some of its academic courses (as Oberlin Conservatory is an autonomous division of Oberlin College). Anything that is just a program, department, or school within a much larger school is not a conservatory because the music school is not autonomous enough and does not grant a B.M.
Many universities have top notch music schools, and they often can be better than some of the small conservatories. In most cases, the university graduate programs are excellent and most conservatories do not even offer graduate programs or offer limited ones.
The decision to choose between a conservatory or a university must weigh many factors, and there is no automatic or obvious reason to choose one over the other. The student must consider everything and should apply to several, including “back-up” schools, just as the student would do for any other academic pursuit.
CHOOSING A SCHOOL
When considering a music school the student must weigh six important factors: 1) performance, 2) music education, 3) general education, 4) career possibilities, 5) entrance requirements, and 6) cost.
Performance: If the student is considering a career in performance, then the highest consideration must be given to the quality of instruction on the student’s chosen instrument. Included in this decision is the reputation of the school’s teacher, the overall reputation of the school to produce performers on that instrument and the difficulty of the audition. If a school is so competitive that the student is unlikely to attain admission, then the student’s career is ended before it begins. However, entrance into one of the most competitive schools is by far not a requirement for success, nor does it guarantee success. A student could be much better served by a school with a less competitive audition but very good teachers that the student really needs. Contrary to popular belief, not all successful performers went to Juilliard (in fact probably less than 1% have), and likewise, not everyone who graduates from Juilliard becomes successful.
Music Education: Many students go to music school for a good music education, and not necessarily to obtain a career in performance. This can actually be true for many performance majors, but also a music school will have many non-performance majors in the areas of: music education, music history, music theory and composition.
For all these students performance is not the primary goal, so the school’s other credentials in teaching music, such as the musicology and theory departments, become far more important. If the student is considering pursuing a music education career, then that department and teachers will replace the instrument performance teachers as the primary concern (for quality and reputation). Respectively, the same is true for a student who is considering majoring in music history, theory or composition – as those will be the departments into which the student must gain admission.
Most music schools still require an audition on a primary instrument, regardless of the intended major and some music schools require that the student graduate with a major in performance with a second major or minor in the non-performance department. (See Career Possibilities below for understanding of options as a non-performance major).
General Education: If the student is most interested in a good undergraduate degree, with a major in music, then the student must seek a school that provides a good general education. Such students will usually want to attend a college or university that happens to have a music major as one of its programs. If the student is very serious about music, but does not want to lose the opportunity for a career outside of music then the student should seek a school that can provide both. For such students, the key program to locate is a double degree or double major program that allows the student to obtain all the requirements for both a music major and a bachelors degree in a non-music subject (such as English, Science, History, etc.). Such degree programs exist at several small colleges and large universities, and the student must investigate them carefully to ensure that the school's programs and credentials in both areas are sufficient for the student’s career goals.
Career Possibilities: The career possibilities for students graduating with a degree in music are many and more varied than just performance. If the student has maintained a reasonable course load in non-music subjects (especially as a music major at a college or a double major), then the student’s career options are virtually equivalent to any student graduating with a B.A. or B.S. from any school, namely entrance into the work force, or admission to graduate school.
Students who wish to pursue Performance should simply advance to graduate school on the primary instrument. A master’s degree or performance diploma is generally the next step, and often the last educational step. The student’s primary instructor at the music school will provide the necessary guidance at that level.
Often the undergraduate degree is sufficient to become a Private Teacher (and in fact many private teachers do not have one!), but it must be pointed out that it takes many years to acquire enough students to make a living at teaching, and another source of income from outside employment will be required to pay the bills. Further, teachers of specialized orchestral instruments will not generally have many students and the credentials for obtaining students will usually include a career in performance.
School Music Teachers must have education credentials in addition to a music education. In many states, an undergraduate degree in music education alone is not sufficient, and the teacher must obtain a masters degree in order to obtain certification. Before planning a career in school music education, be sure to investigate your state’s requirements and consider the options of where you are willing to live. Many states pay school teachers very good salaries because there is a shortage of teachers, and a high demand – but such states might not be desirable locations to live. (Would you consider moving to Montana?)
The Musicology option is basically graduate school to the PhD level and ends in a career of teaching at the college and university level. Musicology students are composers, theorists and historians, and the PhD programs involve intensive study and research. The primary consideration for graduate school is the school’s academic credentials. For example, Harvard has an excellent graduate school in music – but has no music performance component whatsoever. Obtain a PhD from any good university and you will be sure to get a job teaching at some college somewhere.
Entrance Requirements: Just as there are schools that are difficult to get into because of grade and test score requirements, there are many music schools that have difficult audition requirements. Most of the best schools have similar requirements regarding what repertoire and technique to prepare, so the student can usually prepare the same pieces for all the auditions. The competitiveness comes from the level of difficulty of those pieces, and quality of actual performances at audition. The more competitive schools have many more top applicants and entrance is simply much more difficult. There may be as many as 200 auditions to fill one or two slots in a program!
When choosing a school, be well aware of the competition for admission and be sure to choose a backup school that is not as competitive so you can gain admission at least somewhere. Even if you plan to reaudition to one or more of the schools you failed to get into on the first pass, continued study at another music school will be an important credential in order to seek transfer or even admission at the Freshman level. If you did not make it the first time, quite obviously you must spend the year working very hard to make it the second time. If you do not make it the second time, you probably should reconsider your plan and options.
Cost: Music school is generally more expensive, because the better schools tend to be private colleges or universities. Some state schools have good music programs, if you are willing to go to a state school in your own state. Otherwise, an undergraduate degree in music is the same as for any other subject, and students will qualify for financial aid in the form of loans and grants in the very same ways.
Additional costs for music students include: instrument upgrade, expensive music and books, auditions.
Once a student has entered music school, the need for a higher quality instrument becomes apparent (unless the parents have already invested in one). The student’s new teacher will pressure the student until a decent instrument is acquired, and this is especially true if the student intends to enter competitions, or audition for graduate school or performance ensembles.
Textbooks in college are always expensive, but it seems that music and textbooks about music are just a little more expensive.
Auditions are always the added expense that students of all other undergraduate degrees never have to experience. The first added cost is the application fee which is greater for music students because there is an added audition fee. Then, of course, the student actually has to travel somewhere to audition. This includes travel, hotel and meals. This might include the same costs for parents and family if they choose to accompany the student to the auditions. The more auditions, and the farther away, the more the costs. Even after admission to school there might be more auditions as the student enters competitions and considers special summer programs. Then at the end of the undergraduate career the same process continues with auditions for graduate school.
CHOOSING A MAJOR
There are many different undergraduate music major options available at most music schools. Most students will audition and gain entrance as a performance major on an instrument. Some of those students will change majors, or add a second major or minor that is a non-performance area. Choosing the undergraduate major must be done while considering the graduate school options. Each one provides different possible opportunities later in the educational career path and also in the available career options.
Conservatories tend to have major programs and graduation requirements which favor performance, and universities tend to have major programs that favor academic studies. Choosing your major can affect what type of graduate school you plan to apply to.
Most students will usually have only a very limited number entering major options because it is largely determined by the students ability on the primary instrument. However, the other possible majors the student might pursue once admitted can be much different, and lead to entirely different career options. Understanding the performance majors and the other non-performance majors is important in planning the academic and professional careers.
Further, all music students should try to have a second academic major (math, English, biology) in case of the possibility of having to find work that is not music related. Even the best performers will have several years where the bills cannot be paid for by the income earned in music. In addition, there are several majors for which a second major is even more important and that is explained below.
The piano major is different from all other performers at music schools, and it is important to understand these differences before considering majoring in piano at the college level.
Instrument: All music schools provide practice pianos, and in fact students usually cannot bring their own piano to school. Dormitories will not permit it, and it is difficult to find an apartment that will allow it. However, with the availability and portability of affordable good quality digital pianos (that permit headphones), the piano major of today does have the ability to practice around the clock without the impact of busy practice rooms or quiet hours in the dorm. This can give some students an extra edge, and also create greater competition among the piano majors.
Number of Majors: Most music schools admit many more majors in piano performance than will ever have hope of a career performing on the piano. The number of good paying symphony positions in the U.S. is well known, and music schools limit the number of majors in each department accordingly. This is not so for piano, because the music school has need for more piano majors. They need pianists to accompany all their other instrument players and voice students! A music school of 500 students will generally have about 2 flute majors or 10 violin majors in the entering class, but will have over 50 piano majors!
Competition: At the best music schools competition for entrance as a piano major can be fierce, because all the best pianists in the country are applying to the same top schools. Those students are truly hoping to find a career in piano performance. At many of the less prominent music schools competition for entering pianists is much less, because again they need pianists to accompany their other instrument students! Once admitted, piano majors tend to practice many more hours weekly than the other instrumental majors, both because of the competition and because the demands of instrument are extremely high. Students of some instruments, especially voice, are discouraged from practicing too much due to the possible physical damage that might result. Laryngitis and tendonitis are vicious signs of physical over exertion, and can drastically impeded progress while in school.
Career: All piano majors should seriously plan for a non-music career, or a music career in a non-performance area. Even if the student wants to maintain hope of a performance career, a backup is crucial because of the shear competitiveness of the field. Each symphony has only 1 pianist position (compared to 30+ violinists), and there are only a handful of successfully concertizing pianists in the U.S. A second major in chemistry or math will become more valuable than you realize once you have to try to find a job.
The situation for voice majors is often similar as for piano majors – many more are admitted into the program than have hopes of a successful career. In this case the reasons are not quite as obvious, but it is true that for a school to have all the voice types needed for successful opera and music theater productions, they must have lots of students.
In addition, the vocal career starts much later than that on other instruments and very often entering voice students are actually musically 2-3 years behind their instrumental peers. As a result, undergraduate schools must accept more, and possibly weed out more through the program.
The number of concertizing vocalists (opera and concert stage) is a lot more than for pianists, but still much fewer in number than the music schools produce, and the career of a vocalist is usually many years shorter due to age factors affecting the voice.
Just as for pianists, all voice majors should have a second major to fall back on for those years of having an office job to pay the bills, while trying to establish a singing career.
Music schools tend to admit their instrumental performers in the same numbers as can be found in the symphonic orchestra: lots of strings, few wood winds and brass, and even fewer percussion and harpists.
Instrumental performers who gain admission to good music schools (and then good graduate schools) will probably obtain positions in good symphonies. The starting salary at the nation’s leading symphonies is usually twice to the three times the national average, and can reach numbers over $300,000/year for certain star performers. Members of prominent orchestras can also demand very high teaching rates.
A major in music composition is one that combines some elements of performance, but is more heavily based in musicology. Composition majors study a lot of theory and history, and work hard to get their pieces performed. The composition major is ideal for students considering conducting, theory, or musicology at the graduate level. Composition is also the major for students wanting to write music for movies and TV.
Students not planning to continue to graduate school must have a second major in an academic area such as math or English, since a composition degree has no use in the corporate world when trying to find a job.
Music Education Majors
Students who major in music education have a strong desire to teach music to school children, and must be prepared to spend their entire lives teaching in schools. They should have a very broad exposure to all musical instruments, and within their undergraduate career will have learned to play every instrument in the orchestra to a minimal proficiency. Music students who love to play different instruments and think they would like to teach children should consider this career path. Performance requirements are much less demanding for music education majors, both in admissions and for graduation.
Since most states require that their school teachers have a graduate degree, especially at the High School level, it is advisable to plan continuing onto graduate school for an M.M.E. (Masters in Music Education). In addition to the music courses, the education curricula include numerous courses specifically on the subjects of teaching. Special treatment of adult music pedagogy, and early childhood cognitive development are examples of two important parts of the education degree that help prepare the teacher for a wide variety of teaching situations. Some teachers even pursue additional education in “special education”, and might obtain a degree in “music therapy” which involves using music to help the severely mentally retarded, the invalid and adults and children with other mental learning variations such as autism or attention deficit / hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The musicology areas of Music Theory and Music History are purely academic disciplines, and require almost no performance ability. However, many music schools require students to gain admission first on a primary instrument before they are allowed to choose a major in theory or history (and often students enter in Composition rather than a specific performance instrument). Musicology students are seeking a teaching career, preferably at the college and university level.
Students who wish to pursue Music History must love history in general, must be good readers and must have good ability in foreign languages. Music History scholars must be able to read texts in French, Italian, and German on a regular basis as such scholarly texts are rarely ever translated. Music History majors usually enter undergraduate school as piano majors, but any performance instrument will usually be acceptable.
Music Theory majors must have a highly developed musical ear, and a highly analytical nature. Most Music Theory scholars are also composers, so composition is usually the best undergraduate major in preparation for graduate work in Music Theory, but any performance instrument will do.
The conductor is the most prominent and highly paid career in the musical world, and as such is also the most difficult. The abilities of the conductor must be highly developed in all areas: performance, theory, and history. Generally conductors concentrate in one of two areas: vocal and instrumental, although ability to do both is required for both professions.
Vocal conductors will have a highly developed voice performance ability. Instrumental conductors will have highly developed performance ability on at least one instrument and one will usually be the piano. A composition major is an excellent background for conducting as it exposes the student to the abilities of all instruments, and provides the intense theory and history backgrounds needed for conducting. Students considering a career in instrumental conducting should double major in piano and composition, as the piano major will provide the important performance element. Students considering a career in vocal conducting should major in voice or combination voice and theory, voice and history or voice and composition.
Opera conductors tend to have equally developed abilities in vocal and instrumental conducting. They also must have a very solid knowledge of foreign languages and the theater.
PREPARING AN AUDITION
The process of preparing an audition for a major music school should begin in the 9th grade of high school in order to ensure that the student has all the background required for the audition. This includes private instruction, course work and sufficient performance opportunities. Students may begin the process as much as a year later, if significant time and financial resources are devoted to the project. It is not possible to prepare just the requirements for audition without having all the prior background expected to undertake those requirements. In addition, admission is often based upon application items which are not part of the prepared audition requirements: entracne examination, awards, participation in competitions, letters of recommendation, etc. The KMI faculty is fully aware of all these things, and a student may need to make up for deficiencies in one or more of these areas before undertaking preparation for audition. This is why the Junior year (11th grade) is generally way too late to make the decision to prepare for audition.
The KMI Young Artist Program is automatically geared to preparing music students for audition to a major music school. Because of this, students who have enrolled in the Young Artist Program before their 9th grade can wait until the fall of the 11th grade to apply for audition preparation. In general, the Young Artist Program requires students to participate in competitions and other performance opportunities that will facilitate admission to music school. Any student entering the Young Artist Program in the 9th grade or later must inform the faculty upon entry if there is any possibility of deciding to audition for music school. Students entering in 9th grade or later who have not declared their intent to audition will not be eligible for audition preparation.
All students applying to prepare for audition to music school must be enrolled in the Young Artist Program for grades 9, 10, 11 and 12.
Qualifications: Any student that has completed Level 10 of the KMI Young Artist Program Curriculum has obtained the necessary musical background required for audition to the best music schools. The student must be scheduled to complete Level 10 of the curriculum before entry into college (usually the Senior year) in order to be considered for audition preparation. Students not likely to complete Level 10 of the curriculum before entry into college will not be considered for audition preparation.
Audition Preparation: The student must acquire all the application and audition requirements for each school for which the student might apply, and provide them to her or his primary instructor before September 20th of his or her Junior year (11th grade) in high school for audition in the Senior year. The faculty will design a plan and select literature to meet the requirements for all the auditions, and the instructor will begin preparing the student. Auditions for music school are in the Fall and early Winter, and often schools provide for “early admission” (a way to get accepted more easily). The student should be fully prepared for audition 12 months after the plan has been implemented. Any student wishing to audition in advance of the Senior year, must meet all the deadlines earlier according to difference.
Post-High School Auditions: Students who have made a late decision to enter into music school, or who failed to gain admission on their initial round of auditions may ontinue their studies at KMI in order to prepare an audition to music school after graduation from high school. The student is advised to enroll in some form of post-secondary education, such as a community college, while pursuing this plan since the music school will be evaluating the student’s credentials based on academic progress following high school graduation in addition to the high school record, application and audition. If the student is pursuing music as a second career, that is several years after graduation, the KMI faculty can prepare the student for audition depending on what deficiencies exist in the student’s fundamental technique and knowledge base. Each student who applies post-high school graduation for audition preparation at KMI will be evaluated individually and will be advised of the best course of action and most likely time frame for preparation.