Is a Music degree worth it? My honest opinion

Debating whether to pursue a music degree? While taking a few music classes can be an excellent way to start your musical journey, a full degree isn’t for everyone. 

A music degree is beneficial for those aspiring to be scholars, employed in specific music-related fields, or those seeking valuable networking opportunities. However, it may not be the best path for those wanting to be independent artists.

Here are some of my observations from my two years in music school.

The Relevance of Music School Content

Much of what you learn in music school can be overkill. Modern music rarely uses many of these concepts, and learning about atonality won’t necessarily make you a better musician. Once I left school, many of the concepts I had learned became irrelevant.

Don’t Use Classes as an Excuse

Many students get caught in a cycle of perpetual education. Are you taking more classes to procrastinate starting your career? 

Once you graduate, you transition from being a student to being unemployed, essentially starting from square one. The sooner you start your music career, the better. 

I personally want to have built a solid foundation by 30 (24 as I write this). This means I don’t have time to waste on lectures about serialism, John Cage’s silent compositions, or medieval music notation.

Hands-On Learning Is Key

Theoretical knowledge doesn’t equate to proficiency on an instrument. What’s the point of learning about modulations, cadences, secondary dominants, and chords if you aren’t playing them on your instrument? Playing is arguably the most important part of being a musician.

Personal Projects Take a Backseat

When I signed up for music school, I was ecstatic. I hoped my classes would inspire my personal projects, but they pulled me further away from them. 

Before school, I played my electric guitar every day. But during the semester, I had to practice my classical guitar for hours just to avoid failing or to seek validation from peers and professors. I ended up playing music I didn’t even enjoy.

Restrictive Curriculum

You can’t learn everything you want about music in school. There’s no focus on production, marketing, mixing, modern styles, or anything you can plug into an amp. 

The curriculum is set for you, focusing mainly on classical composers and their music. As a full-time student with a part-time job, finding time and energy for extracurriculars is nearly impossible. 

I had to wait until my last semester to join a fun class like the jazz ensemble. Why put it off when you could get started playing jazz at home with a radio and lead sheets?

Unrelated Course Requirements

A music degree often includes semesters of unrelated courses like English, math, and history, which need to be completed before you even step into a music building.

Music School Can Be Beneficial

On the other hand, if music school aligns with your future goals, it can be incredibly valuable. For those wanting to teach, perform professionally, or work in specific music therapy roles, a degree provides essential knowledge and credibility. It can open doors and create opportunities that might be difficult to achieve on your own.

Music School Is for Specific Career Paths

Unless you aim to be a music teacher, professional performer, employed composer, or music therapist, you don’t need a degree. Employers may value degrees, but if you don’t plan to be employed by anyone in the music industry, why do you need one? Experience, a website, and self-made albums can look more impressive than enduring long lectures for four years.

Choosing Yourself Is Key

In music school, you enter a world of diverse talents and fields, which can lead to imposter syndrome. Seeking validation from peers or professors can lead you to chase goals that don’t align with your values. 

I stopped attending school and focused on creating my own music. I learned my favorite songs and used the internet to explore topics I cared about. I got tired of proving myself at an instrument I didn’t care about. 

I let go of the need to market myself or seek approval from others. I chose myself.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the decision to attend music school depends on your personal goals and career aspirations. If a degree will help you achieve your dreams, then it’s a worthwhile investment. 

However, if your path lies outside traditional music careers, hands-on experience and self-directed learning may serve you better. Choose the path that best aligns with where you want to be in the future. 

In my case, music school provided the knowledge and experience I needed to carve my own path in the industry. It showed me what I didn’t want, and in that sense, it was worth it.