Thursday, March 22, 2018

Music Major 'Whys' and the Answers to Them

Being a music major is tough....

   Seriously, at my alma mater music education, along with nursing, were the two most hours intensive courses on campus. There are people who believe it to be a joke major, until someone explains to them the hours involved. Having said that, there is a question often asked in music department student lounges across the country....

"Why do we have to do all of this crap?!"

As someone who is both a graduate student as well as a classroom music educator, let me give you some clarity on classes you might not see the need for at this point in your young life. Once I explain, you still might not like the class but hopefully will see the point therein. Here are common questions I've heard-

"Why do I have to take so much theory?!"

I'm ashamed to say that I used to think like this; even as a non traditional student. Why do you want to take something I love and basically turn it into.....math.....?!
Ok, you likely won't use every single bit of theory knowledge you attain as a working professional in the field of music. Jobs aren't usually won or lost based on who has the better ability to distinguish between Italian and German 6ths, ok? However, you will be amazed how much quick arranging you will be called upon to do and the ability to recognize cadential points as well as the form of a piece of music will be of use to you more often than you realize. I strongly urge this. Ask questions and learn the theory to make you a better musician; not just do well on the tests. Furthermore, I get it, some people work hard and still struggle with theory. To you I suggest (because I do too), find the cadences and work backwards from there. If you can find a definite IV-I, V-I, or deceptive cadence, you have a good starting point.

"Why do I need so much ear training?"

Duh, because 99% of what we do is about listening. Ok, here's a real world scenario. You have a concert band piece that you'd really like to program for your ensemble. It's out of print and you're missing both the score and an all important Eb Clarinet part. You did find a good recording of another ensemble performing it. There's one of a few hundred reasons for ear training. Don't think you'll never have to create a part for a student. It's also about recognizing the aural differences between major, minor, diminished, augmented, modal, etc. That ability will be important and you WILL use it. There is a lot of thinking on your feet in the music world. Improvisation isn't relegated to playing. You'll have to go to plans B,C,D etc quite often.

"Two years of piano? REALLY?!"

Yes, really. See the above two statements about arranging and coming up with parts out of thin air. The piano is a great stable source of tones for you to use. Besides, what happens if the job offer you get includes a choir? You need some basic piano chops. They will help you out quite a bit.

"What in the world is Music Technology"

There are a lot of opportunities here. If you take the course seriously and learn basic composition and recording software you can, say, easily put together pep band arrangements for your group. You can also record rehearsals and, using multiple channels/microphones, isolate sections to a degree to catch what you might not with the whole group playing. Even if this course isn't in your school's curriculum, you might want to read up on software like Finale, Sibeleus, Muse Score and Audacity and Garage Band for basic free recording softward.

"A Year of Music History?!"

It should honestly take longer. Yes, I know that the first 1000 years after the Stasimon Chorus is pretty boring and lots of the chant sounds the same. That said, 1: You're majoring in music. You need to learn about it and 2: You learn a lot about styles with a well taught music history course. This is applicable when you start programming transcriptions with your ensemble. You have to know how to be able to teach Bach, Berlioz, and Debussy too. It's about far more than your ensemble just getting the notes right.

"Why do I have to do marching band?"

Well, if scholarship is involved, there you are. I would say things about school spirit, duty to the program, stuff like that but honestly, I have nothing. Most of us had to do it. Find ways to have fun. I wish more programs would use the marching band to actually TEACH marching band and turn it into not only a performing ensemble but a lab class as well. Explain the ins and outs of drill design when setting drill, things like that.

"Why am I required to practice my instrument so much"

It's actually fairly ridiculous that some music majors believe that the half hour before your lesson is adequate weekly practice time. I say this with no reservation- If you're one who thinks like that and believes "I don't have to get good at my instrument, I'm just going to be a band director." then you really need to question why you're there. You practice your instrument so much because a HUGE percentage of the knowledge and wisdom you acquire as a music major occurs when you're alone in the practice room. Besides, solo performance gets you ready to stand on the podium. If you can't handle playing one instrument in a room with 50 people then how are you going to handle 50 instruments being held by people who aren't you?

"Why do I have to do so many scales?"

Don't think of it as learning scales. Think of it as learning your horn. Fundamentals...(repeat after me kids)....Fundamentals never never EVER stop being cool. If you can play major and minor scales at 120+ (along with their variants, 3rds, 4ths, etc) you are well on your way to beast mode from a 'chops' standpoint and should have little difficulty with most of the lit which is placed on your stand. This is another thing it took me a while to really internalize. With scales, as with learning anything else musical, rule one must be to take the ego out of the equation. Get them clean and precise with a good sound. That is SO much more important than speed. When you finally work your scales up to 120 bpm or more they should simply sound like you recorded them at 60 and played them back at double speed. Precision, accuracy, and smooth movement from note to note are the goals here. Speed comes later.

"Why do I have to play solos in front of people?!"

Guess what, kids, even if you're a music ed major, it's a PERFORMANCE based field. You need the experience 1: Performing in front of an audience (guess what you'll be doing as a director) 2: Working with either a collaborative pianist or small ensemble.

I invite other folks to add their ideas here.