Should I be a professional musician?

August 1, 2008 at 05:50 AM · Hello! This is my first post to the site and really need this question badly answered.

I am sixteen years old and a rising junior in high school

I've played the violin for about six years now, ever since fifth grade. After recently returning from the Summer Music Camp at University of NC Greensboro have I seriously considered a career in professional music.

I guess my question is, am I at the level I need to be right now if I want to do music? Right now, I am in the finishing stages of learning the first movement of the Bach Violin Concerto BWV 1042, in E-major. In the fall, I am going to begin work on the Haydn Sonata in D Major.

I have made regional orchestras, but have not made senior all-state orchestra. I am assistant concertmaster of my youth orchestra. Is making All-State an integral part of studying music in college? I live in MD.

I love being a part of the music-making process, I love the challenge a new piece presents, I love playing the violin!

I researched music schools the other day, and does anyone have an opinion on the following:

U of MD School of Music,

U of NC Greensboro School of Music

and Peabody?

Sorry for the long post.

ANY help appreciated.

Replies (59)

August 1, 2008 at 07:06 AM · You're ahead of where I was when I was your age, and I'm a professional.

Do what you love to do best, what you can't help but do, and do it wholeheartedly. Diligence, obsession, and a little luck can get you far. And if you fail, well at least you tried. Too many people don't know what they might have done because they never tried.

August 1, 2008 at 01:13 PM · Thanks!

I feel better already.

August 1, 2008 at 02:33 PM ·

August 1, 2008 at 02:42 PM ·

August 1, 2008 at 03:35 PM · Maybe I can discuss my options as to what path to take when I start with my new teacher in January.

Thanks for the reply.

I just looked up the Kabalevsky.

looks very interesting!

August 1, 2008 at 06:23 PM · I think you answered your own question when you exclaimed: "I love playing the violin!"

Very few people know what they love to do. Even fewer people do what they love.

August 1, 2008 at 06:54 PM · True.

Just wanted to double-check.

August 1, 2008 at 07:04 PM · Hi Michael,

I actually grew up in MD (right outside of Annapolis), and was in very much the same situation as you when I was your age. I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a professional musician (mostly because I didn't think I was good enough), but just went for it anyway.

If you're worried about your repertoire, don't be. Playing a Bach concerto at a good level at 16 is not a bad thing! If you are motivated to work hard, you can easily work up the audition requirements at almost any school you choose. My advice is to apply to a bunch of schools at various different levels: maybe a couple of schools that aren't as well known (maybe smaller, private colleges with solid music programs like where I went to undergrad), some right in the middle (including big state universities: UMD would fit in the higher of this level, or maybe the lower of the following), and some at the top tier (Peabody, Juilliard, Rice, etc).

Also, I never did all state when I was in high school, and it hasn't seemed to hold me back. A really good way to get orchestra experience, though, would be to join a youth orchestra. Living in MD offers you wonderful opportunities to join youth orchestras and get some serious playing done on the weekends over the school year. Three great orchestras I can think off of the top of my head are the Chesapeake Youth Orchestra in Annapolis, The Maryland Youth Symphony Orchestra just outside of Baltimore, and the DC Youth Orchestra Program, located in the district.

Now, I'm probably biased because I just finished my first year of Master's work at UMD, but it's an awesome music school and it seems like a very reasonable program for you to enter, provided you work hard over the next year and a half.

In the meantime, you might want to get some lessons with teachers at the schools that you are interested in. I know that the teachers at UMD are more than happy to listen to a student who is interested in applying to school there, and some occasionally have time to take on private students. Also, you say that you aren't starting with a new teacher until January: are you studying privately right now? You probably want to consider taking some lessons in the interim between teachers (if you don't specifically have one now). If you'd like some recommendations of teachers in the DC region, please contact me privately, and I'd be happy to give you some names/resources.

Most of all, good luck and keep us informed when you make it into music school in a couple years.

August 1, 2008 at 09:36 PM · The decision has to be yours. Normally one would like to see more advanced works in you repertorie by this time, but it varies. You may be learning these works at a higher level than other students and gaining what you need from them. But here is my advice - the next 1.5 years work your butt off. Practice as much as possible. Making state should be a goal as that is an indication of where you stand among your peers (but it is not everything). Also, what do you want to achieve? A position in a major sympony, teaching, teaching and a regional orchestra? The major symphony gigs are getting very tough, but there are many people making a decent living freelancing, teaching, or playing in studios, and pit orchestras. One of the best freelance violinists in this area couldn't even make the semifinals in a 2nd violin audition for the local symphony that he subs in for almost every concert. The quality of players vying for these few full time positions is amazing. Not trying to put you off, but you do need to know the reality. Even back in the 80's, friends of mine couldn't get an audition with a major orchestra because they did not go to one of the top music schools. I went to one of the "Majors" and got accepted to every audition I applied for, and I doubt I was any better. So that is something else to consider when you start thinking of schools.

The bottom line, however, is that not one minute of your time spent practicing is wasted. It sharpens the mind and increases focus and will help you in anything you decide to do later. Also, this is your chance to reach a level of playing that will keep you enjoying it the rest of your life if you do decide a different route for your profession. I'm an engineer now but I play almost eveyday, for pay and for fun.

August 1, 2008 at 09:46 PM · Michael-

Go for it! I'm pursuing a degree in violin performance right now at an undergrad university, and didn't know what I wanted to do until spring semester of my last year in highschool.

And no, being a member of all-state is definitely not a requirement to be a professional. I was homeschooled, and thus not able to participate in all-state, and I've turned out fine. ;) Keep your involvement in your youth orchestra! Those leadership experiences now will only help you in the future!

Good luck. :)

August 1, 2008 at 09:49 PM · Oh, I forgot something!

It sounds like you do a lot of studying in the North Carolina area. If you get the chance, audition for the Eastern Music Festival! I went for 5 weeks in the summer of 2007, and it was an amazing musical experience for me. It's located on the Guilford College campus in Greensboro, NC. I think a link to the website is under the "camps" button on this site!

August 1, 2008 at 10:44 PM · DO NOT...REPEAT: DO NOT!!! Go to school for music unless you are absolutely sure it is what you want to do. If you feel that there is nothing else in the world you want to do, go for music. It is the hardest career to break in to. The last thing you want is to have 6 years of college (debt), no job, and a pair of empty pockets. Do not underestimate the competition of the violin world!

August 1, 2008 at 10:50 PM · Unfortunately, Marty is right. However, even if there is nothing else you want to do in the world, that doesn't mean you should still do music. At 16, you may not even know what's available.

One thing you may wish to do is figure out your place in the fiddle pecking order. Next summer, apply to go to Meadowmount or Encore. Check out how other 16-year-olds play. You will probably be hearing 12-year-olds performing Sibelius by memory, or 16-year-olds playing the Bartok Solo Sonata. These are the ones that will be making a decent living.

Everyone else will likely struggle.

August 2, 2008 at 12:06 AM · Thank ALL of you for your unhindered words of support, advice, and straight talk.

Tommy, I feel you have put your finger right on the pulse of my issue, seeing as you were in it a few years ago. And yes, I am currently taking lessons.

Keep playing!

August 2, 2008 at 12:37 AM · Adam, which Kabalevsky are you talking about?

The one in A-Minor or C-Major?

August 2, 2008 at 02:30 AM ·

August 2, 2008 at 06:31 PM · Thanks!

August 3, 2008 at 07:40 PM · Sound advice from all! All-State is a nice credential, but not one I've heard anyone use as a defining point for admission to a music school. Here in NY about 9000 kids audition for less than 1000 All-State spots, so surely many are left out who are as deserving. Make it a point to get to many concerts and recitals, and to listen to lots of great violin and orchestra music. Also look for by-audition summer programs for next summer to add to your credentials. Sue

August 3, 2008 at 09:32 PM · Sue has some excellent advice about going to a lot of concerts and recitals. I have known lots of kids who love playing the violin and want to, or ARE going to music school, yet they don't go to orchestra or chamber concerts. It seems to me that if a person really loves their instrument they would want to see it in action for himself, rather than just playing it alone. This always baffled me.

August 4, 2008 at 12:46 AM · I love to watch concerts, Marty and Sue, so no problemo!

And Sue, I have been researching the Eastern Music Festival.

The audition requirements are one piece demonstrating your lyrical style, and one showcasing technique.

I was thinking Meditation and the first movement from the Bach E-Major.

Any one have any thoughts as to these two pieces?

August 4, 2008 at 02:26 AM · Scott,

While I understand your point about competition, I would not necessarily let the gifted twelve-year-olds at Meadowmount scare anyone away unless planning to become at least a national soloist. With all due respect to their formidable talent, you put them in a group and many can't play scales together in tempo. I kid you not; the gentleman giving the class was visibly frustrated. In an orchestra, you can't afford that.

Apologies to any fellow 'Meadowmuffins' reading this -- seriously, though!

August 4, 2008 at 03:17 AM · Speaking of scales, I've never been able to play them well. My new teacher is forcing me into a daily scale routine consisting of all scales, major and minor and arpeggios. I'm really glad someone has finally demanded me to do this.

Yeah, it's amazing how some people can play anything on the violin, except their scales!

August 4, 2008 at 08:13 AM · Scales suck, don't they?

I hate playing scales all the way up to the point that I love them. A perfect scale feels like I added a star in the heavens. Wish I had someone to make me do them.

August 4, 2008 at 08:05 AM · Seeing how tough it is to get a job these days, I am talking about jobs who will provide you a decent living, I would say one has to be quite advanced when he or she is graduating from high school to even have a fighting chance of making it in the music business.

Most of those Sibelius-playing-12-year-old will not go on to have solo careers, they will be the ones competing for the very few decent jobs in the not too distant future.

August 4, 2008 at 09:54 AM · Hey, it's not like you're gonna starve to death in this country. I'd say the key is flexibility.

November 15, 2009 at 12:08 AM ·

Just thought I should update you guys. 

Started with new teacher back in January and I feel that I have come a LONG way.  I can now competently play three octave scales, diligently practice Kreutzer, and am working my butt off to polish the first movement of Mozart's 3rd concerto.

As for schools, my choices are (in no particular order at all):

St. Mary's College, Marshall University, Shenandoah U and U Maryland, College Park.

St. Mary's is a small school about an hour south of where I live, so it's very close.  They have an incredibly strong study abroad program for music in Italy, so that's really my big draw there.  I might also have the opportunity to play in their version of an Aspen-type festival (students, pro/mix).

Marshall- I have developed a rapport with the violin professor there.  Drawbacks: 8 hours from home, not crazy about the location

Shenandoah-  About two hours from home. Small school, excellent teacher, good financial aid, if I can wing it in my audition and grades! 

College Park- Massive state school.  Definitely my back up school for sure.  But, I hear the music program is excellent.


I feel I'd be more at home at a smaller program where I can have lots of one-on-one time with all faculty.

As for my All-State situation,,,,,

auditions are in a week from now! I'm absolutely terrified (in a good way?)  This is my last year to try to make it.  I guess I found my old thread again to see what you all had said about making an All-State program, and while it would be a great experience, I think it wouldn't make or break my chances of getting into any of my schools.  I guess I'm trying to say my life doesn't depend on making All-State, but it wouldn't hurt to make it either.

 Career goals: can't really see myself in public school classroom setting.  So, I'm thinking I might double major in performance and either communication or English/public policy, etc something along those lines.  I hopefully would like to play in a regional orchestra and teach privately.

Back to practicing!

November 15, 2009 at 02:07 AM ·

Hi Michael,

I'm also in the crazy admissions stage... you can vent with me. T.T

Although I am not affiliated, I can highly recommend U of Maryland. Very well-rounded school so you don't need to only be limited to music. Heck, go for the double-major. Society these days is so damn demanding with diversity, you know? Tough on us.

One of my great mentors once advised me, "A university/college is your intellectual playground. Please, have fun learning what you want to learn, and more."

Good luck and persist!

November 15, 2009 at 02:36 AM ·

Keep it up!
Success is knowing what you enjoy doing, and finding out how to get paid for it. If it also supports you, even better!

Looks like you are well on the path to success.

November 15, 2009 at 01:09 PM ·


I am just like you, except I started in 4th grade and am a sophomore, but I do live in Maryland. All-State is incredibly difficult to get in to in Maryland. No one in my county has made it for the past 10 years or so. Lots of us have tried, but no one gets in. However, you don't have to get into All-State to be a "good violinist." All that matters is that if you enjoy the instrument- you really, really love it- and it's something you want to do for the rest of your life. I plan on getting a double major in violin performance and English, and then go on to seminary. That way, I'll have a job, but I can also join an orchestra or teach privately.

Also, if you are looking at colleges, think about Hood College in Frederick, Md.! I'm in the prep division there, and let me tell you, they have so many great professors and teachers, and lots of famous musicians come to play here. Elena Urioste gave a recital last year. Yes, it's a small liberal arts college, but there is a lot of oppurtunity for music majors. My teacher was a full scholarship student at Peabody, and studied with Berl Senofsky, the only American ever to win the Queen Elisabeth Competition of Belgium. Just think about it!

November 15, 2009 at 03:00 PM ·

Thanks Sayre.  Hood sounds great.  Is the teacher usually good about letting students participate in a trial lesson?

November 15, 2009 at 03:35 PM ·


Good luck with the MD A-S audition.  I played in the All-Maryland High School Orchestra back in 1950 (violin) and 1951 (cello). I think it was much easier to get into A-S back in those days.  I recall that in 1951 Leroy Anderson was our conductor. In those days, the A-S orchestra meeting coincided with the MD teachers' convention in Baltimore, for which we played our concert. I lived in Frederick in those years, and was also a charter member of the "Hood-Frederick" Orchestra (as a cellist). It combined the few girl musicians at Hood, with "townies" from communities around Frederick and all the way to Hagerstown. The concertmaster was a Hood student who had studied with Persinger.

Be in close touch with your teacher about your career aspirations. I recall that the progress one can make in the teen years can be really phenominal with intelligent application of sufficient practice hours. There is a good solid octave of significant notes up to an octave above those one finds in the Mozart concertos. I have found it interesting that with reasonable thought a student can "learn" a new note every day and thus get a good feel for that octave one week. Of course, practicing an octave's worth of 3-octave scales (that would be all of them) we get all those notes too. Just for fun, look at what happened to Clair Hodgkins' "3-octave" G major scale on the Heifetz master class video.

Best of Luck!


November 15, 2009 at 04:57 PM ·

Do you have THE passion to do this?  Would you rather do this than eat? Speaking of eating, what's the difference between a large pizza and a musician? A large pizza can feed a family of four. Best of luck.

November 15, 2009 at 06:12 PM ·


I could give you my teacher's email if you want to contact her. I'm sure she would be interested in having you as a student!

November 16, 2009 at 04:13 AM ·

I think that it's great that you decided on a possible music profession.  Just be sure to have a back-up plan if the whole music thing doesn't work out.  I agree with others that it is one of the hardest careers to make it into, and it took me a long time to realize this.  Good luck with everything!

November 17, 2009 at 11:50 PM ·

I would say that if you are truly passionate about music, you should at least give it a try. Get a Bachelor's in music. During those four years you will experience many things that will help you determine if you should truly go for it. Nobody works without a master's these days anyway. So, if those four years change your mind, you can still choose a different path, like getting an MBA, going to Law School, or anything else you would like. Life is too short to live with regrets.

By the way, some time ago there was a thread here where someone in highschool was asking for advice to convince his parents to go to music school. Almost all the responses were along the lines of "forget music, go to med school." The main reason given was money. I agree, in music you probably will not make as much money as a doctor. However, doing what you like to do and getting paid to do it is priceless. Besides, if people go into med school with money being their primary motivation, no wonder the health care system sucks; no wonder doctors are prescribing unncessary and ridiculously expensive procedures; no wonder surgeons are forgetting instruments inside patients...

No offense meant to any doctors, I admire doctors who truly have a calling to do what they do. This is just my little rant for the day...

November 18, 2009 at 01:35 AM ·


>no wonder surgeons are forgetting instruments inside patients...

Only violas,  and  I believe it may be intentional.  The number of viola players that accidentally swallow their instruments when the conducters shouts `on the bridge` is high.  It is a scandal that this situation is not being investigated.



November 18, 2009 at 01:56 AM ·

No wonder... my good friend, the violist, did mention something about his viola disappearing in the middle of rehearsal. I will suggest he gets an x-ray, or a sonogram or something, although by this point the digestive juices might have taken their toll. It's worth looking into anyway, they might salvage strings and fine tuners...

November 18, 2009 at 02:54 AM ·

Oh you guys are too much some times.  Thanks for the advice!

November 18, 2009 at 03:26 AM ·

 "Hey, it's not like you're gonna starve to death in this country."

Emily, this is not a good reason to try for a career in music. And according to the latest figures, 49.1 million people are having problems getting enough food. Of that figure, 1/3 report regularly skipping meals, and 50% of children in the country will at some point be relying on food stamps. It doesn't mean they're dropping dead from hunger, but the situation in this country is pretty bad for many people. As Larry David would say, "p-retty bad. Yes, I'd say pr---etty bad."


November 18, 2009 at 03:26 AM ·


>they might salvage strings and fine tuners...

oh boy, 8 fine tuners rolling around in the bowels must be painful.



November 18, 2009 at 07:03 AM ·

 >8 fine tuners rolling around..

Okay, I know I'm exposing myself to mockery, but why 8 ?

November 18, 2009 at 08:38 AM ·

Starvation is the result of lack of ingenuity. If you plan to puruse a career as a violinist and lack ingenuity and practicality, then don't.

November 19, 2009 at 06:26 AM ·


You forgot to add chops. And even if you have chops and can't make it as a violinist, you can eat the chops. So I guess you won't starve after all.

BTW--sounds like you've been reading some Ayn Rand..


November 19, 2009 at 08:40 PM ·

Thanks y'all! Anymore thoughts?

November 20, 2009 at 03:33 AM ·

Since you live in the DC area, you might want to consider Catholic University.  They have a pretty good music program.  I've heard good things about one of their violin professors, Jody Gatwood.  I wanted to take lessons with him but he was completely booked.  He is also the concert master of the National Philharmonic.



November 24, 2009 at 04:45 PM ·

As long as you mention Catholic University, I have to point out that their newly-appointed adjunct violin professor, Emil Chudnovsky, is an absolutely marvelous teacher (I know from first-hand experience.)

November 24, 2009 at 10:17 PM ·



>8 fine tuners rolling around..

Okay, I know I'm exposing myself to mockery, but why 8 ?

4 on the tail piece and four fitted to the pegs......



November 25, 2009 at 01:21 AM ·

Hi, from what I see, I was about your level when I asked myself the same question... That love of music is not the easiest thing to deal with isn't it : ) 

I had many profoundly disturbing discussions with professional musicians that made me decide that I would not even try to study in music.  But my case is not yours and I'm sure some succeed very well.   Maybe it was this story of skipping meals, eating just peanut butter, pass a few teachers each year in high school band because they were almost in burnout saying to my mom "pls, save your girl before it's too late", having all my family on my back that I could not even pay "veggies", stories of my maker and teacher about people who made stages in Russia + attended our best music school in town without finding a job after or were still on bicycle at 40.  Yes, I admit I probably heard some of the worst stories.  I know there are much better ones but it is always good to hear both sides I imagine.  At first, I tough they were all projecting their anger feelings on me but they really wanted to help me, not demolish me.  I was too immature to realize their good intentions back then.  Do I like more studying something I hate (well this includes everything that is not music lol) now?  Not at all and it is a big sacrifice but I hope it will allow me to play plenty of music as an amateur and eat ok.   Since my parents help to pay for university, I can't go in something risky and feel guilty all my life of having done this to them who do so much sacrifices.   It is not as if they were millionaires that could afford to help for more than one field of studies.  

But each situation is so different that it's pretty hard to tell. Also it depends what one wants as a job.  If it is a symphony member of a good orchestra or teach at the conservatoty... it's pretty tough to get there... If it's to teach in public schools or in your studio, it is less tough and more accessible if you find a job.

Good luck and courage!



November 25, 2009 at 01:29 AM ·

Ah yes, go and meet professional musicians that have some jobs you would like to have and ask tons of questions. See them in real... Nothing better to see if someone is honnest or not. The net is good but meeting people in real is steel a very very very good option for someone who is taking such decisions in 2009!


November 27, 2009 at 10:44 PM ·

Good news! Got accepted into Marshall University today.  Still not too sure where I stand with this school but I feel great!

November 28, 2009 at 02:29 AM ·

Bravo!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Then don't ever listen to musicians who tell you things like I have been told!


November 28, 2009 at 02:42 AM ·

Thanks Ann-Marie, but I haven't auditioned there yet.  I just got accepted into the regular college, but not the school of music (yet!)



November 29, 2009 at 03:14 AM ·

I wonder if it would be easier to start off with a different major, then transfer into the music school.  Many people will deliberately list an obscure major to get into a top notch school, then change their major after they get in -- might be something to keep in mind if you really want to major in music.  But then again, if you've got the chops, maybe you can just audition and be done with it.

BTW, I would love to go to music school.  Too bad I'm an old fart with a family to support. 

December 1, 2009 at 02:33 AM ·


December 1, 2009 at 10:45 AM ·

I'm surprised you didn't wake my husband.  Congrats!

December 1, 2009 at 12:22 PM ·

Thank you Emily.  It's this huge sense of validation, like, "hey, you're good at this!"

December 6, 2009 at 03:35 AM ·

Is it normal for some people to major in ed. but then get their master's in performance?

January 18, 2010 at 08:08 PM · MD's really really small

March 16, 2010 at 02:05 AM ·

Michael, I just read through the discussion posts, and I'm thrilled for you that you were accepted into All-State.  What drama!  Best of luck to you with your schooling and beyond.


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