Double Major: Music and Psychology

October 4, 2009 at 08:17 AM ·

I love both music and psychology.  I love understanding how people think and feel and respond; I also love playing violin. So naturally, I've commonly entertained the thought of studying both in college.  I am worried about several things, however... I am worried that having two majors plus core classes will leave me with less-than-adequate amount of time to practice. I am also worried that I will not gain the amount of skill I wish to gain on the violin with a double major because of extra demands. Does it cost more to double major? Is it too much work? Will I be satisfied with my progression in both fields?

I would be interested to hear your opinion.. and if you yourself are a double majoring student in college, please share some information with me! It is much appreciated.

Replies (30)

October 4, 2009 at 12:32 PM ·

The problem with this double major is that, in the violin world, few will care that you have a psychology degree. It might help you to land a job teaching young children, but that's about as lucrative as this combination gets. Likewise, in the world of business and job hunting, few will care that you have a music degree. I'm kind of familiar with this trend, since I have a degree (M.A.) in history. I'm interested to see people chime in about the benefits of this combination, as I see nothing jumping out at me. I sure hope we don't see people chiming in about music therapy.

Some double majors make a lot of sense. Degrees in physics and biology - gold. Degrees in English and mathematics - crazy good. The combination is important. If both degrees work together to increase your chances of finding a great job - awesome. Music and psychology don't have that kind of synergy, in my opinion.

You really, really, seriously need to ask yourself about which career path you're planning to follow. The double major is going to take a lot of time to complete, and the said benefits are negligible depending upon which career path you want to choose.

You're right to worry about practicing. Psychology classes (I have taken many of them) will force you to crack open books for long periods of time. I guarantee that your practicing habits will suffer from this.

A recent study came out that sought to determine whether there are "naturals" in the violin world. Can someone just inherently be great at violin? The answer is no. People who were good enough to get into an orchestra spent around 100,000 hours of their lives practicing, while non-orchestra bound college graduates had only spent about 10,000 hours of their lives practicing. 100,000 hours is like 10 years of non-stop practicing, by the by. So, you're going to need all the practice that you can get.

My advice:

Meditate. Then, ask yourself what career path you're planning to follow upon graduation. If you're going to do something music-related, then pour all of your effort into the music degree. If you're going into the world of job hunting, then go with the psychology degree.

I'm all for education, but there's nothing taught in schools that you can't teach yourself. These days, a university education is about job prospects. Anyone who tells you that universities are only about "enrichment, learning, etc." probably never walked into a library without a teacher being involved somehow.

I hope this helps.

October 4, 2009 at 02:48 PM ·

I like to quote Gerald Fischbach (prof. of violin, Univ. of Maryland). He said something like, 'If you double major in music and something else, you will end up cheating both majors."

October 5, 2009 at 04:18 PM ·

From someone who is a career research psychologist and a violinist, you are correct to be concerned about limited practice time. I don't get to practice as much as I like (or need). Besides the regular "studying" time, you may also decide to become involved in research or therapy, which means you'll be spending  time in the lab or clinic in addition to course work.

I think double majoring is possible; however, don't expect to have much of a social life with these two majors. Oh, you might want to check if you are allowed to even do a double major. At the university I work at music majors are not allowed to do so unless they're both in the music school like violin performance and composition (I'm not even sure if they're allowed a minor either).


October 5, 2009 at 04:46 PM ·

 There are some colleges and universities who have a conservatory program with a specific mission for double degrees: Bard and Mercer come to mind. And of course you can try for a dual degree program, such as Peabody/Johns Hopkins, Tufts/NEC, Juilliard/Columbia. BTW, Mercer's conservatory, run by Robert McDuffie, has a top-notch staff and is tuition-free if you are accepted. Since you are from Georgia, you probably know about the program. The Bard program and the Mercer program are fairly new. Bard is a 5-year program. 

October 5, 2009 at 05:36 PM ·

I think the best thing you can do in this instance is look at where you plan to be 5-10 years from now, and figure out what combination of studies (and which degrees) will best train you to acquire the job that you want to have. Certainly there are teaching positions in music where a degree in psychology is advantageous; at the same time if the job you want involves mainly playing at a very high level you won't have the time to practice if you are in classes all day long.

100,000 hours? If you practiced 12 hours a day, all 365 days of the year, that would give you 4380 hours of practice a year. To reach 100,000 hours it would take you 22.83 years. I think that number is a little bit unreasonable; most of the players in a full-time orchestras that I know did not practice 12 hours a day in school!

At the high end, some stellar players finishing their undergraduate degrees have won jobs in major orchestras with something more like 5 hours of practice a day, every day, since they were six years old...1825 hours a year, sixteen or so years, for something along the lines of 30,000 hours of practice. That sounds more reasonable! :)


October 5, 2009 at 08:19 PM ·

Good discussion. I'm a clinical psychologist, and I share the feelings of my fellow psychologist (above). One thing you have to ask yourself if you are majoring in psychology (regardless of the music issue) is why. To teach, do research, have a practice, to be licensed, or any other major role as a psychologist in this day and age requires a doctoral level degree. If you're 2nd major is psych because of the interest alone, take the psych courses that interest you and find a more marketable 2nd major. I had a heck of a struggle trying to find the time, energy, and inclination to practice in college and grad school. I remember my violin teacher (who was great) when I was in grammar school and high school telling me when I graduated grammar school that I had the talent to make it to a professional orchestra, but only if I was willing to practice 10 hours a day for the next several years. Heck, I'm not sure that I breathe 10 hours a day. My hat's off to those of you who practice that much.

October 5, 2009 at 10:49 PM ·

"100,000 hours? If you practiced 12 hours a day, all 365 days of the year, that would give you 4380 hours of practice a year. To reach 100,000 hours it would take you 22.83 years."


That's why it pays to start young, Gene.

October 6, 2009 at 04:03 PM ·

I think you really have to ask yourself what your career choice is likely to be.  Double majoring does not cost more money, but it can be tricky in terms of giving each major its due, particularly violin, and having time for a life.  Double majoring will also significantly limit the number of unrelated courses you can take.  There are lots of double majors which work well together (my son did Radio/TV/Film and Political Science which was fine), as one person has pointed out. However, unless your psych interest has something to do with your music, you are likely to find yourself stretched.   If you are simply interested in one or the other for your enjoyment but not a career, then I would minor in that one or take some courses.  Good luck!

October 6, 2009 at 05:37 PM ·

The trouble with psychology here..... is that prunes cure just about darn near everything!

October 6, 2009 at 05:55 PM ·

That's where I went wrong !!!

October 6, 2009 at 07:15 PM ·

I don’t think you can do too much with an undergraduate degree in psychology.  You would definitely want to go to some sort of graduate school to actually have a career in the area of psychology.  There are even some Masters programs (for example school psychology) that only take an additional two years.  The good news is that one of the major requirements of getting accepted into a graduate program, is having an undergrad degree.  I don’t think it matters too much what that degree is in.  You should definitely check out some of those psychology programs now to find out if they have any prerequisites. 

Then, do your undergrad major in music.  Spend those four years focusing on just music and see where it takes you.  Make sure to get those prereq’s in.  At the end of the four years, decide if you want to continue focusing on your music career, or go to grad school for psychology.  If you choose the music route, you can always go back to the grad school option at any time in the future.  If you choose the psychology route, you aren’t any further behind than if you had double majored  in the first place. 


October 6, 2009 at 08:48 PM ·

Sandy, you are the greatest!!!!!!  God Bless You!!!!

October 6, 2009 at 11:18 PM ·

Christy -

Every school is different. California State University, Los Angeles, requires an undergraduate degree in psychology to pursue the M.A.

UCLA does not require the undergrad degree, however:

"Must I have been a Psychology major to be eligible to apply?
No, you do not need to have been a psychology major to apply to the program. However, ideal preparation for the Ph.D. program consists of a solid background of coursework in the realm of psychology, including lab courses and classes in statistics and research methods. A broad knowledge of mathematical, biological and social sciences is also recommended."

Quoted from UCLA psychology dept. Web Page


At USC, they do not specifically require a degree in psychology, and instead ask the student to have a degree related to behavioral science: "psychology, sociology, anthropology or political science." (quoted from USC Web Page -

So, as you can see from the above three examples, a degree in music will not necessarily enable you to pursue a master's degree in psychology. Even if you are accepted to a school, you will be forced to take a lot of introductory psych courses before you can pursue graduate level courses.

One thing is certain, a degree in music will be a serious disadvantages to those that are going to pursue graduate studies in psychology. Acceptance, in other words, will be hard.

California State University, Los Angeles, accepts any degree for their Master's program in biology. However, with an M.A. in history and no biology classes under my belt, I realize that it would be quite difficult for me to get into such a program. I would have to put in at least a year at a community college in order to seem viable for that degree.

As in the above, the same holds true for psychology. With a degree in music, you should expect to have to put in a good, solid semester or two (three or four if you are working) at CC before psychology programs will take you seriously. It would be wise to knock out some of those prerequisites in your general education if you plan to take that route.

Lastly, there are a lot of psychology majors in this world, and a lot of them are trying to get into psychology programs. During my graduation ceremonies, there were always pages and pages of psychology majors graduating. It's one of the most popular majors out there. So, you can expect some fierce competition from psychology majors.

October 7, 2009 at 12:23 AM ·

 "I like to quote Gerald Fischbach (prof. of violin, Univ. of Maryland). He said something like, 'If you double major in music and something else, you will end up cheating both majors.""


This is really irresponsible (not to mention wrong...) 

I'm doing a double major in political science and music performance at Eastman and the U of Rochester and it is the best thing that ever happened to me. And nothing is getting cheated.

October 7, 2009 at 05:26 AM ·

" 'I like to quote Gerald Fischbach (prof. of violin, Univ. of Maryland). He said something like, 'If you double major in music and something else, you will end up cheating both majors.'


This is really irresponsible (not to mention wrong...) ' "

Kevin -

I'm not really certain you're in a position to evaluate whether this advice is correct or not. Now, when you graduate with your double major and are accepted into an orchestra (or respected quartet... record label... etc.), then you will be in a position to evaluate the above statement by Fischbach.

So, what I'm saying here is simple. After you've made a solid career for yourself with music, you will then be able to tell us whether or not the double major helped or hindered you.

October 7, 2009 at 05:03 PM ·

 I think it really depends on your situation. Of course a double major CAN hinder you, if not handled well, or if your heart isn't really behind it. But it can also be an incredible opportunity.

October 10, 2009 at 05:15 AM ·

Thank you all so very much for the helpful replies! I will give this some thought...

October 12, 2009 at 06:19 AM ·

I know this is not specifically what you are asking, but this is from Midori's bio:

Midori lives in Los Angeles. In 2000, she received her bachelor's degree in Psychology and Gender Studies at the Gallatin School of New York University, graduating magna cum laude, and in 2005 received her Master's degree in Psychology. Away from school and the concert hall, Midori enjoys reading, writing and attending the theater.

I realize she may be the exception to the rule, just thought it may interest you.

October 12, 2009 at 07:03 AM ·

> That's why it pays to start young, Gene.

In the case of most young violinists with concert/recording careers, that isn't the case. Even if one started at two years old, playing 12 hours a day, 365 days a year, that would mean they would still be almost twenty-five before they hit your 100,000 hour mark. That's just not realistic.

Only speaking from knowledge of my own colleagues, but the majority of the full-time symphony players in that category didn't start at age two, and most certainly did not practice twelve hours a day year-round for the next 20+ years to win their jobs, even the ones who didn't land them straight out of school.

It doesn't pay to just start young, and it's not about the total amount of time spent. It's more about being able to practice efficiently, and making the most out of the practice time available.

October 12, 2009 at 07:41 AM ·


>It doesn't pay to just start young, and it's not about the total amount of time spent. It's more about being able to practice efficiently, and making the most out of the practice time available.

Amen to this.  I also believe this statistical argument is an over simplification in another sense.  There are examples of great players who started a little later and eached a higher standard much more quicklyand with less hours. Very often they have an innate gift for absorbog the influence of a good example so that although they have never picked up an instrument before they have subconsciously absorbed so much information that they appear nothign short of miraculuous.  Nor can we underestimate the influence exercised by playing another instrument such as the piano prior to picking up the violin at a later stage.



October 12, 2009 at 12:40 PM ·

Agree.... I could compare reading books when in relation to violin as like playing piano, or another instrument. I have three degrees, two of them from psychology, and I see nothing wrong with studying music and other stuff at the same time.

I'm not a professional either, (started quite late), but participating in a not too demanding degree like psychology (as compared to medicine for instance) will definitely teach you how to effectively use your practice time, and not just move your fingers mindlessly..

October 12, 2009 at 01:38 PM ·

Hey Thomas,

 I actually did a double major in psychology and crimininology and the degree did cost slightly more than a single major degree because there are several more courses you need to take in order to meet the upper-level requirements of both majors. And in my opinion, what you're doing is great and I would have loved to do a double major in psych/violin if that was available at my school! It's really interesting because a lot of violinists are drawn to psychology. I think that playing the violin really involves a lot of self-reflection, understanding emotions, persistence, creativity...etc- all the components that are very relevant to psychology.

In my case,  I have always loved the violin but I had to settle with playing the piano until I finally started my violin lessons during the fourth year of university!! Everyone thought I was crazy because I was doing school & work full-time but I still wanted to play the violin so badly that I somehow made it work. I have to admit though, in psychology, there are LOTS of term-papers to write and some of my fourth year ones were 20-30page papers with gabillion sources. And I had to cancel a few violin lessons here and there during exam seasons, but I found that playing the violin was quite therapeutic during stressful times-such as the last year of university!!

But anywho, to sum it up, I think what you're doing is going to be greeeeat Thomas. I think psychology and violin make the perfect combo. The two very different yet strickingly similar domains will definately help with one another in my opinion. So I hope you have a blast with your degree, Thomas because I'm quite jealous about the experience you're about to have!

October 12, 2009 at 02:36 PM ·

What about Majoring in one and Minoring in the other to see if you can do it?  You can always switch the minor into another Major.

October 12, 2009 at 03:48 PM ·

"but I found that playing the violin was quite therapeutic during stressful times-such as the last year of university!!"

In my opinion, this is exactly why such a venture might prove to be very very rewarding..

We're not talking about getting into such and such orchestra, or winning the x competition, just to make sure nobody misunderstands. But as a subjective experience, and I mean playing or practicing alone, I think it is wonderful.

October 12, 2009 at 03:50 PM ·

"You can always switch the minor into another Major."

Too much music theory, or what?? ;)

October 12, 2009 at 04:54 PM ·

Yes we are surrounded by false choices all the time. Children must "commit" to soccer, swimming, music, etc. at increasingly younger ages to be in many of the "clubs" that groom the young to the elite level. This does not make sense if you don't know what you are doing or why, but there are benefits to being good at something at a young age in our competitive world.So if you want to be a performer then I would pick music. If you just love the experience of playing and that is enough for you, then do both. I think to be a real performer in this day and age and make a living at it, even the best have a hard time earning a living sometimes. The concert hall/recording industry are in flux these days so you would want every advantage. That being said, a music major still guarntees you nothing so even if you do everything right, sometimes things work out unlike we plan seemingly by chance. I say seemingly because very often being in the right time and the right place is based upon the ability to recognized opportunities and be prepared to take risks. So you must weigh how comfortable you are with risk before making any career decision.

If you are limited by time and money I would pick the one you like the  best. If you have no issue with time or money and are doing it for the joy of it with limited expectations of being a professional performer, then do both but be prepared for it to take quite a long time, but we all have nothing but time anyway.

February 5, 2010 at 12:48 AM ·


As the new academic year quickly approaches, I was curious if you had made a decision.


February 6, 2010 at 05:33 PM ·

Of course it can work! Take a look at this homepage:

I heard him both in science and in music. He rocks :) And all musicians and scientists are jealous of him!

March 15, 2010 at 11:26 PM ·

 Like many pointed out, one degree will completely shadow over the other.


My fiance's sister is going through that battle right now.  Civil Engineering and Mathematics.  If she wants to be Civil engineer, so what, she has a math major.  It's covered under the blanket of knowing sufficient knowledge in her engineering.  And likewise for math, her civil engineering will have nearly no benefit to hear teaching mathematics.


So like most double majors, all it really does for you is give you TWO venues to choose a career.  Versus most people who have a just a major.  You MIGHT be at a disadvantage though, as like stated earlier, your practicing may suffer from having to keep up with the psych courses, and even beyond schooling into the professional realm with continuing education and seminars.


  You could think of it as "a jack of all trades master of none" of sorts.  But I really think that with those two degrees, they are passionate degrees. Meaning you really have to have a passion to do either of them.  So career choice would likely not be the 1st and foremost thing you'd be looking at as either will satisfy your passion as a "job" or career path.

March 16, 2010 at 04:17 AM ·

Ever considered teaching the violin?  Supposedly one of the aspects that made DeLay so great was her ability to understand others.  My current passions in life right now are music and psychology and that is my plan.


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