Troubles with Music Schools

February 27, 2017 at 02:47 PM · I'm a relatively late starter striving to be, at least, a semi-professional(whatever that means), started to play the violin since 12 and didn't take it seriously until 15. I'm 17 now and have just finished Hyden G major concerto, albeit on a relatively high level.Previously my teacher and I have finished P and A,many selections from Mazas one and two, Dont etudes, few Seitz concertos, Beriot Concerto, most of the Kayser etudes, Meditation, Paganini Sonata in A major, Beethoven Romanza in F and other miscellaneous pieces.

And since the college application and audition is coming up next year, my teacher and I decided to take a risk, and jump a bit to play Bruch Violn Concerto, Kreutzer etudes and Bach partita No. 2 in D minor. I'm currently planning on a Duel Degree in one of the STEM fields and violin performance.

This is me playing the Paganini:

(Quite a few notes out of tune, now I watch it...)

When reviewing the pieces I've pleayed, I noticed that I played very few classical pieces, including standards such as the Mozart concertos. So, I feel a bit uncomfortable with my progression, jumping over a lot of pieces. Is it still possible for me to even strive for a place in music schools? Is Bruch even the right choice for me? All in all, I don't know what I should be doing, nor what my next step is...

Replies (57)

February 27, 2017 at 04:09 PM · I advise against a double major. You will only end up cheating both majors. For a music major your applied teacher will be asking you to practice minimum 3 hours a day on lesson material. You will have orchestra for 4.5-6 hrs. per week, and chamber music for maybe 3 hrs. In addition to practicing on your solo music, you will have to practice on chamber and orchestra. Additionally music theory and history classes will take up plenty of time, etc. Think about a music minor instead, or perhaps go to a school that welcomes non-majors to play in orchestra and has the availability of lessons. One example of that is Duke University.

February 27, 2017 at 04:21 PM · First the good news: you have really made impressive progress in a very short time. I congratulate you for your hard work and dedication.

Now the bad news: you are not close to being competitive for admission to a top music school or even a second tier music school. I think you need to give careful consideration to what your goals are.

Unlike Bruce I am not opposed to the concept of a double major; I did a double degree program myself in violin and mathematics. But in your case you are so far behind that I agree trying to double major would reduce the already very small chance that you could catch up in college to near zero. I think a minor in music is a good idea and I second Bruce's advice to go to a school where non-majors can play in the orchestra.

Pick an academic major that appeals to you, work hard and excel in it, continue lessons and play in the orchestra if you can do so at the school you choose, and you will graduate with shining employment prospects and the ability to keep music as a meaningful avocation for the rest of your life.

February 27, 2017 at 04:26 PM · I'm planning on majoring in Comp Sci and minoring in music, so I've been looking at STEM-oriented universities' music programs. A few high-ranking tech schools with orchestras open to non-music majors are NCSU, Georgia Tech, Carnegie Melon (audition only), and MIT (audition only, open to everyone including non-students).

February 27, 2017 at 05:06 PM · You wrote: "striving to be, at least, a semi-professional(whatever that means)".

I think the "whatever that means" here is really important. What does it mean to you?

Does that mean that you want violin to be a meaningful hobby in your adulthood, and that you would like to be able to play well enough to have a range of enjoyable amateur opportunities available to you?

Does that mean that not only do you want violin to be a meaningful hobby, but it's important to you to achieve a certain level of playing -- for instance, to be one of the best amateurs in your city, so that you can be sure to achieve some particular goal? (for instance, to play 1st violin in a community orchestra, or to be a principal player in a community orchestra, or to win adult solo or chamber-music competitions?)

Does that mean that you want violin to be a hobby, but you also want to be good enough to do some professional activities -- for instance, to be able to teach for fun, or play with a freeway philharmonic for fun, or play other paid gigs like weddings for fun?

Does that mean that you want violin to be a hobby, but you want to be able to do sufficient professional violin activities to bring in meaningful additional income (keeping in mind that if you get a STEM job, your base salary should be quite high, and that you might be better off considering doing a side-job in consulting to bring in cash rather than relying on your violin skills)?

Or does it mean that your real hope is to play the violin for a living, but the STEM education is a backup plan in case that hope falls through?

February 27, 2017 at 06:56 PM · A mentor of mine said to me once, "Do you want to major in music? Only do that if you cannot see yourself doing anything else."

It was sage developing skills in other areas, I was able to create my own unique career path, combining my strengths in computer science and in music. While teaching both of those full time at the K-12 level, I've been able to pursue playing chamber music (especially string quartets) on a regular basis, including directing summer music festivals and having the opportunity to play with amazing guest artists.

If there's one thing I'm really pleased with, it's not the numbers of private students I have who have gone into music, but rather the numbers of those who have successful careers in many diverse fields who I continue to see playing chamber music with us on a regular basis! As Mary Ellen mentions, being able to be involved with music for the rest of your life does not depend on it being your primary career choice, and no one should make you feel like you are not committed to music just because you elect not to major in it.

February 27, 2017 at 08:44 PM · Would a trade program be an option if you really want to get into trades and study violin on the side?

February 27, 2017 at 09:14 PM · In my personal experience, very few Asian parents will tolerate a child who is capable of going to university (especially in a STEM field), going into a trade school instead. This is important since most Asian families pay for the education of their children. If the OP has to self-finance his education (and note that uncooperative parents can really screw this up if they want, since your qualification for financial aid requires parental cooperation and assumes that the parents will pay what they can), that becomes yet another thing that prevents him from practicing the violin.

February 27, 2017 at 09:24 PM · Not just Asian parents....

February 27, 2017 at 09:47 PM · About double-majoring, it is not going to work if you expect to really advance far on the violin for the reasons Bruce mentioned. It is *possible* but your non-music major needs to be something that does not involve a lot of lab courses. Forget Chemistry, for example.

Hey Evan, check out CS and CMDA programs at Virginia Tech too. Orchestra is by audition (probably Mozart 3 level, but I really don't know). Director is a violinist, formerly Roanoke Symphony concertmaster.

February 27, 2017 at 10:15 PM · Engineers also have a lot of project work, although they might not be labeled "labs" per se -- it will depend upon the school. At many schools, computer science is also quite rigorous, with extensive project work (and frankly, if you want to land a great software engineering job post-graduation, you are well-advised to spend as much of your spare time as possible doing meaningful software development).

Math, especially since in many universities it's basically treated like a liberal art, is really a different animal than the hard sciences (bio, chemistry, physics, and anything related), engineering, or computer science, all of which tend to have the expectation of significant lab or other hands-on time.

February 28, 2017 at 03:33 PM · "Do you want to major in music? Only do that if you cannot see yourself doing anything else.""

I'd amend this advice to read: "If you want to major in music because you can't see yourself doing anything else, look harder for other options. They exist."

February 28, 2017 at 03:41 PM · Lydia I totally agree with you about project work in engineering and CS, and that extends to architecture as well. The only difference is that it is not scheduled on the university timetable. With lab courses there is still "project" work (data analysis, extensive write-ups, etc.) once you've left the lab. As for math, what you say is true probably also about statistics and data analytics (these are now separate programs at many places). But that places a burden on the student to find that career-relevant activity that will set them apart from their peers and demonstrate that they can solve practical problems -- whether it be faculty-led research or internships, etc.

And I agree with Scott, totally. If you're 16 years old and you can play the Sibelius Violin Concerto, that means you've got a functional brain and a work ethic that could be put to practical (and lucrative) use in another field, whether science or medicine or even letters.

February 28, 2017 at 06:11 PM · It's not usually the 16-year-olds playing Sibelius who are questioning what to do with their lives, I think. They have options and they may be able to keep those options open for longer.

The ones with the dilemmas are the 16-year-olds playing Bruch (and possibly not playing it well). They more often have barriers -- parents without much money, a rural location without easily-accessible teachers who can do pre-conservatory prep, late discovery of a love for the violin, late discovery of a work ethic, etc. Some of those things (or their related parallel) can impact academic achievement as well.

February 28, 2017 at 07:14 PM · All 16-year olds have questions about what to do with their lives, Sibelius or not. Most will eventually find a way to their answers.

February 28, 2017 at 07:48 PM · I think these with multiple interests are the ones who question what to do the most?

March 1, 2017 at 01:12 AM · There are key differences between doing something as a hobby and doing it for a living. You can love doing something for a hobby and really hate the way that you'd do it as a professional -- and indeed, doing it for a living can ruin the joy of it for you.

How much of it you do, and how that impacts your interaction with it, and the stuff it's surrounded by, also matters. For instance, I have a friend who loved being a volunteer firefighter, but when they became full-time firefighters, they hated the actual job -- turned out that the volunteers get all the fun stuff without any of the bureaucracy, politics, tedium, shift-schedule jostling, truly dangerous situations, etc.

March 1, 2017 at 02:34 AM · Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crud.

The trick is to find a job where the crud doesn't bother you, or you're the rare person who likes it.

March 1, 2017 at 03:07 AM · All professional employment involves unpleasant tasks. Professionalism means you do those things well and without too much grumbling.

March 1, 2017 at 11:17 PM · Would be nice if the OP weighed in. Always seems a bit rude to ask questions and then not respond.

March 2, 2017 at 12:26 AM · Yes, that's true. The OP may be busy.

March 2, 2017 at 01:18 AM · Clearly busier than we! : )

March 2, 2017 at 02:09 AM · Probably practicing!

March 2, 2017 at 03:35 AM · Who knows what he can be doing.

March 4, 2017 at 09:59 PM · To all those above,

Sorry for not replying! I'm new to the forum and am really not used to how most of the things work here.

And I have a competition (nothing close to a professional one)coming up next week, so I was definitely practicing. And not to mention the death-equivalent amount of school works.

Side note, the last time I participated in a international competition, I messed up, got a very pity look from the judges, and proceeded to cry for the next 2 days..

March 4, 2017 at 10:15 PM · To Lydia,

Personally for me, I would really,really, like to achieve a certain level of playing the violin.This may mean to participate in a community orchestra as a first violinist, or potentially the principle violinist. I have thought of playing the violin as the main career, but that no longer seems possible. And like most 16-17 years old, I am very unsure of what to do with my life. In the school, I have genuinely goodish grades, meaning I could probably survive without music, but music seems to be way more interesting than all my other options. I have heard people getting into conservatories starting to play the violin at age 15, which would, I think, at least require 5 hours of practice per day, which is also something I have no way of achieving.

All in all, I would not like to stop at a mediocre level, only that I don't want, being mediocre.

March 4, 2017 at 10:47 PM · Go with the STEM degree and play with the college/university orchestra if you can. As a former Bell-Labs person I can tell you that there are a lot of professionals in what are now called STEM careers who also play music. Back in the day when I was working at the Labs there were more than a few chamber groups formed among the people there. Having a STEM degree is almost a guarantee of meeting all kinds of musicians at work as well as a paycheck that will allow you to afford nice instruments, lessons, et cetera. Also there is more than a little motivation to keep up with the others at work who play.

March 4, 2017 at 11:23 PM · George is spot on here.

Excel at your chosen academic field. Keep taking violin lessons during college and practice as much as you can (without neglecting the rest of your college experience, which is a great time for broadening your horizons). Take other music classes if they interest you, but there's no need to declare a formal music minor. STEM programs in any subject other than math tend to carry a fairly prescriptive sequence of courses with relatively little room for electives, and you might find that you would rather learn about other stuff rather than taking music classes. (Engineering will generally have the fewest available slots for electives.)

To play first violin in a community orchestra, you should be at the level of playing the Bruch very well and very comfortably by the time you finish college. Don't rush getting there. You're better off building a rock-solid technical foundation that will remain stable through your adulthood, and allow you to easily learn orchestra music, chamber music, and solo repertoire. You've made really good progress to date; don't disrupt that by trying to jump to stuff you're not fully ready for.

To be the concertmaster or principal 2nd of a community orchestra, not only do you want to play well, but you want to build as much orchestra experience as you can, and there's a significant element of luck involved as well since principal chairs tend not to come open that often. Learn to lead as well as follow; you can do this not only from principal chairs in orchestras, but also by playing chamber music.

Oh, and one more thing: We're all pretty much mediocre violinists. :-) Practice, get better, enjoy music.

March 5, 2017 at 04:24 PM · Thank you for all the advice!

Right now, I am playing as a first violinist in my music school orchestra*, so I think I have at least some level of playing in an ensemble, and I am also participating in the chamber music club in my school so that might help with the experience part.

*music schools in my country, Hungary, are basically a small school where the students from 1-12th grade go learn to play music after school.... Some will also make it into the Liszt academy, but more often than not people just go there for fun.

One of the reasons I wanted to do double major is because it wouldn't cost me extra for my lessons. Plus I can use the musical resource from the university. And with the bonus of getting a formal music degree. I know this might sound a bit superficial, but I want some kind of proof, that I have achieved at least something in the field of music and violin performance, and that may just involve ink on a very fancily decorated piece of hard paper.

Once I took a master class with my local concertmaster in a baroque orchestra(this is him playing beethoven if anyone's interested and he told me that my current choices of repertoire are just right for me, and that I will be able to finish Bruch in under a month. Although I have my doubts, especially the latter.

And regarding universities, I am planning on Northwestern, Boston U, and Northeastern, I heard that the music schools there are not that competitive might just be achievable for me. I know this is wishful thinking, but still, I really want to do something with my violin.

I would like to apologize if anything I wrote sounds needy or is incomprehensible, English is not my first language.

March 5, 2017 at 04:34 PM · Your English is very good!

Do you hope to stay in the United States once you finish your degree, or do you intend to return to Hungary?

When you say STEM, do you know what you're likely to major in precisely?

(Bruch in under a month is a tall order for absolutely anyone, by the way.)

March 5, 2017 at 04:57 PM · Thank you!

As of what to do after uni, I was planning to figure out that during college(yes I am a great procrastinator...).

Currently, I'm planning to take one of the following, Physics, Maths or maybe even Business or Econ which are not in the STEM field.

March 5, 2017 at 07:13 PM · Northwestern University music school is extremely competitive. I don't know much about the other two but I think Boston, at least, may also be competitive although not as much so as New England Conservatory.

March 5, 2017 at 09:15 PM · You want to make sure you get great advice from someone who really understands US universities as you make your plans.

At most good US universities, physics and math are part of the liberal arts & sciences, but business and econ are part of the business school, and engineering is yet another school. At the undergraduate level, you will normally apply to a particular school within the university, but you generally don't need to declare a major within that school for at least a year. But if you decide to apply as a physics student and then decide you'd rather study business, for example, you have to apply to transfer between the schools. (You can usually take courses across the university, but switching major, and thus where your degree comes from, is different.) An internal transfer often has a high barrier, which can be especially significant if the business school is much more competitive than the arts & sciences school, for instance. (This would be the case at Northwestern, for example.)

Crossing the school boundaries within the university is particularly important when it comes to double majors, because each such school has its own set of graduation requirements apart from the major requirements. So, for instance, if music is a liberal art at the university you choose, its general undergrad requirements will be the same as physics and math -- making it relatively easy to add as a double major. But if music is part of a conservatory, chances are that it will have its own set of requirements, making that much harder.

Also, thinking about your post-graduation plans will help you figure out what the right path is. For instance, almost all of the people I know who majored in physics or math, but didn't go on to get PhDs and work in research/academia, eventually got jobs either in software engineering or in finance. There are strong arguments to be made that the ones that went into software would have been better off just majoring in computer science, and the ones who went into finance would have been well-served either to double-major in the business school or to at least take significant relevant courses.

How many hours a day are you practicing the violin currently? (Apart from your rehearsals, etc.)

March 5, 2017 at 10:01 PM · If I decide to pursue a Physics career then I might want to go into the field of physics or academia, since software engineering is something I am definitely not interested in. I am aware that the best choice to make should I want to pursue business, then I would be better off doing a double major in Business and Finance. But there is something inside me that just wouldn't let go of the thought of getting a music degree.

Currently, I practice 2 hours during weekdays and 3-4 during weekends.

March 5, 2017 at 10:14 PM · Business is a general subject -- at the undergrad level there are generally concentrations, like finance, marketing, etc. So you wouldn't double-major in business and finance.

Could you see yourself practicing a minimum of 4 hours a day in college, in addition to your lessons, orchestra rehearsals, chamber music, etc.? And doing that on top of a full academic schedule and other homework? If not, you don't want to try to double-major in performance.

Indeed, now is the time to start practicing 4 hours a day. Get used to the time crunch you'll feel.

March 5, 2017 at 10:16 PM · I think you need to separate out what it is you want from a music degree and figure out the best way to get just that. Music degrees typically require lots of academic classes in music theory and music history, which may not be relevant to your ultimate goal. They are also notorious for having loads of time-intensive one-credit classes--orchestra, for example, that meets four or five days a week but for which you may receive only one credit. I think you are better off looking for a good university where you can take violin lessons (preferably from the professor) as a non-major.

There is really nothing special about a music degree. A BA in music is no more or less than a BA in philosophy, or English, or art history. A BM in performance is a lot more intensive time with the instrument but it doesn't qualify you for anything special beyond what you qualify yourself for by the level of your playing.

March 5, 2017 at 10:31 PM · Currently, I take Higher level IB Music, so at least for the first year, I can exchange that for some credit in the University. If double-majoring is not going to work out for most students, then why do NW and BU and various other colleges advertise for a double major program? I get that there might conflict between the two majors, but then why do colleges advertise that it is a possibility?

So if major is not going to work for me, then will it be good for me to at least minor in Violin performance?

March 5, 2017 at 10:33 PM · For practicing, I see how that might be possible, but I need to manage my time much better than how I'm managing now...

March 6, 2017 at 03:54 AM · A double major makes sense when the two choices dovetail in a cross-disciplinary way. For instance, it makes sense to double-major in finance and computer science, because it makes you more likely to qualify for an extremely highly-paid job writing software for algorithmic trading. It might make sense to double major in music and business if you're interested in going into arts administration, or if arts administration is a fallback / supplement to a performing career. It might make sense to double major in music and physics if you want to pursue research in acoustics (although arguably here it makes more sense to take technical theater courses, not music). And so forth. Common double majors tend to have prescribed paths that have the right sequence of coursework to help -- for instance, arts administration may be a formal degree program.

What you are talking about doing is basically a vanity project, not a career path. (Mary Ellen's advice is very good here.)

If you're not going to be a professional musician, well, then, at the adult amateur level it will make no practical difference whether you got a violin performance degree or not. Nobody will care where you stack up competitively, although there may be minimal bars to clear to do particular things -- but for instance, a competent Bruch will qualify you to play 1st violin in most community orchestras. Being a better player will get you marginally better opportunities, but it won't make an immense difference.

Also, I will tell you bluntly that you cannot maintain pro-quality chops on an amateur's practice time as an adult. It takes serious time with the instrument to maintain your technical facility at a very high level. You may find that all that training ends up just making you disappointed with your playing as an adult, and dissatisfied with your musical opportunities, rather than helping you enjoy your hobby more.

If you're serious about wanting this, now is the time to practice 4 hours a day, so that you can be maximally prepared for college. If you hate how time-crunched this makes you feel, or you don't enjoy practicing 4 hours a day, every single day without fail, don't do a performance degree.

March 6, 2017 at 04:39 AM · An academic career in physics isn't exactly a walk in the park either, unless you want to teach high school. On the other hand a BS in physics -- or engineering -- is quite versatile, there are a lot of things you can do with those degrees. Not all engineering is all about software, although computers and software do have an impact on every STEM field these days, it seems.

March 6, 2017 at 05:00 AM · This is where returning to Hungary versus staying in the US comes into play, too. The job opportunities are going to be different, and moreover, staying in the US requires having qualifications that make it relatively easy to get either a work visa or the grant of a green card.

March 6, 2017 at 05:31 AM · As for why people do a double major...I did a double degree program in violin performance and math for a few reasons: (1) the math degree was a backup plan in case I couldn't support myself as a musician; (2) I enjoyed the math classes just for the sake of learning the material; (3) it made my father happy.

As for how I have actually used the math degree: (1) I got a math assistantship at Indiana while a graduate student in the music school there--the math department didn't have enough graduate students of their own to staff all the positions, plus it paid twice as much as the violin assistantships (which I was never in line for anyway--those went to the real stars, which at Indiana meant internationally competitive at solo competitions). (2) During my orchestra's bankruptcy year, at a time when I had no idea whether it would come back or if my career was over, I took classes towards getting certified to teach high school math. Thankfully my orchestra did come back, but it was definitely a morale-builder to have a plan B in the works. Plus I now know exactly how much math one must know in order to be certified to teach high school math in Texas (not much, I'm sorry to say).

At any rate, though I was behind when I entered Oberlin, I wasn't nearly as behind as the OP, and as has been pointed out, math isn't a lab-intensive major. My engineering-student son is working much harder in his undergraduate program than I ever did as a math student.

March 6, 2017 at 10:54 AM · hi Peter it is none of my business but why do you plan to go to university in the US and not in Hungary/Europe? just curious!

March 6, 2017 at 03:45 PM · First of all, European universities don't usually provide double majors and most technical universities don't even provide a music course. And plus that my brother attended university in US and is currently living there, there is really no other choices for me

March 6, 2017 at 03:49 PM · First, I thought that doing double major to have my violin as a back up, since I planed my main career career to be something in the STEM field.

March 6, 2017 at 04:28 PM · Thanks Peter. It is true that US and European universities have large differences in educational system, with pros and cons in both directions. All the best to you.

March 6, 2017 at 05:48 PM · If you major in engineering, you will have zero problems finding a job. If you major in a science or math, but you don't want to do software for a living, the job is less of a guarantee, but you can easily go into any role that values people with quantitative training (management consulting companies, investment banks, etc. all hire people with such backgrounds). You will need a PhD to be able to get a job in academia, though, and in the US, we turn out far more PhDs than we have professorships for (something like 15% of PhDs will eventually land a job in academia, not a great number).

Violin is definitely not going to be a viable backup plan. It's vastly harder to make a living in, and you are unlikely to be able to get a visa to stay in the US with it. Whereas H1-Bs are plentiful for engineers.

March 6, 2017 at 08:47 PM · Thank your for the advice,

Personally, should I go into the science field, I would most likely dedicate my knowledge to research and academia. But the thought of working in a management company or an investment bank does not seem to be even slightly enjoyable. I don't have a very good reason, but something within me actively rejects the thought of working in a bank. If doing research requires a PhD, then so be it. I know this sounds spoiled, but if my parents know that I would pursue a science career then they would be more than happy to provide me the necessary education.

In the case of violin, shouldn't it be relatively easy to find a teaching position in some primary/secondary schools? Or to find some private students?

P.s. I just tried a 4-hour practice schedule for today, while it was a bit stressful, it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I will try to maintain that schedule and see what will happen.

March 6, 2017 at 09:07 PM · "In the case of violin, shouldn't it be relatively easy to find a teaching position in some primary/secondary schools? Or to find some private students?"

You will not get a position in a public school, primary or secondary, without teacher certification, which means a music education degree. Music education is an entirely different degree from either a BA in music or a BM in performance, and has some of the most onerous graduation requirements of any degree I can think of. In Texas it is a five-year degree just for a bachelor's, and that's assuming you're not trying to add another major.

Your ability to find private students hinges on where you live, whether the local public schools have a strong strings program, how saturated the market is already with private teachers, and so on. I would even venture to say that since most parents seeking a private violin teacher for their child do not possess the necessary expertise to differentiate among excellent/good/mediocre/unqualified teachers, an engaging personality is more critical to your success in this field than is actual musical competence. (I say this with regret.) The better teachers will eventually rise to the top, but there are a lot of awful teachers with pleasant personalities out there who are ruining their students.

Lacking an entree into the private teaching world such as a symphony or university position which gives you an edge in recruiting, you may find it harder to build a studio from scratch, but it can be done though it takes time.

But please think for a minute. Even if all the stars align and you are able to build a private studio that provides you with a livable income, how long do you want to live like that? It's exhausting. You must teach a lot of students to add up to an income that will provide more than subsistence level living. Your evenings and weekends will not be your own, because that's when most students take their lessons--after school or on weekends. You have no pension. You pay 100% of your own health insurance. You start to realize that every time you want to take a day off, it costs you money. And the self-employment income tax will take a big bite out of what you have left after you've set some money aside for retirement and health insurance. While employers pay half of their employees' FICA (social security tax), the self-employed must pay 100% of theirs. So when you are figuring up income and expenses, don't forget to set aside 25% - 30% at an absolute minimum out of EVERY SINGLE DOLLAR YOU MAKE in order to pay your taxes.

Editing to add that my comments about private teaching apply to the U.S. only. I have no idea what it's like in other countries, particularly the civilized ones with universal health insurance.

March 6, 2017 at 09:29 PM · And importantly, I don't think you can get a visa to stay in the US as a private teacher without some other job (and that other job is what would be sponsoring your work visa).

This might also be a good place to mention that the US has larger income disparities than Europe does. My guess is that there's nowhere near the same salary delta between, say, a software engineer, a symphony violinist, an a public school-teacher as there is in the US. But a software engineer's starting salary will probably be 2x the starting salary of most full-time non-top-10 symphony violinists, and 4x the starting salary of a public school-teacher, and that delta increases over time, not decreases.

At least in the US, getting a job in academia is far, far more than just completing your PhD. Roughly 15% of STEM PhDs will be able to obtain a position in academia. Those aren't good odds.

March 6, 2017 at 09:49 PM · Our starting salary is slightly less than the starting salary of a public school teacher.

March 6, 2017 at 09:50 PM · I am fairly ignorant about the differences among various European university systems, mostly familiar with the German one. What I recollect is that you apply to the program--med, chemistry, music, etc...And then that's what you do. One nice feature of the US system is the opportunity to explore and defer important decisions a bit. You can do premed coursework and choose not to go to med school. Taking major lab and prerequisites into account, there still seems to be flexibility built into the system. Some schools even let you opt into engineering after you've started (for others you apply to the engineering school separately). In your shoes I'd preserve my options for as long as possible. You could go to a strong liberal arts college or state university, major in science or engineering, play in the orchestra or chamber music program, take lessons, and in theory (if you've got a solid work ethic and don't get distracted by sex and partying) improve your violin skills while gaining a degree that will enable you to apply to PhD programs or get a living wage job right out of undergrad. You could even (at some schools) earn a performance certificate, which is like a music minor without all the theory and musicology coursework. This would set you up (in theory) to do a master's in music if you're sufficiently awesome and committed. But by that time you may have a different theory about how you want to integrate music into your life. To me, the worst option for you would appear to be attending a second-rate conservatory for a performance degree, especially in the US where it is likely to be quite expensive. This shuts doors (e.g. into academia or engineering) prematurely.

I've played with some amazing musicians who majored in liberal arts and sciences. Some eventually opted into music careers; more frequently it seems to have become an important hobby (e.g. our former concertmaster who works at Facebook because he had the foresight to do a CS degree, a local pediatrician who plays as a sub in local freeway philharmonic orchestras, and the valedictorian who left an MD-PhD program to become a professional pianist. It's so nice to have choices!

One thing you should definitely do is look at LinkedIn profiles and biographies of people in various fields that appeal to you and start to see patterns. What kinda of majors can lead to which outcomes? What extracurricular activities were people able to pursue? Resist the temptation to make assumptions based on small amounts of data. There are always outliers. This kind of research can give you a better sense of what's possible.

March 6, 2017 at 09:54 PM · Peter,

Given your diastase for finance and management, this may not be relevant.

The odds of landing a professorship with just a PhD in the fields of accounting and finance are pretty good. Even in a decidedly mediocre school (say, one that ranks between 100 to 200), the starting salary is normally in the 6 figures.

Edit to add: Forget about music schools.

March 6, 2017 at 10:11 PM · I believe performance certificates / artist diplomas are limited to people with a high degree of existing accomplishment? 17 and Haydn G major, or even Bruch, won't cut it.

March 7, 2017 at 05:44 AM · Princeton's program wasn't quite so picky when it started--perhaps it's gotten more elite. You're probably right in general.

March 7, 2017 at 07:12 AM · Ah, Princeton's program doesn't look like the way that "performance certificate" is normally used. Normally that's specific to a conservatory program, and is generally an alternative for performers who don't want/need a full bachelor's, or possibly are doing it as post-graduate work. At Princeton it appears to be just used as a designation for people who have auditioned into free private lessons with a supporting scaffolding of credit courses, a psuedo music minor.

March 7, 2017 at 04:08 PM · To the OP, I advise you to really think about what exactly it is you are trying to achieve and research your options thoroughly. After reading your posts I question what your ideas are when in comes to a specific field of study and how that translates to a job. School -> job doesn't have to be so linear. In the US if you majored in finance, it doesn't necessarily mean you are going to work at a bank. Is it possible to contact people in career you are interested in and ask questions? I think the reality of most professions isn't what people think it is when they first get into it.

In terms of US Uni/College – All school have requirements towards the degree you choose, but there isn't really a standard amount of requirements across the schools in the US. You need to look specifically at each program in the university in order to plan your education. Additionally, you have to look specifically at each department within the university. Some schools are very open and allow many variation in course work, but others aren't.

For example, I went to the University of Miami in Florida as a general student because of very bad advice from my high school counselor. Since I was really good in math, I wanted to take calculus. I wasn't allowed to register for the class because I wasn't in a science/math oriented track.

In my 20s I went back to school at Columbia University in NYC. I changed my career path to something science-y so I got into the post baccalaureate program at CU and took the pre-med classes. There, you could register for any class you wanted provided you had the prerequisites. The only thing you needed to keep track of was which coursework counted towards your major. CU had a lot of variation in classes even within the same topic of study.

I quickly realized how much work I had to do, and how much time and money it was going to take so after 1 year, I got a job as a tech in one of the university research labs. As part of the benefit package for being a lab tech, I was able to take 2 classes a semester for free. I managed a genetics lab for a group of PhD students and Post-Doc employees for 4 years. Even though my goal was always to slowly get the credits towards a Master degree, I came to 2 conclusions fairly quickly. 1- a Masters wasn't going to get me very far in a research position and that I would have to get a PhD. 2- There was no way I wanted to earn a PhD.

Getting a PhD is as intense as it is playing the violin at a performance degree level. All of the students I worked with had a passion and connection to what they were doing. You really need to love the field of study and devote yourself to it. Also, I was surprised at how little money the post-doc fellows made in academia. For the amount of education and debt, it really wasn't fair.

This site is interesting to poke around in.

Check – Bachelors of Music Education vs Postdoctoral Research Associate vs Cable television installer (To me, they were all about the same ballpark)

My advice in 3 steps:

1- think about what lifestyle you want to have in the future. Investigate the nitty-gritty of that lifestyle and figure out what type of income you will need to sustain it.

2- choose field of study you can picture yourself doing. Look into all the variations of jobs associated with the topic you like. Then look into what it means to do that job day-in-day-out.

3- figure out a path needed to get there.

March 7, 2017 at 05:44 PM · I had a long drive this morning to run an errand, and got to thinking about how lucky I was to have had teachers in my teenage years who insisted that I keep my professional music options open, even though I was very certain that I didn't want to play professionally. In doing so, they also ensured that I would have great options as an amateur as well.

They did things that basically fall into three buckets: repertoire prep for future conservatory / master's auditions, orchestra audition prep, and preparation for teaching.

My teacher felt that I should at least consider the possibility of a double-major even though I was adamant that I didn't want to be a violinist. That meant figuring out how to meet repertoire requirements for likely schools with strong STEM programs as well as a conservatory (leaving two schools under serious consideration: Hopkins/Peabody, Rice/Shepherd) -- and because I was reluctant, the necessary repertoire had to be slipped into my minimal practice time and not interfere with other things I cared about, like competitions. My next teacher would then ensure I'd have the necessary repertoire for grad-level auditions -- he felt I should keep my options open, as he thought I was young enough that I might end up changing my mind about a violin career.

That teacher also carefully ensured I'd have the necessary things for orchestral auditions -- a viable Romantic concerto (Tchaikovsky), a Mozart concerto (#4), and bit by bit, the excerpts, which were basically just slipped in as "spend a couple minutes on this", so I'd build familiarity with them over time. He figured that even if I never became a pro, I would probably still take orchestral auditions in adulthood for whatever level, and that he should teach me the common concertmaster's solos as well. (I stopped playing before he did, but his thinking was spot on.)

Finally, both of those teachers believed that pretty much all professional musicians do some teaching, and that passing those skills onto a student who might someday play professionally was vital. One of them had me read a lot of pedagogy and try to understand the mechanics of playing in detail. The other very conscientiously conveyed how to troubleshoot another player, so to speak, along with self-troubleshooting. (Even my current teacher tends to little asides about how to teach a technique to a student for the first time.) They tried to make sure that I could teach someday if I wanted to, even if I viewed that as deeply improbable.

So if you want to keep your options open, your teacher is a crucial element -- they need to be ensuring that they're conveying pre-professional skills that are designed to help you get to the next stage of education, and to be able to actually earn a living from music later on. The right choice of those skills will serve you well even if you decide to remain an amateur.

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