Changing my major

March 24, 2019, 1:20 PM · Hi,I am a second-semester freshman student. My major is Music Performance in violin and I am thinking of changing my major to economics.

I think I play relatively well but not good enough to survive in the music industry. Also, I don't like playing in an orchestra. I like classical music but it is not my thing. Since I have to practice to get good grades in the orchestra, chamber music or recital class I am not enjoying my daily violin practice and sometimes it becomes a torture. :/ Most of my violin studio mates are playing important violin concertos, and I am playing like easy stuff. Learning a piece or a scale takes me too much time and it is killing me.

Well... this semester I had to take a general course, so I decide taking economics and I fell in love with that course. Now I would like to take upper-level courses in economics.

On the other hand, I am not thinking of quit the violin, I would like keep playing it or take lessons with a private teacher, but no more as a music major. Now, I am worried that if I take that desicion maybe I am going to regret in the future.

Replies (36)

March 24, 2019, 1:48 PM · Sounds a wise decision based on what you have written. What is it that you think you would regret? If you wanted to be soloist but can now see that that is not going to happen due to your level of playing, then it is not going to happen however you want it to happen. You would probably regret if you stopped playing alltogether, but since you are not doing that then there is really nothing to regret, right?

Much better to get a stable income with economics and buy yourself a beautiful violin to play on your free time what you want and where you want to.

Edited: March 24, 2019, 1:51 PM · Given what you have said above, I doubt you will regret changing your major. What it sounds like to me, and you can tell me if I'm mistaken, is that you were probably one of the strongest players in your hometown and derived enjoyment from the sense of accomplishment that came with that. Now, however, in a more rigorous university environment, you're finding that there are players who have greater facility and/or can learn pieces faster, which are important skills for professional violin playing.

You say you enjoy classical music, but that it is not your thing. You also dislike orchestral playing. Orchestra jobs are tough to get, but certainly require the least amount of innovation as far as music goes. Those who are often successful in the music world outside of that realm are either innovative (they create new kinds of ensembles or organizations to create demand for themselves), amazing chamber musicians (by amazing, I mean, able to win the Banff competition-type amazing), or world-class soloists. The reality is that, if your attitude toward classical music is one of passive enjoyment, you shouldn't waste your time trying to pursue it, as there are plenty other qualified musicians who have the intense passion and drive for it.

While talent is a certain a factor, I don't buy that someone is or isn't "good enough" to make it - I think it largely has to do with an individual's dedication and motivation to improve. By everything you've said above, I think it wise to switch your major ASAP, as you're unlikely to be behind during your first year of college. Your prospects of obtaining a job (and a good-paying one at that) are at least 100 times greater in that field, and I get that sense that it fulfills you. If anything, I'd thank my lucky stars that my true passion is something that can easily put food on the table - many of the people on this forum aren't so lucky.

Just my two cents, and best of luck to you.

March 24, 2019, 1:51 PM · From what you write (which is all we know) it seem obvious you want to switch. You can always keep the violin as a wonderful hobby.
March 24, 2019, 2:24 PM · From what you have written, the only question in my mind is why you started out as a violin performance major in the first place. It does not seem to be a good fit. Follow your instincts and change your major.

And if, as has been the case with several students I have encountered over the years, you started out as a violin major on the recommendation of your high school private teacher or orchestra director, because you were "too good" to "waste your talent" or whatever, please keep in mind that you are under no obligation to either your teacher or your talent.

Edited: March 27, 2019, 6:13 AM · To the above wise advice I would only add that there are probably things you have learned through the study of the violin -- how to break down complex problems into small pieces and build them back up, how to concentrate, how to stay with something every day over the course of years, how to accept a fair amount of tedious work and even some dark times so that you can enjoy deferred reward (even though that seems to have evaporated for you where the violin is concerned), how to measure your progress against general standards and against your peers, how to balance the creative against the mechanical, how to appreciate the differential contributions of colleagues, etc. These can all be tremendous assets in many other fields and you would do well to apply them going forward.

Economics is a field where there are a lot of gray areas, ambiguities, complex and conflicting underlying theories, and important roles for both conceptual and computational modeling. Those are among the features that attracted me to chemistry, so I can certainly understand the appeal of economics as a course of study and as a professional discipline.

March 24, 2019, 5:55 PM · As a professor myself (not in music) it seems you have thought it out. NO reason you would need to stop playing (though you may be required to change teachers). In fact, you may enjoy it more with the pressure off.
Part of being an undergrad is having the opportunity to explore majors. I'd talk with your economics prof, find out what being an economist means, and take a few more classes. Then you'll have a more solid basis for a decision.
March 24, 2019, 6:15 PM · I think, given what you've written, that it sounds like a switch in major would be a great idea. Keep in mind that even if you don't end up loving other upper-level economics courses, that you may find other courses in the business school that you do like.

And yes, keep playing. I suspect you might enjoy it more without the pressure of practice being necessary rather than a fun hobby.

March 24, 2019, 6:23 PM · This topic comes up frequently. A lot of music performance majors would be better off, financially, in the long run, majoring in something else and acquiring another job skill. What is really needed is a music minor that includes lessons and performance, instead of academics. None of the public universities in my state do this. A lot of intermediate level music students stop playing in college, and never return, even as amateurs.
March 24, 2019, 8:36 PM · What would you regret? Are you thinking you might change your mind and want to pursue a music career? Changing majors does not mean losing that opportunity. There are professional musicians all the way up to the highest levels whose undergraduate major was not music. The one I'm most aware of is San Francisco Symphony principal violist Jonathan Vinocour, who majored in chemistry and did not decide to pursue a career in music until he was 21.
March 25, 2019, 6:25 AM · I wonder if it is possible to do double majors in your school if you are not totally made up your mind, or worry that you are making a life time decision base on one semester of Economics.

I am not sure if music performance program prepare people for only orchestral roles. My bet is it is not. There maybe some jazz program or composition or that sort that maybe more align with your interest.

March 25, 2019, 9:41 AM · Life as a classical musician nowadays can be pretty harsh.

If you want to have a family and save for retirement I strongly suggest a double major at the very least, especially if you don't expect a large inheritance from your parents.

March 27, 2019, 6:19 AM · Sivrit brought up double-majoring. Yes it's possible, but very hard. If you're double-majoring in chemistry and biochemistry, there is a great deal of overlap in the course work so it's not all that much more. But chemistry and music performance? Nearly impossible because of the time-consuming, schedule-wrecking nature of the lab courses. So if you're going to double-major in music performance and something, the something needs to be one of the less-demanding majors (in terms of time and scheduling). You don't necessarily need it to be a "jock major" but it won't be engineering, computers, or physical sciences either. Math, economics, and statistics come to mind.
March 27, 2019, 10:51 AM · Agree with most of the advice. OP might have the talent to do music professionally, but only if really motivated. The motivation might come back after a year or two, but no better idea than trying what might really float your boat in the meantime. At the very highest levels, talent seems to find a way to deal with a detour like this. Plenty of Harvard and Yale undergrads have gone on to have pretty good careers, and the Boston Symphony once had two principals who had earned science PhDs.
March 27, 2019, 1:02 PM · continued,- repeating myself from a similar thread:- Our colleagues over in the theater department have a good practice of requiring the acting students to also learn a related theatrical back-stage skill; set design, lighting, make-up, clothing,sound, carpentry, business management, etc. Their list is long. Those ancillary job skills frequently become the day job that pays the rent while they are doing the next audition. Without doing the formidable load of a double major, there is a shorter list of options within the typical music major; sound engineering, arts management, music education with the state certificate, arranging, composing for film, instrument repair technician...
March 27, 2019, 2:47 PM · I concur. A double major is very hard. I did it in Physics and Music Performance/Music Ed (so sort of a triple major). It was very hard. That was 40+ years ago. I would guess it's harder now.

One needs to practice--there is no escaping that, and that takes a lot of time. It's not about being a genius and skipping along. Practice, practice, practice. That leaves little time for the academics.

March 27, 2019, 3:07 PM · Music Education and Music Performance is a very demanding double major indeed. I would take math as a double major over that.

I don't really see any evidence that the OP is grasping at ways to remain a violin performance major, however. It seems to me that his heart is elsewhere--perhaps in economics, perhaps not, but not in violin as a major. Lots of people enjoy playing the violin and stay with it as a pleasant avocation despite not majoring in it.

March 27, 2019, 3:18 PM · True, but he says he's worried about possibly regretting the decision in the future. The reason I brought up the possibility of a music career was to assure him that switching to a non-music major does not mean permanently closing that door.
March 27, 2019, 3:33 PM · Victor,

My career path, if mapped out, looks like a guy on a pub crawl. Leaving out the childhood decisions I followed a bunch of "bright shining objects" only to see them turn to dust. Strange, my adolescent desire to learn the violin remained in the background for decades.

This is why we go to schools that challenge us to take courses that we, on the surface, aren't interested in, only to find the career that will become our life.

As far as playing the violin. During my 40+ years I played in an active (still functioning) multi-generational (only teenagers now) orchestra and had a blast. I did all that orchestral repertoire and now even have a few students at a time that I teach basics and then pass them along. No longer a night person I just play for me: show tunes, movie themes, et cetera. Just for me, and the wife, and the cats.

Music can, and should be a part of your life. Maybe you will follow my lead and play for children and of seniors. You night even, with a solid business degree, work in the business end of music, fund raising, whatever.

Edited: March 28, 2019, 6:29 AM · It's fine to be ambitious, but there are other problems with setting yourself extremely challenging academic goals in college. First, there's no margin for error. A two-week illness can wipe out an entire semester. Second, you miss out on a lot of the non-classroom opportunities that college offers, from intramural sports to poetry club to faculty-directed individual research to dating. Those things are important not only for your professional development but also for your overall sanity.
March 28, 2019, 10:36 AM · Paul is very correct.

Also, it's worth considering that the career trajectories of students currently in high school or college will be VERY different than the careers of many of the other posters here. That's especially true for the Baby Boomers. Boomers could meander through life, with or without a degree, and have financially secure lives without too much difficulty. Even WITH a great education, the current generation can by no means count on any security whatsoever.

Edited: March 28, 2019, 11:12 AM · Even though I'm not THAT old I'm going to play the role of "old man who yells at cloud".

What full time opportunities are really out there for a very good (or even excellent) violinist? Very few.

Every full time job, whether it be orchestral or a professorship or such, will either have dozens (if not hundreds) of highly qualified applicants or offer subsistence level pay (like $25,000 a year). Even those jobs aren't easy to get anymore. I've been connected with a mid range state university off and on for years. The violin professorship there has changed hands three times since the mid nineties. The first time they received 6 or 7 applications. The second time, a few short years later, they received almost 60. The third time? Hundreds.

To support oneself as a soloist is near impossible. You have to play at a phenom level, such that your playing generates a buzz all on its own AND be in the right place at the right time.

So what's left? High school teaching? In my state acquiring a teaching certificate is a grindy slog, and a HS classroom is the last place I'd want to be right now (I know many HS teachers).

And that leaves for most performance majors without a backup: private instruction and part time orchestral playing/gigging.

In other words - you better LOVE the violin and music above all else in your life. I believe I've posted this before: I know people who are very happy with that kind of life. They have large studios and play with a different orchestra every week or two. But you can see it in their faces when they take the violin out of its case. They glow. The act of playing alone makes them supremely happy.

And if they have a family - they always have a spouse who makes good money in a different line of work. I can't think of an exception off of the top of my head.

March 28, 2019, 1:42 PM · George - oh wow, it's good to know I have company with regards to my 'followed a bunch of "bright shining objects" only to see them turn to dust' career "path". Thank goodness I, out of necessity, wound up in a stable "career" that pays the bills well enough to afford private lessons on a regular (albeit not as frequent as preferred) basis.
Edited: March 28, 2019, 7:18 PM · Ryan wrote, "What full time opportunities are really out there for a very good (or even excellent) violinist? Very few."

But the thing is that you could say the same about a great many potential college majors particularly in the humanities. Where are philosophy and political science and sociology majors getting their jobs? Someone who majored in violin performance -- with perhaps a judicious choice of a minor or of elective courses -- might be just as competitive for the jobs sought by other humanities graduates. Possibly more so in some ways.

If you look at the average large state university there might be 10-20 violin performance majors per year and 500 biology majors. Both are disproportionate to the number of available jobs. If one is majoring in something hoping for vocational preparation, then what one is really asking for is the privilege of competing. At that point, the burden is upon the student to graduate among the best few and to demonstrate that he or she is the most desirable among those dozens or hundreds of candidates for every job. And you can improve your odds, obviously, by applying for hundreds of jobs.

Something science professors (biology, chemistry) used to be fond of doing is asking their classes on the first day, "Who's going to medical school," and half the students (or more) raise their hands. Then you tell them that, statistically, maybe three of them actually will.

Edited: March 28, 2019, 8:32 PM · With all due respect - you can't seriously be comparing the marketability of a biology degree to that of a violin performance degree.

Medicine is only one avenue for a biology major to pursue. There are so many others for them: Education, research, Pharma sales, environmental jobs, specialization in MANY different sciences etc. etc. etc.

And, MOST importantly - biology is an expanding field. Classical music has been contracting for a long time now.

March 28, 2019, 10:06 PM · Life is actually pretty tough for bio majors. I would say that by and large a bio degree is like any non-CS STEM degree, in terms of the job opportunities. My friends who are working as lab technicians, in pharma support, etc. are making very little money and don't have much job stability. The ones who switched into the same career paths as the CS majors are doing fine.
March 28, 2019, 10:27 PM · I love biology, but there was a reason I stuck with engineering (which I hated) and didn't switch to biology - I didn't feel like putting in the time it would take to get my PhD. I don't know about the job prospects with a masters, but I agree with Lydia, except that engineering outside of CS has pretty good job prospects as well.

Although the entry level for a lot of public health job postings for government work that I see all the time (being as I work in government public health) is a biology degree, so maybe it's not quite so dire. Always good to go in with eyes open.

March 28, 2019, 10:47 PM · Unemployment rate for Biology majors in 2019 is 4.6%. Most of the unemployed are probably not employable, as is the case with most fields.

Hardly seems dire to me.

March 29, 2019, 1:27 AM · Not being unemployed is nowhere near the same as making a good living and being reasonably financially secure.

After all, most professional musicians are able to earn money in the music field. A casual Google shows that Bureau of Labor Statistics data indicating that unemployment for people with a music performance degree is only 2.3%.

March 29, 2019, 3:33 AM · Well I DID study Biology - and had a marvelous career as a basic neuroscientist (just retired last year) with employment at Hopkins, NIH and U Toronto/UHN. And I loved almost all of it. With tenured or 5yr contract positions I also accumulated sufficient benefits to be reasonably comfortable in retirement - and to afford a decent violin.

Lydia are you sure about that conclusion in your last paragraph above: an unemployment rate of 2.3% for music performance degree graduated may not mean that "most professional musicians are able to earn money in the music field" since it does not specify that they remained as musicians - perhaps they are selling insurance? Perhaps you could give a source?

Edited: March 29, 2019, 9:16 AM · Hard to say when there's so much variation in what an individual biology major or music performance major does in their studies and activities. If you major in biology or economics and you only do the bare minimum course requirements, that might not get you very far. Not when your competition is pursuing internships, taking classes in statistics or programming, running a campus organization, and/or writing a thesis.

The major itself is no guarantee. Some majors may help more than others, but you still have to do something more to make yourself marketable.

As for whether violin majors have the same chances as any other liberal arts and sciences major at the same jobs, I think that depends on the program's structure and the specific violin teacher. It may be harder to assemble a relevant skillset with extracurriculars/electives than if you major in philosophy, or if you are in a BM program vs. a BA program. It'll be much harder if you are at a standalone conservatory instead of a university. And some well-known violin professors forbid double majors. Those teachers probably won't like it if you skip summer festivals for internships or if you spend 20 hours a week running a campus organization or working for the school newspaper.

Edited: March 29, 2019, 10:00 AM · I agree with Frieda--the major is no guarantee--at least for almost all the arts and (basic) sciences. You really need to demonstrate you have a skill or knowledge of an in-demand content area. A history major who writes clearly and succinctly AND has (relatively) deep knowledge of an area of the world where the US has security concerns may be useful in foreign policy work. Sociology majors who can run statistical packages (and understand statistics for surveys) are another example. But graduating with a history or sociology major isn't going to be enough. I advise new graduates to list out coursework completed that suggest they have particular skills on their resumes. I want to know that the public health major knows something about questionnaire design (for example) because that is a skill my company needs, but not all public health majors know anything about it. Economics is a major in which one can develop a number of applicable skills.

Demonstrating how your skills apply to some other profession or business besides music is more difficult with a performance major. I am NOT saying that performance majors aren't capable of quickly gaining other skills, but they may not have the opportunity during college.

March 29, 2019, 10:33 AM · Elise: LINK - I agree with you that unemployment stats don't indicate the actual success of a particular major, since it doesn't indicate whether the employment is related, stable, etc. (That was the point of my post.)

Edited: March 29, 2019, 11:26 AM · That's the trouble with these broad-brush statistics. They don't really convey a lot of meaning unless you drill down pretty far. I mean, if "unemployment" in the US is so low (below 5%), then how come people are complaining about the cost of health care or college tuition? Surely 95% of employable Americans should be able to afford those basic things ...

If biology majors are a little more employable than philosophy or religion-and-culture majors at the BA/BS level (perhaps even at the MS level), that is probably because biology students have to take some hard courses and they do generate something of a skill set. But it really depends what their employers expect them to do, and it depends how the students market themselves and how they interview.

Science jobs at the BA/BS level are mostly menial labor -- loading samples onto an instrument for example, and filling out regulatory or QC paperwork afterward. I know a company where this is what the BS-holding science employees do, and the proprietor confided in me that he wanted to automate more of the equipment not so that he could fire anyone but because he was concerned for the mental health of anyone doing something so repetitive. Years ago I invited someone from a state crime lab to talk to our undergrads about careers in "forensic science." The visitor said that 80% of the work is loading samples onto a blood-alcohol analyzer, which is basically a gas chromatograph that determines a single analyte. This was not good news to the third of the class (college seniors) who had majored in chemistry because they were turned on to forensic science by CSI-type TV shows and Patricia Cornwell novels.

Years ago I read an interesting book called "Alternative Careers in Science" because one of my grad-school friends was feature. That's right - a whole book about how to leave the field after getting your PhD.

I know that there are some (like Elise) who have had impressive careers with biology degrees -- that's true of ANY degree. But the point is that these days, VERY FEW degrees offer their earners much of a guarantee of an upper-middle-class livelihood. So if that's true, why not ENJOY your four years in college and dig into something you truly love and use your electives/minor/second major to provide the foundation for what will likely be a lower-middle-class lifestyle?

Edited: March 29, 2019, 12:55 PM · Maybe my concern is latent PTSD from graduating in 2009 in the recession, when I realized how I had not prepared myself to get a job in a bad economy, but even given low unemployment rates right now, I wouldn't trust our guy at the top to not have put a smoldering crater in our economy in (1 or 2) 4 or 5 years, when the OP would be graduating.

I hate how much of a specialist society we have become, but whatever major I was looking into now, I would be thinking my path through and considering what sort of advanced degrees may be on that path. Biology is pretty cool and there is a lot of interesting work. Hell, I just met someone the other day that was trying to sell genetically modified yeasts to different big breweries that him and his start-up had created using CRISPR, which I would imagine is the sort of thing you could essentially teach yourself like how a lot of people get jobs coding without having a CS degree.

But I also believe in the premise behind a strong liberal arts education. Hopefully the OP is not cowering in bed with the sheets pulled over his head after reading all these responses.

Actually, it looks to me like the OP is speaking about a different country than the US, so some of my apocalyptic vision may not apply.

March 29, 2019, 1:30 PM · When I was touring colleges with my eldest, during a parent session for an honors program, the administrator running the show asked everyone there who was currently working in a field related to their college major to raise their hands. Mine was the only hand in the air, out of perhaps three dozen parents--and these were all parents of elite students, so I am sure there were a disproportionate number of professionals represented. For many jobs these days, the four-year degree is the ticket of admission, but beyond that the specific non-STEM major seems less important than being able to think coherently, write well, and convince an interviewer that you will be able to deliver what they need.

Furthermore, there are some instruments where a motivated graduate with a performance degree need not starve even if they can't find a job-type job right away. Piano (teaching and accompanying), violin (teaching and weddings) and flute (ditto violin) come immediately to mind.

Edited: March 29, 2019, 3:21 PM · What Mary Ellen writes doesn't surprise me at all. One reason is because if you are talking about "parents of elite students" then often these are engineers (or something) who might have worked an entry-level job for a little while but pushed up into management in their 30s or 40s or seized some non-degree-related (but nevertheless lucrative) opportunity when that came along. And the folks in that room were the ones who *succeeded* in reinventing themselves, which involves risk and something called luck.

Now I better go home and put dinner on the table for my family so that I'm not late for my solo jazz piano gig. :)


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