Do you have to go to college to truly progress at the violin?

October 26, 2017, 9:23 PM · Hi everyone, I was wondering what you guys thought about going to college in music vs. not going to college in music and how greatly your opportunities to play are impacted? I am a junior in high school and cant decide if I want to go into college for music or not.

Replies (18)

October 26, 2017, 10:04 PM · No. Get a good teacher and put in two to three hours a day and you'll be pretty good in everyone's eyes. Not good enough to make a living outside teaching amateurs, but that's a function of supply and demand and not your ability to make enjoyable music
October 26, 2017, 10:06 PM · How big a part of your adult life do you foresee playing the violin to be? Or to put it another way, what are your musical goals in life?
October 26, 2017, 10:45 PM · I'll go against the grain this time. To really progress rapidly , you need both a good teacher and several hours of serious practice each day, and freedom from distractions. The other courses that you have to take in college, even as a music major, can interfere with that. And, private lessons through a college usually have a "jury" (hate that word) of assigned performance repertoire at the end of each semester that can interfere with technical work. I made my most rapid technical progress when I dropped out of my college music major, took lessons for two years from a legendary master teacher in the Los Angeles area, and did music jobs on weekends. I went back later to finish the BA. In general, I would encourage almost everyone Not to do the music performance major, because of the ridiculous supply/demand ratio of the music business. It's better to be a high-level amateur than an under-employed second-tier professional. End of speech. jq
October 27, 2017, 1:08 AM · Many years ago when I was considering whether or not to go for a carrier in music my violin teacher gave me this advise: "If you are in doubt, don't. If there is anything else you could as well see as your future career go for that instead."
And an old doctor and amateur violinist said, regarding how to fit music into other careers: "You need to decide early on if you want the Nobel Price or not". If you do there will probably not be a lot of time for music.
Based partly on these advise I decided for another career and to not aim for the Nobel Price. I have not regretted that choice.
October 27, 2017, 1:14 AM · I take it the issue is not whether or not to go to College, but whether to major in music performance in your course.

While I agree with the ideas presented above (you can become very competent with a good private teacher and many hours of disciplined practice, and unless you are one of the spectacular few, music is a very ordinary career, for many reasons), if you are going to College, why not do a performance major?

Look at the opportunity cost: What is going to be your bread-winning occupation? Can you afford not to study in a related area during your College years? (Probably not, I suspect).

If you can study as a performance major, and then successfully launch into your main-game career, go there. Otherwise, shouldn't you keep music as a high-level "hobby", and focus on "the job"?

The idea that you can live well off making music is a C20th phenomenon. Ask Beethoven. Ask Bach. Ask thousands of brilliant musicians who work as doctors, chemists, engineers, etc.

October 27, 2017, 4:25 AM · When I was at school and wanted to go to one of the music Colleges in London as a cellist, which I could have done because I was sufficiently qualified to do so in those days, the school careers adviser and the head of music both advised me that a career in music at all areas was an uncertain profession (and still is, of course), and that I would be far better off to go into a science/engineering based career, because I was good at that, and enjoy playing music as an amateur.

I took that advice and have never regretted my decision.

October 27, 2017, 4:33 AM · I think if you are asking this question as a junior in high school, then you likely already know the answer: Chemistry, mechanical engineering, law, business management, or medicine. But for goodness sake don't do what I did and put your violin on a shelf for 25 years.
October 27, 2017, 5:00 AM · As a follow up to Mary Ellen's question, how deeply do you want to understand the music you study (the options being jazz or classical)?

Of course it depends on the level you're at when you attend, and the quality of your teachers and the program at the school, but it would be very difficult to replicate the education you will receive at a good music school. So to repeat Mary Ellen's question, what is important to you?

October 27, 2017, 7:16 AM · Samuel recently posted that he was learning DeBeriot 2. That's not a level at which entrance into a good violin performance program is likely.

Samuel, your opportunities to play professionally would certainly be impacted by majoring in performance, but given your current level, would probably still be highly limited.

Your opportunities to play as an amateur can end up being more of a function of your enthusiasm than your skill. I can think of plenty of not-great-technically, but enthusiastic, amateur adults, who play with other adults at a similar skill level (whether for chamber music or in community orchestras), and have a great deal of fun doing it. Some continue to take lessons and learn solo repertoire as well. I know amateurs who do a music activity almost every single night.

Go major in something else. Keep taking lessons and try to practice steadily, even though college may place a lot of other demands on your life.

October 27, 2017, 2:11 PM · Thanks so much for all the replies so far! As far as what I want to do with the violin is I just want to get better and eventualy be able to play anything that I want to play and to gain a very high levle of technique. I also think it would be fun to play in community orchestras and mabey a quartet or something as well.
October 27, 2017, 2:49 PM · In that case I agree that you should not major in music. Go to college, major in something else that you enjoy and are good at (preferably with an eye to a future path to employment), and continue taking lessons and practicing as much as you can without compromising your success in your studies.
October 27, 2017, 4:55 PM · I agree generally with Mary Ellen's last comment. I do not believe that you have to spend huge amounts of time practicing. Rather, I would practice enough so that you make good progress that you're personally happy with, and that you have enough time and energy to devote to other important things. I have heard that you don't have to declare a major right away. You could audition at a less prestigious music school and perhaps try a variety of things at the beginning of college if you want to. Of course, programs vary from college to college institution, so keep that in consideration. Plus, you don't have to make music your career, even if you do major in it. You can always study for another profession.
October 27, 2017, 6:46 PM · A BM degree fundamentally puts you on a different track than getting a general BA. You probably only take one non-music course each semester. So it's not like being uncertain about your major, where you can spend your freshmen year getting your general studies requirements out of the way and declare a major later on. If you start a BM program and then decide to switch out of performance, you will effectively be restarting college.

If you do complete a BM, you'll be no worse off than someone who got a degree in one of the liberal arts, but that's not going to put you on a lucrative career path ((i.e., you'll be just as qualified to get a job at Starbucks, an admin assistant job, etc.).

By the way, very few of us ever get to the level where we can play anything. I'm fairly certain I'm not going to be playing Erlkonig or Last Rose of Summer ever, for instance.

Edited: October 27, 2017, 7:53 PM · Samuel, based on what you've told us here, I've got the feeling that you are just thinking about your choices rather than planning for it. For instance, you seem to have only a vague notion about how far you want to go in terms of violin playing.

"I just want to get better and eventualy be able to play anything that I want to play and to gain a very high levle of technique."

This is a very vague goal and doesn't sound professional-oriented. It depends on one's standard, expectation, musical maturity, self-awareness, etc. I've heard some players said they can play anything they want. By anything, it could range from simple tunes to big solo repertoires. Yet, players at a very high level, such as, Lydia and many professionals would admit they'll never be able to play certain things (e.g. concerti by Britten, Ligeti, etc.).

It's totally fine at this stage you can't be more specific about your ultimate goal in violin, some of us still don't know after decades of studying. That said, if you are serious about majoring in music, it's not too early to take a really good look into situation. Most importantly, as Mary Ellen and Jeewon have already asked, search deep inside to see whether music is your one and only passion. If not, then look elsewhere to search for you true passion/dream.

If yes, then in addition to practice hard, start to do some "reality check" by taking steps to find out answers to questions such as what can such degree offer me other than making me a better player? Who are the recent successful graduates and what are they doing now? Can I arrange a short meeting with someone in the faculty to see whether I'll be a good candidate and what is it take to be successful in admission as well as in succeeding such program? So on and so forth.

October 27, 2017, 11:06 PM · Aside: never heard Erlkonig before: what a great piece. Almost a shame it's so hard, it's great!
October 28, 2017, 1:18 AM · Heavens no.
October 29, 2017, 7:57 PM · Thanks for all the great replies! Sorry I was not more specific about my goals. As far as my goals, I really like a lot of the works by Paganini, Wieniawski, Vieuxtemps ect... and when I said be able to play anything I was just meaning to be at the level of playing most of the pieces that I really enjoy and to be able to play them at a performance level. But either way I just love playing/progressing at the violin and love to play anything that is at my level:)
October 29, 2017, 8:05 PM · That's a tall order. Plenty of pros aren't able to play Paganini at performance level, and the number of amateurs that can do so and didn't earn performance degrees (or otherwise receive extremely serious training at a young age) is vanishingly small.

If that's really what you want to reach for, you need to really dedicate yourself much more seriously to practicing, for years.

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