What If You’re Not a Musical Prodigy?

Some students (and parents) assume that if you’re not a musical prodigy, you should major in something other than music. Nothing can be farther from the truth! In fact, there are actually benefits to not being a prodigy, so long as you’re someone who feels compelled to pursue music.

MajoringInMusic.com explored this subject with three musicians, each of whom is working in a distinctly different field of music. Their insights are invaluable for students, parents, music teachers, college guidance counselors, and current music majors as well.

Michael Millar, director of the Center for Community Engagement at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, is quick to describe himself as a “non prodigy.” He credits majoring in music with teaching him to be an achiever (he’s got a BM and an MA in Music Performance, and a DMA in Performance and Arts Administration). “In music school, we’re learning how to learn and how to adapt in the world,” he says. It’s an exceptional major.”

Millar started out in engineering at the University of Colorado Boulder. But it wasn’t his calling. He switched to CU’s College of Music when music proved to be the only major that brought together his passion and interests. He credits his undergraduate program, and not being surrounded by prodigies, with providing him the space “to grow and improve…to compete with myself…to become better tomorrow than today.”

Millar refers to music as a “tough business.” As a result, “Music students need to be relentless…it’s more important than anything else.” As a non-prodigy, he felt he had to work harder than if he had been labeled a prodigy. “If you don’t have huge success early on, you understand and learn how to get better. You have hills to climb and you learn to love taking one step at a time and the relentlessness of it all.” He likes to quote legendary tennis player, Arthur Ashe, who said, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

Kimberly Fisher, principal second violin, The Philadelphia Orchestra and artistic director, The Philadelphia International Music Festival (PIMF), describes musical prodigies as a rare breed. As such, being classified a “prodigy” is hardly a qualification for going into music. Instead, she reiterates what others have said: “It’s a career for those who can’t imagine doing something else.”

Like Millar, Fisher knows that music takes an extraordinary amount of work and dedication. “You can’t succeed if it’s half-hearted, especially on the classical scene,” she says. “It’s a career of dedication, without a known outcome or end result. It’s for those who feel they must do music.”

Fisher describes herself as a non-prodigy. Her father, a classical violinist and teacher in Edmonton, Canada, was her first violin instructor, and she took sporadic lessons from him until becoming a teenager. It was then that she decided that she, too, wanted to be a musician. She believes she had to work harder to become proficient on her instrument, which taught her how to work hard.

Fisher believes that most non-prodigies are likely to teach at some point in their careers, and pass on to their students valuable insights about music. She cites her own experience of having to learn how to consciously practice well, which continues to serve her as a performer and as a teacher (with private students and at Temple University’s Boyer College of Music & Dance). She also feels she and other non-prodigies gain a deeper understanding of their instrument, which also informs her teaching .

Kedrik Merwin, Director of Music, Interlochen Center for the Arts, sees the biggest benefit of an education in the arts as the creativity training one receives. Being a prodigy is in no way a criteria. “Learning to think creatively, to express yourself artistically, and transfer ideas between disciplines is what music education should be all about,” he says. “This training in exploring your world creatively will pay dividends, whether your career path is ultimately in the arts or not. It is important even for students with well-developed technical skills to learn to creatively interpret and express the world around them. There are seldom, if ever, interpretive prodigies!”

Merwin urges students to look at the broad scope of music careers and not limit their thinking to the few highly competitive chairs open in orchestras. While he comes from an orchestra background himself (his DMA, MM and BM are all in trombone performance), he’s also been successful as a studio musician, teacher, and arts administrator. “There is room for well-trained musicians as sound designers for video games, in technical or production positions in a studio, in self-developed chamber groups who promote music in our schools, and in so many other areas. My advice would to be come as proficient in one musical area as possible, concentrate on developing your ears, and be open to other possibilities in the larger musical world.”

Comments

  1. Elise

    I am about to be a sophomore in high school and it’s about my 6th year playing the viola. I’m recently getting interested in vocal performance for college and I take private lessons for both. I have been known to be a very ambitious person but I am unsure if I’m making the right decision to go into this career because it isn’t really “practical.” Lots of people don’t think I will succeed. Does singing have to do with genetics? Is it likely for me to succeed in vocals at this age (15) if I work very hard?? Thank you.

    • With good technical voice and aural skills training and a lot of hard work, you have a great shot at being able to develop your voice. It’s also important to define “success” for yourself. Read the articles on MajoringInMusic.com about what it takes to work as a musician – and you’ll see that it’s more than just technique. We also highly suggest attending summer music programs where you can learn so much more about being a musician without having to juggle school work at the same time (see our Summer Music Camps & Programs section for ideas).

  2. Mandy

    I’m a sophomore in high school and Just this year I’ve becoming interested in playing in an orchestral pit. I’m one of the best in my school band. Last year, I made all county and I sat last chair and lots of younger flute players were better than me, which was discuraging. I have a private lesson every month. I don’t want to work hard on flute only to find out I’m one of the worst ones. I want to make all state but that’s extremely hard and I don’t want to fail. What are you thoughts?

    • One lesson a month is probably not enough to make the kind of progress you’d like. We suggest you try weekly lessons if at all possible, to jumpstart your progress. We also think you would really benefit from taking a summer music program. You’d get lessons, music theory, practice time, opportunities to perform with others – without the burden of school. It’s a great way to boost your proficiency and also see whether you are able and willing to put as much time into your instrument as you’ll need to if you want to go on to major in music in college and want a career in music. Check out our Summer Music Camps & Programs section to start your search for a good summer program.

  3. Melissa

    I have been playing cello in my school orchestra for 4 years (since 8th grade) and have not had any private music lessons. I have made the All-County orchestra sophomore year and have excelled greatly since 8th grade, passing up all my peers in chair placements. As a junior, I am very interested in majoring in music. I have played piano since age ten and have a background in music theory. If I started private cello lessons now, is it possible to get a cello scholarship and/ or major in music for college with my experience? Are there any other things I could do to prepare to become a music major? I enjoyed your article very much and would be grateful for any advice. Thanks!

    • We encourage you to start taking private cello lessons as soon as possible and also plan on taking a summer music program so you can be well prepared for auditions when you’re a senior. Each school determines who it will give merit-based scholarships to based on the audition as well as how much they need what you can offer for their program. Your family will also want to fill out the FAFSA form when you’re a senior to be considered for need-based aid as well. See our Scholarships section to learn more about FAFSA on the right side of the page. Note that on the Scholarships section there are also other kinds of scholarships that are open to high school students – check each one carefully. Good luck to you!

  4. Michelle

    Pursuing a B.M. Music Education was a 10 year process for me. I’ve played piano on and off through out my childhood but I never took it seriously. I was trudging through Junior college as a veterinarian science major when four years into it, I realized that music was my true calling. It’s true, the major is tough but I found the rewards to be greater than I could imagine. I’m hardly a prodigy but music is my passion. Like one of my professors told me one day after a particularly rough day, you just got to grab the bull by the horns.

  5. Ryan

    I am 19 years old and a high school graduate. I just started to become interested in playing music, but the more I practice guitar, the more I realize I am more of a writer. I can write lyrics no problem, but when it comes to playing, frankly, I suck. What should I do? I want to play these songs I made because they’re personal.

    • Taking some lessons in music theory, guitar, and composition may help clarify your next steps. Look to community colleges and community music schools for possible teachers.

  6. Valerie

    I play the flute and I’m going to be a senior in high school next year. I’ve been playing since 5th grade but I never thought about majoring in music seriously until now. I tried talking to my school counselor and my band director but they weren’t much help. They both seemed to turn me away from the possibility of majoring in music because it’s hard to get into. I think I’m pretty decent at playing flute and I’m in the top band at my school. I’m already taking private lessons but I barely have time to practice due to all the homework I’ve been getting from taking a lot of AP classes. I’ve also taken AP music theory at my school. I cant find anything else that I would like to study in college besides music. I’ve tried taking summer camps but I have a really busy marching band schedule this year and the music camps also cost a lot of money. My dream is to be able to play in an orchestra or in an orchestra pit. I know going into music is very competitive, especially if you play the flute but I just don’t know if I’ll be able to pursue this career or even get into a good music school with the short amount of time I have left before auditions start.

    • To get through pre-screens and auditions, dedicated preparation is essential. Lessons, lots of practice, preparing your audition repertoire – this is what your summer and fall will look like. If you can make that kind of commitment, also see if you can get a lesson at a school you’re interested in attending so they can give you honest feedback about your proficiency and what it would take to be accepted. If you can’t make this kind of commitment, consider minoring in music and see if that’s possible at schools you’re interested in. And then take a look at music minor requirements to see if they would work for you.

  7. Becca

    I have never been passionate about anything other than music in my entire life. I work hard, take private lessons. I am a sophomore in high school but I have been told that I play like I am several years older. I really want to major in music and become a professional musician, but I have heard that the only people who do this have a degree from a prestigious conservatory. I cannot afford to attend a prestigious conservatory. At most, I can afford a state college. I am worried that I will never be a professional musician.

    • A conservatory does not guarantee a successful music-based career, nor does majoring in music for that matter. There are many, many successful performers, music educators at the K-12 and college levels, music therapists, composers, arrangers, arts program directors, etc. who majored in music and attended state-related music schools. Be the best music major you can be, wherever you go to school. And read articles relevant to your career goals on MajoringInMusic.com. The tips you’ll find in these articles should be enormously helpful. Be sure to read this as well: Entrepreneurship Training for Music Majors.

  8. Bilva

    I am 17 and just shifted to US permanently. I am interested in music since childhood but never got the chance to learn anything because of some issues. I have learned the basics of guitar and try to get knowledge about music and singing by some professionals videos. I want to major in music but I think I don’t have enough knowledge to do so. Please suggest something that can help me consider a major in music in college.

    • Without a strong background in music, you will not be able to meet the requirements to major in music, such as presenting a solid audition. We suggest you decide which instrument you’d like to study (voice? guitar?) and find a good teacher to work with. We also suggest you look at taking a music theory class. Community music schools and community colleges in your area would be a good starting place.

  9. Colin

    I am a sophomore in college, getting ready to be halfway done my college experience. I have gone from a biology major to a finance major in the last year and still do not know exactly what I want to do in my life. One thing is for sure and that is that I love music. With the exception of playing drums for four months in 4th grade, I have no musical background. I know a major is not possible due to my lack of experience but as of late, a music minor has been of great interest to me. Would it be possible for someone with my lack of knowledge and experience to succeed in college level music classes? In order to obtain the minor, I will most likely need to stay for another semester or so after my senior year but I can’t see any way of graduating without music.

    • Glad you realize that without a background in music, majoring in music is not an option. We recommend you first go online to see what qualifications are needed to minor in music at your school. If your questions aren’t answered, talk with the music chair at your school. If you don’t qualify for a minor in music, are there classes you could take and even private instruction you could get?

  10. Daniel

    I am a freshman in high school and I only started piano a year ago. But over the past year I have flourished, my piano teacher says she has never seen someone learn so quickly. I also play some organ. I would love to major in organ performance or piano performance in college, but I am worried I won’t have enough playing experience by my senior year and won’t be accepted into any music schools. I absolutely love playing, but I don’t want to get excited about something that can’t be achieved. Any advice?

    • It sounds like you are making good progress so we encourage you to continue to practice, take lessons, perform whenever you can, and see where you are with this in another couple of years. Whether you major in music or not, you’ll be a more proficient musician and you’ll have skills that will be with you for the rest of your life. We also highly encourage you to take summer music programs – check our “Summer Music Camps & Programs” page to see why we think this is so important, and to learn about excellent programs all over the U.S. and beyond. Some of these programs still have room in them so we hope you jump on this asap. By the way, if you continue with piano and thoughts of majoring in music, be sure to read this article: Prepare to be a College Music Major.”

  11. Aaron

    I’m halfway through my sophomore year of college as a music education major (for the job security mainly) with a focus in percussion. I attend a slightly less known university and I feel like I’m not getting everything I could be getting as if I were attending Eastman or Julliard or the Boston Conservatory. My percussion professor literally could not be any better but at the same time, I feel like I’m falling so far behind those other percussionists who attend these other prestigious schools. I’m currently thinking about taking up the Modern Snare Drum Competition in Cleveland this Spring but I keep having second thoughts that maybe it wouldn’t be worth the time or money to put into preparing my audition and such. I like to think I have a fairly productive practice regime, but I still sometimes am very unhappy with how I progress though lessons, personal practice, etc… I’m not really sure what my questions are for you, but would you have any advice for someone like me feeling the way I do about my career so far as a musician? I’m just feeling a little less confident lately. My dream is to play professionally one day in a symphony orchestra. I put a lot of pride in what I do and sometimes I feel like I’m more worried about impressing people than I am about my own playing and growth as a percussionist.

    • We strongly recommend that you talk with your percussion professor to see what else he thinks you could be doing to prepare for the career you would like to have. Whatever you can do to boost your skill level, confidence, and experience will serve you. Summer music programs can be very helpful for that.

      Know that many students start doubting their path especially during sophomore year. It’s an opportunity to reflect on your goals, re-define them as needed, seek mentoring, attend concerts of many genres, and continue to gain life experience to inform your music.

      Your last line speaks to a dilemma that many music students as well as professional musicians face. Instead of getting you down, see this as an excellent question to help guide you as you move forward. We also encourage you to read our articles on entrepreneurship. The skills are important to any music field you might enter.

  12. Liam

    I’m 15 and currently a freshman in high school playing trumpet. I’ve played since the beginning of my fourth grade year. Very early on in my playing I had a large amount of raw talent that put me ahead of my peers, but since then one or two have caught up and I am in direct competition with one of them for solos and spots in higher level bands (we’re very good friends.) I have always been complimented on my playing but never took it seriously at all, until this year. I have one band period every day, and I have decided to sacrifice my lunch along with the friend I spoke of earlier, so that I can practice music for a second period in the auditorium. I play for at least 45 minutes a night, and have recently started to study under a fantastic private teacher who majored in performance. I can play “From the Shores of the Mighty Pacific” with relative ease and proficiency, and I am currently working on pieces such the Haydn trumpet concerto and the first movement of Mahler’s Symphony Number 5 just to keep myself entertained. In band we play level four and five music. That all being said, my range isn’t great. I can consistently get A’s and Bb’s but past that it depends on the day. Sometimes I can walk up to an E and other days I can’t make a B. I want nothing more now than to be an orchestral musician and to perform on the instrument I love for a living but I don’t know if I can compete with my peers. I’ll be getting the results as to whether or not I made it into symphonic band soon and if I make it that will definitely bolster my confidence. I’m really hurt wondering if a professional performing career is even an option for me because I want it more than anything else and have trouble picturing myself in any other occupation. Thanks for your help.

    • One of the best ways we know of improving your performance proficiency and increasing your sense of confidence is by attending summer music programs. Look at the Summer Music Programs page on this website for starters – there are even scholarships still available at some of them if you apply really soon. Hopefully you’ll also learn theory, musicianship, and how to create more of your own unique sound along with gaining more confidence.

      We also encourage you to broaden your perspective on what you can do with a music degree, in addition to joining a symphony, since those jobs are fewer and harder to get these days. Take a look at this article, “What Can You Do with a Music Degree?” to learn about some of the many career opportunities in music. You are very smart to be asking these kinds of questions as a freshman in high school since you have several years to work on your proficiency, confidence, and further exploration of your interests.

  13. Mina

    I’m a freshman in high school and I really enjoyed this article! However, I’m struggling with an issue. In class I think I play fairly well, one of the top in the class as a violinist. I get a numerous compliments but I’m not sure if they’re all lies, because when I play and I receive compliments I usually sound awful. So I don’t know what to do! I tried out for Regionals and got into the A Orchestra but still, so many people scored higher. Maybe it’s audition nerves? But if so many people are better how am I suppose to make a career out of the violin?! Anyway, I’d just like some advice. Thanks!

    • You are a perfect candidate for summer music programs. Here’s why: 1. You get lessons, practice, performance experiences without having to juggle all that with the demands of school. 2. You get to hear student musicians from other schools, states, and even countries – and see how your skills measure up and what you can do to improve. 3. You get to learn theory, musicianship skills, and more – all of which will have a positive impact on your music as well as on your future auditions if you decide to go to music school. 4. You find mentors and make new music friends who will all help you improve in an environment where everyone is as enthusiastic and committed to music as you are. 5. You get to see whether you can handle as much practicing as it takes to become a career musician. Be sure to check out our 2016 Summer Music Camps & Programs to find great programs around the US and abroad.

  14. Brandon

    I am a junior in high school and I have just started playing the violin. I would love some advice on how to practice to become a professional violinist. I am very determined and I love violin but when play I just don’t like the sound I make which discourages me. I don’t have a teacher and I am trying to self teach myself the violin, but becoming stuck and having no one to help is really bothering me, so would having a teacher be a good idea? Some advice would be really helpful to me, thank you.

    • Without a teacher, it would be very difficult if not impossible to become a professional violinist. And yes, it would be very discouraging attempting to do this on your own. The violin is an instrument that takes much time, patience, practice, and excellent instruction to be able to perform on. Whether you would excel at it is not something anyone can assure you. We recommend finding a teacher who works with beginners, and also explore summer music programs where you can really dive into learning violin. Note that there are online instruction programs if you cannot find a local teacher at a community music school, music college or music department, or private studio teacher.

  15. Jakob

    I am 15 years and currently studying for ABRSM Grade 8, and I really want to play the piano like a professional, but whenever I try to play some pieces I struggle a lot and my teacher says that it is partly because of my sight-reading skills. Being an important skill, I couldn’t master it up to today. Does that show that I cannot achieve my ambitions of being a concert pianist? Do you have any tips to help me with my problem? P.S – My teacher says that other aspects like memorizing and theory are good.

    • Sight-reading is an important skill for musicians to learn as soon as possible. It will be part of your music school auditions. So it’s really important to work at it and grasp sight reading as soon as possible. It’s not something you can expect to master immediately, but with lots of practice, you’ll hopefully learn to improve. Read this article and see if you can start using the suggestions: Sight-Reading for Music Majors. And look seriously at attending a summer music program to further your proficiency and musicianship.

  16. Taylor

    I’m a junior in high school and I started playing flute in 4th grade. I was in the school band from then until 9th grade. I transferred to online school in 10th grade because of academic problems. Since I left school, I haven’t played much in the past year. I’ve been busy with school. I’ve been looking at colleges and I want to attend a music conservatory and major in music performance, but I’ve had no formal training. I’m also interested in piano and I can play some tunes by ear. Also, I need a new flute and also would like a piano to practice on. I need lessons too, but my mom has a lot of financial problems and is not able to afford these things right now. I just don’t know what to do. I get so discouraged when I see someone, especially younger than me, play so well. Any advice? Thanks.

    • To get accepted at a competitive music school, you need to be proficient enough on your main instrument to show that you’re ready for higher levels of training. This is difficult to do without lessons, sufficient and regular practice, and experiences performing with school and youth orchestras, bands, ensembles. In view of the financial limitations you mention, you might consider starting at a community college with a good music program. If your academics are high enough, you might consider a liberal arts college with a strong music department – you typically don’t declare a major until the end of your first or even second year (depending on the school). In the meantime, we encourage you to look at taking lessons to see how much you can learn between now and your senior year and how able you really are to fit a strong practice schedule into your every day. Lessons may be less costly through a community music school in your area or from upper level undergraduate or graduate music students at local universities. We also encourage you to consider enrolling in a summer music program to see what it’s like to practice and perform a lot, work collaboratively, and learn beginning music theory (which you’re required to take several semesters of in music school). Summer music programs are often a great way to help you see whether majoring in music is really the way to go. Remember that you can keep music in your life regardless of what path you pursue.

  17. McKenna

    I am currently 15 and just picked up the violin a couple weeks ago. I am completely dedicated, but I feel that my expectations are way too high for wanting to be a music major at a high school. Many of the people I know who play a strings instrument started when they were a child. I played the violin for a year and then quit when I was in first grade and it haunts me every day because I wish that I would have stuck with it. Anyway, instead of ranting on about my problems, how long do you think it takes to truly master an instrument such as the violin? How many hours should I put into it if I want to become a great musician someday? And lastly, do you believe it is possible for someone who is willing to give music everything, to attend a school, such as Juilliard, when they only have 4 years to master their instrument?

    • No one can guarantee how long it will take to become a highly proficient musician. With great passion, steady practicing, excellent teachers and great perseverance, you will hopefully see improvement in your skills. If you are passionate about the violin, then learn it for the sake of enjoyment and see where you are in another year or so. Find summer music programs to attend so that you can develop your proficiency even more, and without the demands of school. And look at additional ways in which you can include music in your life and career if you just don’t get where you want to be with the violin when it comes time to apply to college. By the way, Juilliard is one of the most competitive schools in the world, and even students who have been playing violin since they were very young are not admitted. So even if you had been playing since you were tiny, it would be highly advisable to consider other types of music schools as well.

  18. Emma

    I’m a sophomore in high school. I’ve been playing the violin for 8 years but I didn’t get really serious about it until last spring. I now really want more than anything to get a masters in music and be a broadway pit orchestra musician. However, I know music is a very competitive world, especially for violinists, and I’m wondering if I should do something else instead. I recently started playing DeBeriot’s 9th violin concerto, movement one. I am currently playing prelude to the 3rd act of lohengrin by Wagner in orchestra, and I have played the music for Ragtime, the Musical. Still, I only just began playing this level repertoire music last spring, and I still struggle with rhythm and sight reading. I thought I was really good until recently I basically completely failed an audition with my local youth orchestra. Am I talented enough to fulfill my dreams (of getting a masters in violin performance, and being a professional violinist in a classical orchestra in a large city such as Chicago or New York and being a broadway pit orchestra musician)? What repertoire should I aim to be playing by the end of my high school career if i want to do so?

    • It’s great to hear how passionate you are, and how committed to violin and a career in music you already are. Know that there’s plenty of time to work on your skills while also learning about other areas of interest and enjoying your high school years. It’s all important! We suggest you seriously consider attending summer music programs to strengthen your skills without the burden of schoolwork (our 2016 list will start posting in December). Let rhythm and sight reading be a part of your focus over the next few years of high school – it’s great that you’re aware of your weaknesses. We also suggest reading this article, “Touring with a Pit Orchestra” to learn more about that field. Talk with your private teacher about your repertoire and take a look at what music schools are looking for at auditions. Remember that if you do major in music, you’ll be spending four years further developing your repertoire and musicianship.

  19. Daniel

    I ‘m a sophomore in high school and I love to play the piano. I’m not sure whether I want a career in music, and I also don’t think I’m good enough. I barely practiced and didn’t much like playing most of the time until last year, when I started getting songs that I really enjoyed. I have little knowledge of theory and I don’t have very good technique, but when I play I put a lot of emotion into it and I have a pretty good ear. I would like to know how to improve my knowledge of theory and my technique. Also, how would you go about doing/preparing for auditions? Is there a measurement of whether someone is ready to audition? (In terms of ability)

    • Check out the article “Prepare to be a College Music Major.”

      Note that you would not audition until the late fall or winter of your senior year, depending on the audition dates of the schools you apply to. Start looking at schools you’re interested in to see what’s expected of students re: applications and auditions, as well as once you get accepted. That information should be very useful to you in your thinking and planning.

  20. Tia

    I have been interested in being in the music business since I was a child, but was unable to pursue my dream because I allowed life to get in the way. I have been writing songs since I was 15 years old, and I have even written stories and songs to accompany the stories. I tried selling some of my music when I was 16, but because I could not sing that well, and I could not write music or play an instrument, the dream was deferred. Now that I’m well into adulthood, and signed up for some piano and guitar lessons, and am enrolling in the local community college part-time as a music major (it will be at least a year before I take any music classes because of prerequisites) do you have any career option suggestions for someone like myself.

    • Consider music-related professions that don’t require a super-high proficiency in music since you’re getting a late start. A good foundation in music is useful and important, so if you’re passionate about your music classes and are doing well with them, keep going! Explore music business classes as well for possible work with instrument companies, merchandising, touring and road work. Remember that getting work in most areas related to music has to do with who you know, so strong networking skills are also important.

  21. kath

    I’m 14 this year, I’ve been playing the piano since 5/6 but I’m still at the 4th grade for the abrsm test but this year I’ve been practicing lately. Do you think I’m not talented or just stupid? I also got an interest in violin – do you think it’s too late to study violin?

    • First, erase the word “stupid” from your mind! Next, consider the way in which you are learning. Do you have a private teacher? If so, what feedback are they providing you with about your playing as well as about practicing? It’s possible that your practicing is time-consuming but not effective. It’s also possible that your teacher and the way in which they teach and you learn are not a good fit. And yes, it’s possible that piano is not your “thing,” but before you jump to that conclusion, especially if you have passion for it, we suggest you look at other reasons as to why you are not progressing.

  22. Candace

    HI! I am in 5th grade and i started playing when i was only 8. i feel that i have improved a lot because in just 2 short years has made me go into the MCYO, Maryland Classic Youth Orchestra. Now i am about to audition for the next level and i’m super scared and nervous… what should i do? i also think all the hard work i put in my life has made my love of music a talent of mine and a gift. Now i am happily playing Sonata no.1 By Bach!

  23. Joshua Anil

    Hello, I’m a sophomore in high school. I’ve been playing piano since I was 6 and have loved it.
    I play a wide variety of music, classical, jazz, and modern, and I’m moderately skilled in improvising from a chord chart. I play in my church and school band and have gained experience in chord training, and becoming a better accompanist. I would like to think that I am a well-runded musician. I struggled for a long while because I had a teacher who drastically slowed my progress and never taught me basic things like theory and scales and keys. I switched teachers to one who was actually a prodigy who got tired to touring and decided to be a college professor and have a studio, and I have been playing catch-up for the last two years. I think I have the technical skills to major in music, but I’m not sure. My repertoire is not that advanced. (Beethoven Sonata in G Major, op 49, Solfeggio, Etude in D Minor, Prelude in B Minor etc…) I am about to sit for my Grade 8 exam in the Royal Conservatory Program. Do you think I could keep up with the piano prodigies and major in music?
    I am also going to a music summer camp this year at SMU.

    • Great to hear that you’ll be going to a summer music camp – that’s the first thing we would have suggested to you. Most students find that summer programs help them take their music to a higher level. They get great mentoring, find peers just as passionate about music as they are, and get really useful feedback as to what to do to start moving in the direction of auditioning for music schools. Be sure to ask questions that will help you clarify your next steps, and have fun as well!

  24. Ingrid

    I am a freshman in high school. I have taken violin lessons since I was 6, but did not actually start playing on a real instrument until I was 7. I rarely practiced and my lessons were inconsistent, I did not have one every week. I switched to a new violin teacher in 6th grade where I now have violin lessons every week. In 6-8 grade, though, I practiced more than I had before, but I still didn’t really care or give it my full effort. This year at my school I was given a large boost of confidence when my teacher made me concert master of our school’s less advanced orchestra. I am also in the more advanced orchestra where I am a 2nd violin. I was also in the pit orchestra for our school’s production of “Ragtime, the Musical.” I feel like I have improved so much this year from the opportunities I have had. I now practice for 1+ hours 6 days a week and listen to classical music all the time and study music theory. The thing is, most people in the more advanced orchestra are on a higher song in the Suzuki books than me. My teacher moves me along very slowly through the books and she also has me play some songs outside the Suzuki repertoire so it takes even longer. There are many people in my grade who actually are much better than me. I still have trouble with rhythms. But I have really found a love for the violin, and I really want to be a professional violinist either in regular orchestra or a pit orchestra. I feel like I am not good enough. My mom says that musicians face a lot of rejection and I should chose something else. She also says that if I really wanted to be a musician I would join orchestras outside of school and practice for 5 hours a day. Playing music truly makes me happy, but I feel like I will not do well pursuing a music degree. What can I do to improve myself?

    • It’s great to hear that you have discovered a real love for violin and that you’re deepening your commitment to becoming a better violinist. We highly recommend that you take summer music programs the next few summers. You’ll likely zoom ahead with your music and eventually you’ll get a good sense of whether majoring in music is the right path to pursue. Check out the 2015 Summer Music Camps & Programs page on MajoringInMusic.com – many of these programs still have room. But apply now as many are filling up fast.

      We also suggest you find a youth orchestra to perform with in your area. Go to concerts and listen to music of many different genres. Whether or not you end up as a professional violinist, your passion for music will be with you the rest of your life and will always bring you great joy and fulfillment.

  25. David

    I am 13 and I hate Orchestra. At least I wouldn’t if it hadn’t been for the school being stupid. Basically what happened is I was into orchestra in 7th grade, but they didn’t teach me the basics….they just said hey welcome to orchestra pick your instrument and let’s get playing. I don’t still don’t know how to read notes and all that. I have learned the basic of using a cello but that’s it. Apparently you’re supposed to take orchestra in 6th grade to know the basics of reading music and all that… I honestly do not want a career in music, but I’m stuck here, what do I do?

    • Your experience sounds very frustrating. Orchestra would probably mean more to you and become a more enjoyable experience if you were able to take private lessons. Are there teachers in your area you could take some lessons with privately? Or is there a community music school you could take lessons at? Or graduate cello students at a nearby college who offer lessons? With the right teacher, you may discover you actually enjoy the cello, or may instead discover your interest in a different instrument. Community music schools often hold “instrument petting zoos” which give students a chance to get familiar with numerous instruments before choosing one to study. Whether you end up majoring in music is not something you need to worry about right now. Learning an instrument has been proven to have many benefits, and if you come to really enjoy playing, it will be something you can do the rest of your life. It doesn’t have to be a career.

  26. Paige

    I am a junior in high school and I have realized that I am interested in a career in music. I cannot see myself doing anything else. I love the way music makes me feel. I have taken private piano lessons since the age of four but have only been serious for about a year and a half (meaning I switched from playing all of my favorite Taylor Swift songs to classical music). I would like to major in piano performance and my piano teacher says I would do well. However, I worry that because of all of the time I have lost, I will not be able to get into the top colleges and conservatories that I dream of. What makes things worse is that I am in an advanced program at my school and get a lot of homework which leaves very little time for piano. The only time I play is when I go to my weekly lesson. Outrageous. I am dropping a couple of classes next year so that I can make more time for my music but I worry that it may not be enough. If there is anything I can do now and over the summer to further my skills please let me know. Thanks(:

    • Instead of worrying about what you didn’t do in the past, we encourage you to move forward with a plan to strengthen your piano skills in anticipation of next year’s auditions, and get some music theory under your belt. There are plenty of good music schools throughout the U.S. and abroad to consider; don’t limit your thinking especially at this point.

      You’re the perfect candidate for immersing yourself in a summer music program, where you can take lessons, practice a lot, and perform frequently. You’ll meet others your age who are also passionate about music, not to mention wonderful music mentors. Many students who do this find themselves zooming way ahead of where they’ve been once they’re back in school. Check out some of the great options on the 2015 Summer Music Camps & Programs section of MajoringInMusic.com and be sure to read the article as well.

  27. Jack

    I’m 15 years old and I play the french horn in my school band and in my youth orchestra the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra. I really love my instrument and would want to maybe do it as a career some day. Whenever I hear some kids in my orchestra talk about their practicing they say they practice for 1 – 2 hours a day! I have only been practicing 30-45 min a day. If I practice more then my lips start to get tired and I can’t play anymore. Should I be practicing longer?

    • We suggest you talk with your youth orchestra director and school band teacher for advice. Perhaps there are some warm-up techniques you can incorporate in your practice that will allow you to practice longer. Smart practicing does not necessarily equate with longer practicing. Click on this article: “Practicing the Art of Practicing” to learn more.

  28. Brian

    I’m a senior in high school and currently I only have about 4 months of violin experience. I can’t see myself doing anything else with my life but I’m worried I just won’t be good enough for college. Did I start to late at 18 years old honestly?

    • It’s great that you’ve discovered a passion for the violin. Since strings students applying to conservatory-model music schools have typically started on their instrument at a much younger age than you, you would want to look at liberal arts schools with strong music departments or universities where you would not need to audition to become a music major. You can keep the violin in your life in many ways, besides being a music major. You can continue to take lessons, join ensembles when you’re proficient enough to play with others, minor in music. If your passionate about it, you’ll find a way to keep the music going!

  29. Jordan

    I am a 15 year old guitarist. I just started my sophomore year in High school and am really worried about my major. I would like to major in guitar but I don’t know if I’ll be ready to by the time I’m ready for college. I need to know all of the requirements to get into a school for this major and the equipment I will need for it.

    • Great to hear you’re already starting to think about what you need to do to be ready to apply to music schools. Take a look at this article: Majoring in Guitar. Also see this article: Prepare to be a Music Major. Then look at schools you may want to attend and check out their application and admission requirements. You can look at quite a few schools’ requirements right here on Majoringinmusic.com.

      You will also serve yourself well by finding a summer music program to participate in. Our 2015 Summer Music Camps & Programs page will start posting on December 15, 2014, with new programs coming on every day through the spring of 2015.

  30. Matthew

    I am a sophomore in high school and I play the violin. I started playing in the 6th grade when I was around 11 years old and I played in the junior high string orchestra for three years and then went on to join the high school string orchestra as a freshman and I am for sure going to continue in orchestra throughout my high school career. When i was in junior high i wasnt very serious about violin i just knew that i loved playing and i wanted to improve but i didnt have a private teacher all three years of that, luckily for me though my orchestra director at the school was a violinist and a very good one too! She is one of the main person who got me interested in the violin. Then in freshman year of high school i had a new director and she is awesome but i wasnt improving as fast as i could before because she was not a violinist, so that year i started taking private lessons from a violin teacher and really improved my techical foundations, i quickly started working on my solo repertoire and gained solo perfomance experience through her. Later that year my private teacher told me that she could no longer teach me as i was too technically advanced for her to keep my progress moving and she moved me on to study with a new private teacher that was her teacher when she was young. My new private teacher had been teaching some of the other students at my school for a while now and the principal violinist at my school was one of her top students and she was only a sophomore! She started playing when she was like 7 and her dad was like a professional musician and he taught her music theory and piano at a very young age so she was very advanced even as a freshman. But anyways, i started with a new teacher whom i knew to be one of the best in my state an just a fabulously great violinist. I am now a sophomore as i stated before and i am still studying with her, i have learned a ton since i started and im still progessing at a good rate, i am a very serious student of the violin and when i grow up i want to be a soloist like Hilary Hahn! I have been going to live performances of violinists as much as i can afford to and i listen to hours and hours of all kinds of classical music, i practice as often as 2-3 hours 6 days a week if possible and i have recently been to a summer program called the Evergreen Music Festival, i also auditioned for the Tacoma Youth Symphony Association and i got into the second best orchestra TYAO (tacoma young artists orchestra). I am very close friends and musical collaborators with the principal violinist of my high school orchestra and she gives me mini lessons all the time, also i am auditioning for the All-State All -Northwest orchestra currently, and i take private music theory lessons from my high school orchestra director. I really couldnt imagine my life without music and without the violin, i feel like im doing all the right things and i really have a ton of drive and determination and passion for music. “its my thing” as my high school orchestra director would say. I just want to know, what does it take to become exceptional? Because thats really all i want to do even if i dont become a soloist, i just want to be an exceptional violinist, not a child prodigy or the “Best violinist who ever lived” (although that would be a cool title lol)… Just, Exceptional…

    Thank you so much for taking your time to read and respond to this, i really do appreciate it greatly!

    • You are certainly gaining a strong background on violin along with lots of performance experiences. You certainly sound passionate about pursuing music!

      We asked some of the schools we work with to weigh in on your question. In the meantime, we’d like to remind you that everything a musician does informs and inspires their music. If your goal is to be your best at whatever you do, that will also inform your music. Some musicians feel that travel has enriched them greatly. Some talk about the summer programs they took when they were in high school that allowed them to get to know fellow musicians from other parts of the country and even other parts of the world. Others talk about how a well-rounded life has helped them develop their exceptional talents and strengths.

      • Matthew

        Thank you so much for that input! I will definitely take that into consideration when going through the choices I make throughout life! Its so awesome that this website is here! Thanks so much again and I cannot wait to hear more from the associated schools that you have talked to!

  31. Gracie

    I’m 17 and going into my senior year. I play the bass clarinet but am also proficient on soprano clarinet. I have made all region band since ninth grade, and only missed area by two chairs my junior year. I’ve been leading sectionals for the saxes and low reeds of my high school marching band this summer for the second year now and I really enjoy teaching. Music is really the only thing I think I’m good enough at to do for the rest of my life, but even then I fear I’m not good enough to be a successful band director. I really enjoy music but I’m worried about not making enough money after college if I choose to major in music. I love playing my instrument, band is my favorite class and I enjoy teaching new kids to march/play. I just don’t know if I have what it takes to be a successful band director.

    • Talk with the band director at your high school and, if possible, those at a few other high schools in your area. Find out what they did to prepare for the work they do, that you aspire to do. They’ll probably tell you that when they were in your shoes, they weren’t at all prepared to do what they do now, either. That’s part of what you’d be going to school to learn. If you want to work in a public school, you’ll be looking at majoring in music education and getting state certification or licensing. If you want to direct on the college level, you’ll need to go to graduate school as well. You may also want to explore the American School Band Director’s Association website to learn more.

      Note that band directors are also likely to teach, perform, and/or work in other areas of music to increase their income. That’s why it’s important to be passionate about going into this field, because you’re right, the financial returns may be more limited than in other non-music fields.

  32. britany

    Hi, I’m 22 and I’ve been out of high school for 4 years. Due to a lot of issues in my personal life, I haven’t been able to start college yet. But now I’m finally at a point that I am able to take on school! I’ve always been interested in music. I played clarinet all throughout high school. I never had the opportunity to have a private instructor or even own an instrument. I used to attend band camps whenever possible and would always do well at all region. After graduation, I had to give my instrument back to the school and I haven’t picked up a clarinet in 4 years. I would really love to major in music but worry that I’m too out of practice. Currently, I’m saving up money for a new clarinet. Is majoring in music doable after all this time?

    • Since you’ll probably be required to audition and maybe even pre-screen, it would serve you well to take some private lessons, practice a lot, and get some help assessing your
      performance skills before deciding to apply. Have you had music theory? If not, you’ll want to take at least an introductory class or the equivalent, before you move forward. Several levels of theory will be required for majoring in music and it’s not an easy subject for many majors. Also, be asking yourself: “What do I want to do with a degree in music?” (Be sure to read our article on this).

      Take a look at schools on MajoringInMusic.com and see learn what you can about their music and academic requirements for applying. Ask questions directly on the forms provided on the school pages. While there are many other schools offering music in addition to these, these are all excellent and very different from each other, and a great place to begin.

  33. Dan

    Hello,
    I am currently 14 years old and very interested in a career in music (majoring in sax), but when I see kids at age 10 or 11 playing the sax leaps and bounds better than me, I always feel that I have no chance at becoming what I dream of. Did I waste my opportunity by not practicing enough? Will I have a chance at becoming just as good as the prodigies? Please be honest : )

    • If you love music and you love playing the saxophone, then go for it! There are things you can do to improve your playing, such as summer music programs, finding another teacher if you don’t feel like you’re progressing enough with yours, jamming with other musicians, performing often, and creating a really strong practice schedule for yourself.

      Know that success in music is also about becoming a good networker. That’s what music school is great for helping you do. Internships are also a great way, when you’re in college, to connect with people, explore areas of music you’re not familiar with, and learn about the business side of music (VERY important).

      Having a well-rounded life and exploring different genres of music also help you to become a better player.

      Whatever you do, if you love music, whether you end up majoring in it or not, don’t stop learning, listening, and performing.

  34. Wendy

    I’m having a lot of trouble deciding what to do. I’m a freshmen in college and I have no professional experience with music. I’ve tried using YouTube to learn to play the piano and that’s as far as I’ve gotten. I’ve dreamt of becoming a music major, but knowing that I never officially learned how to play an instrument, I thought I wouldn’t have a chance at succeeding if I started at this age. Am I too late to switch majors? Can I still try for being a music major?

    • We suggest you speak with your adviser or the career center at your school to explore options. Look with them at the requirements at your school for becoming a music major. Talk with them about your various interests. See if they can offer you a career assessment test to help you gain insight into what might be a good fit for you.

      For any career in music, you’ll need a strong background in music. Becoming a music major requires that you demonstrate a strong enough level of knowledge and performance ability to gain admission. You’ll most likely have to audition as well.

      We suggest you consider taking an elective class in beginning piano or voice to test the waters. See what it’s like to get formal training in music.

      Having music in your life is a great good thing regardless of whether you major in it. If you feel drawn to music, then we encourage you to explore ways of bringing it into your life.

  35. Matthew

    I’m a junior in high school and have just over a year of piano under my belt. I wonder on a daily basis if I’ll have enough skill by the time I apply to music schools (year and a half). Maybe I’m over thinking everything as I practice about 2 hours a day throughout the week. I also want to major in Composition, so I wonder how important my performance skills need to be. Very uplifting article.

    • We’re so glad to hear you found this article useful. You’re really smart to be questioning how to proceed now, in your junior year, rather than next October.

      Here are a few ideas:

      1. Each school has its own set of requirements for applying and auditioning. If you plan to be a composition major, you may or may not need to audition, but you’ll certainly be required to provide sample scores. That said, if you choose to go to a liberal arts school with a strong music program, the rules may be different. Again, the key is to carefully read the requirements for each school and make no assumptions or generalizations.

      2. Are you already studying with a highly proficient music teacher? Someone who keeps helping you grow with your music and also understands what you’ll be dealing with when you get ready to apply to music schools? If not, now is a critical time to find such a teacher.

      3. Have you thought about taking a summer music program? The purpose is to immerse yourself in music with others with similar interests, without the distractions of school. You’ll get great instruction and support. Students typically find themselves light years ahead after a strong summer music program. And they also have fun and discover life-long friends and future music collaborators.

      We’ll be posting our 2014 Summer Music Camps and Programs page soon, so check back often.

      4. Are there some schools that jump out at you as good fits for what you want to do in college? Check the music school pages on MajoringInMusic.com to learn about the excellent schools participating with us. You’ll see a form on each school’s page where you can communicate directly with them after learning enough about what they offer. Use these forms — schools like to establish a relationship with you in advance of your applying. It shows you’re serious about possibly studying there.

      Keep us posted on how things work out!

  36. Aaron

    I think twice about whether I should receive a major or minor degree in music because I don’t have a clue to what job I could possibly have as a pianist. I don’t want to have to spend all this time getting a degree and then backing out. I am going to be a senior in high school and I need an honest opinion on what I should pursue or meditate on.
    Thanks in advance.

    • Bobby

      Hey Aaron,

      You’re certainly not alone in this question. In fact, you may change your mind a few times. I started college in electrical engineering because I rationalized that I would keep music as a hobby and have a guaranteed career path. Quickly, I realized that I HAVE to play music to be happy, so now I’m in the first year of my Master’s degree. 🙂

      Lots of musicians in general are concerned about work after school…the whole ‘What the heck do I do as a pianist’ question has been asked a lot (I was a pianist for 15 years, but have made my career in upright/electric bass). Usually the best advice I can give anyone in your position is to think outside the box.

      The first career paths as a pianist people generally think of, are teacher and concert pianist. You can always teach, regardless of your primary occupation, but you don’t have to be a concert pianist. I’m going to list out a few things off the top of my head that would be great skills to have:

      -Accompanying. This is a fabulous freelance opportunity that you get paid for…accompanying soloists for performances, master classes, competitions, auditions…there’s TONS of this kind of work at universities, and most music schools have at least one full-time staff accompanist.

      -Diversify genres. Study jazz (do this! It will help your classical playing, I promise.) Buy a Nord/Moog/whatever synth and start a funk band. Or maybe you’re more into the synth player that shreds with a speed metal band. The point being, the more styles and situations you’re comfortable with, the easier it will be to find work.

      -University educator
      -Composer
      -Arranger

      etc etc etc.

      Don’t be frightened out of studying music in college if that’s what you think you want to do. If you have the discipline, your path will become clear as you go along.

  37. Mettima Surbeqsu

    I’m a sophomore in high school and I’ve been always questioning whether i should move forward into music. I guess I’ve always known but this article helped me be certain. Thank you.

We Invite Your Comments

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *