Your Child Wants to Major in Music: What Do You Say?

For many parents, myself included, it’s one thing to hear your middle-school-aged child say he or she wants to major in music in college — and a whole different ballgame when they talk about it as a junior or senior in high school.

by Barbra Weidlein

Why are so many of us concerned when “music” pops out of their mouths as opposed to “business” or “engineering” or “medicine”?

We all want to raise kids who grow up to be self-sufficient. So it’s only natural for us to be concerned about the choices and decisions they make that will or won’t lead them in that direction. We’ve been barraged with media reports of computer-generated music replacing studio musicians, of internet sharing replacing paying for recorded music, of K-12 budget cuts reducing and sometimes eliminating music education and teacher positions, and of symphonies downsizing their performance seasons and even filing for Chapter 11.

What, then, can we do to lessen our anxiety and shift into a support mode when our kids know that majoring in music is what they want to do and what they are meant to do?

For starters, know that an undergraduate education in music trains students in skills that will apply to most other fields of study. Students who spend four years as a music major and then decide not to pursue a career in music will have gained skills that will transfer to  pretty much anything else they decide to do. (See “Transferable Skills…You Can Take Them with You”)

Next, be aware that even in the first two years in college, today’s music majors will need to seize and run with any and all opportunities that will put them closer to their career goals. Internships, volunteer work, community outreach, and off-campus performance experiences will all be important for gaining a realistic sense of what it is like to work in a music field while there’s still time to get input and support and correction from faculty.

Music business, technology, recording, and engineering as well as all performance (including classical), music education, and music therapy majors need to learn how to think outside the box; network with fellow students, faculty and professionals in a variety of music fields; and learn the marketing and business skills that will help them promote themselves and their work.

If you are concerned about how your son or daughter will be able to cope with the kinds of demands and expectations facing music majors as described above, encourage them to talk with their music teachers, as well as with some current music majors and faculty at a local college, conservatory, or music school. Let them hear from musicians outside the family to gain perspective. Also explore with your child the career development services offered by each of the schools they are thinking about applying to, because no two schools offer the same opportunities. And, finally, remember what it was like to feel passionate about something when you were their age, so that you can replace some of your worry with the sense of enthusiasm and excitement your child has as he or she embarks on this amazing journey.


  1. Alex

    If you’re lucky they say something like that. If not, they say “OMG how do you dare to do us something like this!! If you want to major in music get out of here, get your own job, your own house and then you can do whatever you want.”

    But even in that case, it’s worth the effort! I did so (the “get the job and leave home part”, for a start). Unfortunately it took a time and its late for me majoring in music now but I’m developing a probably good music career as a performer.

  2. And as our music history professor in first year said, “Please. I don’t have to tell you how to dress but just go and hang out in the medical library or the law library…. Be there. Meet people. Make friends. … Music students tend to always marry each other! You’re in music! Please — dress nice and off to the law library and medical library you go” 😀

  3. Rob Franzblau

    So true. And even beyond the “workplace readiness skills” that you outline, going to college should not just be about pursuing success, but to a large extent, it should be a time when young adults QUESTION what “success” means for them. I think deep down, parents really just want their children to grow up to be happy adults. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And unexamined climbing of the ladder to material wealth is no guarantee of happiness.

  4. Jennifer

    It is so true that a major in music does not mean your child will always be asking “Do you want fries with that”? If I had known as a college freshman what I know now, I would have majored in music even though my career path has taken me elsewhere. I could as easily be doing what I am doing now with a music degree as I could with my current degree in History and Spanish. What I have found in the working world, both as an employer and as an employee is that unless you are looking at a very specific technical field like engineering or accounting, your bachelor’s degree can be in almost anything and still be relevant. Music majors work harder than almost any other major I know of, and employers know that. Music majors also have to develop great time management, teamwork, and project management skills which are necessary for most careers.

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