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Masters in jazz performance - pros and cons

Discussion in 'Double Bass Pedagogy [DB]' started by Chris Fitzgerald, Oct 23, 2010.


  1. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Simon wrote:


    I will have some things to say about this from the other side of the desk/fence, but those who have, are, or are planning to be on the student side of the equation should answer first. Have at. :)
     
  2. Michael Glynn

    Michael Glynn

    Feb 25, 2004
    Seattle
    Leaving aside for now all consideration of the utility of a graduate degree in jazz, I would strongly recommend making sure the school is paying you to get the degree and not the other way around. Look into assistantships, scholarships, and whatever else will ensure that you don't come out of grad school in debt.
     
  3. Curley Shadow

    Curley Shadow

    Oct 16, 2009
    From the dark side, this degree will undoubtedly improve your musical skills and likely then your gig getting, the degree could also serve as entry into a higher ed environment, say a community college. It would not be real useful for a plain vanilla day job other than maybe providing a modicum of competitiveness against those with liberal arts bachelor's degrees. You may want to look into courses which address the business side of music as well, there are many schools of music which are failing to provide their students with lessons in reality, as in eating. For every great player who has "made it" ( that is a matter of perspective) there are thousands who found that the reality was not as glamorous as it appeared. Realize that you will undoubtedly be teaching at some point unless you like scuffling for gigs and constant travel.
     
  4. Baswithone"s"

    Baswithone"s"

    Apr 10, 2008
    The requirements for entering a jazz Master's program will vary from school to school. At this point, every university will have the specific requirements posted on their websites. Most will even have specific tunes mentioned.

    Some things you might consider:

    Google your teachers - Check out who's teaching at the schools you're looking at. Do you like their playing? Are they too avant garde? Too traditional? Have they had a career outside of the university system? Do this for all of the faculty, not just the bass department. Another thing you might want to ask is will you actually get a chance to study with them. Many schools boast "adjunct" faculty (usually fairly well known musicians) that are only there periodically.

    Check out the ensembles offered. The more variety the better. Do these ensembles suit your interests? Will you actually get to play? How many students don't make any kind of ensemble their first semester?

    Seriously consider going to school in a place you might want to live in. If you're serious about jazz, can you afford to go to school on the east coast? If you want to play pop and do studio work, can go out west? (Sorry if I was too hasty to assume you're an American!) Many great schools are located in smaller areas, but if you can kill two birds with one stone...

    I'm going to respectfully disagree with the comment about music business classes. It's not a bad idea, but by the time you're finished with your Master's program, the music business will probably be much different than it is now. Think about it - gas prices have downsized tours, CD sales are almost irrelevant, and who knows what's coming next. Focus on the art. If you want to know how much you should be getting paid, join the union and get to know the established musicians in you area.

    Good luck!
     
  5. Pat Harris

    Pat Harris Supporting Member

    Nov 17, 2006
    Austin, TX
    I did my MM in Jazz Studies at the Univ. of Texas. I'm glad I did it. It was great to network with a bunch of great new musicians.

    That said, having a MM in jazz studies IMO is basically a sort of "stepping stone" degree. It won't actually get you much more professionally than a piece of paper. I've yet to meet any musicians that care that I have a degree. You can either play and hang, or you can't. I know many players without degrees that are far superior to those that have a degree.

    The biggest challenge is having a plan for AFTER you finish the degree.
     
  6. Curley Shadow

    Curley Shadow

    Oct 16, 2009
    What I meant was marketing and networking skills are as important in the beginning stages as the musical ones.
     
  7. scott reed

    scott reed Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2002
    Memphis
    I did my MME in jazz studies at North Texas State. I'm glad I did it. In 1980. When tuition was $4 per credit in-state with a $50 minimum ($40 per credit out-of-state). When
    I could play jazz gigs seven nights a week and support myself on $250 per week.

    In 2010 I would consider it if I (or my parents) were independently wealthy with no need for gainful employment (I'm talking nine figures or better).

    "It's a different world from where you come from." - pre-hdtv sitcom theme
     
  8. Silevesq

    Silevesq

    Oct 2, 2010
    Quebec
    So to help you guy help me. I'm currently living in Montreal.
    I was thinking of doing my master in McGill University I already know most of the teacher that are there and really appreciate them(as mush as musicians as people to talk to).
    The mean reason for a Master it is because here it's has become a requirement for teaching in college or University.
    The ultimate goal is to be teaching(but you know I would love to become the new Dave Holland or Scott LaFaro, but... I try to see higher but not TOO high...
     
  9. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    As one who teaches in a jazz program with an MM in jazz, I always try to ask students to consider the following:

    Decide what you want and why you want it. If you want to study jazz because you can't imagine not studying jazz, then you are probably in the right place.

    Make sure there is at least one and hopefully several teachers at the schools you are considering who you respect, admire, and who have something you want musically. Get as close to these people as you can and pick their brains as often as possible. Listen to them play, go to their gigs, and ask to play with them in lessons whenever possible.

    Check out the vibe of the other students at the school. Talk with them, ask questions, play with as many of them as you can. See if they're getting enough of what they came for to make it worthwhile.

    Last, prepare for a lot of academic stuff you're probably not interested in mixed in with the stuff you are interested in. It sucks, but there's no getting around it if you want a degree that will be recognized at all outside of the music field. It's also a great preparation for regular life.
     
  10. drew_bassmore

    drew_bassmore Supporting Member

    Oct 31, 2000
    San Francisco Bay Area
    Would you mind elaborating on what you mean by that? I am curious.
     
  11. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    Classes like Bibliography and Research, Music History, classes where you will be writing papers and doing academic things of that nature. In addition, for an MA or MM you'll likely have to take entrance exams on subjects such as theory, jazz theory, and possibly even jazz history, which will have a review class involved for those who don't pass. These classes are often seen by students as draining and superfluous, and I don't have too much trouble seeing why. OTOH, they are *supposed* to help insure that all of the students will have at least a small common knowledge base in common beofre going deeper into these subjects at a higher level.
     
  12. PNeher

    PNeher

    Mar 31, 2005
    Bellingham, WA
    I must agree with Chris. But I also believe the extra two years of professional preparation is really useful. Jazz is now so "classical" that a lot of what jazz players must learn for an MM is the same as classical. The collaborations one is required to do in the program is also something that one may not get the opportunity to do out of college. And, finally, the resources for study (the library system access for one) are generally much greater and more easily accessed in a university setting (not always tho' especially due to so much stuff being online now). Sheet music libraries are slowly being digitized but, for example at the U of A, special collections (such as the Artie Shaw and Linda Rondstat Collections) are not accessible online and by the public. An MM student in jazz really needs resources such as these for his/her development. So, do an MM, it's really great for your overall development and longevity.!!
    Patrick
     
  13. Man, I'm missing it here. What does a Masters Degree have to do with jazz? I have a B.F.A. in arranging and I encourage everybody to take the musicianship classes required for the B.A. and M.M. (sight singing, dictation, keyboard harmony etc.) but after that it seems like a waste of valuable time. If you are going to spend all this time and MONEY ON A PIECE OF PAPER, why not get a Masters in something else like Business or Accounting or Education so you can get a job and be solvent financially while you play?
     
  14. Baswithone"s"

    Baswithone"s"

    Apr 10, 2008
    Well, it's certainly more than a piece of paper. It's the cumulation of years of intense study and personal development with (hopefully) a great faculty. My Master's program was focused not just on playing, but on eventually landing a college teaching position. Subjects covered included conducting college jazz ensembles (including some really tricky charts), developing a curriculum for most classes taught within a jazz studies program, independent research, and quite a bit of time on how to properly submit a resume, statement of philosophy, and references. And actually quite a bit more.

    Full disclosure - I don't have that teaching job yet. But I don't regret the decision to continue my education. As for getting a "useful" degree - that's fine if someone want to go that route. If it was easy to be a working musician, more people would do it. But there are reasons to pursue an advanced degree in jazz, and (recently) quite a few to rethink the accounting route.
     
  15. So, you think your piece of paper qualifies and quantifies your proficiency as a performer or you just want that jazz teaching gig?
     
  16. Baswithone"s"

    Baswithone"s"

    Apr 10, 2008
    No, I don't think that my diploma (as it's sometimes called) qualifies me for a gig more so than someone who plays better than I do. There are guys and girls who never finished or went to school who are amazing, and I wouldn't pretend otherwise. But going back to school has made me a better player. It answered theoretical questions I was having, solidified my technique (I studied with Lynn Seaton, who was beyond patient with my playing), and pushed me into addressing musical challenges you don't face on most gigs.

    As for do I want a teaching job - yes, absolutely. That was one of my primary motivations for doing the Masters.

    To avoid a back and forth - no job yet, no regrets, and yes, I'm aware of the economic and cultural climate we live in. I don't know what tomorrow holds in store, but so what. Has it ever really been a good time to be a musician?
     
  17. Fair enough. Thanks for being honest about it.
     
  18. Chris Fitzgerald

    Chris Fitzgerald Student of Life Staff Member Administrator

    Oct 19, 2000
    Louisville, KY
    I think your attitude and honesty are great, and that (IMHO) you went to school for the right reasons. I went because I wanted to know a lot of things I might never have had the chance to learn otherwise, and I don't regret it one bit. And I did quite accidentally land a university gig teaching jazz, although that was never part of the plan at the time; it just kind of happened.
     
  19. Dogbertday

    Dogbertday Commercial User

    Jul 10, 2007
    SE Wisconsin
    Blaine Music LLC
    I am about to finish my undergraduate degree in jazz studies and music performance. I will be honest in that there is a LOT I have yet to learn before I could take full advantage of a top notch graduate school. Grad school for me would be to learn and if I'm going to spend the money to get my masters I want to do everything I can without it first through taking lessons and gigging.

    Make sure any schooling you commit yourself to will benefit you in some way. Be sure you always know what your goals are and don't get your masters just because that's what happens after a bachelor's degree.
     
  20. DrayMiles

    DrayMiles

    Feb 24, 2007
    East Coast
    My God... This discussion is what I've been looking for!
     

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