Music Degree - Is it worth it?

Discussion in 'Miscellaneous [DB]' started by Tom R, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. Tom R

    Tom R

    Jan 14, 2013
    Hi there,

    I'm trying to decide whether or not I should study Music at a University level.

    I love playing Jazz, and have done many gigs over the past year, mostly in a trio. Unfortunately, the other two members of the group are both heading off to different Universities, and neither are studying music.

    I'm currently on a Gap Year, spending large amounts of my free time progressing my DB skills. I love playing, and I know it's something I want to carry on into the future - but is a Music Degree the best way to go? I don't think I want to end up in a Professional Orchestra, Jazz is where I want to be.

    I don't have the grades to get into a top flight university to study anything other than Music, and going to a 2nd rate University isn't worth the money in my opinion. Therefore, the other option would be to go into full time work and keep playing DB as a small hobby.

    Any feedback is greatly appreciated. I'm from the UK, and live about an hour outside of London - If I were to go to study Music, I would definitely be aiming for somewhere like RAM.

    Sorry if this is the wrong place to ask!!
  2. Eric Hochberg

    Eric Hochberg

    Jul 7, 2004
    It is worth it if you think you would like to teach, as advanced degrees are usually required. It will not get you any jazz gigs per se, but it will give you a few years of total concentration on the bass and music in general that will hopefully make you a better musician and ready to work professionally. As a caveat, I'm sure you are aware that making a living as a jazz bass player is very difficult! Good luck!
  3. If you want to be a music teacher, then yes, a music degree is the way to go. I've played with a few dudes who were music teachers by day, gigging musicians on weekends. I always liked playing with these music professionals and learning from them, as I'm an amateur musician with a non-music degree day job.
  4. nickbass


    Apr 29, 2005
    Northants, UK
    Hi Tom, yes it's a dilemma, isn't it? I'm a pro player (piano and DB) teaching currently at top UK colleges, as well as running my own jazz school both for keen players who waint to develop without going to college, and for players who are trying to get to college.
    First question - could you get in? It's a very competitive area, with probably only 50 or 60 places available in jazz colleges nationwide for all instruments. RAM (Royal Academy of Music) takes only 4 or 5 students in total every year eg one sax one piano one bass one drummer, and there are usually only 4 or 5 bass places each year in all the London Colleges together. You sound like you have good experience - but do you have the specific skill set that colleges are looking for? It's worth consulting with a college level teacher to find out!
    Second question - assuming you can get in - is it worth it? With the UK fee hike to £9000 pa, estimated student debt levels in excess of £60000, and current live music scene and average gig fees, it's certainly not a sensible business decision. But no one is going into it for the money! If you are passionate about jazz and can't see yourself doing anything else, then you will find like-minded people at college and will form relationships and connections which will be an important part of your future musical life.
    Hope this helps - there is more discussion and information about these issues at jazz school uk (see link in signature)
  5. MostlyBass


    Mar 3, 2002
    Oak Park, IL
    Good responses. I have two - one in music ed and one in double bass performance. I tell students going into music to get an music ed degree. Why? Because you'll get your music classes but you can PERFORM with ANY degree but if you want to teach public school you MUST have the education degree. It can also help you get the smaller teaching gigs like adjunct positions.

    Another great option is to major in music ed and minor in performance or jazz. For my music ed degree I challenged myself by passing the same performance exams as the performance major and played in all the jazz ensembles.
  6. Calebmundy


    Apr 5, 2007
    My quick two cents: it's worth it if you can get out with $200/month or less in student loan payments when you get out. I'd convert that to pounds, but I don't know where the pound sign on my keyboard can be found...
  7. Tom R

    Tom R

    Jan 14, 2013
    Hey all,

    Thanks for the responses! It's a difficult decision, I've been mulling over it for ages. It doesn't seem the sensible thing to do career wise, I know it's incredibly hard to make a living out of music - but there's another part of me which feels like it's absolutely the right path to take.


    I wasn't aware that the places were so scarce? I haven't looked into absolute specifics, but just from the website, I would have thought that there would be about 5-10 places for Bass, per year, in RAM alone. If there's just 1 spot, then you're relying almost entirely on luck to get in?
    I might be able to contact some College Level Professors, so I will see if I can talk to them the get a clearer picture :)

    Thank you all for your advice and input! I will take them on board. I'm not in any immediate rush to come to a decision, so I have plenty of time to think this over :)
  8. nickbass


    Apr 29, 2005
    Northants, UK
    The RAM Jazz Course is brilliant, but tiny - only taking a small number of the most gifted students in the country each year, many of whom come from the specialist music schools - Chetham's, Purcell etc. Basically they take enough students for one small group, usually rhythm section plus a few front line. Trinity take enough for two groups. The Royal Welsh in Cardiff is very good as well, and short of bass players over the whole course - might be worth looking there as well..Guildhall offers crossover with the classical side. Auditions everywhere take place in Nov-Dec in the year before entry, so if you auditioned successfully in Winter 2013 it would be for entry in Autumn 2014...
    Luck does come into it - you may achieve the necessary standard for entry and do a very good audition, but just happen to be trying in a year where there are five players better than you who are all trying for the London places!
    It's all perfectly achievable, but you do need to get an idea of what the standards are and what you might need to do to get up to the never know, you may be there already!
  9. MostlyBass


    Mar 3, 2002
    Oak Park, IL
    My experience is just within the U.S. but.... If you like to teach there ARE lots of public school orchestra reaching positions. High school jobs usually offer the ability to work with a jazz band as well.

    Now college positions are quite rare. Bass positions are usually adjunct / part time or come with a slew of non-bass duties such as teaching theory, aural skills, history, etc. - that's IF there are any full time openings. A friend of mine is a piano professor and when he got hired he got 1 of only 2 openings in the country.

    I have NEVER regretted my choice to get music degrees or become a music teacher. I can play as much or as little as I want and with the set teaching income I can pick and choose all my gigs. I also teach private lessons outside of school which is a nice supplemental income but wouldn't pay the bills.
  10. Tom R

    Tom R

    Jan 14, 2013
    Hi Nick,

    Luckily I know a few people who go to Chets, and I've heard that they are currently are short of Jazz Bass Players. I believe Purcell's steers more to the Classical side, with not quite so much Jazz on offer?

    What are the numbers like for Applicants per Place for the London Colleges? And do you know roughly how many of them get the spot who aren't from Chets/Purcells backgrounds?
  11. Troph


    Apr 14, 2011
    Kirkland, WA
    My mother got both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in music here in the US, in classical piano. She taught for a few years at the state college level, and then tried a few years in the public school system, before deciding that the money she made wasn't worth the awful frustrations, and moved on to other work. She never looked back.

    My father, on the other hand, never got a music degree, but has studied jazz his whole life. He went on to be an airline pilot, playing jazz piano on the side. I get the impression that he still enjoys music much more than my mother does. And obviously that's very important.

    I also know 3 other fellow students who got music degrees. Every single one of them is working essentially as a day laborer in order to fund their lifestyle as a gigging musician, and most of them are still paying off college loans. Only 1 of the 3 is giving lessons on the side, because depending on your area, the market is inundated with private guitar and bass teachers.

    Overall, I'd say that only a small percentage of those who get music degrees end up with satisfying music-oriented careers. So obviously that doesn't mean you won't be successful, but the statistics just aren't that great. :meh:
  12. I have bachelors and masters degrees, taught in public school for 33+ years, and am now retired. I gigged throughout my teaching career in bands and orchestras and now that I'm retired, I gig more than ever. If you love music, a degree is the way to go. You can get a day job you love providing a secure income, teach privately, and still gig your bass off as much as you can!
  13. I decided to go for a music degree as an adult, and have some regrets, but, at the time, it was just something I had to do, kind of a single-minded passion. I just had to do this. I really liked having the time, for several years, to be focused on music, playing opportunities, and the university environment. But, I also have a back-up career where I can have a good income. My only regret is that I stayed there too long and piled up too much debt. I became a better musician for sure, but I have also had to learn other genres of music well to be out there working.

    Do music if you cannot imagine yourself doing anything else and think about what it is going to be like after your graduate. It has to be kind of a single-minded passion to really do well in a university or conservatory setting and striving to be the best. Then, it is really worth it.
  14. zfunkman


    Dec 18, 2012
    My advice to you is go to college and major in something other than music. However, never stop playing. Minor in music and/or take private lessons and play with people as much as possible. If you like jazz form a group after enrolling in college and gig gig gig. Learn as many songs as you can an play as many shows as you can while earning your college degree. It would also be a good idea to get into other styles of music too; like r&b, funk, blues, etc . . . and if you can stomach it . . . top 40 can earn you decent money while going to college. If you're in the right city you can also do this with jazz. I got my music degree a long time ago and couldn't quite make enough money in music . . . I eventually went back to school and got my degree in Business. I make my money with my day job and play in a funk band and a jazz band. The friends I have who ARE professional musicians don't have college degrees. They just got busy learning music on their own after H.S., took lessons, joined bands (sometimes 2 or 3), learned songs, and hussled.
  15. Is it worth it? That is for you to find out. Are you going to teach? Then, yes.
    Need it to play AC/
  16. iiipopes


    May 4, 2009
    Have you posted for advise on
  17. Ever consider studying music abroad? For example, my country has a free education system even at the highest level. The Jazz Dept. of Sibelius Academy isn't a bad place to study, I've heard, and there are a lot of international students there.
  18. Troph


    Apr 14, 2011
    Kirkland, WA
    Wow, you're actually inviting him to freeload off of your taxes? Now that's either impressive or sad, depending on whether you pay taxes. ;)
  19. nickbass


    Apr 29, 2005
    Northants, UK
    Hi Tom,
    I hear that this year (for entry Autumn 13) there were 15 auditioning at Trinity and a whole day's worth at Guildhall (10-12?). Don't know the numbers for RAM. On the plus side, many will have been auditioning in all three colleges, so that reduces the odds a bit! Let's say 20 for 5 London places, and it doesn't look so far as the Chets/Purcell thing, I think the more relevant fact is that quite a few successful applicants will have done some time at RAM Junior Jazz or the NYJC Summer School. These aren't necessary steps before college, but getting onto one of those programmes does indicate the right sort of playing level that the Colleges are looking for...
  20. I pay taxes, and would gladly pay more of them if it meant that things would work better, or even stop getting worse.

    From a musician's point of view, this is a small country and the music circles are likewise quite limited. Any addition to them, even for a little while, is good for this place, otherwise people just play with the same people all the time. How else do we learn to interact with people from different backgrounds?

    So welcome, anybody and everybody!