Is it is necessary to go to a college or a university in order to learn to be an accomplished musician?


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By Bruce Chidester

Many times I’m asked, “Is it is necessary to go to a college or a university in order to learn to be an accomplished musician”?

I will try to explore as many reasons why a college education can help you become a better player as well as point out alternative ways to accomplish the same goal.

“I have just graduated from high school and I want to be a professional musician, what do I have to do next”?

Let’s first look at some areas where you can begin to reach your objective.

1. Military service

Now that you have graduated from high school, where do you go from here? One possibility would be a military service career. The advantages of military experience is very similar to that gained be studying at a university and I will list those advantages below.

Advantage 1.
Through your time in the service, you will be playing your horn regularly.

Advantage 2.
You will be expected to improve during your time in the service.

Advantage 3.
Contacts will be made which can be of use to you when you leave the service.

Advantage 4.
You should be exposed to better players than yourself.

Advantage 5.
Unlike college, the time you spend in the service will generate benefits and income.

Advantage 6.
Your wardrobe expenses will be cut substantially.

2. Freelance musician

Due to the fact that you will have to locate in an area which will support your ambitions, you may have to move to a larger area such as Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, etc. You wouldn’t find a lot of work for a musician in Waxahachie, Texas these days.

Breaking into the scene in any large city has its own problems also. The best way to get “connected” in a new area is do what we all did, find the most respected and working musician playing your instrument in the area and start taking lessons from him/her.

You need to be seen as well as heard in order to get started in a new location. Usually your new teacher will, if he/she likes you, will begin to give you the jobs they don’t want to play, i.e. out of town, no money, bad band, etc. In the beginning you will have to take every job offered to you in order to prove yourself. This is what they mean by “paying your dues”.

Gradually you will start working your way up the ladder until you are able to make a living. In order to accomplish success in this area, you will have to be proficient in reading, improvising and even possibly singing. You will be expected to be dependable, always showing up a half hour before every gig and own at least one black suit and a white shirt.

3. Classical music

There are several areas in the classical music field where you might start your career and your selection will first be determined by your desire and ability. If you have a strong desire to play in a professional orchestra, you will need to prepare yourself with the knowledge of the literature, the style of the many different periods as well as related issues such as transposition and the ability to play in various keys.

Positions in major symphonies are many times decided before the audition is announced.

The availability open positions can vary considerably. If you expect to perform in one of the major symphonies immediately out of high school, you will be very disappointed. I’m sure that it has happened but without a well established reputation, your chances are very slight. Positions in major symphonies are many times decided before the audition is announced.

4. Starting Your Own Business

There are many advantages as well as disadvantages to starting your own business. Most advantages deal with your independence, possibly larger income and the control of your own destiny.

Disadvantages would include large expenses, endless hours of work, having to count on musicians showing up on time or even showing up and constantly promoting your ensemble or service.

For the right person this can be very rewarding. If you are an out going personality who can charm anyone into anything and you are willing to take risks, go for it. If you are on the more reserve, shy side, forget it. You will not succeed.

5. Going to a College/University

As I mentioned earlier, your time spent and contacts gained in military service are very similar to those achieved in a college or university setting. Some additional benefits to a college education would include-

Benefit 1.
A broader exposure to music literature and history.

Benefit 2.
More personal contacts in the music field.

Benefit 3.
A degree which might be of benefit to you if your performance career does not work out.

Benefit 4.
Your education in many different areas will be a benefit to you in life.

In closing, I would like to stress to you that even though many TV show personality will tell you “You can do and be anything you set your mind to”, chances are they have never played a brass instrument.

Making a full time living playing your instrument is tough and can be a real struggle.

If you are talented enough to reach the top of the pile, your career may still be only a bar fight away from ending. You may be able to play a quadruple high X, but if the economy falters, you may be replaced next week by pre-recorded tracks.

Just remember one thing, “Keep practicing”.

2 Responses to “Is it is necessary to go to a college or a university in order to learn to be an accomplished musician?”

  1. Clarene says:

    I am a 64 year old male with limited trumpet experience (school band, 1959 to 1965). After several attempts at making a comeback over the past forty+
    years, I finally was able to partially retire and commit to a comeback two years ago, and have been practicing religiously since. Have joined up with a concert band and a church orchestra that I play with as often as my work schedule will allow.
    And have met with trumpet tutors as often as our finances would allow, which, I believe will become much more often in the near future.
    I could no longer ignore a passion I have always had for playing trumpet (kept my high school horn all those years), and will not deny myself the pleasure of playing, with a goal of becoming the best trumpet player that I can be.
    I realize that, at my age and level of expertise, the odds are stacked against me ever having the opporutnity to play for a living, but wouldn’t it be great, if for once in my life that I could make a living doing what I really love doing? Instead of just making a living doing work I don’t really like. That has been my life so far; mostly fully employed, but drifting around from job to job, career to career, not really understanding my true destiny.
    Too bad I couldn’t figure that out in high school.
    Anyway, I pretty much got an idea of how you’re going to respond, but just to humor me; what are the odds of someone like me breaking into trumpet playing as a professional. I have befriended several life-long professional trumpet players (both tutors I’ve taken lessons from to name a couple, in addition to another couple in my band/orchestra. I’m already getting coaching from them.
    Be blunt and to the point in your response; in amy case, I intend to continue improving and playing for the rest of my life, whether I ever get paid for it or not.
    Clarence
    P.S. Thank you for making this website possible. It is only one of many resources I’ve found on the internet that connect me with trumpet experts, but just as important to me. God Bless, and looking forward to your response to this post.

  2. Clarence says:

    In my prev post, I made a typo on my name; it is Clarence. Not getting along with my keyboard right now.

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