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Preparing to Be a Music Major: 6 Things You Should Expect

We’re not going to lie to you, being a music major is a lot of hard work. However, it’s the best kind of hard work because it’s incredibly rewarding! Sometimes all we need is a little preparation in order to excel, so we wanted to give you six things to expect as a music major and how you can be ready for them.

1. Full Credit Hours

A lot of students relish in the free time college has to offer by taking a small number of credit hours their freshman year. Many take only 12 credit hours per semester at the beginning, which is roughly 4 to 5 classes. However, if you’re a music major, you will likely always be in the 15-18 credit hours per semester range, and sometimes more. In addition, many music courses are 0-2 credit hours, meaning you’ll be taking more classes for fewer credits.

Music majors are different from many other college majors in that they begin coursework right away. And, there are a lot of required courses for musicians, such as theory, ear training, private lessons, band or choral ensembles, and many more. These classes are in addition to all of the general requirement courses like math or science. So as a music major, you will be taking a lot of music courses at the same time as your general requirement courses, creating full and busy semesters.

How to Prepare for Busy Semesters:

    • Map out your entire college career before selecting classes for your first semester. You will likely be given a degree plan when you enroll, and you can use this to help plan the next four years. You may not stick to your plan entirely, but looking at the big picture will allow you to create realistic semesters and keep your workload as minimal as possible.
    • Make use of your advisor. Your advisor will be the person you schedule each semester with. Ask questions about professors and workloads. They are there to help!
    • Figure out what time of day you are most productive. For example, if you’re not a morning person, avoid the 6:30 am classes.
    • Take some online classes. There will always be those “required” courses that no one wants to take. So if you need to take a random meteorology class to grab a science credit, consider looking for an online option. Online classes typically have assignments due weekly, so when you do the work during the week is up to you. You may be able to spare a few hours on the weekend in exchange for a lighter load during the week! Again, ask your advisor questions as well as other students who may have taken the class to find out if it’s a fit for you.
    • Look for classes offered during breaks. Occasionally colleges will offer courses during fall, winter, spring, and summer breaks. Of course, it isn’t always fun to take classes during breaks, but if you can knock out an entire class in a few weeks, it can save you a lot of stress later on!

Example of a Freshman Music Major Schedule:

2. Ensembles

Music majors are almost always required to be in instrumental or choral ensembles. If you are attending college on a music scholarship, you may be required to be in multiple ensembles where other students may only be required to be in one. While ensembles can be a lot of fun, they can create a lot of scheduling conflicts with general requirement courses. For example, many general requirement classes (such as English) have multiple options for class times. But if you are required to be in a specific choir, it will only meet at one time, and you will have to make that work for your schedule.

Another thing to know about ensembles is that they are generally worth only one credit hour, but don’t let that fool you! Most ensembles meet several times a week (if not every day) and have several concerts (dress rehearsals included) each semester.

How to Prepare for Ensembles:

    • Always schedule around your ensembles. When you’re making class schedules for each semester, write in your ensembles first, so that you don’t accidentally plan anything over them.
    • Read up on each ensemble. Be aware of the requirements before you join, especially if you have to choose between a few.
    • Establish a relationship with your ensemble director. Trust us, your band and choir directors know it can be tough for college students at times. You might be surprised at how much they appreciate communication. If you’re ever feeling overwhelmed or discouraged, talk to your director.

3. Private Lessons

In addition to being a part of an ensemble, you will likely also be required to take private lessons. Some music colleges require lessons for a primary and secondary instrument (including voice), while others only require lessons for one. Depending on your major and scholarship, your lessons may be 30 minutes, an hour, or even two hours a week. Private lessons will be another one or two-hour class and will tack on quite a bit of work. However, private lessons are designed to help you become the absolute best musician you can be! These lessons are essential for improving your skills as a vocalist or instrumentalist, and you will be in quite capable hands.

How to Prepare for Private Lessons:

    • Choose your instructor. Though you may not always be able to request your private lessons teacher, many times you can! Talk to your advisor or an employee of the music department about your musical style, what you want to learn, and what kind of teaching environment suits you best. Like we said, these lessons will require a fair amount of work, so you want to be with an instructor you genuinely enjoy.
    • Find out your instructors openings and schedule right away. Your instructor will likely have a few windows of open time for lessons. And these lesson times are not only open to you, but to the rest of your instructors’ students as well. Do your best to schedule quickly so that you don’t end up running into any significant roadblocks with other classes.
    • Give yourself a break before lessons. Unfortunately, we’ve all had those weeks where we don’t get around to practicing too much. While we highly recommend that you get into a practice routine, it may be beneficial for you to leave a window of time before your lessons each weak to brush up on any rusty areas. Having 30 minutes or an hour before your lesson will also allow you to relax and focus on your lesson, instead of feeling rushed or flustered.

4. Juries

If you are a student required to take private lessons, you should be prepared for juries at the end of each semester. A music jury is a final performance by a student for a small panel of jurors, usually consisting of the faculty of the institution. Throughout the semester, you and your private instructor will curate a repertoire of a given number of pieces. Then at the end of the semester, you will select a few to perform for juries. Your jury will also have your entire list of repertoire and will typically ask you to perform a song of their choice. Depending on how you feel about performing in front of others, juries can either be exciting or terrifying. Ultimately, juries are designed to assess your progress throughout your college career.

How to Prepare for Juries:

    • Practice! The best way to prepare for juries is to make sure you are practicing what you are discussing with your private instructor. As long as you are doing the things you talk about in your lessons, you don’t need to worry about a perfect performance. The jury is there to assess your progress and technicality, not necessarily your skill. They are looking at things like breath support, expression, vowels (for vocalists), posture, consistency in tempo, and intonation. If you’re practicing regularly, by the end of your time taking private lessons, you will see a massive improvement.
    • Find the music you enjoy. Your instructor will likely have musical goals for you and will select pieces that challenge and develop your abilities. But believe it or not, they care about whether you like them or not! Be honest with your instructor about pieces you don’t like. After all, it’s going to be hard for you to dedicate yourself to practicing a piece you don’t enjoy. In the case that your instructor lets you choose a piece or two, take some time browsing for some sheet music you are passionate about learning.
    • Stay healthy. There is nothing more frustrating than performing while you are not feeling 100%. Though it is sometimes inevitable, do your best to take care of yourself and get good sleep in the weeks coming up to juries. You will likely be studying for other finals as well, so make sure to prioritize your health and give the best representation of yourself possible.

5. Recital Requirements

Students taking private lessons will often take part in various recitals (also referred to as performance labs) throughout each semester. As a music student, you will be required to attend a certain number and may be required to perform in a few as well depending on your private instructor. Some recitals will consist of many students performing different pieces. These recitals are designed to give students a chance to perform the music they’ve been working on for their classmates and professors.

Other recitals will feature only one performer, for example, a piano performance major. These recitals are essentially tests, necessary for these students to graduate. Either way, you will likely receive a schedule at the beginning of the semester with a list of all of the recitals that semester and their corresponding times and dates.

How to Prepare for Recitals:

    • Put the recital dates in your calendar at the beginning of the semester. A lot of performances will be in the evenings and are easy to forget about if you haven’t planned for them in advance.
    • Talk to your private lessons instructor about recital requirements. Not all instructors will require you to perform in these recitals, but many will have you prepare a song or two and perform a few times a semester. If you have any performance anxiety, make sure to talk to your instructor about it. Your instructors are there to help, not to embarrass you!

6. Endless Opportunities and Events

College is the best time to find out what you’re truly passionate about. In the music department, there will be plenty of opportunities to branch out and try different things. Whether it’s auditioning for a musical, joining a new ensemble, or performing at an open mic night, we encourage you to take advantage of every opportunity you can.

How to Prepare for Events:

    • Get a schedule of events. With all of the crazy things going on in college, it can be easy to miss an audition or two. So make sure to stay up to date with what’s going on, whether that means setting yourself calendar reminders, or doing a weekly check of the bulletin board in the fine arts office.
    • Be informed of the details. While of course, it’s great to try everything you can, remember that you still have classes and rehearsals to get to! Make sure that before you sign up for something new that you’ve looked into the details and can fully commit. For example, if you’re auditioning for a musical that will have evening rehearsals and you have evening classes, you’re going to run into some issues, so you’ll want to check all of the details in advance.

Final Tips

Before we leave you, we want to give you a few final tips that will help you prepare for becoming a music major.

    • Get into a good practice routine. Once you’re in college and have a million things going on, it’s going to be tough to get into a solid practice routine. So if you already have a routine you’ve been using before college, you will find it much easier to sustain. If you need help nailing down your routine, check out our article “Maximize Your Music Practice Time with These 10 Tips.”
    • Take dual credit or AP courses in high school. If you can knock out some of your general requirement courses (Math, Science, English, etc.) in high school, we highly encourage it! Transferring these courses over will allow you to focus far more on music and will alleviate some of the craziness in college.
    • Study up to test out. You will likely have the opportunity to test out of the beginning theory, ear training, and piano classes. You may have grown up learning music theory or playing an instrument and as a result, don’t need to be in these introductory classes. You don’t need to do extensive studying, but take a few weeks or so to review what you know and dig out some old sheet music so that you can be ready to test out.

We hope that you now feel more prepared to take on your college career. Like we said, being a music major is no joke! But if you’re passional about music, you’re going to absolutely love it. You will learn more than you ever thought you could, become more skilled than you ever thought you would, and leave college ready to take on the world. We wish you luck, and we’re rooting for you!

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and make a purchase, Musicnotes will receive an affiliate commission. We are disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commissions 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

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