Don’t Go To Music School

“But I worry that what students of the arts are often seeking in higher education is nothing more than proof of their own legitimacy – proof they are for real as creative people, because their degree says so.”
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic (103)

So, don’t go to music school.  Unless you have to.  Unless you feel so excited about it, your heart bursts.  Unless you know it’s the perfect path for you.  Unless it’s paid for, or you can easily afford it.

Of course, not all of these criteria will apply to you, and many people are blessed by music school in ways that nothing else can bless them.  All I want to point out is that creating art does not require a degree from college, nor does it require the kind of money colleges are asking for these days.

“But if you’re considering some sort of advanced schooling in the arts and you’re not rolling in cash, I’m telling you – you can live without it.  You can certainly live without the debt, because debt will always be the abattoir of creative dreams.” (104)

I feel like I have some ground to stand on when talking about this subject.  1) I was a University professor for 12 years.  2) I do not have an undergraduate degree in music.  3) I do have a master’s degree in music.

If you are wondering at this point how I got into grad school with an undergraduate degree (in psychology) not in music, I’ll tell you.  I went out and became a professional musician after college.  I did a s**t ton of gigs, made records, won competitions, and eventually started teaching as a way to share that experience with others.

And I never asked permission to do it, I just went for it.  And I did it without a degree, just a desire to be a musician.  THEN came grad school.

So, this begs the question: why would I ever want to get a master’s degree in music?  That’s an easy one.  I wanted time.

Time to learn more about voice science (vocology).
Time to focus solely on music.
Time to hone my teaching skills.
Time to finish a BIG project, which in this case was the degree.
Most importantly: I wanted time to grow.

And now I am paying for it.  Trust me, my student loan payment would buy me a really nice car.  A really, really nice car.  For like the next 25 years.  But I knew what I was getting into, and also have this crazy faith that everything is working out.  So instead of a Mercedes, at least at this juncture, it seems I bought time.

As a professor, I ran into more than a few students who should not have been in music school.  They were lost, unfocused, undisciplined, and often had no passion for being a musician.  They were just purchasing some very expensive practice room hours (and hours) instead of doing a general liberal arts degree.  Which, and I agree with Liz Gilbert on this one, is a great way to go when you are 18 and have no earthly clue who you are OR what you want to do for the rest of your life.  This is probably the majority of 18 year olds, right?

If you think music school will challenge you, give you skills, teach you discipline, make you a better human being, help you dig deep into the heart of music, and you get a “hell yes!” feeling in your gut – then go for it.

Otherwise, just go make music, man!  You can do it, and you can get really good at it.  You can play gigs, you can rock out with your friends, you can write a bajillion songs, you can sing on everyone’s demo, and you can even go on tour.  If those are the things you want, be brave and go do them.  School is not going to bring them to you, and school is not going to give you the “musician” stamp of approval.  People coming to your shows, buying your recordings, and calling you for gigs are what does that.

Honestly, you need to give yourself permission to play music, be a creative person, and have fun.  If school comes after that, then great.  But don’t go to music school to try and make yourself love music or as a way to legitimize your artistry.  It doesn’t work that way.

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