Options for casual music education?
November 21, 2010 10:07 AM   Subscribe

Where can I go for a 1-2 year music degree?

I'm a 28 year-old male with a bachelor's degree in CS. I've had some trouble with the software industry (as evidenced by a previous question in my post history) and I've given up on the expectation that I should be fulfilled by my job. The problem is, I am a creative person, and I need to be creating something all the time. So, I need another outlet. Software is cool, but the spontaneity of performance art is a huge draw to me.

I picked up guitar at age 24, taking lessons on and off. I'm not great at it, but I enjoy it quite a bit. I'm taking a music theory class at the local community college to pick up the basics, and I like it. I'd like to study music intensively for at least one or two years. However, from my point of view, it seems like music schools seem to cater to a more hardcore crowd. More bluntly, it seems like I don't have the chops necessary to get in there yet. I'm not intending on relying on music to be a steady source of income in the future. I'm just looking for somewhere I can pick up more experience playing/writing/producing/studying music amongst like-minded people. I also need to get away from IT for awhile, so going away to school for a limited period of time seems like a good idea. I'm not giving up on IT, just de-toxing a bit and trying to knock out a dream of wanting to go to art school in some way.

The closest fit to what I'm looking for is:

Does anyone know of something similar? Or was in a similar position?
posted by antareus to Education (4 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
by way of background, I'm a serious amateur musician (or if you'd rather call me a bottom-of-the barrel pro, I'll answer to that too) - I play in the local symphony and teach jr and sr. high students on clarinet and sax. My day job is not in the music business.

if you've made the financial committment to being a full-time student (with all the sacrifice that entails) and assuming you're doing well in the music theory class, I would think you'd be able to find a place in a traditional music degree curriculum. Maybe not at one of the top, most competitive schools of music - schools like Eastman or Oberlin require an extremely high degree of proficiency on an instrument before you can get in, and are indeed for the "hard core." Even the top music programs in any given state's university(ies)may be above your proficiency and interest level.

However, for every school like that there are dozens of smaller programs at smaller schools. They tend to turn out a lot of band directors and church music directors. Not putting them down at all - these kind of people are really the core of the "working musician" world, and you'll find they've gotten where they are more by working hard than by being some kind of savants. Most communities of any size have some programs like this tucked away. Small private liberal arts colleges often are your best bet, if you can afford them.

Now, having said that, there is a ton about music you can learn from taking private lessons, and the instructors at these colleges do a LOT of teaching "on the side." This is typically most associated with taking performance lessons on an instrument, but there's no reason you can't take "lessons" on writing/arranging/producing etc., either from said professors "on the side" or by getting involved with some community efforts. Large churches often have tons of music going on in their programs, and rely on volunteers to get a lot of it done.

You mention guitar- don't know if your genres are more classical, pop, folk, rock, or what, but the more it is classified as "popular music," the more people you'll find out there doing it outside the purview of an academic program. Indeed, outside of classical and chamber (well, and concert and marching bands), you'll find the academics are looking to the non-academics to come teach this stuff for them.

As an adult, all of my education has been in private lessons (and learning the ropes in the performing ensembles I've found myself in), and my experiences have included playing in a symphony orchestra, a 20 piece dance band, chamber ensembles, a few solo recitals (really just vanity projects, but they were fun to do), and countless ad-hoc or contract gig situations where they just needed a reed guy and the only qualification needed was - I had to know how to play. As a guitarist, you play an instrument with far more opportunities than mine. While there are many full-time jobs in the business that require a degree, it's a long way from being a necessity if you just want to, you know - make music.
posted by randomkeystrike at 10:39 AM on November 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

There really aren't that many music jobs that will require a degree, and those that do require at least a 4-year degree at a school that will demand a very high level of commitment and money. (Former music teacher here.) What about lessons/mentoring from a more experienced player? I still take piano lessons, despite teaching piano myself.

You could also go to school without intending to get a degree, depending on how your local music program feels about it. Also, a couple of schools offer sound technician training programs, which are usually Associate's degrees. Tech gigs are a good way to get more involved in the music scene anywhere, and any involvement is a good thing for a musician looking to break in.
posted by honeydew at 3:13 PM on November 21, 2010

Best answer: "Artist's Diploma" (or "Artists Diploma," or "Artist Diploma," depending on the school) will be your Google term of choice. All the music schools around here offer one--Berklee, Longy, New England Conservatory, Boston Conservatory.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:59 PM on November 21, 2010

I recommend treating this year (or two) more like a sabbatical from your normal life, where you take the money, time and energy you are prepared to invest in school and pour it into several different experiences. Depending on where you live and/or how flexible you can be about traveling, there are plenty of ways you can develop your skills and vocabulary as a musician without diving into a 'diploma' situation.

Last year I attended one of the week long intensives at the School for Improvisational Music in Brooklyn. They also do workshops in Norway and are doing their first in LA in June 2011. It was great, but may not be your thing. Along similar lines is the JazzSchool in Berkeley, which I know little about but it seems to be suited to people who can't study full time.

If you're more into electronic music, you might check out red bull academy (not joking, i hear it is great). Berklee has recently started doing online courses that are apparently very good, but expensive.

More along the lines of academic programs are things like LA Music Academy or Musicians Institute (also in LA). I have a friend who attended LAMA and had an incredible experience. I think both places are geared toward younger people who want to be 'rock stars', but I could be wrong and/or that may still suit you. I know little about full sail, but it frequently came up in my searches for music study programs.

Why not create your own education? Get a group of musicians together for a weekly session where everyone improvises music. Or if you're learning to read music, find someone who you can read through jazz charts with. Take part in Immersion Composition Society! Depending on where you live, there is probably already a lodge underway in your town. A few friends and I started one here and we do this several times a year. Can't recommend it enough. Along the same lines is the RPM challenge.

Attending an accredited school is only one way to study music. They have great resources and opportunities for sure, but there are an awful lot of rules in those places. I get the impression that's not what you're after. For the record, I did study for a year in my late twenties as a non-degree seeking student at my local university.

Surround yourself with musicians who challenge you. Set goals for yourself and put yourself into situations that you don't feel you are prepared for. Go see lots of music and make some connections with the people in local bands. Feel free to send me a message if you have any specific questions (and/or let me know if you find any other cool study opportunities!). Best of luck to you.
posted by palacewalls at 9:19 PM on November 21, 2010

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