Music Department graphic and Best of Madison Graphic



Adapted from the original article by the same title from Teaching Music, February 1998, © MENC

Being a music major is more complicated than singing or playing for pleasure. With careful planning and dedication, however, the curriculum can be one of the most rewarding in the liberal arts.

One of the most misunderstood notions of the music major is that it is an “easy” degree in which students simply enjoy playing or singing in an ensemble. In reality, the music degree is considered among the most rigorous courses of study, requiring extensive use of all learning modalities. Aural skills, reading comprehension, research writing in historical music studies, and kinesthetic ability for performance and conducting are all required.

Students who lack basic music theory skills will be required to quickly master theory fundamentals. The initial material students must know or learn includes meter signatures, rhythmic values, elementary principles of form, written intervals and triads, treble and bass clefs, major and minor scales and key signatures, and key relationships.

For many, aural skills take the longest to develop. Students must be able to identify by ear the degrees of a scale being played or sung, the type of triad being played or sung, the interval being played or sung, and the chord factor in the bass or soprano of a chord being played. Students should also be able to tap back rhythms being played or sung and to notate simple tonal melodies being played or sung.

Historical studies in music help students learn invaluable material that will assist them in selecting literature and in understanding performance practices. The field entails rigorous research writing as well as aural and visual identification of music from various historical time periods, genres, and styles.

Many students who plan to become music majors begin private study on an instrument or voice years before they come to college. If not, most students can expect to spend time in “pre-college” lessons that will prepare them for the rigors of the collegiate-level studio lesson. One of the most important lessons a student must learn is how to practice. Many students cannot formulate a viable, tangible study and practice plan. Without this, progress is curtailed significantly.

All college music majors, no matter what their principal performance medium, will be required to sing in music courses. Students must be willing and able to sing back pitches played within and outside their vocal range, sing back notes in a major and minor triad, and sing the major scale with numbers, letters, and solfeggio, and sight-sing simple folk tunes, among other things.

All college music majors, no matter what their principal performance medium, must develop basic keyboard skills, essential to studying scores, teaching harmony, and providing basic accompaniment. For this reason, a piano proficiency demonstration is a standard part of every undergraduate music degree.

The Right Attitude. If students are passionate about and dedicated to music - as well as being aware of its rigors - then they belong in a college music program.


In America and around the globe, the music industry adds billions of dollars to the economy and employs an astonishing number of people. Within the last decade, the global value of retail sales of recorded music alone was estimated at over $US37billion per year. A recent economic study in Nashville reported that the local music industry there supported 54,000 jobs with an estimated labor income of $722 million annually.

Aspiring musicians may be surprised to learn about the number of careers that exist, including: musicians who compose, conduct, and perform; professionals who create and sell recorded music (including retail stores, online stores, publishers of sheet music, producers, studio personnel, engineers, copyright experts, etc.); personnel associated with live performance, including promoters, advertisers, sales, booking agents, grant writers, business managers, talent scouts; personnel who broadcast music; music journalists, critics, book editors; educators; personnel that support music education, including instrument manufacturers, distributers, salespersons, school ensemble arrangers, and more.

Just a few career ideas to explore:
  • Accompanist (public and private schools, music schools and performing arts camps; other venues; religious centers and schools)
  • Arranger
  • Arts administrator/arts management
  • Composer
  • Conductor
  • Copyist, transcriber
  • Copyright consultant
  • Educator – K-12, college, university, conservatory, religious organizations, private studio
  • Entertainment lawyer; music business lawyer
  • Event production, management, planning, technology
  • Film scoring (Composing, editing, supervising, arranging/adapting, orchestrating)
  • Music Historian
  • Music Librarian
  • Lyricist
  • Marketing Related to Music
  • Media development
  • Merchant
  • Music critic or reviewer
  • Music for game development
  • Music licensing
  • Music online and print magazine writing, editing, publishing
  • Music publishing
  • Performer (Vocal and instrumental soloist, session musician, orchestra/band/group member, background vocalist or instrumentalist, performing artist, show band.
  • Venues may include business meetings, conferences, cruise ships, weddings, hotels, restaurants, clubs, religious events)
  • Promoter
  • Recording (including research, publicity, marketing, public relations, sales)
  • Royalty analyst, royalty accountant
  • Songwriter (including composer, lyricist, producer; jingle writing for television, radio and internet; freelance work; librettist)
  • Talent representation (booking, management)
  • Tours/road work (road manager, sound technician, tour coordinator, tour publicist)




Edgewood College alumni with liberal arts music degrees enjoy a wide variety of careers. Here are just a few examples:

  • Audio engineer
  • Professional opera performance
  • Church musician
  • Radio broadcasting
  • Private lesson instruction
  • Freelance jazz performance



Internships are required of music majors who have a business emphasis, and are encouraged for all liberal arts music majors. Music faculty advisors work directly with students and community partners to assure both the student and the intern host a high-quality experience. Our location in Madison, Wisconsin affords our students access to outstanding opportunities.

A few of our most recent internship placements are listed here:

  • Madison Symphony Orchestra
  • Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra
  • Local commercial radio stations
  • Monroe Street Fine Arts Center (non-profit)
  • Wisconsin Center for Music Education
  • Wisconsin Public Radio
  • For-profit music stores and businesses
  • Recording  studios



“Juries” are the end-of-semester final exams for students in applied “private” lessons. Students will have 10-15 minutes, depending on their instructor’s studio policy, to showcase their semester’s work for a panel of three faculty members. Juries comprise 25% of the final grade for private lessons, with the remaining 75% determined by the studio teacher (based on weekly practice, progress, and performances throughout the semester.)

What to do

  • Get music to your accompanist as soon as you know what you will perform; arrange rehearsals throughout the semester, not just before the jury look for announcements about sign-up times for your exam
  • With the help of your instructor, fill out the Jury Repertoire Sheet (sample below) and make three copies to bring to the exam
  • Ask your instructor whether or not to make copies of your music for the adjudicators
  • Arrive at your jury in professional attire, prior to your assigned time, warmed-up and ready to perform

See pp. 27-28 of the Handbook for a sample Jury Repertoire Sheet and a sample Jury Rubric.