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.