Advanced degrees in music can provide tremendous benefits and resources. Undergraduate degrees are often loaded with other academic requirements or distractions depending on where you attend, and your time and attention have a lot of demands placed on them. But is graduate school for music the best investment?
For years, no one disputed the benefits of additional study and research following a Bachelor’s degree.
Our landscape is changing, however. Technology and modern interests have affected the arts, and life progresses at a sometimes terrifying rate of speed. It is difficult for school curriculum to keep up with what a career in music may now demand from us.
The lines between formerly easy to distinguish career paths — orchestral musician or academic — are now blurry and shifting. A tremendous number of us are skipping out on extra years of school to build our own maps. It’s exciting and inventive, and a little scary! We all require different things to create a career, and it means that we have some choices to make.
Make a List
Often the easiest place to start is an old fashioned pros and cons list:
Pros of attending graduate school for music:
- Additional abundant time to hone your craft
- Access to valuable mentoring, instruction, ensemble experience, music libraries
- Connections and relationship building with new peers and colleagues
- Knowledge, including more time to learn about music and yourself
- Reason to relocate — a solid reason to move to a new city and music scene
- References. Peers and mentors who can vouch for you as you apply for jobs after school
- Qualifications. If you want to work in academia, a DMA degree is often required, and you will likely need at least a master’s degree to be considered for hire
- Assistantships. Many wonderful scholarships are available to help you fund your studies
Cons of attending graduate school for music:
- Expense. You will incur a great deal of expenses, and likely debt, to continue your studies.
- Antiquated curriculum. Depending on where you go you may be faced with a curriculum that has not been updated. In many cases, we are trained for orchestral playing and academia with a small amount of education related to business and entrepreneurial thinking.
- You will face a saturated market. An advanced degree no longer sets you apart, and the degree alone is not enough to show you are a qualified candidate. Take into consideration what other strengths and skills will help you win a job following graduation outside of your diploma.
- Relocation. This can be included in either list, depending on the person. If you are working (freelancing, teaching, etc) a great deal before moving for school, you must consider that you will have to rebuild your network and opportunities once you have chosen a program. Moving is also expensive and requires monetary planning and resources.
Life is not as simple or black and white as lists, however. Your list could easily look different than the next person’s, and the decision will boil down to what you are comfortable with and what your goals are.
Your Own Kind of Success
A friend of mine was teaching an experimental business of talent class that I took during its first offering, and she said something that still resonates with me today. Essentially, that success is defined by you. Only you can determine what salary, what amount of recognition, and what amount of achievement you will be comfortable with.
To get clearer about your own goals, ask yourself the following question.
What will be required of you?
If you want to teach full time in a university, you will probably need your DMA degree. However, you need to approach that choice educated about current issues in academia.
Many schools are changing the positions that will be available to apply for drastically, and the number of musicians with DMA degrees has increased exponentially.
If you want to freelance and teach privately or adjunct, a master’s degree will probably suit you just fine. There is a wealth of good teachers, and many extended summer programs in the US and Europe that you can attend during and after school. You’ve likely already had excellent instruction to start your path!
If you want to do something entrepreneurial, there is a middle ground. Many schools are now offering business or entrepreneurship focused music programs. One of these might be just right for you. The most important thing is to be informed. Do your research, know what’s out there and what it will cost you. Whatever you aspire to do, the reality is that the degree alone is not enough.
It’s Okay to Change Directions
I completed my master’s degree with every intention of returning to school for my DMA degree within the following two or three years.
As I built my private studio and later moved to a new city where I had to rebuild all my professional relationships, however, I realized that a DMA degree was not going to serve my purpose.
I was working — freelancing with wonderful musicians, teaching privately, coaching at and creating summer camps, and the whole time I was LEARNING. Learning from those around me, and from the experiences I was having. No DMA degree program was going to provide me with these same exact tools.
Does it limit me when it comes to applying for full-time college positions? Probably. Was that was a tough pill to swallow? Absolutely.
For almost my entire life after high school I imagined the DMA degree and tenure-track job to be my path. Without that degree, it may be more difficult to pursue full-time tenured teaching, but I do still have a chance at a version of that, and I can teach adjunct while still pursuing my other musical outlets. Once I accepted the realities of my choices, I realized that they actually suit me better than my original plan.
The Dream Team: Your Creative Mind & Research Skills
You’ve watched your mentors and peers build musical careers, and have had instruction in some form or other (audition preparation, pedagogy, performance, etc.) regarding career development, and these skills are transferable.
There are a number of excellent resources available online now as well that provide expert advice: The Bulletproof Musician, The Savvy Musician, The Musician’s Way, Beyond Talent (Angela Myles Beeching), iCadenza of course, and others.
Many sites provide solid exercises in thought and skill for tackling the music industry.
So, now that you’ve done your research, what do you really want to do? What will give you the best tools?
Knowing yourself is paramount. If you have a clear picture of the direction you’d like to go, you are setting yourself up for success. What is required for the life you dream of? Armed with the facts and your goals in mind, you can make the decision that is best for you even if it’s not what you imagined when you began music school.
Is Graduate School for Music Right for You?
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!
Are you currently trying to figure out if grad school is right for you?
How will you make your decision?
Did you go to grad school? Are you happy that you did?
Morgann Davis is an energetic performer and educator who enjoys building her life as a flutist off the beaten path. Placing a strong emphasis on teaching, Morgann has diligently worked to build Davis Flute Studio, an active studio where she can help her students become passionate, creative music lovers and makers for life.
She finds great joy in working with students from beginners to adults through private lessons, clinics, masterclasses and adjunct teaching. Fortunate to share the stage with many wonderful musicians, Morgann performs regularly with a variety of ensembles throughout Southeastern Pennsylvania.
She loves to write, contributing regularly to Powell Flutes educational resources on their “Teach Flute” blog, and enjoys promoting entrepreneurship in music as a member of the National Flute Association’s Career and Artistic Development committee. Most importantly, Morgann views her work through music as an opportunity to bring the arts into focus and to help others appreciate the importance of music and the influence it can have in everyday life. More information can be found at www.morgannelycedavis.com and joyfulflutist.tumblr.com.