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“You Must Have It So Easy!” - The Challenges of Music School

Attending music school is often met with exclamations of “Oh wow, your courseload must be so light” or “It must be so easy getting to study something you love.” And while certainly it is a rewarding experience to study music for lots of reasons, an easy thing it is not. The object here isn't to discourage people from attending music school. It's a tough furrow to plow, to be sure, but it is also extremely fulfilling for those who have their head screwed firmly in place. The point here, rather, is to talk about some of the most difficult parts of music school so that next time you hear one of these statements, you can just direct them to this blog and watch them blink in disbelief as they ponder things they've never known about attending music school. Here are five huge challenges music school.

A Heavier Courseload

Students attending school for a degree in music always have a heavier than average courseload than other majors. The average university student will take five courses a semester; music majors typically take seven or eight. Because music degrees are so highly specialized, in addition to general education classes music majors have to take a lot of specialty classes each semester, from private lessons to performance concentration master classes.

Hours of Practice

Music majors don't just get out of class and go home to do their homework; in addition to all the essays, papers, and quizzes to be completed in gen ed classes, they also have to practice for hours to learn and master their solo material, ensemble material, and any music for instrumental technique classes they are taking. This effectively doubles the amount of time they have to spend on work outside the classroom in comparison with other majors.


Juries are scored musical examinations in which music majors perform on their main instrument and are graded by a jury board of professors, which will typically include their private instructor, the head of their internal department and sometimes the dean of the school. Juries are incredibly high pressure – because if a music major bombs their juries, they can be placed on academic probation or even removed from their degree program. Juries are in addition to all the other examinations students have to take each semester, and often times are assigned in advance – which usually results in music students having to negotiate exam times with other instructors, since jury times can almost never be altered.

More Credits Per Degree

Lots of music classes offer fewer than the standard three credits per course. Private lessons are often just two credits; ensembles, like chorus or orchestra, can be as little as half a credit. This translates into students having to take more classes overall than other majors, as mentioned earlier; and on average, music students usually wind up with more than the requisite hundred and twenty credits for their undergraduate degree.

Lots Less Time

All the work music majors have to do winds up resulting in a lot less time for activities outside their studies. One of the reasons music majors seem like such an insular group is that other music majors understand very well the pressures of a music degree program, and won't take it personally when one of their friends or the person they're dating says, “Can't, I've got rehearsal” or “I want to but I really have to practice/do my theory homework/etc.” Music majors experience burnout regularly because they have so little downtime – going for a music degree is not for the faint of heart, and some music students have to take routine time off from school to recover.

Music school is an immense challenge, personally, academically, and professionally. So the next time you hear someone say to a music student, “You must have it so easy!”, you'll know that they're wrong – and you can correct their assumption.


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