The Good Side of Pursuing Graduate Study for Music
A few weeks ago I had the warm privilege of having lunch in Williamsburg (a neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY) with a man named Paul, a composer who I went to college with I had always respected.
He said to me an interesting quote that is relevant for this article: “People don’t really do anything until graduate school.”
And in many respects, he is totally right.
Graduate programs are much more focused than undergraduate ones. If you absolutely and truly want to study composition, history, an instrument, etc. at a high level with like-minded and accomplished people, graduate school is the way to go.
I think graduate school is also the time when a school takes you a bit “more seriously” than if you were an undergrad. No music school would ever publicly state that, but since I don’t work for a music school I will say that.
In graduate school, you almost always get access to a number of resources that were likely not provided in your undergraduate program.
These can include:
- Gaining experience teaching, an important skill to obtain when later applying for teaching positions.
- Expanded funding support options. Many graduate students, especially Doctoral students, have more opportunities for institutional funding to support their projects, travel, and theses than undergraduate students.
- Easier access to the school’s orchestras if you are a student composer. Many schools require their graduate composers to write an orchestral work for their Master’s degree thesis, thus facilitating an easier relationship between the school’s orchestras and graduate composers.
- More 1-on-1 time with the school’s faculty. This can be of great benefit to a student graduate musician looking to learn from an established “guru.”
- Various opportunities, such as graduate school symposia and other kinds of special conferences, are sometimes made only available to graduate school students.
Another consideration in favor of graduate school is actually debt, and here’s why:
If you have accumulated any debt in your undergraduate degree, you don’t have to pay the debt back until you have exited from school. So, continuing from your undergraduate to your graduate degree can be an excellent way of offsetting your debt until you have the degrees and experience that will qualify you for a good job outside of school providing you with income to help pay off debt.
If You Want to Pursue a Career In Academia Or In a Professional Orchestra…
Then you most likely have to go to graduate school for, at the very least, a Master’s degree.
Taking a look at the backgrounds of musicians on the rosters of major American orchestras, you will find nearly every single employee has at least a Master’s degree.
Now, this isn’t always true. There are musicians that do get accepted into major orchestra positions with just a Bachelor’s degree.
That said, it is far more common to be accepted for a major orchestral job if you have a Master’s degree before applying to the position.
When it comes to teaching, almost every professor in academia has a DMA or a PhD, both Doctoral degrees in music.
So, if you are looking to pursue a career in one of these two common fields, it is in your best interest to pursue studies at the graduate level.
Tangible “Respect” Exists for Musicians With Graduate Degrees
There is another benefit to gaining a graduate degree in music that is less associated with future job potential and more with your current status as a musician.
Having a graduate degree in music, especially from a well-recognized school, is a mark of prestige.
It is a mark of accomplishment.
It is a mark of hard-work that undoubtedly deserves and receives respect.
Going to graduate school is almost like a “certification” of being a quality musician.
This can be of benefit to you even outside of the fields of academia and orchestral work. Obtaining commercial recording studio work, finding a job in a community music school, and forming chamber groups with other high-level musicians can be a less cumbersome activity if you already carry the prestige of a graduate degree with you.
Our conclusion is on the next page…