You may be asking yourself right now “should I go to music school?”. Or maybe even “is a music degree worth it?”. These were questions I was asking myself a while ago. Now that I’m officially a music school graduate, I have some key personal insights and secrets to share with you on the pros and cons – and I’m going to give it to you straight.
You won’t find many of these things in the music school brochure!
You love music. You love playing it. You love listening to it. You want to take it from your bedroom to the big-stage. However, there’s no real clear-cut path in the music industry like other fields, such as medicine or law.
It will be up to you to decide what you can do with a music degree. But what’s so exciting about the music industry is the fact that there isn’t a clear path. You gain immense skills and then you can find creative ways to innovate with those skills.
People may question your choices. You may even question your choices (I did!).
But only you can know what you want out of life. A life of playing it small and starving parts of yourself out is a recipe for pain.
Here’s a quick overview of the 5 pros and cons I discovered from studying music myself. There will also be bonus tips and insights I’ve learned along the way on getting the most out of your music degree, so continue on below…
|It's an amazing place to network & gain valuable wisdom||You can learn a lot of music theory online & cheaper|
|It will lead to incredible growth by pushing your comfort zone||It can be really expensive|
|It's insanely fun & inspiring|
Should I Go to Music School? The No B.S. Guide from a Music Graduate
PRO – It’s an Amazing Place to Network & Gain Valuable Wisdom
The real value of your music degree will come from this point right here.
Music school is all about the connections you make. If you want to become a performing musician, then the lone wolf route is almost impossible. You’ll be constantly interacting with other musicians, venues, press, and corporate types (if you want to break into playing corporate gigs).
Music is a social game, and music school is no different.
Your teachers and lecturers are the main connections you gain. They’ve done this all already, often for 30 years or more. The amount of wisdom they hold is enormous, so be sure to soak it up like a sponge.
Another big benefit is when guest lecturers come in to talk to the students – some massive names do this! Check out Nai Palm of Hiatus Kaiyote guest-lecturing about songwriting at a music school below:
Think of how big of an opportunity it is to have a big player in the music industry interacting DIRECTLY with you, one-on-one, sharing the things that made them successful.
I’ve developed close relationships with a handful of lecturers who still help me out when I need assistance, or need a job reference, long after I’ve graduated.
It’s simply not enough to just show up, do your assignments and get your grades. You need to be building friendships with everybody. Your fellow students are potential future band members. This was the case for my first band, and also for King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
You also might not be aware that your teachers are always making mental notes of the students that stand out and are capable of performing. This shouldn’t intimidate you. Rather, it should motivate you. Often your teachers will be playing gigs as well as teaching, and sometimes they can’t play a show.
You suddenly become a person in their network that they call upon when they need someone to fill-in for them. Often these are corporate gigs and you can make some great money this way!
Word also gets around fast in the music scene about who has a good and bad attitude. Have a good attitude and you’ll find opportunities and doors being unlocked for you at ease. Have a bad attitude and those same doors will slam shut to you – no matter how good of a musician you are.
Don’t skimp out on this step. Treat it with the same importance that you treat your instrumental practice.
CON – You Can Learn a Lot of Music Theory Online – & Cheaper
Related to that last point: if you’re looking to go to music school, then your motivation can’t JUST be to get better at technical playing skills and music theory. There’s SO much more to a music degree than that.
You will undoubtedly get significantly better at your instrument when you study music. But the real value in a music degree isn’t just in that element alone.
If you’re asking yourself “should I study music?”, then you should also ask yourself “why do I want to study music?”. If it’s JUST to get better at playing your instrument or singing, then save yourself the time and money and look elsewhere.
Information and courses on music theory are abundant online. You can save yourself a lot of money by:
- buying yourself a book or two on music theory
- enrolling into a short online music course
Heck, even in my weekly one-on-one guitar lessons, a lot of the content we covered in the 4 years I was studying was from these 3 books:
- A Modern Method for Guitar: Volumes 1, 2,3 Complete by William Leavitt
- Music Reading for Guitar: The Complete Method by David Oakes
- Funk Guitar: The Essential Guide by Ross Bolton
These are fantastic books by the way and I highly recommend you grab yourself a copy of them if you’re a guitarist, regardless of whether you choose to study music or not. I found them super inspiring and fun, since I could see my progress in overcoming the challenges in the books each week.
As for online courses, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine has a fantastic course on Masterclass where he dives into creating your own unique style and sound. Just imagine the insights you could gain from an icon like that.
There are so many great options for learning music these days, and I’m a little jealous, because none of this existed when I first started learning!
If you have more than just the motivation of getting better at your instrument, then absolutely enrol into a music course! Your one-on-one instrument lessons will give you some astonishing insights into your playing from veterans that have done it all.
Mentors are one of the best ways to fast-track your progress, so don’t pass up on that opportunity.
PRO – It Will Lead to Incredible Growth by Pushing Your Comfort Zone
This was massive for me.
I enrolled in my music course just from the sheer passion I had for music. I was self-taught and had a lot of doubts about my abilities.
I had no idea AT ALL how to read sheet music, and was thrown into the deep-end immediately when trying to learn. And guess what? I did learn. Within a month of beginning, I was sight-reading melodies on guitar. You’re capable of more than you think.
By the end of my degree, I was selected by teachers out of hundreds of other students to play in the band at our graduation ceremony.
My inner-confidence at the start of the course was lacking, but I chose the “fake it till you make it” method to bust through that. Having this awareness of how I was carrying myself around others and the subtle ways my mind would try to keep me small and “safe” seemed to work.
I made a point of throwing myself into every uncomfortable situation that presented itself (such as jamming/improvising in front large groups – I had never done that before music school either). This was huge for me.
I also learnt how to overcome stage fright/performance anxiety – I never thought this would ever be a possibility beforehand!
But even if you don’t do that, you’ll be forced to grow. You’ll be pushed outside of your comfort zone and put in situations where you have to perform music under time constraints. You’ll fall flat on your face sometimes.
But I absolutely RELISHED these opportunities to be put in stressful musical situations (and occasionally screwing up massively).
Why? Because it made me more comfortable with who I am and where I’m at, and it forced me to learn ways to adapt. You learn extremely quickly when it feels like a fight-or-flight situation, and you double-down on your efforts so it doesn’t happen again. You become a better musician, and person, in the process.
Suddenly you’re much more capable of handling challenges. You carry yourself differently in every area of your life. Your confidence grows and grows. You can even double this effect in other ways to make that momentum unstoppable.
It also made me realise that making mistakes doesn’t really matter.
In fact, one of the biggest points our lecturers drilled into us was that if you make a mistake on stage, don’t make a face that makes it obvious that you’ve screwed up.
Doing that is a natural ego defence mechanism. But if you’re confident and back yourself, and basically pretend that you meant to do the “wrong” thing, the audience 9 times out of 10 will not notice. They’ll think that the mistake was just an intentional part of the music.
I’ve now played countless gigs and joined many different bands. I have confidence in my abilities and am not shy on stage or in group situations. I couldn’t have imagined this being a reality prior to deciding to study music. It’s impacted every aspect of my life.
CON – It Can Be Really Expensive
This will vary a lot from institution to institution (private vs public university). There’s no doubting that deciding to go to music school to study (or to study just about anything) can be costly.
You’ll either take out a loan or pay out of pocket. This can be incredibly expensive. My student loan is a little bit intimidating, truth be told.
Fortunately, in my country we don’t have to start paying back our student loans until we’re earning a decent income. This makes it a viable option for everybody, regardless of your financial position.
It’s still an important factor to consider though. Your goal should be to earn enough money per year that you begin to pay that loan back. Don’t compromise your values, but don’t also be the “starving artist”. It’s not as romantic of a lifestyle as people think.
Obviously, with music this is tough. You don’t get the same perks as other fields where you can do some sort of training or placement into a workplace as part of your degree. Not transitioning straight into a job is a definite downside should you choose to study music.
Honestly though, if you’re choosing to study music, then you’re probably less concerned with living a typical 9-5 life. You will relish the opportunity to experiment and freestyle your career path outside of your music degree. You’re a creative type, after all.
There’s a fire in you to be bold and go against the grain.
There’s actually a lot of different paths you can take when you graduate, whereas in other fields you may be limited to just one role under one circumstance (e.g. working a corporate office job). There are more traditional music jobs too, like becoming a music teacher (that’s one of the things I do!). At a minimum, you will need a music degree for most teaching jobs.
If money is a concern or barrier to going to music school for you, then you may want to try dipping your toes into the water before committing to a 2-4 year music degree.
A good option is getting yourself a copy of the music theory books I mentioned, or take a short online music course (like the Tom Morello Masterclass). These days you can learn just about anything music-related online (instruments, music production, music theory, songwriting etc).
These will either be your end-goal if you find that you’re satisfied after trying just those options, or they’ll be a great entry-point to you diving deeper into studying a music degree. It all depends on your goals and vision.
PRO – It’s Insanely Fun & Inspiring
Man, I wish I could do my music degree over again! Not because I have any regrets about it, but because studying music was one of the funnest things I’ve done in my entire life.
The amount of cool people you meet, close friendships you make, and fun assignments you get to do lead to such a great quality of life. Waking up every day and learning/doing the thing you love most, surrounded by great people, makes life a JOY.
I’ve made lifetime friends, started bands with people from my course, and got to experience some of the best moments of my life on stage as a result. I also really honed in on my guitar sound and discovered more about who I am as an artist.
You have the added benefit of being surrounded by like-minded people. This makes social situations an absolute breeze – you all share many things in common!
The course content is also super fun. Here are just a few of the fun assignments I got to do in my music degree:
- rewrite a popular song into your own style and record it
- play on stage in a live band at a large music venue in the city
- learn a second/third/fourth instrument, learn music production, learn music business – bonus electives are a huge plus!
Outside of that, I formed a great social circle of people from my course and we would go to gigs together regularly. Doing things like this together outside of class really helps you immerse yourself in the music scene and bond with each other. I HIGHLY recommend being the person to organise these social events as well.
There’s something about a group of people coming together in an unconventional field. It’s almost as if it’s you against the world and you’re all united in your mission. This creates incredibly close relationships and unbreakable bonds.
So is a music degree worth it? Well, I look back very, very fondly on the time I spent as a music student, and I would do it all over again if I could.
Compared to before I studied music:
- I’m a significantly better musician
- I’m a significantly better person
- I have a significantly better lifestyle
- I have significantly better people in my life
If you have a passion for music and the pros are outweighing the cons, then I absolutely think you should go to music school! I guarantee it will change your life in a variety of ways that you could never even envision right now.
If you have any other questions you’d like answered or you’re currently a music student that would like some advice, then feel free to drop a comment down below, or you can contact me directly via email. I’m an open book and there’s a lot more I could cover on this topic. I’m more than happy to share more behind-the-curtain insights on studying music with you, so don’t be shy.