Most schools that offer a music major gear their teaching toward European classical music, unless the schools specify something different. These programs are largely based on the techniques and repertoire of the symphony orchestra, the opera, traditional solo piano, the string quartet, and other chamber music. Most music that we teach is old: a music major typically studies music that was written between 1650 and 1950.
Exceptions include the jazz major, the musical theater major, commercial music, music industry, recording technology, and other smaller divisions. The “music major” can mean a lot of things, but in general, unless specified otherwise, it means European classical music with an emphasis on orchestral instruments, piano, or bel canto singing.
The difference between a Bachelor of Arts and a Bachelor of Music
The Bachelor of Arts degree is a standard undergraduate degree offered at every four-year college. Some majors that are commonly studied within the Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree are English, history, psychology, religion, and other humanities. There is a core of general education requirements for the BA that everyone takes, regardless of major. Many colleges and universities offer a Bachelor of Arts with an option to major in music. This degree ensures a broader education over many disciplines, including science and math, but the humanities are generally emphasized.
Sciences and math are emphasized in a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, although different universities offer different options. There may be an option to major in music within a Bachelor of Science degree, but every student should check their institution’s course catalogue.
The Bachelor of Music degree is specially oriented for the study of music. It is the degree that music conservatories confer on their graduates. Every Bachelor of Music (BM) program includes music theory, aural training, piano skills, music history, individual instrument lessons, ensemble experience, and various music-related electives like pedagogy, orchestral excerpt training, and advanced theory or music history seminars. General education requirements differ from school to school: always check your the institution’s degree outline or course catalogue. Some schools require very little in relation to general education (many private conservatories require virtually no math or science, for example). Some schools require almost exactly the same general education classes as a BA degree. It really depends, so ask questions.
Decide whether you want an education almost completely dedicated to music or whether you want something broader. The University of Memphis requires quite a few general education classes, including science and math, within a comprehensive and in-depth Bachelor of Music degree.
Important to know: while it’s okay to decide to major in sociology without knowing much about sociology (yet), it’s not going to work with music. Most students who major in music have already had years of musical training in high school and earlier. It’s unlikely that you will be a successful music composition major if you’ve never written music down before. Ideally, you have had private lessons in your major instrument for at least a few years. To be accepted to an elite music school, you probably will have had private lessons for many years, plus maybe an AP music theory course in high school.
Majoring in music could be appropriate for you if:
- You’ve had private lessons on your instrument.
- You listen to classical music sometimes.
- You have some kind of warm-up routine and practice regularly.
- You’re resilient and take criticism well.
- You like performing.
You might not want to major in music if:
- You just like playing in band/singing in choir and aren’t sure of what else to major in.
- You love musicals, movie scores, and/or video game music but you have no real feelings about classical music.
- It’s difficult for you to focus on one thing for more than a few minutes.
- You’re easily discouraged.
- You hate performing in front of people.
To many, this list seems obvious. But if you’re contemplating what you want to study in college, ask yourself tough questions about why you’re doing it.
More resources for students thinking about majoring in music: