Are you thinking of studying Music?

Image shows a violin.

Between 2007/8 and 2010/11 the number of students applying to study music rose by almost half, to more than 5,000 – considerably higher than the overall increase in student numbers over that time period.
Even with the recession biting, then, Music remains a popular choice of degree. For its people, it represents a chance to spend three or four years dedicated to a pursuit that they love, emerging with a qualification that provides better career prospects than most people would initially assume.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Image shows a black and white photograph of the Beatles.
You could choose to study the Beatles.

As with most degrees, there will be a range of compulsory and optional modules. Compulsory areas are likely to include musical analysis, composition, keyboard skills, music history, technical studies like harmony, counterpoint and pastiche, and practical studies like instrumentation, conducting and performance.
With these modules giving you a solid foundation to work from, you’ll then be able to choose from a very broad range of optional modules. For example, Oxford offer courses including ‘From Tasso to Tapiola: the symphonic poem, c1850-1950’, ‘Ethnomusicology and the urban encounter’, and ‘1966 and all that: The Beatles and popular music culture’; Surrey offer courses including ‘Jazz Studies’, ‘Rock Track Poetics’ and ‘The Business of Music’; and Glasgow offer courses including ‘Aesthetics and the Philosophy of Music’, ‘JS Bach’ and ‘The Music of Scotland’. While different universities have different levels of enthusiasm for giving courses jazzy names, wherever you study, you’re likely to be able to choose from options that range from the prosaic and foundational to the weird and wonderful, depending on exactly what sort of thing you’d like to study.

What do I need for a Music degree?

Image shows a piano.
Keyboard skills are valuable.

Almost all universities require both Music A-level (Music Technology is not an adequate substitute) and ABRSM Grade 8 or widely-accepted equivalent in an instrument – it is not usually the case that one or the other is sufficient on its own. Some universities might accept candidates without Music A-level, provided that they have a really good justification for not taking it, and can demonstrate how they have attempted to learn some of the skills that they would have gained from it in their own time.
It’s also useful (and in some cases required) to be able to demonstrate good keyboard skills, ideally at grade 5 standard or above. Furthermore, you might be required to attend an interview or an audition, or to send a recording of your performance if the degree you choose is particularly performance- or composition-based.

What skills will I acquire?

Image shows someone at a piano composing music.
You’ll become more skilled at composing music.

Spending three or four years studying Music is probably the most intense way to hone your musical talent, especially given that the scope of a degree won’t allow you to rest on your laurels and focus on styles and genres with which you’re already comfortable, as would probably be the case even if you were working as a professional musician. You’ll gain skills in composition, performance – including under pressure – and the technical expertise and knowledge of theory to go along with them.
Furthermore, depending on how commercially-orientated your degree is, you might well gain insights into the music industry and how to become a commercially successful professional musician. You’ll learn IT and music technology skills to enable you to record your own performance and that of others. You’ll learn about the ways in which the arts world functions, including issues such as professional ethics and the intersection of different cultures.
Even if you don’t ultimately seek a career in the music industry, you’ll still have the standard range of skills conferred by any degree, in self-motivation, time-management, writing and presentation, which will stand you in good stead regardless of your eventual workplace.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

While travel is not a requirement of a Music degree, Music is a cultural universal – that is to say that it appears in every human culture – so it lends itself well to a term or a year spent abroad, which many universities will offer. This can also be an excellent opportunity to explore a musical tradition other than the one you grew up with.

What careers are possible with a Music degree?

Image shows a mixing board.
A surprising number of Music graduates work in a related field.

One in six Music graduates work as professional musicians, which is far higher than, say, the number of Psychology graduates who work as psychologists. Contrary to what most people might assume, then, studying Music does not amount to chasing a pipe dream in an excessively competitive field. Those graduates who do not become professional musicians frequently become music teachers – whether based in a school or teaching an instrument on a peripatetic basis – and so the chances of a Music graduate being able to find a career that is strongly related to their studies are actually quite high.
Another popular alternative to teaching is the growth field of Music Therapy; to quote the NHS, this is “a psychological therapy that aims to facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication through the engagement in live musical interaction between client and therapist.” Music Therapists can work with people of all ages and to address a wide variety of issues, from learning disabilities to eating disorders, and in locations from hospitals to schools to prisons. For this career, you’ll need extra training, such as a Masters in Music Therapy.
The usual range of graduate-entry roles are also available to Music graduates – for more information on these kinds of careers, click here.

Related degrees

If you’re thinking of studying Music, you might also wish to consider:

  • Music Technology – if you would like to work towards a career in the music industry from a more vocational and less theoretical standpoint.
  • Mathematics – a remarkable number of musicians are also skilled mathematicians; there’s more of an overlap between the two than most people might expect.

A final thought on Music

Image shows someone playing an electric guitar.
A Music degree allows you to indulge your passion for Music to the full.

While many people default to a more general degree, like Maths, English or even Law, out of a sense of not knowing what else to do and so choosing something popular with healthy job prospects, very few people choose Music who don’t absolutely love it. For one thing, the requirements – grade 8 in one instrument, preferably grade 5 or above keyboard skills – exclude most people for whom Music is not, at the very least, their most beloved and all-consuming hobby.
A Music degree, then, is a chance to spend three or four years in the company of people who love the same thing as you do with the same degree of commitment and passion, to learn from them, and to allow their competitive edge to spur you on to try harder and do better – as well as expanding your horizons into different styles and genres than you might have encountered before. Play on.

Image credits: banner; Beatles; keyboard; composition; mixing board; electric guitar.