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Dr. Robert Franzblau

So you’re thinking about majoring in music in college? If you do, you’ll have lots of company - each year, more than 90,000 students are enrolled in Bachelor’s degree music programs in American colleges, universities, and conservatories. They take classes in music theory, ear training, and music history, they practice their instrument or voice every day and attend weekly private lessons, and they perform in small and large ensembles. The common core of “general education” courses in math, science, history, and literature occupies a significant portion of their classwork, too.

The path to a music degree is not easy, despite what you may have heard - but just like an athlete who’s in great physical shape before attempting a marathon, if you’re prepared with strong fundamental knowledge, skills, and attitudes, you’re much more likely to cross the finish line. As the great Vince Lombardi said, “The dictionary is the only place where success comes before work.”

Your Instrument
Study privately with the best teacher available, and follow their advice and instruction with as much dedication as possible. Set aside a regular time each day for practice; if that time is busy on a given day, practice when you can. Practice somewhere that’s free of distractions like other people, the TV, and?the computer, and leave your cell phone in another room. And don’t practice what you already are good at, practice what you’re not; be willing to sound pretty awful for at least thirty minutes a day. Total practice time should be an hour or more a day.

Music Theory
Most college music programs require at least two years of theory, and most students find them to be fast-paced, difficult, and at times extremely frustrating. Music majors who have mastered theory fundamentals BEFORE the start of their freshman year are usually successful in these make-or-break courses. Be able to quickly identify and spell all major and minor scales and key signatures, intervals up to an octave, and all triads (major, minor, diminished, and augmented). There are literally dozens of websites to help you drill yourself on these.

Ear Training
Be able to sing all of the above music theory fundamentals (scales, intervals, and triads). Be able to sight sing unfamiliar yet simple melodies. And the best tool to help you with this skill is....

The Piano
Play all of your theory fundamentals at the piano, and let it help you with your ear training, too. Be able to read simple melodies in both treble and bass clef, and don’t look at the piano keys as you read - keep your eyes on the music and learn the layout of the notes on the keyboard by feel.

A rock-solid sense of rhythm comes from the body, not your head, and it separates the good from the average musician. Most of your practice time each day should be with a metronome, to help you develop a steady internal pulse. Subdivide every beat in either twos or threes, depending on the meter. Pay special attention to long notes and rests - inexperienced musicians always tend to rush these.

Everybody has his or her favorite recording artist or genre, but if your iPod only has one kind of music, you’re going to have to expand your tastes. So start now! If you’re going to major in music, chances are you’ll be studying Western classical art music. You know, music by dead white guys. You should listen to LOTS of classical music to prepare for college music study, because the more you know coming into your classes, the more you’ll learn once you’re there. Websites like YouTube makes this SO available.

The most basic preparation for college music study is in your attitude, and in the realization that you can choose it. Things won’t always go your way - you may not get in to your first-choice college, auditions might go poorly, you might not like some of your professors, your roommate might snore loudly, and a hundred different challenges may present themselves. In fact, count on it.

You can’t always control life’s circumstances, but when you realize that you’re able to choose how to respond to them, you become responsible-spelled “response- able,” or “able to choose your response.” Becoming responsible is what going to college and growing into adulthood are all about, and studying music at the college level is one of the most challenging and fulfilling ways to discover who you are. Start your training now.

Dr. Franzblau is Professor of music and Director of Bands at Rhode Island College. His book, “So You Want to be a Music Major: A Guide for High School Students, Their Parents, Guidance Counselors, and Music Teachers,” is published by Meredith Music Publications.


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