Last year and this year are very different from previous ones, however, the world is still spinning and many people who want to Major in Music are receiving their acceptance letters into universities. What does being a music major look like? What is that first year going to entail?


Gen Eds

As per usual this will be US-centric and a huge part of American universities is fulfilling general education requirements for your university. AP classes help – somewhat – in getting you out of these classes. You can roughly expect a few literature/writing courses, math, psychology (especially if you are doing an education degree), and general science.

You want to get these out of the way if you want to immerse yourself in the school music fully and not have to travel to unfamiliar parts of campus during the semester.

You can make use of summer and winter courses to knock a few of these out if you find your schedule too full.

Too Many Classes, Barely Any Credits

Welcome to the school of music where the majority of your classes will be worth 1 credit or less. That 3 hour ensemble rehearsal you are expected to attend each week? Yup, that is only worth 0.5 credits.

While your friends in other disciplines will be complaining about how busy they are with 4-5 classes per semester you will be juggling anywhere from 10-12 (maybe more) for only 18-20 odd credits.

Your schedule will be PACKED with block classes.

Plan out times during the day to make sure you are hitting 3 meals a day. NO SNACKS DO NOT COUNT. You want to make sure you aren’t going a full 10 hours of class without a single full meal. Eat breakfast, it’s good for you! Especially before a dictation exam.

Aural Skills – Ear Training

This is where rubber meets the road. If you don’t have perfect pitch don’t sweat it, and don’t let other people get in your head about it. Last month I did a post on my tips to improve in ear training.

The several semester you take aural skills may be stressful, but you will come out the other side a much better musician. Transferring the active listening to your own instrument helps tremendously.

Often times your university will have sympathetic professors that can help you if you are struggling to maintain a passing grade – don’t be to hard on yourself if this is the subject area where you are averaging a C.

Piano Skills

If you are not one of the ‘lucky’ ones to have grown up taking piano lessons or just have a knack for the keyboard you are not alone.

Even if you feel like you should be practicing your own instrument, why do you have to learn piano anyway??? Just remember that, again, this is a transferable skill. When you’re practicing you can play your own part or a reduction of the piano’s part to make this skill useful to your own musicianship.

Essays…

You’re a music major why do you have to write?

You will find that mainly in your first year – and somewhat beyond that – you will be writing A LOT. Learning how to navigate the library, do different citation formats (MLA, Chicago, APA), persuade/argue a point, support your ideas, and peer review. These skills – although not directly related to music – come with the job. Whether you are an educator or performer – writing grants, program notes, etc. you want to be able to write intelligently.

Time to actually play music?!

If your first year you will be expected to transform your playing to set the foundation for the rest of your degree. However, you may find that you just don’t have as much time as you thought you would to practice.

Practice plans. Scheduling. Journaling.

Those are several things that are essential for first year music students if they want to manage gen eds, music classes, secondary instruments, hw, and everything else on top of their primary instrument.

Know what you need to practice that week and prioritize – what are you doing for your lesson week by week, is there a masterclass or performance you need to be prepared for.

Block out your practice time, don’t just wing it and hope that there will be time. Sometimes you have free time, but no practice rooms are open. Sometimes your schedule is so packed you’d be lucky to get in half an hour of practice time. Don’t feel pressured to practice every day, but do try to practice more days than you don’t in a week.

Journaling is something that takes time to develop. What are you practicing? Why? What are you working to improve? What do you like? What strategies are you using to fix the things you don’t like?


This year is presenting new challenges for first year students such as struggling to fit into the music school community and form those relationships they would otherwise have. What insight do you have for new music majors?

As we enter the Spring 2021 semester many students are resuming their aural and theory courses. These classes can be taxing under neutral circumstances, but given the continued changing instruction modalities (remote, hybrid, etc) there are extra barriers and challenges that can make these courses even more anxiety-inducing.


Apps and Programs designed for Ear Training/Theory

  • MacGAMUT
    • An ear training (with a theory edition as well) software.
    • Randomized exercises – in short and long sections.
    • Customize simple, compound meters; certain elements such as rhythm and range.
    • Sections for particular ear training skills – step-by-step.
  • MusicTheory.net
    • A great entry level tool. As a visual (theory) and ear training tool for notes, intervals, scales, and chords.
    • Customizable – omit specific clefs, range, chords, scales.
  • Teoria
    • Includes both ear training an music theory tools.
    • Customizable ear training exercises for intervals, notes, chords, scales, melodies, and rhythms.
    • Comprehensive basic theory – intervals, reading the staves, keys, scales, chords/harmonic functions. Also includes introductory jazz music theory.
  • GoodEar – apps
    • Great for smartphone or tablet.
    • 4 main apps: Intervals, Scales, Chords, Melodies.
    • Customizable.
  • AP Music Theory Barron’s Book
    • Aside from prep for the AP Music Theory exam, this book provides a condensed overview of basic-advanced Western music theory during the Common Core period.
    • CD with listening exercises; as well as self-assessment sections.

Practicing tools/tips for Ear Training

  • Start simple: when listening ask yourself is the pitch higher or lower? The move on to steps or skips?
  • When playing your own music think about these same concepts (make the context more directly applicable to you!). Listen to something simple without any visual music and try to play it back on your instrument.
  • Constant and consistent ear training; and be aware of out of tune pianos the intonation issues be confuse your brain, tricking it by a half/whole step depending on how severely out of tune it is.
  • Consistent labeling of pitches, find a system that works the best for you.
    • Examples: Solfege Do-Re-Mi-Fa-Sol-La-Ti-Do
    • Numbers 1-12 (12 chromatic notes in a scale)
      • Ie. a C Major scale would be 1-3-5-6-8-10-12-1
    • Neutral; ie. la, du, ta
    • Note names: C, D, E, F, G, A, B
  • [More advanced] Identify which type of solfege is more comfortable:
    • Fixed Do
      • Typically associated with perfect pitch, tonal memory of specific pitches.
      • C is always Do, D always Re, E always Mi, etc.
    • Moveable Do
      • Do doesn’t have to always be C like Fixed Do. For example in F Major, F is the new Do and by going up the scale C becomes Sol. Or in G Major, G is the new Do and C becomes La.
  • Practice exercises with a drone
    • It’s a good habit to practice with a reference pitch to help develop an ear for the “home” or tonic note in a key.
    • A building block for harmonic function/context.

Music Theory Tips

  • Find a good tutor/mentor
    • A bad theory teacher or unclear instruction can destroy motivation, especially since theory on its own is so dense; a big part of comprehension is how it is presented
    • Everyone can understand music theory, you just need to find a way to think/process it that makes sense.
  • Break down scary concepts into steps
    • Roman Numeral analysis, most people. dread hearing that type of assignment…
    • Break it down, keep it simple:
      • What is the chord function? Just think Tonic/ Subdominant/Dominant?
      • Then figure out how to label each chord.
        • Tonics can only be I and sometimes vi.
        • Subdominant is ii, IV, and vi
        • Dominant is V and viio
        • And forget about iii (I’m kidding… only a little bit)
  • Patterns
    • Do you like puzzles? Make it a game of finding the same or finding opposite.
    • If you don’t you’ll need to figure out another way to process/recognize similarities and differences in rhythm/pitch.
  • “Common facts” sheet
    • There are solid rules in Western theory (these rules have exceptions, of course) by writing down the fundamentals it will help keep track and act as a physical checklist of what is ‘allowed’ and what is ‘rule breaking’.
  • REVIEW
    • It can be mentally taxing. Take breaks while also keeping on top of the material.

I spent the first two years of my undergraduate program not realizing I had been hearing all my melodic dictation exercises in fixed-do (relative to C). It was only by the time I got to atonal music that one of my professors noticed the stark contrast in my performance on dictation exams and I FINALLY was able to get a grasp on melodic dictation. I hope some of these resources are helpful! Share your favorites in the comments.

In August I did a post which covered the flutes I had played before getting to university; now I will covering ALL the piccolos I have owned and played from high school (which was when I started playing flute) through graduate school.

One important note before I get into the reflection is that it is very common in my area that university students upgrade to a professional piccolo – a piccolo made of higher quality materials (resin/wood/metal); even in my undergrad (as a Music Education major) I felt this pressure to upgrade. And then as a Master of Flute Performance student there is DEFINITELY a push to upgrade, however, I am here to share why this isn’t a must have. Don’t feel pressured to do something that isn’t financially viable or you (yourself) feel is necessary.


High School

It is important to know that I started playing flute as a sophomore in high school for marching band. The flute section comprised of 2 seniors, 2 sophomores, and 2 freshman. Because the seniors were graduating I started my piccolo training only 3 months after learning flute (this is as a 15 year old).

  • Emerson – Nickel Silver Plated

PROS:

  • Durable for outdoor playing, I used mine exclusively for marching band every year.
  • Metal LH 1st finger rest to help with the size difference from flute (like a hand crutch).
  • Reliable – I kept this instrument through my undergrad for any outdoor playing – the mechanism held up well.

CONS:

  • The shrillness that comes with metal piccolos – less suited for indoor/concert playing.

  • Jupiter Nickel Silver Plated Head; Plastic Body*

*Before the PROS/CONS I just need to disclose I went through FOUR (yes, 4!!!) of these in a month so here’s what happened: The September of the following school year – my first school year exclusively on marching piccolo – I took a trip to a SamAsh because it was “the” musical instrument distributor in my area. The night I took home my first one I was practicing and then went to remove the head joint… and off came the barrel (aka the part that attaches the body to the head). We went back the next day and got a replacement… and I tried it in store (cautious) and it happened again. I’m not here to say anything bad about SamAsh or Jupiter, but this was VERY frustrating 8 years ago (now it’s actually comedic). I don’t know why we kept on going back to this one model of piccolo, and for context this all took place in the month of September by October I had found the piccolo I still have today. On the 3rd and 4th piccolos, there were issues with the mechanism going out of alignment. Anyway so:

PROS:

  • Decent price (just speaking on my own experience I can’t say much more than that)

CONS:

  • FRAGILE – better suited for indoor/concert rather than outdoor/marching
  • Quality assurance – in my own experience from 2013

  • Gemeinhardt 4SP; Plastic Head and Body

WINNER, WINNER. This is the piccolo I still own today, of course I have played professional piccolos, but in my own experience this piccolo plays well enough that I can not justify the price gap from this to a higher quality one.

And also considering that when you upgrade to a professional instrument you also have to pay for professional REPAIRS!!!! That is the biggest reason I keep this piccolo, it saves literally hundreds of dollars to play on this piccolo (especially considering piccolos go out of alignment much easier than flutes).

PROS:

  • Durable; can manage both indoor and outdoor playing
  • The plastic helps reduce the shrillness in the tone, more suitable for playing indoors than metal student piccolos
  • Stable tuning/intonation – 8 years on the piccolo – and even after playing professional piccolos I find that I can navigate tuning on this instrument with no issues.

CONS:

  • Not available anymore – the current comparable model would be the 4P

Bonus: Piccolos I Played In College

  • Haynes – Grenadilla Wood

This was a school instrument that I shared and borrowed within my studio, mainly because there was a stigma on student piccolos versus professional.

PROS:

  • The wood made the tone significantly less shrill.

CONS:

  • Durability – for all wooden instruments, being mindful of the temperature and not cracking the wood.
  • Scale, tuning – this particular piccolo just didn’t feel right under my fingers for the few years I played it; and intonation was always a struggle between registers.

Basically designed to be a “small flute” – has RH pinky keys, extending the lower register of the piccolo.

I don’t have any PROS/CONS for this still I tried it at a convention, but it was mind-blowing and I am still mildly interested in owning one for the novelty of a piccolo actually being designed to be a “small flute”.


What piccolos have you played? Thoughts on student versus professional models? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Presently, there are MANY barriers that prevent people of socioeconomic and racial status from pursuing higher education, especially in music. Take a look at what type of programs and audition repertoire are asked for at music programs across the country. We expect everyone to be on some standardized playing field… we expect everyone to have access to teachers… access to instruments. It is frustrating on both ends. Those who are marginalized by this are not given a platform to advocate; and those who are in a position to make change are shut down. People are afraid of change, “if I had to learn this then you have to suffer through it too”. There is this idealistic, utopian perception that reading Western sheet music is this “almighty, higher than thou” pedestal. When really there is this repressed fear of altering the way instruction is implemented, how curriculum is structured, and how to allocate resources so that (in the best case) education is accessible for everyone.

Before going forward with this article, I must disclose the identity advantages that I have as a passing-straight, abled, cis-gendered, white woman living in the United States. I deal with significantly less LGBTQ+ issues head on because I can pass. I deal with less misogyny because I am white woman rather than a woman of color. I deal with barely any physical limitations because I am abled. Generally, I deal with less barriers because I am a passing-straight, cis-gendered white woman.

However, I was born into poverty; and still live in the very low socioeconomic pool. There was a lot of moving in my early childhood that made learning especially challenging because the curriculum from school to school varied… I am the first in my family to go to college – both undergraduate and graduate. I had to learn how to do all of college alone. How to request federal financial aid, loans, grants. So my perspective for this article will be centered around the socioeconomic barriers; however, I will make the effort to be aware of other barriers that may make these resources less accessible to people of other identities.


Financial Resources

I qualified for EOF (the Educational Opportunity Fund) when I started my undergraduate degree, but it was completely on accident…. I had not idea what the program was when I applied, I just saw it being pushed by the school and decided to see if I qualified for the aid. Let me tell you about my experience:

Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF)

Offered to both undergraduate and graduate students who are low income first generation college students can be awarded financial aid for tuition each semester as long as they are in good academic standing and meet all of their universities specific requirements.

  • The requirements I had as an undergraduate student were to attend a summer institute prior to my first semester, attend a freshman seminar during my first semester, attend 2 counseling sessions each semester I was enrolled in school, and maintain my academic perform to my university’s standard.
  • For my graduate school experience the regulations were much less active, it functions more like a grant rather than an active program. Each school year I need to reach out to the EOF department coordinators to get access to the application form, if I qualify for the financial need then those funds help cover my tuition.

You can do a quick google search to see if your university offers an EOF program or fund. Or email your academic advisor or the financial aid office to see if you can find out if the school offers any assistance that you may qualify for.

FASFA

This one is no secret. The secret is DO IT EARLY. The sooner you do it, the better off you will be with your aid (pending you are in good academic standing and depending which financial bracket you fall into).

Since I started college in 2015, the dates have been moved around. It is now OCTOBER 1st…. DO It NOW!!!! It used to be in December/January, you may miss out on aid if you wait a month or several months to complete the form.

Know Your Financial Aid (Grants, Loans…)

In case you aren’t familiar with the different types of financial aid available, there are 2 main types: the one you have to repay and the one you don’t. Awards, scholarships, assistantships, work-study, and grants are all the latter – you DO NOT repay these. You can get awarded these by completing your FASFA early, applying for grants/funds (like EOF), and reaching out to your school’s cashiering or financial aid office for resources.

  • Schools will usually have a grants/scholarships page where you can see the more common awards you can apply for!

Loans (of which there are two types subsidized and unsubsidized) are more or less a last resort. When you don’t have enough aid or savings to cover your tuition, you must take out student loans.

TIP: Max out your subsidized loan BEFORE you increase your unsubsidized loan. Why? Because the subsidized loan does not earn interest while you are at least a 1/2 time student while the unsubsidized loan starts earning interest once the money is distributed to you. This may not seem like a big deal when you are getting your award money, but by the end of you degree (4 or more years for a Bachelors) you WILL notice the difference of 4 years worth of interest.


Online Music Resources

Free Apps

  • ProMetronome : iOS / Android
  • GuitarTuna: iOS / Android
  • **Spotify: iOS / Android
    • **Students get 3 free months of Spotify – it is worth it if you want access to more recordings while in school!
  • GarageBand: iOS

Websites


Music Resources at School

1. LIBRARY: You can use the library to borrow sheet music, scores, textbooks, and other materials you may need for classes.

2. ONLINE LIBRARY: As a student you have free access to journals and databases for academic resources. Take in as much as you can. Websites like JSTOR, Ebsco, and ProQuest are a few examples of the many, many databases I had access to in both my undergraduate and graduate schools.

3. COLLEAGUES and TEACHERS: If you really can’t afford to buy you own music or books for courses, sometimes you can borrow or buy materials at a heavily discounted price from upperclassman. Or you professors many be willing to loan you their materials for you to use.


Feel free to share any resources I missed in the comments below!