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Qualifications to start a Music degree

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Flow
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Excuse me.. I'm sorry, this is not on topic.. I occasionally browse these forums because of all the intelligent conversation one might find.. At any rate, I've noticed that most of the musicians here seem to posesse a vast knowledge of the theory found behind music, so I thought I may as well ask one of you a few questions..

I wish to obtain a degree in Jazz or classical theory.. I play a guitar for my instrument.. I have heard that most of the people who begin their degree in this field already have a strong grasp of the basic concepts of musical theory.. I lack this knowledge, I have never had any lessons and only possese a mediocre level of technique. (I've played 5 years now with near dilligent practice)

So my question is.. What do I need to learn before I can begin, is it reasonable for me to have this knowledge by spring, assuming I work hard at it?

Again.. I'm sorry that this not even -remotely- in the correct forum.. but it seemed like a good place to ask none the less.. I appreciate any positive feedback I may recieve, and thank you.

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Hello Flow:

Typically to get accepted into the music program of a four-year college, one has to audition on their instrument (and in some cases take a theory entrance exam). Depending on the specific school, as a guitarist you might have to audition on classical guitar, although some schools have jazz guitar programs and will let you audition on that instrument. I, of course, don't know how proficient you are on guitar, but given that you are a self-taught and you feel your technique is mediocre, you might not be able to pass the audition.

As such, you might consider starting your music studies at a community/junior college. Music programs at community colleges are very easy to get into and are a great way for a person in your situation. (Even if you have to audition, it is more for the teachers to see what level you are at...I don't think they will not allow you to be a music major.)

In regard to theory classes, if you have no background/knowledge you can take the basic introduction to music theory class that is offered. After that class you will progress through the harmony and counterpoint courses.

In other words, with a community college music program, one can be starting from scratch musically and be able to go on to get their bachelors degree...and beyond that if you want!

Regarding your guitar playing, I recommend you:

1. decide whether you want to study classical or jazz guitar

2. get a GOOD teacher ASAP

Even if you get your bachelors degree in music theory, you will have to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency on your instrument before you can graduate. As such, get a good guitar teacher as soon as you can. As a classical guitarist myself I would recommend you study classical...you will develop a very solid techinique that will allow to play any other style you might choose down the road. In addition some schools may not have a jazz guitar program, i.e., you can only play classical.

I hope this info helps a little. I check this site frequently so please feel free to ask me any questions you might have and I will respond as soon as I can.

Ken

Edited by arete1952
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Oh excellent, thank you for your response. I had planned on starting at a community college and getting my associates before transfering to a state university. You see, I was under the impression that even the basic theory courses required that I had already known what I was doing. How do I define a good teacher? How often should I take lessons, I was thinking that 4 times a month we be an adequate amount.. More? Or possibly less? I'm a quick learner and have no problem applying myself when given something to apply myself too, so becoming over loaded with material would not be a problem I think. I have another question, and though I'm sure it would be better suited for the career counselor at the college maybe you can answer it just as well. Aside from the obvious style difference, what sets a jazz and classical degree apart? Thanks again Arete. =]

Edited by Flow
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I disagree with you, arete1952. Both jazz and classical theory can be taught together; a good curriculum will do so and be heirarchical in nature:

1. Common practice theory, voice leading - knowing the "formula" provides the right foundation, and (contrary to mystical musicians' creeds) does not hamper your creativity; it can be tedious, but it's worth it to be gain the ability to play a song from memory after one listen-through ... all because you understood how the melody worked, and memorized the chord changes beneath it (changes that recur with staggering regularity in pop and jazz music)

2. Form & analysis - know the difference between a sonata allegro form and a rondo; know how to describe music in large chunks, how differentsections modulate to one another, etc.

3. Music history - it helps to understand how music developed over time, and in what ways Romantic music differs from Baroque, harmonically and stylistically

4. 20th Century harmony - there are a lot of snobs that dismiss anything 20th century as "noise" but having an understanding of now non-linear forms can work will assist you in your jazz studies. Jazz utilizes all five major harmonic lagnuages: diatonic tertian, hyperchromatic quartal, polychordal, non-linear hyperchromatic tertian, and even dodecaphonic (also known as 12-tone, or serialism)

5. Instrumentation - knowing how some instruments complement each other, which instruments have certain tonal weaknesses and pitch tendencies, etc. helps in learning the mindset of blending and fronting in an ensemble, whether it's an orchestra or a big band

6. Jazz theory, form, and instrumentation - know the different eras, styles, innovators, and how they did things

In making or playing any so-called "abstract" music, one should have a firm grounding in formal theory and history. As "out there" as many modern composers were, the best could write beautifully in Baroque, Classical-period, and neo-Romantic styles - they just chose to work in (for better or worse) new territory. Without that formal training, you're only going to be capable of two things - making random noise, and copying others' chops. If you plan to make music a career, anyone who might hire you for a gig will be able to sniff that out quickly.

Regarding performance, you should find a balance between studying formal (classical) guitar, and participating in jazz combos or lessons which encourage structured and guided improvisation. Pedagogy - the discipline of understanding how your bod y relates to the instrument you play - is essential, and will help you develop the most efficient way for you to play it. The primary benefits to studying classical along with jazz are stamina, and reducing wrong notes markedly.

Something else I suggest (at least I wish I had done it this way): take as many of your non-music classes (core curriculum) first, then focus on the music next. I hate that state schools mandate these core classes to obtain a degree because it can create scheduling nightmares. If you absolutely have to mix the two, attempt to insert a free period before any music class so that you have time to warm up and review the material. Since music will be your major, you should do everything possible to maximize what you get out your performance classes and lessons.

(Of course, to perform or be any kind of pro musician, it's training and talent that determine your employability far more than an actual degree. Unless you're going to Berklee, Eastman, Curtis, or the like, and you have a choice, saturate yourself with music classes and don't bother with those BS 8am health and fitness classes ... Take the music classes and get out there and start working. But it's your degree: make your own choice.)

One last piece of advice. Of all the skills you will learn as a musician, probably the most important is sight-reading. Understand different methods of writing chord symbols, and spend lots of time reading new charts and developing that quick-reflex playing. I've seen guys who were monster shredders with great ears get shown the door in 5 minutes because they had to ask if the circle with a slash through it meant a diminished or half-dimisnished chord ...

Read some materials on what it was like to try out for FrankZappa's band. That's the level of discipline and talent you should be prepared to take to every gig or audition.

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How do I define a good teacher? How often should I take lessons, I was thinking that 4 times a month we be an adequate amount.. More? Or possibly less? I'm a quick learner and have no problem applying myself when given something to apply myself too, so becoming over loaded with material would not be a problem I think.

A good question, Flow...and a quite a problem to find a good teacher. Many people make the mistake of thinking that if someone plays their instrument well, they will be a good teacher...quite often just the opposite is the case; I have had plenty of experience studying with great players who were terrible teachers. I define a good teacher as someone who really cares about teaching, takes it seriously, is organized, presents ideas/concepts clearly, is sensitive to a student's needs/limitations/abilities and of course is a good musician themselves. You are correct in thinking weekly lessons are best. Finding a teacher can be very difficult. You could start by visiting any nearby colleges with music programs and talking to a counselor or faculty member or office staff. You could also try local music shops which offer lessons but I don't recommend that...lots of lousy instruction at those places typically. See if you can make contact with any local musicians who might be able to recommend someone.

I have another question, and though I'm sure it would be better suited for the career counselor at the college maybe you can answer it just as well. Aside from the obvious style difference, what sets a jazz and classical degree apart?

At any school offering both types of degrees, there will be many classes that will be common to both curricula, i.e., every one will take the same basic theory courses. For example in my case in the first two years all music majors had to take two years of harmony (which included aural/oral skills, i.e. sightsinging, dictation, etc.) one year of counterpoint and one year of music history. In the third year everyone had to take a class in musical form, a class in instrumentation and a class in contemporary techinques (20th century compositional techniques). Those were the only three upper division classes required of all majors. Any other classes would be specific to someone's major. As I was a (classical) composition major I had to take a class in composition in small forms, a class in advanced orchestration, a class in advanced counterpoint, a class in advanced formal analysis, a class in conducting and one year of electronic music composition. In addition every semester I had a composition class where I worked on actual pieces to be performed. Someone working on a degree in jazz theory would be taking courses specific to that discipline although there could be some overlap. Much depends on the specific school. I disagree with synthlord when he states that a good curricula will teach both. There are many excellent music programs that do not offer much in the way of jazz studies. If you decide to specialize in jazz theory there will not be as many schools from which to choose.

Just curious: do you want a degree in music theory or music performance? I was under the impression you wanted a theory degree although you can major in one area and minor in another. And as I mentioned, even if you are a theory major you will have to demonstrate a certain level of proficiency on your instrument. Also what are your ultimate goals? Teaching theory at the college level, performance, both? I ask because if you intend to teach college you will typically need a Ph.D., even to teach at the community college level.

If regard to sight-reading: if you do not intend to be a pro jazz guitarist who will be auditioning for gigs and recording sessions, your ability to sight-read, which I grant is an important skill, is not a critical as synthlord makes it out to be.

Edited by arete1952
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Flow -

There are a lot of online resources out there as well. Some are free like - http://www.teoria.com/ and some are not. But, you can aquire some extra college credits by using programs like Berklee's online program (maybe a specialist certificate or professional) which can help you get into a better college from the get-go.

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