Will Your Student Get a Good Music Education in College? (Random Access)

By Litterst, George | American Music Teacher, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Will Your Student Get a Good Music Education in College? (Random Access)


Litterst, George, American Music Teacher


No doubt, many readers of this column are working hard to prepare high school students for upcoming college applications and auditions. This extensive ritual involves clarifying educational goals, carefully selecting possible schools that will appropriately nurture the maturing musician, preparing audition materials and assembling recommendations.

Most of us who have made a career teaching precollege students tend to get quite excited when any of our students contemplate college music study, and we usually are eager to assist in any way we can.

One of the best things we can do for our students is help them choose a good school. But what does that actually mean? For example, if a particular school turns out very fine performers, does that mean it is a good school? Or is that school very selective in its choice of students--or both?

Perhaps the better question to ask is whether a particular school is good for your student?

Obviously, defining what makes a good school is a tricky proposition that is related to the issue of just how well the resources of the school match the needs of the student. A school that is outstanding for one student may not be outstanding for another.

Most schools with a music major offer a pretty standard set of courses covering music history, music theory, composition, musicianship and performance. Specialized programs, such as those that offer a music education degree, usually offer additional courses that--on the surface--also appear to be fairly standard from school to school.

But are these courses really so standard? Will the students actually learn the same things at any school?

A Hypothetical Comparison

Let's compare two, fictitious schools: University A and University B. Both schools are well known for the quality of their student orchestras and offer similar courses. The music major at both schools is considered to be fun yet rigorous. However, there are some interesting differences.

Upon further examination, we find out the following about University A:

* The flute teacher only teaches the wooden, keyless flute.

* The tympani teacher restricts his students to the use of hand-tuned tympani (i.e. no pedals).

* The horn teacher works exclusively with the natural, valve-less horn.

* The piano teacher gives all lessons on an early fortepiano that has a knee lever for operating the damper mechanism.

Would you consider that University A has a good music program? Will University A properly prepare your student for a fulfilling and remunerative career in music?

Please don't leap to the conclusion that I think University A has a bad program. Remember that the music program at University A has a reputation for being both rigorous and fun. Furthermore, the students who attend University A typically play very well.

Based on the information we have, it is clear the program at University A is restricted to pre-nineteenth century music. If that is what your student needs, then University A is probably a great school for your student.

I am willing to wager that you were rather startled by the idea that a college music program might ignore 200 years of technological innovation in the music field. Indeed, if such a program both ignored the last 200 years of technological innovation and claimed to be a competitive, twenty-first century music program, most of us would think the program was highly overrated--or worse!

Fortunately, most music programs do not completely ignore the last 200 years of technological innovation. However, the last twenty years has seen at least as much technological innovation as the previous 180 years, and it is clear that many programs do ignore the last twenty years!

Let's continue our hypothetical comparison of University A and University B by considering how technological changes of the last twenty years may have--and probably should have--affected their "standard" course offerings. …

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