Why Your Degree Title is Wrong

Students in colleges today put so much emphasis on their degree titles, on their specialty. Now, I firmly believe that to be great at what you do (and I believe anything less than great isn’t worth doing), you do have to specialize, in a sense. But I have a serious problem with the structure degree specializations take.

Being a music performance major seems to mean you are allowed to do certain things and advised to not do other things. The same is true of music education. It’s as if the degree offers us some sort of entitlement. It’s time to put those ideas aside.

Here are a few truths all of us have to accept:

• No matter how good you are, you will always teach.

Isn’t that the thing that we love about all of our idol musicians? The fact that we have the opportunity to study with them, to learn from them, and, we hope, absorb some of what got them where they are? What if they had all decided that since they were performers, they wouldn’t teach? Worse, what if they thought they shouldn’t teach?

      There is a false (incredibly false) stigma in our education system that puts stronger emphasis on performing than on teaching, as if one is more important than the other. Of course, without great players there won’t be concerts to listen to, but without teachers inspiring others to love music as they do, then there would be no one to give those concerts for!

• You must be good (if not great) at your instrument … all of you.

On the flip side of this coin, I find so many music education majors who don’t excel on their instrument. Usually, it is not because of a lack of talent but a lack of effort. How will you ever be able to inspire students (at any level) to give up their time and energy to practice and achieve excellence on their instruments if you are not willing to do the same? Every music ed major should be sitting at the top of his or her respective sections in the band or orchestra. If you are allowing your degree title to dictate how hard you work, then it’s time to move across campus to the School of Business.

As an undergraduate in college, I majored in music education. I did this because I love to teach. But I also love to play the tuba. I didn’t let my degree tell me how hard to work, or what to work on. I threw myself wholly into all of my education classwork, and I presented a full recital every semester from sophomore to senior year, even while I was student teaching. (Definitely more than any performance major was doing.) I don’t say any of this to boast. I am not anyone particularly special. What I did was decide that being a musician meant being a total musician—teacher and performer—and that I wanted to be the best.

Are you an ed major or a performance major? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.


  1. Kyle Hayes · · Reply

    Totally agree. I did my undergrad in performance and halfway through a MM in performance but I love to teach a lot more than to perform so I’m going to get another MM in pedagogy.

    1. Thanks for commenting. Good luck with your MM in Pedagogy! What was it that made you realize you wanted to study more on teaching?

      1. Kyle Hayes · ·

        I taught all through college along with playing in the ensembles at school/doing freelance gigs- I always enjoyed the teaching part more than sitting in a rehearsal and playing maybe only 1/3 of the time.

  2. […] Music“. Check out his Sightreading Sundays posts and his posts on practicing with titles like Why Your Degree Title is Wrong and Well Rounded or […]

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