Graduate School...

Discussions relating to the classical guitar which don't fit elsewhere.
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Graduate School...

Post by CJguitar » Thu Aug 10, 2017 3:32 am

I'm nearing the finish line in terms of getting a Bachelor of Arts. This fall is my last semester and now I'm thinking (panicking on the inside) of the next step. Part of me feels like getting a Masters degree is a necessity considering that everyone and their grandmother has a bachelors nowadays. Another part of me is incredibly fatigued and tired of going to school and wants to move on. However, that line of thinking will probably land me in a dead-end, low paying job that would barely put food on my table.

I also have to consider that I am not a player who stands out. I love the classical guitar, I really do, but I'm not someone who'll make it in the field. So with that being said, getting a Masters will be purely for survival. Both of my recitals will probably consist of a lot of ensemble and chamber work, just so I don't die from a heart attack from all the stress of performing solo. All of this will be on a $1,200 Chinese made guitar due to that being all I can afford.

I have scouted a school/teacher and he seems like he would want me in the program. However, I'm worried that I wouldn't be able to survive it, making it a huge waste of time and money.

Should I go to graduate school? Has anyone been in a similar situation?

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Re: Graduate School...

Post by CGCristian92 » Thu Aug 10, 2017 5:04 am

Hey man, as someone that's been in your shoes, and know many,many people in your shoes, you have to take a really hard look at yourself and what you want out of your future. Being a musician is not easy. Being a classical guitarist is even harder.

Luckily, there are so many ways now that if you work really hard, you should be fine. Do you want to perform? Are you ok with teaching 20 hours a week (or more) and gigging a bit, maybe a few solo recitals a year that you will have to organize yourself? You don't need a masters for that. Playing guitar is great because there are always people that want to learn to play, and while you might not be teaching classical all the time, you can teach anyone that merely wants to play guitar ( Chords, melodies, etc)

Im not sure about your financial situation, but if you can actually go for your masters and leave with little to no debt, then i would say go for it. But i would think really hard if you are leaving with anything higher than say 20k of debt or so. If you do decide to go for masters, make sure to go elsewhere and not stay at your current school. get a fresh view on things from another place. Maybe more musically stimulating.

If you have any more questions feel free to message me or just post here. Im sure others will chime in.

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Re: Graduate School...

Post by simonm » Thu Aug 10, 2017 10:02 am

CJguitar wrote:
Thu Aug 10, 2017 3:32 am
…. Part of me feels like getting a Masters degree is a necessity considering that everyone and their grandmother has a bachelors nowadays ….
There was a (generic not music specific) study at some point that suggested a masters made financial sense whereas as Ph.D does not. (This is speaking purely from earning capacity - nothing to do with life satisfaction) No idea how that works with respect to music. Masters tend to be career specific, hence the reason why they maybe be cost effective. There are gazillions of masters courses of all sorts that you can do part-time at any point in your life so if you don't have a clear idea which masters will be of benefit you could do one later on. It may also be that with additional life skills you would study in a more efficient manner later.

When it comes to wasting time or money, the only thing that really counts is time. The is no circumstance under which you can get wasted time back. Money can be earned, (begged borrowed or stolen for that matter). So if you believe you may be wasting your time, it is time to look for a plan B that does not waste time.

As has been noted a career as a musician is not easy. Good sight reading skills are essential. (i.e. playing an unknown or long forgotten, not necessarily difficult, piece well straight from the sheet first time - not a practiced piece ). If you want to continue along the road of musicianship, then a ship might be just the ticket. While rare there are jobs as guitarists on cruise lines, most likely in a group of some kind - I don't know the details but most likely you would need to be able to play basic rhythm and simple attractive solo bursts for 200-500 easy listening pieces of popular music. This is where the sight reading comes in. I am sure some folks here have done that sort of gig and can advise. A year doing that kind of work would dramatically improve your confidence and skill as a musician although what effect it would have on your classical skills.

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Re: Graduate School...

Post by PeteJ » Thu Aug 10, 2017 11:23 am

I set out to try for cruise ship gigs long ago, then realised my reading would never be good enough. But it worked for Sting, and he only did ferries.

Great point from simonm about time not being recoverable. Looking ahead to future earnings may be important but to hell with it if it means wasting a lot of time learning stuff that doesn't interest you. Better to be broke.

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Re: Graduate School...

Post by Jack Douglas » Thu Aug 10, 2017 12:47 pm

I'm a licensed landscape architect and remember the panic I felt the last semester of undergraduate school. I'm also what you might call a hobbyist classical guitar player. There are some similarities in each discipline in that it takes many hours of dedication and effort to achieve any semblance of success. I was an average undergraduate student and at one point considered dropping out of the profession. But, I persisted and after a few years applied for graduate school. What I immediately figured out in graduate school was that every professor was there to cheerlead and support every student. Also, my fellow classmates were, for the most part, engaged and exciting and a source of new ideas. The Masters environment gave me new confidence and allowed me to hone my skills. I've never regretted the time, effort, and expense of graduate school and it opened doors that I wouldn't have gotten close to otherwise.
Regarding your guitar. In general most students can barely afford new strings much less a nicer instrument. Yes, there are a few in your class who's parents write a check for a nicer guitar. Another guitar will present itself at some point. Be patient.
Graduate school is an opportunity for you to concentrate on what you like and a time to improve your technique and technical abilities. Remember that playing the classical guitar is in many ways similar to being a professional athlete and requires a similar dedication in the use of your hands, arms, and body. You will do well to learn how to use them without injury. Think of graduate school as a way to get yourself in superb shape.
You mentioned sight reading as being a shortcoming. Remember that even the best start slowly and work on short sections until they are perfected.
Speaking of perfection. When I'm working on a new design I spend hours trying different solutions to a space. Over and over I sketch and try subtle concept changes to discover the ultimate solution. It doesn't come easy. Does that sound familiar with classical guitar?
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Re: Graduate School...

Post by MaritimeGuitarist » Thu Aug 10, 2017 2:51 pm

Honestly, it sounds like you really need to identify what your life goals are. You should not be doing graduate work for mere survival--especially a performance degree. In fact, I feel you really need to articulate to yourself how, exactly, is the degree going to help you 'survive'? I have a lot of friends with performance masters and can tell you that it will not directly lead to employment-other than private teaching. Don't get me wrong, they are very satisfied with what they do, but none of them finished their masters and immediately landed a solid, steady good paying job.

If your main concern is putting food on the table and avoiding a low-paying job, than you should really look at what kind of professional programs your BA can get you into. I don't know what it's like in the U.S., but here in Canada a BA (music) can get you into programs like law, MBA, teaching, and library science. I have a friend who did a B.Mus. a M.Mus and then went on to get a law degree and is now a practicing lawyer.

That said, if you are passionate about the guitar and have a burning desire to be the best player you can be, then go for the performance masters. But do it because you are passionate about it, not because you think you will make a lot of money at it.

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Re: Graduate School...

Post by Jim Davidson » Fri Aug 11, 2017 7:35 pm

I was in the exact same place about two years ago. I had just finished up my BA in general music, and was torn between going to NEC for my Masters in guitar or getting a Post-Bachelors in Music Ed. to become a K-12 classroom teacher.

It comes down to how safe of a plan you want, and what sort of goals you have for your teaching career.

The Masters Degree is essential for college teaching, but that's a very competitive market nowadays. You can end up taking on a lot of debt and not make very much money. That said, if you're truly passionate about performing and teaching advanced, adult students it'll be the way to go. You can also look into a degree in musicology or theory for both job prospects and less performance pressure. If your goal is a career in college teaching, you'll probably have to look into some sort of doctorate afterwards.

The public teaching route is way safer. In most states you can get your preliminary teaching license in only one year. There are also far more full-time jobs with benefits, and with government jobs student loans are often forgiven after a certain amount of time. K-12 teachers still need to get a Masters (usually within 5 years of getting their first teaching job), but it's usually in education and mostly paid for. The teaching work, however, is entirely children and teenagers. Think general music, bands, chorus, etc.

In the end, I took the big risk and went to NEC. For me, it came down to two things:

1.) I truly love performing, and I'm willing to do the work to earn a place in that scene. Also, my end game is full-time college teaching, and I wanted a more direct route to that kind of work.

2.) Despite being far more financially secure, I couldn't see myself being happy as a K-12 teacher. Furthermore, I went to a school which specialized in teaching, and I could see just how much better my classmates were at it because it was their passion. I felt like I would be doing my future students a disservice if I went into that line of work. Also, many of my aforementioned classmates were brilliant performers when we were in school, and their playing atrophied as they taught classroom longer. I couldn't do that to myself.

If I was either more inclined to teach younger students, or less inclined to perform and teach college, I would have gone the K-12 route, simply because money-wise it made far more sense. I may still do it after I finish my Masters next year (instead of a PhD/DMA). I've met many accomplished full-time college faculty who got started as public school teachers. Also, from where I'm standing, I probably wouldn't get a DMA in guitar in the future, but rather a PhD in musicology or theory to be able to teach a wider variety of classes at the college level.

Sorry I can't be more concise about this; there's a lot to it!

In the end, I'd look long and hard at what kind of teaching you eventually want to do, and how much of a risk you're willing to take.

Check out SchoolSpring and Indeed and look at what sort of music teacher openings are available around you and in areas you'd consider living. See if there's something that you could see yourself doing.
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Peter Frary
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Re: Graduate School...

Post by Peter Frary » Sun Aug 27, 2017 1:18 am

If you're going the teaching route, you might consider a graduate degree in a related field of music, e.g., ethnomusicology, composition/theory, etc., rather than guitar performance. Thus you'll have multiple specialities and be more employable in smaller colleges. In other words, if you can teach class guitar, direct a choir and handle world music and theory courses you have a lot more job possibilities than somebody focused 100% of guitar performance. Case in point is even major universities tend to hire lecturers/part time guitar instructors but hire full time tenure track people in theory, musicology, choral, etc. I went the diversified degree route and can pay a mortgage, drive a nice car and even got married...
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Re: Graduate School...

Post by Andrew Pohlman » Mon Aug 28, 2017 5:10 pm

I've played rock semi-professionally since the early 70's. In doing so, there are a huge number of musicians in my circle of friends. Here's how I've seen it work out. I'm sure some will disagree:
Semi-professional - "keep your day job" and do paid performances for the love of it.
Bachelors - there are tons of highly intelligent people with a BA working at the local coffee shops for $25-30K. But working in their discipline? Not so much. Some teach in local schools. For example, my daughter in law runs 5 high school marching bands, is paid hourly, no benefits - $40K. She does private lessons that pay much better (when she can hook up with students).
Masters - you still may teach locally, but now you can teach at a college. Both my instructors have Masters. My online instructor is a professor at Linfield college in Portland - nice job with benefits and stability. My classroom teacher hates the "academic politics", avoided the academic scene, and teaches locally for about $40K - in the SF Bay Area, that ain't a lot to raise a family.
PhD - these guys usually have a PhD in theory with a background in choral arrangement. They teach at a college, run one or more church choirs, have oodles of students, mostly voice coaching, do studio work / arrangements for professional groups. In short, their career in music is a lifestyle. I know 4 such people - $80-120K for a 7X24 type job.
ALL - performances whenever and for whatever pay you can negotiate.

As a Nurse Educator, I make $120K, have evenings, weekends and holidays off, great benefits, and I still perform both classical and rock 'n roll! Now you need to decide how you want to live your life. I do wholeheartedly agree that accruing debt is a very bad thing for a degree in music...
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Re: Graduate School...

Post by doralikesmath » Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:04 pm

I'm in my 4th year of a non-musical Ph.D. program and I'm not sure if my experiences are related to you, but I think you better not to go to any post-grad program just because you don't know what to do. During my first two years, I spent nights thinking about what I was doing with my life and were constantly on the fence of quitting despite the fact that I absolutely love what I'm doing. The workload pressure, the financial insecurity, etc at some point will be really hard to deal with. If you want to get a master degree, how about trying a part-time program instead?
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Re: Graduate School...

Post by Guitar-ded » Mon Aug 28, 2017 10:21 pm

I don't think it matters in what field you operate, music or whatever, get the higher qualifications now while you are young, used to studying and with no, or at least, less dependents who rely on you. Think it's a pain now? try to imagine how you'll feel in your forties when you realise that to get any decent teaching job you'll need at least a masters. It'll get you better at your chosen career now and will give you options later on.
This is true only if you see yourself staying in this field. If you feel that you want to do something different, then now is the time to pursue that.
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Re: Graduate School...

Post by Gwynedd » Tue Aug 29, 2017 11:09 am

Do you intend to teach? Grad school seems to be aimed to pedagogy or other aspects of the music business rather than simply performance. Our guitar society has a number of members who go to two or three of our area schools that have music grad programs. My own teacher got a degree from one and his career is based on teaching and luthier craft; he performs but it's not the focus of his career. And boy, is he a good teacher: whatever they taught him at that grad program was amazing because I've had a number of music teachers and he is superb.

If you don't want to teach, or work in other aspects of the music industry, I'm not sure what grad school would do. I see some of the major performers go the route of being at a conservatory with a top notch world-reknown teacher who gets them to performance level, and then they embark on a career of concertizing and master classes.

It's all what you want to do with your music.

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