What can you expect in your first year of university as a Music Major?

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?

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