Friday, December 26, 2014

Teaching Music 101 - 3 Things to Consider When Choosing a University

Just recently I found myself in a conversation with a young lady who was trying to make decisions about where she should pursue a degree in music education.   Here are some ideas I hope she will consider as she looks for the best place to study.

If you enjoy this article, please feel free to read the first article in the series  Teaching Music 101

Most people first need to consider price and location.  However, when you get to the point where you are comparing two or three options that will work, you may need to consider a few things more carefully.  This is not an exhaustive list of things to consider, but a list of things that you might not think of initially that can make a HUGE difference in your experience at college.  Remember that no matter what school you choose, the quality of education you receive is most dependent upon you and your willingness to work hard and take advantage of the opportunities you gain as a result of your hard work.

1.  Piano Requirements - In these days of very expensive degrees,  most universities are looking for ways that they can trim can cut costs for students.  Music schools are no different. However, your goal should be to receive a degree that actually prepares you for real life.  I think that schools who cut down their piano requirement are doing a disservice to their students.  
  •   In real life, the music teacher is often the only pianist on campus. 
  •  In real life, no one will have time to come in and accompany your choir AND you won't have  the $$$ to pay them even if they have time to help you....
  •  In real life, sound systems fail but the piano in the corner of the cafeteria will still play. 
With that in mind, you should choose the school with the program with the most rigorous piano requirements for music education students whose primary instrument is NOT piano.  Request the information from the schools you are interested in.  For example: If one school requires 4 octave scales in just major and harmonic minor while the other requires you to also play melodic and natural minor, choose the one that requires all 3 minors. It's more work, but you'll be better for it.  The required repertoire should be varied and challenging.  Choose the most difficult piano barrier so that when you have met the requirement you actually have employable skills.  That little bit of extra piano will pay off and is worth the extra hours and you have to pay for and the extra work you have to do to get it!  

When I was going to school, I didn't know to look for such a thing because I thought that all the universities somehow got together and decided upon the same piano requirements for their music ed majors.  Not true!    I went to a small private school called Howard Payne University.  Our piano barrier was quite challenging and my piano professors were AMAZING!  Dr. Wallace rocks!!!!    When I shared my experiences with friends of mine who attended larger state schools, I was shocked to find out how little those students had to accomplish in order to pass their piano barrier.   I am NOT a pianist, but I left school ready to play what was needed and although no one would ever let me accompany if someone else with more skill was available, in a pinch, I can muscle my way through.... I would not be able to do that at all, had my university piano program been less rigorous.  I also want to say that I've never ever heard a music teacher say that they wished they had taken LESS piano! Everyone I know wishes they had had more!  

2. Observations, Music Ed Classes and Student Teaching - If you are hoping to be a music teacher it is important to choose a University that has both an EXCELLENT school of music but also an EXCELLENT school of education.  Your music education classes should prepare you well to pursue a variety of methodologies and prepare you to meet the needs of students in a variety of settings.  When you leave with your Bachelor's Degree in Music Education, you should know what to teach to who and have a good grasp on how a variety of methodologies would accomplish the task.  This is especially important since you may find that you are the ONLY music teacher on your campus, and there may not be anyone around for you to ask.... You NEED to know your stuff!    
Choose a University whose school of music and school of education have a good partnership and collaborate well.  You don't want to be half way through your education and find that you are in the midst of a conflict.  Both of your schools, your school of music and school of education should be accredited nationally and should be current in their pursuit of best practices, educational philosophy and research.   Pay close attention to schools of education who have strong Early Childhood programs in place have solid coursework in child development.    Early childhood is a very important and often overlooked reality of being a music teacher.  At least in Texas, the certification for becoming a music teacher is PK-12.  This is a REALLY wide range.  Most of the music teachers I know have to put more effort into planning, preparing and executing their Pre-k and kinder lessons than the rest of their day.  Therefore some focus on early childhood would be time well spent.
You won't begin your education classes until later, but it would be a good idea to find out about how observations and student teaching works.   You should choose a school that provides the most opportunities for observation and for student teaching.  Find out what partnerships are in place between your university and local school districts and even neighboring metropolitan school districts.  Some schools are more flexible than others about where you observe and student teach. Make sure that you understand their policies.  Additionally, be prepared to work with your education faculty to arrange observations in actual music classrooms.  I found that unless I spoke up, they would schedule me to observe whatever class was available, but I REALLY needed to spend the majority of my time in the music classroom.    

3.  Performances, Private Lessons Ensemble Opportunities -  As a music education major you should look for schools that have room for you to have opportunity to join the best studios and to participate in the advanced or elite ensembles and performances.  Sometimes schools are forced by the limits on their performance space and their calender limitations to give a significant priority to their performance students.  That is understandable and arguably the right thing to do for those performance majors , but depending on how you want to use your Music Education degree in the future, you may find that you really need to be a part of those more performance based elite opportunities.  There are schools that have plenty of room in their advanced programs for both performance and education majors.  There are schools that simply don't. You should find out about how private studios are formed and how ensembles and performance opportunities are cast before you enroll.   Are some auditions open to only certain majors?  Are some auditions open to only certain studios?  Do music education majors have the opportunity to give a senior recital?  (I think they should.) Choose a school that will give you the best opportunity to perform both in ensembles and as a soloist.

If you are a music teacher, please share a tip or advice that you wish you had known before you started your degree in the comments section! :)  

1 comment:

  1. I've nominated you for a Liebster Award! See the post here!