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What It Takes to Be a Music Major

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Professor of Music, Louis A Menchaca talks about the top qualities he looks for in a music major: Through the years, I have recruited hundreds of students — both music majors and students in other disciplines to participate in performance ensembles. Some of these students enjoy their ensemble experience so much that they seek me out and announce their decision to become music majors. In these cases, my initial response can best be described as ‘guarded optimism’. I wonder whether this student has what it takes.

Students studying music: what are they like?

It’s easy to identify a committed music major. This student has expressed a desire to play, teach, or be involved with music at some professional level. This individual has either contacted me directly or has received an endorsement from his or her music teacher. I hold personal recommendations in high regard because they are an indicator that the student is well prepared for challenges and will not wilt when tackling harmony, conducting, piano proficiencies and other rigours of a collegiate music curriculum.

The other type of student raises some concern. It’s distressing to see students who have been studying another discipline suddenly declare themselves music majors and then fail their courses because they did not expect the rigorous academic curriculum or did not have sufficient preparation. It is important for students to realise that becoming a music major entails more than simply playing or singing in an ensemble.

What do first, second, third and fourth-year music students be aware of?

First-year students

First students who want to become music majors must acknowledge the importance and comprehensiveness of music theory. Many students become discouraged when they are entrenched in cumulative music theory and harmony courses that span several years. Even some fine performers have trouble with harmonic concepts, but these concepts are essential if students plan to teach or perform on a high level.

A fundamental mistake students make is to underestimate basic musicianship skills, as well as knowledge of scales, triads and intervals. These form the groundwork for the study of and success in every other harmony and form course. If students fail to acquire basic skills in the beginning, they will have trouble in later music theory courses.

Second-year students

Second students must acknowledge the significance of music history to their professional lives. A common complaint among undergraduates is that music history is a long, drawn-out trivia search. However, all teachers can attest to the value of music history as a tool not only in helping to select literature but also in properly teaching performance practices. A firm grounding in music history is indispensable as one continues to assimilate information through reading and research. A student’s knowledge of music history will be called upon daily in the music profession.

Third-year students

Third students must realise that applied lessons are the serious groundwork for future growth. What is most distressing about some students in the applied studio is that they do not see the logic in practising fundamentals such as scales, intervals, technique, articulation, long tones and all the other skills that build technical proficiency.

To achieve advanced musical proficiency and knowledge of repertoire are indispensable. Without solid and refined rudimentary skills, the student’s full potential will not be realised. The repetition of solid fundamentals is the price one must pay for true technical mastery to be reached. In a sense, one of the most important lessons a student must learn is how to practice.

Many students cannot formulate a viable, tangible study and practice plan. Without this, progress is curtailed significantly. At this juncture, a student who thinks majoring in music is just singing with a group or playing an instrument faces his or her first real test. Does this student have what it takes to become a total professional musician?

Fourth-year students

Fourth students must develop basic keyboard skills, which are helpful in studying scores, teaching harmony and providing basic accompaniment. As a matter of fact, a non-keyboard person can never get enough time at the keyboard. At the very minimum, students should acquire fundamental keyboard skills.

To do so, all students should take applied piano instruction even if it is not required for one’s particular major. Students do not realise until they are out in the professional world that they will never again have the time or motivation to improve their piano skills. Time for professional music teachers is at a premium.

Faculty members must see a student grapple with music theory, music history, applied studio study and keyboard skills before acknowledging the student as a serious music major. These four areas can serve as checkpoints along the path to becoming comprehensive musicians.

This article was written by Louis A Menchaca, Professor of Music Music Department Head at Concordia University Wisconsin. Excerpted with permission from Teaching Music, February 1998 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education www.menc.org 

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Why Study Languages Abroad?

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There are so many benefits to learning a new language.

You’ll develop a brand new set of skills, immerse yourself in a different culture and discover a new way of thinking. Having more than one language on your CV is also very impressive to employers, and it can open up a world of opportunities for work, travel and leisure.

Nowadays, you can learn a language pretty much anywhere. You can study languages at college, undertake a modern languages degree at university, or study online with the help of popular websites and apps. But there is nothing better than studying a language in its country of origin. Here’s why you should always consider studying a foreign language abroad.

1. Meet new people

Moving abroad can be daunting. But when you study languages abroad, you’ll meet people from all over the world. There will be other language students in exactly the same position as you, and finding a group of friends to help you get to grips with the language is important.

2. Learn the local lingo

Studying overseas will open up a whole world of language that you can’t learn in a textbook. You’ll equip yourself with a different type of language – one that’s informal, chatty and full of common phrases and sayings. You’ll become a confident communicator, with a whole wealth of knowledge.

3. You’ll speak it every day

Practice makes perfect! When you study a language in the comfort of your home country, it’s easy to become lazy and put off practising. But abroad, you’ll have no choice but to speak it every day. This can seem scary, but it’s one of the best ways to get outside of your comfort zone and get talking to people.

4. Understand body language

People don’t just communicate with words. When you can see someone’s body language, it’s easier to take in what they’re saying. Languages like Italian for example, rely more heavily on gestures and facial expressions to communicate. This is important to understand if you want to communicate fluently with a new culture.

5. Immerse yourself in culture

Repeating phrases from a textbook can only get you so far. But getting out into the world and immersing yourself in a new culture will improve your conversational skills. Simple tasks like ordering food in a restaurant, asking for directions, buying a bus ticket or going to the cinema can suddenly become fascinating and exciting parts of life.

6. Boost your employability

If you’re looking to work abroad at some point in your life, give yourself a head start by studying abroad too. As an international student, you’ll gain a level of understanding about what it’s like to work and study in your chosen country. Having these customs and experiences can make you much more attractive to employers.

7. Learn to observe

Moving abroad might be scary to you, but you’ll gain skills that you never knew you had. For example, if you’re used to being the centre of attention, you’ll learn to sit back and observe. Overhearing conversations that other people are having – at university, in lectures or in the street – will open your eyes (and ears) to a new way of thinking.

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