Everyone Should Major In Music!

For decades, we have been told not to major in music. We’ve been told that there aren’t any jobs, and the jobs that do exist have job satisfaction rates in the gutter.

When are institutions of higher learning going to widen their definition of success when it comes to majoring in music? The path of an artist is often set when they are 10 or 11 years old and someone realizes that the student has a talent or proclivity for the art form. This sets up a traditional path in the arts, which is binary in nature:

  • Option One: Listen to your teacher and keep improving so you can continue being an artist.
  • Option Two: Don’t meet expectations and do something else.

To be clear, this path towards artistry makes sense. In order to pursue your art as a career path, you have to be shockingly good at your craft and beat out all your competition. However, with so few jobs to go around for the number of graduates pursuing the dream, something needs to change.

Here is my suggestion:


Our students don’t need to change, we do. We must encourage our students to understand that there are many ways to define success upon graduation, regardless of degree choice. Winning a job in an orchestra is a sign of success, but it’s an incredibly narrow path for such a small number of students that it’s no wonder so few people ultimately leave the art form or choose not to study it in the first place.

Twenty-first century life isn’t about narrow and deep, it’s about wide and deep. Our students have to do both. Majoring in music provides an incredible exploration in depth but it must be balanced with a broad understanding of the world, rooted in context, creativity, and empathy.

As academic institutions, we must redefine success. Here are some suggestions for redefining success that would encourage all students to major in music:

  • Celebrate the value of a degree in music — More than ever before there is incredible value in the soft skills that are built as a music major, including empathy, stick-with-it-ness, and grit. These skills should be celebrated and are absolutely applicable to life beyond music and college.
  • Entrepreneurship is not the answer– For institutions that have established or are considering a program in entrepreneurship as a way to help students find success in their field, I would argue that like the pursuit of a job in an orchestra, the pursuit of arts entrepreneurship as a path to success is too narrow. Most students either don’t have the proclivity for entrepreneurship, or they don’t care to pursue the field. Making entrepreneurship the savior for the students at your institution may help a few, but it will ultimately leave the majority behind.
  • Develop an individualized path — We should be inspiring our students to develop an individualized path for success in their career. Institutions of higher learning pride themselves on helping to create independent thinkers, yet we often have a complex, one dimensional approach to delivering information. If we consistently develop an individualized path for our applied students, why can’t we empower our students to pursue a path that will allow them to thrive after graduation?

As educators, our job is to help our students understand the value of a degree in music, regardless of whether or not they intend to have a career in the field. In our current social and economic state, I can’t think of a better degree to prepare students for a thriving career rooted in context, creativity, and empathy within the American workforce.

Do you agree with this idea? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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