To School or Not to School

That, Dear Horatio, is the QuestionWhether 'tis nobler to pursue the lofty heights of AcademiaOr, to slug through the maze of streets that is self educationWhen one hits a wall, when the doors to understandingare too many to choose, perchance the halls of wisdomprovide opportunities one should not lose.So, having joined the Composers forum, I realize that I am significantly outclassed. There are some remarkable compositions over here, and the general level of education very high. You speak a language I just don't understand.It scares the crap out of me.It made me look at my music a little more closely. I believe I have potential as a composer, but at the moment my stuff is very immature. I don't mean childlike, I mean lacking formal structure.My friend Janet over at the Cakewalk Song forum has been kind enough to help me with some theory and knows how weak I am. Struggling through that, and then seeing how far I had to go, I realized I needed to formalize my method of music self-education. I need to go back to the basics, and begin to create a plan of development that will let me communicate with the composers here with both competence and understanding.Yesterday, while thinking on this, I was weighing other options, like a formal education in music. I thought to myself, "I am to old to go back to school. Do I really want to spend 4 years in school for this?". By the time I had finished thought, I had concluded, "no".This morning, for reasons I can only guess at (God works in mysterious ways), my wife, Sophie, calls from work. She wanted a recipe we have for "power balls" (homemade energy snacks) to give to a friend. While I was scanning it she started talking about music classes at the University (she works on campus for a GO that has an office there) ... and it dawned on me, maybe school is the right place for me.As this season has already started, I will be looking at next year, which might be a good as, being a University degree, they will have a certain expectation of basic education I am sure, so I can spend the year preparing.Of course, the practical reality is this will cost me about 20grand in tuition alone. It would put a lot of plans on hold.So, I must admit, while the idea of getting a BMus is really exciting (not because of the degree but because of what I will have learned), I am not sure about the time and cost.Am I being silly? Should I just bite the bullet and do it?That is the question.
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  • Hi Shad,

    I realize my reply is a few months late, but try out these sites. I've been using them the past few weeks and have learned a lot. Great starting out point! (Has a lot of music drills, sight reading, etc.) (Lots of beginning music theory stuff; key signatures, intervals, triads, etc.)
  • Shad, I'm an amateur too. I bump up against my limitations every day. Listen to your own heart about going back to one else can tell you what you should do. I will, however, tell you what I did.
    I do kind of resonate with Fredrick's observations. Schools (at least the ones I've attended) actually favor and foster mediocrity and punish innovation and creativity. I recommend a book to you called "Ignore Everybody, and 39 Other Keys to Creativity" by Hugh MacLeod. Derick Sivers recommended this book on his blog. I picked it up at the bookstore and thought it was actually worth buying and did. I also have bought LOTS of used college textbooks on music appreciation, thoery, sight singing etc. I've learned a surprising amount on my own, like NEVER write parallel 5ths, which I ignore constantly.....I LOVE parallel 5ths! But at least I know when I'm writing them. I read what you said about music being an obsession. I COMPLETELY resonate with that! And this so late in life....I'm pretty sure my husband must think this music obsessed woman cannot be the one he married. I didn't even have a piano for a long time. Took lessons when I was a child but quit at age 16. I won't bother telling you how many intervening years there were, suffice it to say I'm well into middle age! I feel too old to go back to school and don't want to. When I started music seven years ago, I took piano lessons with a wonderful teacher. Vera was the wind beneath my wings, encouraging, teaching, bringing me to the right books and literature. For me, one on one with a private teacher was ideal. Now I'm flying on my own and am deliriously happy to be able to do what I do every day.
    Good Luck. Your passion for music is evident in your compositions. Martha
  • James,

    Thank you for your thoughts. I have been looking into modes this evening, and frankly, I am about as lost as I have ever been. I am having a hard time wrapping my brain around it. The problem is, where do I begin? All the areas I look at either seem to be so simplistic that nothing can be learned, or so complex that nothing I am reading makes any sense at all.

    Even going to school will be problematic if I do not figure out where the starting point is and tackle the basics.
  • I recall you said that others speak with a vocabulary you don't understand. I have a similar problem, because, while I intuitively know how to construct chords, build passages, etc., I don't really know the vocabulary. One thing I am trying to do is to learn a bit of that, and it happens bit by bit.

    However, there are things the greats did that you can do entirely on your own. You can copy out music that is especially powerful for you. Bach did that almost continuously, as did Telemann. There is a symphony that was attributed to Mozart that was recently found to be by another composer. Mozart simply copied out the entire work, either to perform or to study. I learned a lot about fugues by copying out a few of them. You can learn a lot of about how the greats solved questions like how to get out of a problem in voice leading.

    Have an instructor take some time with you and ask that he advise you which way to go. Asking the question does not mean you have to do what he or she says, but the answer will certainly get you thinking.
  • What Fredrick says is the argument I have made for myself in both Writing and Art, but seems to be falling a bit short when it comes to music. The more I think about it, the more I realize that few of the greats became great in a vacuum. The went to school, apprenticed and spent a great deal of time in study. They have a clear understanding of theory it seems to me.

    While I am not saying I am "great" there is no sense in limiting myself. I might as well go for the maximum potential I can.
  • Tyler, you pose an interesting question. Is music a hobby or a career for me? It is neither.

    It is an obsession. Truth be told.

    I am wondering if the discipline and structure of the formal system is what I need to arrive at a similar level with my music. I am beginning to think it may enhance my creativity by providing a foundation that does not require having "confidence in", but knowing. Does that make sense? A worry was it would diminish any uniqueness, but I am now thinking that is not necessarily true.

    Thanks, everybody's replies have made me think a lot.
  • I would say, your quest for more education is not silly. However, if one is thinking about going back to school after having started a life and career, one should ask "what do I hope to get our of this?".
    You should ask, are you writing music for your self as a hobby or for your family and friends, or do you have plans to make composition as a career?

    If this is just a hobby or a personal thing that only friends and family will listen to I would say to not to go as a full time composition student. Instead I would take music classes and/or possibly find a composition professor that will take you on as a part time student. You will learn a lot and your compositional skills will improve because of it and it will get you started and really growing musically with out and sacrifice of large amounts of time.

    However, if this is a possible career goal, I would say do it. Apply to a university and enter into the composition program there. On top of taking very useful music classes, you will be guided by a professor that will bring out your potential, as well as that, you will have access performers and will have your work performed.
    The down side of this path is the amount of time it will take and money. And being that your post school life has already started, going back to school is a major change in anyone's life, as well as expensive.

    There is also a plan C that one can take, and that is going the self taught route, but in a more intense manner. This can be either good or bad depending on what you have access to and your own study habits.

    What ever path you take, you will face many hurtles, but what have you face you will come out better on the other side. And for that I applaud your efforts to better yourself. Good luck in your decision.
  • Hi, I just joined this forum, and I am probably not the best expert to answer this question, but I will say a few words about what I am now doing.

    Just like you, I don't want to go back to school. In my opinion, nobody cares what degree I have; all they want to know is, "Do I care for what you're writing?" Most of the composers don't say anything about their educational background. Some of the truly great composers (e.g., Rimsky-Korsakoff, a superb orchestrator and a teacher of Ravel) were completely self-taught. When R-K got a job teaching at a conservatory, he would read the lesson ahead of time so that he would have some idea what the students were supposed to be learning!

    However, a teacher can often give you suggestions, and can cut through in a few minutes some things that it might take you a long time to learn (if at all) on your own.

    I am meeting with a teacher for an hour, once a week, and we go over whatever I've been working on. I've found it has helped me a lot to see areas I need to work on, and has also reinforced that I'm doing a lot of things right. The classes are at times that suit the two of us, and the cost, while not trivial, is much less than a formal course would cost, and it's all 100 per cent individual attention.

    Perhaps meeting with a teacher privately would also work for you. (and, of course, maybe not...)
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