Do You Need Music Education to be Successful in Music?

Do You Need Music Education to be Successful in Music?

Music Education: Good or Bad?Music education. If you want to be successful in music, you need it, don’t you?

Why, yes. You must learn to sing or play your instrument. Or write songs. Or compose. Maybe sight read.

And the presence of a teacher is generally nothing but an asset.

But this question is more nuanced than you might think.

You’ve heard about self-taught musicians haven’t you? People who’ve accomplished amazing feats without ever working with a teacher?

To be fair, even self-taught prodigies had to learn somewhere (albums, books, YouTube videos, or otherwise).

So, the real question is, do you need traditional music education to be successful in music?

And, while I have my own thoughts on the matter, why don’t we delve in?

Pros of Traditional Music Education

I can’t deny that traditional music education has some things going for it.

Here are the main advantages of traditional music education as I see it:

You Will Gain Essential Competencies as a Musician

There’s a good chance you won’t leave school without having gained essential competencies on your instrument or in your chosen area of study.

Mastery is another matter. It takes a lifetime to master an instrument, and even that statement is kind of dubious.

But you will likely leave school having a firm grasp of theory and how music is constructed. These skills can only benefit you as you look to compose or write songs.

It can be a bit of a double-edged sword, though, as there are plenty of classically trained musicians who lack improvisational skills. You can always flip the coin on that and say there are plenty of guitarists who can’t sight read to save their lives! It’s true.

But unquestionably you will walk out of school having a stronger understanding of the fundamentals.

Networking Opportunities

One of the main benefits of traditional music education is the opportunity to connect with other musicians and music business people.

Ironically, this opportunity isn’t always seized by bright eyed music students, who will often blame their studies and crazy practice hours for having no time.

If I was going back to school to learn music in any capacity, my number one mission would be to get to know as many people as possible. These are your peers, your mentors, your future collaborators. You just never know where opportunities might come from (oh, but here’s a hint – opportunity comes from other people).

Opportunity comes from other people. Share on X

And, as we often say in business (you’re on Music Entrepreneur HQ – you know that, right?), it’s not just what you know but who you know.

Some of my best gigs have come from who I know. With that information in hand, if I was headed back to school, I’d make as many friends as possible.

It's not just what you know but who you know. Share on X

Access to Additional Resources & Tools

In college or university, you don’t just have access to fellow students. You can also take advantage of libraries, directories, professors, and more.

Music is often seen as a passion or a hobby. But if you’re career-minded, there are tons of opportunities in the music industry. Why not chase down every resource and tool you possibly can, and squeeze as much juice as you can out of it?

This is a bit of outside the box thinking (something I’m known for). But you could start your own podcast, interview professors, and maybe even get extra credit for your hard work.

If you’re going to be paying $30,000 to $40,000 in tuition anyway, you might as well make the most of everything available to you.

This can help you land gigs, find jobs, create opportunities, and more.

Cons of Traditional Music Education

There are good reasons to apply for post secondary education. But I’m more on the side of not spending where I don’t need to.

Here are some of the cons of traditional music education as I see it:

It’s Expensive

Post-secondary education, at least in North America, is insanely overpriced.

How much are we talking? Probably a solid $30,000 to $40,000 for a music major. That’s roughly the average employee’s annual salary around these parts! No wonder people take so long to pay down student loans.

There are world class European universities offering free education, such as Norway, Sweden, Germany, Denmark, and Finland. Maybe it would be worth considering these as alternatives.

I could never make sense of going into a ton of debt just to learn new skills (also see below). If I want to make more, my solution is to make more products. But yeah, I know I’m weird and I just “think different” I guess. Don’t mind me.

You End Up Paying for the “College Experience”

This goes hand in hand with my last point.

Sure, some students go to college or university with the best of intentions and are focused on getting their degree.

But if we’re honest with ourselves, we all know what college means. Parties. Booze. Socializing. Experimentation.

You get the idea.

I get that most if not all musicians take their studies seriously and leave college better musicians. But it’s difficult if not impossible to separate that from the “experience” portion.

An argument could be made that this is an important part of a student’s education, I suppose, but we can’t talk post secondary education without touching on this item.

You Can Learn Elsewhere For Less

My arguments against traditional music education all seem to connect.

The point here is that you don’t need to go to music school to become a skilled musician. You don’t need to learn theory. And you certainly don’t need to get a degree to be successful in music!

Certainly, there are those in the music industry who’ve got a fancy paper on their wall at home. But for every one of those, I bet there are at least three or four others who don’t have that piece of paper. The ratio might even be closer to 10:1.

Is your favorite musician educated in the traditional sense? The answer might surprise you.

All musicians are educated in one way or another. They studied under someone. Or they watched YouTube videos. Or they gained a lot of experience jamming with friends and asking questions.

But not every successful musician has gone to school for music.

Music Education, Final Thoughts

All I’m saying here is that before you run off to school to get your music degree, maybe it’s worth stopping to think about alternatives.

If your heart is set on going to school, that’s fine. I don’t think I’m going to convince you one way or another.

But it’s good to know that the paths laid out for you aren’t sure paths to success. You can go to school and not succeed. You can be self-taught and not succeed. There aren’t any guarantees.

The paths laid out for you aren't sure paths to success. Share on X

If you require structure, templates, and frameworks, then school is for you. And if you want to build valuable connections and take advantage of a ton of resources you can’t find anywhere else, school is for you.

If you’re self-driven and can figure out how to chart a course from A to Z, you might be good on your own. And if you’re willing to spend a few hundred dollars (instead of tens of thousands of dollars) on online courses, and you can dedicate yourself to learning the material, you might not need school at all.