Music also comes in all shapes and sizes. Good old Wiki Answers reveals an estimate of between 1500 and 2000 instruments world-wide, and that’s before you even get into all the different sound combinations those thousands of instruments can make.
A degree in music will reflect the scope and variety of the subject itself, covering everything from the history of music to musical theory.
What A-levels do you need?
Most unis will want you to have music at A-level, and Oxford and Cambridge specify that Grade 5 keyboard or piano (respectively) is also very useful. Aside from this, you won’t need to worry too much about specific subjects (unless you’re doing a joint/combined honours course, that is – for instance
the University of Brighton’s four-year Digital Music and Sound Arts MFA requires AAB, including Art & Design at grade B). As usual, the exact requirements will vary hugely between unis – the University of Hull want 280 - 320 UCAS points for their music BA, for instance, while studying music at Brunel University requires straight Bs.
What are your study options?
Although you can do a straight degree in music, many universities also offer it as part of a combined/joint honours course with the likes of performance or dance. There are also courses in music technology, which focus more on recording and studio techniques.
The majority of courses will last for three years, although some universities may give you the option of doing a year in industry (this will fall between your second and final year, and will give you the chance of gaining some valuable work experience for your CV). Doing this type of sandwich course will bring your degree up to a total of four years.
In terms of assessment, most courses will involve a mixture of coursework and practical assessments (such as a recital or performance). This blend of theory and practice will be reflected throughout your course (you’ll get plenty of studio/rehearsal time as well as lecture time).
Why study music?
If you’re already passionate about music and you want to develop and hone your skills, a three year degree could provide you with the perfect opportunity to do just that. You’ll also be studying alongside plenty of like-minded people who’ll have a range of different musical skills and talents, which means there’ll be a great opportunity to meet people and network.
Hoping to get a band together, or work with a writer to compose an opera? You’ll have every chance over the course of your degree.
After your degree...
Don’t be thinking that just because you studied music, your only choice is to go into the music business. Music grads actually have all sorts of doors open to them, largely due to the transferable skills they learn on their degrees (working both individually and as part of a team, managing deadlines, and thinking creatively, to name just a few).
If you are set on a career in music, though, there are a variety of different options available to you (although it’s worth noting that many of these are extremely competitive). Some students find work composing for TV and film, for instance, while others start their own bands or work in the theatre and gig industry as members of sound and production teams (which can also provide a great opportunity to travel).
Working in events or for a music venue is also a possibility, as is going into music teaching (although for the latter you’ll need to study for a PGCE course in order to achieve qualified teacher status).
Q&A with a music graduate
David Novan studied Popular Music and Recording (BA) at the University of Salford and is now a musician and composer.
Why did you choose to study music at university?
In my case, it wasn’t part of the long term plan, but I felt I had a chance of getting somewhere with my musical and academic abilities combined, which was why I did a BTEC ND in popular music and recording at a local college. It was my success in this course that made me realise that studying music at degree level was both a viable and appealing option.
What was the most enjoyable aspect of your course?
The best part of my course was being surrounded by people who thought similarly to me, who were studious and passionate about music, and who took me seriously for feeling the same.
What was the least enjoyable aspect of your course?
It suffered in a vocational sense, being related to a job where a formal qualification isn’t necessarily required. Some people dropped out of the course and found themselves in signed bands doing major tours. It can be difficult to motivate yourself towards your studies when that’s happening around you.
How do you think a music degree might help graduates seeking employment?
It would definitely suit people who want to get into teaching (classroom or instrument tuition).
How did the course prepare you for your job?
It gave me more grounding, knowledge and confidence in my ability as a musician and composer. Now I can happily create musical scores for group projects without feeling I have to explain my motives as a writer/arranger.
What would you like to do in the future?
Continue with performing, composing and recording, with other artists as well as myself. Also, I’d like to set up my own label. I’ve stayed friends with many of my favourite artists and the most talented people from my course – there’s a feeling of solidarity among us, and an unspoken agreement that if any of us achieves a certain level of success in the music business, we’ll do our best to help the others do so too.