Feb 212015
 

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, which you can also use to your advantage by doing something harmonically unexpected.

Progression Vs. Succession

First, we must define chord progression. Since there are two ways of placing chords side-by-side but only one term, “chord progression”, everyone calls both versions the same thing. Let’s call the second version, “chord succession”.

In a chord succession, none of the chords have a relationship to the others except that first one and then another is played in succession. Playing E5, D5, and C5 ala Iron Maiden is a good example. Since nothing is going on, there’s nothing to define. It’s not even clear if this is E minor or C major.

Chord progressions, by contrast, are so involved that books are written on them, so we’ll just cover the relevant basics. It is their nature to solidly define a key by concluding with V-I (the key’s fifth chord and first one). The chords of increasing tension precede the chord of no tension, which is therefore the ultimate resolution. Several other chords can precede V-I, such as the famous IV-V-I (D, E, A). This defines the key as A major, provides tension and resolution, and moves (or progresses) the song forward purely by harmony. Let’s use the IV-V-I progression for structure.

Song Structure

So what do I mean by structural chord progression? Let’s say your song has a verse, bridge, and chorus. We’ll decide our song, overall, is in A major despite any key changes within the song. To do a structural progression, we would write the verse in A major (I), the bridge in D major (IV), and the chorus in E major (V). After the chorus, we conclude the progression by returning to the verse in A major (I). See Example 1.

First

In this example, the indication (V/IV) means “V of IV”, and that A major is not only I in A major, but also acts as the V chord in D major, our next key. Simply by concluding our verse on an A major chord and starting the bridge on a D major chord, we go V-I into D major.

After the verse (I), we continue forward with the bridge (IV) and chorus (V) again (Example 2). At this point, we could either return to the verse music again, or go straight into a solo in A major, but that key is sort of expected at this point, isn’t it?

Second

Why don’t we do something unexpected, such as resolving to A minor (i) instead? It’s a nice surprise, a different tonality (being minor), and is also something we haven’t heard.

The technique can continue within a solo. To determine what keys to use, decide what section (and key) will come after the solo, then work backwards. In our example, the E major chorus comes after the solo, so it makes sense to end the solo in B major. B is V of E and makes E sound like home.

Solo

For this reason, at the coda in Example 3, we remain in E major instead of return to A major. By this point, E sounded like home anyway, and structural progressions have less strict requirements for completion.

What if our song has an introduction? This could be in A major, too, but let’s use E major to create a build up to the main music.

Intro

Here’s the final structure of our song and a recording thrown together to demonstrate it:

 

Randy_Ellefson_Progression

Caveats

Notice how the chorus has a succession in the first phrase (I-vi-I-IV), but because I slipped in the V chord right at the end before returning to the I chord, this became a progression.

To make structural progressions work, we must clearly define the key of each section. The only way is with a chord progression, for if I were to play all the white keys on a piano, the music could either be C major or A minor, or even modal. It must be definitive.

This raises the problem of using progressions constantly when they are all very similar, which is why people avoid them in favor of successions. Still, it is possible to ignore progressions and then slip in the V-I or vii-I motion at the end of a phrase. Either that, or do it at the start of a section and then avoid it, such as the entrance to the solo.

Since structural progressions are less strict, a song does not have to conclude with a finished progression, or even maintain them within a song. Two sections can be related by key when no others are. The song above ends in E major, the key of V, but still feels over.

Coda

This approach can improve your songwriting and make you think of new paths for song development. The effect is often subtle, almost psychological, and yet helps retain a grip on your listener, something every composer wants. This technique and others can be heard throughout the songs on my album, The Firebard.

Interval Riffs, Part 1: Basics

Many guitarists use chords for rhythm guitar without considering another option: intervals. While a chord is three (or more) notes, an interval is only two. This might seem a trivial difference, but using just part of a chord lets you play intervals for specific reasons, and using only two fingers creates other more advanced possibilities. […]

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Interval Riffs, Part 2: Ornamentation

In a previous article, Interval Riff Basics, we looked at and heard examples of using only two notes, or intervals, for rhythm guitar parts. The two main intervals are fifth and thirds, with the latter adding more variety and color to your riffs. Now we’ll look at ornamenting these two basic sounds with melody fragments. […]

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Interval Riffs, Part 3: Simple Counterpoint

Counterpoint is defined as two or more simultaneous melodies that maintain their independence while still forming a harmonic relationship. A single instrument like classical guitar can perform counterpoint with three or four lines seeming like a single part. However, rock guitarists seldom do this for a variety of reasons, but that doesn’t mean it can’t […]

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Structural Chord Progressions

A good way to make songs more powerful and structurally sound is to use chord progressions not only within sections, but also across them. This creates a harmonic relationship between sections and adds to the sense of forward motion, tension and resolution, and overall strength. A change of section can feel more logical and expected, […]

0 comments

Writing Guitar Licks

I always prefer to write a new guitar lick instead of using a standard one, but since anyone can throw in a bunch of notes that don’t sound good, how do you write something fast, impressive (they must always be that, of course), and musical? Through experience, I’ve developed an approach. To do this, you’ll […]

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Feb 212015
 

Read Part 1 here.

Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:

  •   Knowing how to write variations
  •   Effective use of keys and more dynamic, sophisticated arrangements
  •   Writing multiple parts, including dual leads and harmony, more easily
  •   Significantly easier writing of lead guitar that is more melodic and does what you want
Writing Variations

An idea is the source of all artwork, and since a good idea is hard to come by, it’s smart to make the most out of each. This is central to classical composition technique, and one thing students learn is to find variations by studying the music. An entire five-minute piece can be written from a single idea less than one measure long.

Variation is all about retaining some element of the original idea while other elements are altered, keeping music fresh and yet familiar. The variation does not have to be recognizable as such, though it helps, but listeners of different astuteness will notice different things anyway. The most important thing is that if you made more music out of your idea, you have avoided adding a second idea to the piece just to finish the writing. That second idea could have been a song of its own. It is fine to write music based on two different ideas, and this “theme 1 vs. theme 2” approach is widespread, but both ideas are then used as a source of variations.

Cosmetic variations are simple and don’t involve manipulation of the material’s structure, which is why untrained musicians often opt for this approach. One example is changing the instrumentation, such as the singer performing the melody, and then the guitarist doing it verbatim. Even extreme changes in instrumentation by all band members, while effective, are cosmetic. Progressive metal bands excel at this.

Structural variations are typically more sophisticated and involve breaking down a musical idea into its component parts, such as its harmony, rhythm, and melody. The most important of these is the melody, which can be further divided into several smaller snippets called “motifs”. A motif is a short musical idea that is recognizable. A motif can be surrounded with different chords and keys, repeated at different pitches, and used as the basis for a new melody. The motif itself can also be varied, not simply repeated in different guises. This is an extensive subject to be covered in future articles.

Knowing how to write variations will not only make your music more compelling, but it can prolong your artistic life. Why waste ideas when you can mine the song for unexploited potential? How many bands sound like they’re out of ideas after three albums? Lead guitar ideas can often be derived from something within the riffs, too.

Dynamic Use of Keys

A key change can be a powerful thing – or it can be largely pointless. In classical music, keys are used to define structure, add tension in either subtle or obvious ways, and for variation. These ideas appear throughout a music curriculum but are most prominently studied in Musical Form class. Each classical form, such as a fugue, sonata, or minuet, is defined in part by its key changes, and while you might not want to write an allemande, for example, the harmonic ideas within such a piece can still be applied to other genres.

Defining Structure: Writing a verse in one key and the chorus in another helps distinguish the sections from each other. The average listener won’t be consciously aware of it, but it still affects them. Their sense of forward motion and the “You Are Here” feeling are stronger. Without key changes, a song may feel like it meanders. For two alternating sections of music, the most basic approach is derived from chord progressions and involves changing from I to V. In other words, if the verse is in A major (I), write the chorus in E major (V), so that when the verse (I) reappears, a V-I motion occurs. This is discussed in more detail in another article, Structural Chord Progressions.

Adding Tension: When a song remains in one key throughout, it goes nowhere harmonically. By contrast, a song with key changes feels more dynamic. The goal of chord progressions is to return to the home chord (I), which is why all progressions end with it. The goal of key changes is that, once left, the home key is a destination-in-waiting, and the desire for the original key to return adds tension. This is why it is used structurally, too. Another option is to surprise the listener with a more audible/noticeable key change. They may not understand what happened, but the jarring or colorful change adds drama. This is also discussed in Structural Chord Progressions.

Variation: Presenting the music in different keys makes it sound different because keys don’t sound the same. Switching between two major keys, or two minor ones, works easily, but going from major to minor (or vice versa) often works well, too. Which key depends on an understanding of related keys and how to use a progression to change keys, and personal preference. For example, from E major, some obvious options are E minor, B major, A major or minor, and C# minor. Each has structural implications, and knowing how to return to E major later brings things to a resounding close.

Every key falls on the guitar differently, opening up some possibilities and closing others. Adapting your theme to fit can cause subtle changes in how it sounds (this is especially true of riffs). Working in different keys also changes your thinking, keeping your perspective and your playing fresh.

Writing Multiple Parts

Guitarists enjoy cleverly written guitar parts, especially when there’s more than one at a time. Whether dual leads or layered rhythm guitars, writing such parts is much easier when you’re very familiar with the internal structure of chords and have studied counterpoint. Both subjects are taught intensely in a music curriculum.

“Part writing” in Music Theory class will make it clear that you can change chords simply by changing one pitch, not moving all of them. If you’re holding A, F, D (a D minor chord in 2nd inversion), you can drop the D to a C to create an F major chord (A, F, C) in 1st inversion. This might not sound like much, and as a single guitar part, it may not be enough change, but if this is an additional guitar part, such simple motions can make great secondary writing. If it’s a 3rd or even 4th guitar, the resulting sound can be rich, like this three-guitar and one bass example from my acoustic piece, “The Joys of Spring”. It works with distortion, too, not just acoustic guitars.

 

Another version of multi-part writing is having several distinct lines in addition to the rhythm guitar’s chords. This short clip from my song “Epic” demonstrates this with 5 guitar parts that enter one by one: the main riff, chords, a melody that becomes an ostinato, double-stops, the high E string, and finally a solo. This sort of writing is difficult without some training.

 

Dual or harmony lead guitar is much easier to understand as well. Classes in Music Theory, Counterpoint and Musical Form, with all the analysis and four-part writing, will make writing only two parts pretty easy by comparison. Playing a melody in strict 3rds is effortless, and writing two different melodies that work together (counterpoint), even over riffs that have melodies, too, is also more straightforward. Listen to this clip from my song “Journeys”, where two call-and-answer leads work over the riff melody.

 

Easier Writing of Lead Guitar

A classical guitar degree will have you knowing the notes below the 9th fret fluently, and this can (but may not) help you play better lead guitar lines. For it to help, you must be able to think about what you’re doing instead of playing by rote. This means abandoning the more common way of navigating the guitar neck for the second and more thoughtful way.

The more common approach among untrained musicians is to use scale patterns, chord shapes, and memorized fingerings to find your way. This helps players go everywhere on the neck, play the same thing in many keys just by moving the hand around, and compensates for unfamiliarity with the pitches. This is how most guitarists learn to play because we’re in it for fun at first. Why waste your time learning all those notes when there’s a shortcut? Because this can come back to haunt you later – as a crutch that prevents you from thinking about what you’re doing.

The second way is to navigate via the notes on the neck. Non-guitarists might be surprised to discover this isn’t how people do it, but old habits die-hard. Once you know the fingerings in E minor, it’s hard to ignore them and focus on which notes you’re holding, but there are reasons to change. Every pitch has a melodic and harmonic relationship to the root of the key (E in this case) and the other notes. For example:

You should be able to think, “I’ll play a D# because it’s the altered 7th of E minor, and it resolves up by step to the root if it’s in the outer voice, and it’s the major 3rd of the V chord in a V-I progression, which is what the riffs are doing in background. I’m on B major (V) now, and the next chord is E minor, so my next note should be E, even if only briefly. Maybe I’ll quickly move up to a G to emphasize the minor tonality of the key. Or maybe I’ll play a G#, making it sound like I’m in E major instead, though this will only work if the riff isn’t playing a G natural. Since the chord is an E5 voicing of E and B, though, it will work.” If all of this isn’t in the back (or front) of your mind before your finger lands on that D#, you are not playing by the notes on the neck.

It is not enough to be able to figure out what note you are playing at a given moment. You must have placed your finger at that spot because of its letter name and all the associated relevancies, but this won’t happen automatically even after a degree unless you change your thinking (how to do so is a subject for another article). Even so, this multitude of knowledge about what could be done with pitches, if utilized, will make you a far more melodic and powerful lead player.

Coda

A traditional four-year degree in classical guitar, or another music specialty, is extremely valuable to longevity, versatility, and overall effectiveness as a musician. This is true even for rock guitarists, but only if you are able to apply it to the rock genre. This requires some thought and ingenuity, and many of these subjects will be discussed in further detail in other articles. The techniques can be seen in virtually all of the music I write, some of which is available as a free download. The annotated tablature shows progressions, key changes, and variations, and comes with an explanation.  A Far Cry and download a separate PDF of the notes.

Be sure to read Part 1.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

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Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

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Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

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Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

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Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

0 comments

Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

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Feb 212015
 

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a rock player, classical player, and composer, and what you can do with the degree and knowledge after.

Since I did not attend schools like the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) or Berkelee, no comparison is being made here, but this does not reflect a bias.

My Background

My pre-college experience with rock guitar was typical in that I generally ignored theory. Even when taught to me, I had little use for it and quickly forgot it. Then I took some courses at the local junior college and found it interesting, but as a budding classical musician, not a rocker. It still seemed largely useless except modes and progressions.

After two years of classes, I finally succeeded in merging classical theory into my rock playing. This means embedding progressions, structural elements and key changes, theme and variation, and two and three-part writing (on a single guitar). It also made it much easier to write melodies and solos, and to achieve what I wanted. I was suddenly a much better guitarist and composer. Two years later I graduated with a Bachelors of Music in classical guitar, Magna Cum Laude.

Colleges: Junior Vs. Full
English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram

English: Music theory circle of fifths diagram (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Junior (or two-year) colleges are a good alternative to full four-year universities, for several reasons. They cost less, for one, but such schools are full of people who aren’t sure if the path they are pursuing is right for them. This makes it easier to change your mind and major. You can change specialties within the music curriculum or drop music altogether with less red tape. You don’t even have to follow the curriculum in order and can pick and choose courses, such as pursuing music theory but not ear training. Of course, if you become serious later, you will have some making up to do, but at least you can explore without committing. At some schools, you can even take music courses without being a music major. An audition may not be required, either.

At a four-year university, music teachers generally assume you are preparing for a future as a professional musician. There is more pressure and strict adherence to requirements. The caliber of musicians around you will be higher, but don’t assume the other students know so much more than you. Many know little about chord theory, modes, key changes, musical form, counterpoint, music history, and orchestration. Sure, there’s always that “violinist since age three guy”, but many started as teenagers and are as casual about it as you. This won’t be true at Juilliard, but the average school has average musicians, too. Don’t be intimidated. Remember, the whole point is to get educated. If they already know so much, why would they be there?

Prerequisites for Admission to Music College

This changes depending on the college, but four-year schools generally require an audition on your instrument regardless of what your major is (guitar, composition, music education, etc.) because they still want to know how good a musician you are. This is a stumbling block for rock guitarists, since a frequent requirement is to play three classical guitar pieces, one from each of the romantic, classical, and modern eras. You can’t go in there and play “Eruption”. One way around this is to start at a junior college, where an audition is often not required.

There is no prerequisite for reading music, so you can still be admitted if you can’t read at all. You’ll learn to read fluently during the constant music theory exercises and classes such as chorus, ear training, and your private guitar lessons, which provide no escape from the treble and bass clefs. With time, your ability to manipulate pitches will soar astronomically as a result.

During guitar lessons, you may have to memorize the music phrase by phrase. I did this for a long time and only used sheet music as a reminder of where I was in the piece. Your teacher will not expect you to simply start playing music put in front of you, even after 4 years. It’s just not realistic for most, though you will get faster. Guitar music is more challenging because the same notes can be played in different places, so you generally have to figure out what chord you’re going to be holding at every moment (the music does not have chord charts on it), which is one reason your instructor exists. Remember, you are there to learn, not to pretend you already know.

No knowledge of music theory or even the genre is assumed, and schools generally teach you from the ground up, from what a major chord is to who Beethoven was and where he fits in history.

Typical Curriculum

It can be safely said that the music curriculum neatly divides itself into the first two years and the last two years. One reason for this is that there are typically two years (four semesters) of music theory and ear training, which are basic courses along with class piano. You also have your private lesson (guitar) and large ensemble (chorus). The last two years are the more interesting and complicated courses: counterpoint, musical form, conducting, music history, and orchestration (guitar and chorus continuing). These are not the same everywhere, so check with the school.

Deutsch:

Deutsch: (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Music Theory is a general term that lumps together many subjects but is all the nuts and bolts of notes. It explains and demonstrates key signatures, time signatures, scales (and alternate versions called modes), intervals, chords, keys, modulation (key changes), music notation, and how to write simple two, three, and four-part harmony. It starts simple and continuously builds on its own knowledge. It is typically four semesters long and the first one can feel the most difficult not just because you’re starting, but because there’s more memorization and less practical “hands-on” application. In my experience, the second, third, and fourth semesters were more similar to each other, with increasingly complicated chords and key changes.

Ear Training and Sight Singing is the most feared course ever invented and goes on for four semesters. Welcome to your own personal “American Idol” experience. This course goes in parallel to music theory partly because as you learn about something in theory, you are now trained to recognize what it sounds like. The teacher will perform things on the piano, such as a scale, mode, interval, chord, melody, rhythm, or phrase of chords, and you’re expected to write down what it was accurately (after hearing it maybe three times). That’s the easy part. What frightens everyone is that you have to demonstrate that you know what a melody on paper sounds like by singing it from your desk while everyone listens. Don’t worry, you normally get to practice as much as two-dozen melodies outside of class. The saving grace here is that everyone is as petrified as you, and this is how freshmen music students bond. Misery loves company. To practice, it is advisable to work with a piano, which is one reason you’re taking class piano.

Class Piano is usually required because it’s expected that all music professionals will have at least a passing familiarity with how to play a piano. It can be one or two years. You are generally in a room full of other players, each with your own electric piano that you can’t hear unless you put on the headphones. You won’t be expected to play great piano music, but if you think that’s a relief, consider this: you’ll probably end up playing stuff like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” harmonized with a couple chords. If you find this as horrible as I did, you may opt for private piano lessons, which while harder on the hands, is kinder on your soul. You’ll need permission, however, and possibly an audition. You may also have to face a performance “jury” as described below.

Playing guitar

Playing guitar (Photo credit: hugochisholm)

Guitar is the heart of your degree, so you’ll have an hour-long private lesson with your classical guitar teacher for four years. You’ll learn technique, exercises, etudes, and representative pieces of the classical guitar repertoire from the 16th-century to today. It gets harder and more demanding as you progress. At the end of each semester, you’ll face a “jury”: three faculty members who have a list of what pieces and exercises you are prepared to play. For ten minutes, they can make you play anything off the list. There are other performance requirements, such as a solo junior recital (30 minutes), a solo senior recital (60 minutes), and a small ensemble performance (such as a four movements sonata with at least one other performer). One of the greatest advantages here is that you will learn the notes on the guitar neck, at least below the ninth fret, fluently.

Chorus (Large Ensemble): As a guitarist, for your large ensemble requirement, you will be thrown into the college chorus for four years because the orchestra doesn’t have a place for you. The college chorus is made up of voice majors, theater majors, and “the others”: people who either don’t play an orchestral instrument well enough to be in the orchestra, or whose instrument won’t be in the orchestra very often (such as a harpist or even piano majors). Through practice, it is relatively easy to sing even complicated music at the same time as a group. The voice teachers seldom single out “the others” to sing alone. They know who you are and have some mercy, but they do expect to see you trying and gradually succeeding.

Variacija1

Variacija1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Counterpoint is two or more independent melodies and is often two different semesters: vocal or 16th-century counterpoint, which is different from instrumental or 18th-century counterpoint. You may only have to take the latter, which is more relevant. The four-part writing you did in music theory helped prepare you for this. There are rules for how the “voices” can move, and it gets harder as you reach three and four-part counterpoint. You will likely have to write things like a canon, invention, or fugue, though they only have to be technically correct, not musically enjoyable. Of great importance here is learning to spot variations on the theme through analysis of written music. If you’re a composer, seeing how the greats did this will greatly augment your ability to create more material out of your original idea. This is one of the most valuable things to gain from a music degree.

Musical Form explains the internal structure of all those things you’ve heard about: canon, fugue, sonata, symphony, and so on. These are larger scale structures that are made up of many smaller forms, all the way down to the phrase. Naturally, you start learning the simple ones and work your way up. These structures are defined by chord progressions, key changes, and variations. The elements of these structures can be used in rock music without the musical form itself, and can be extremely useful.

Conducting will give you an appreciation of the conductor’s job in training an orchestra to perform to his interpretation, but won’t help you much.

Music History is condensed into two semesters for an overview and frame of reference for everything you’re learning. You’ll listen to a lot of music so you understand what music of various periods sounds like. This is less technical, and on the level of personal enrichment, is possibly the most rewarding course. Now when you hear a snippet of classical music somewhere, you know it sounded like a Beethoven symphony, and what the significance of that music is, not to mention that if you wanted to hear the whole thing, you at least stand a prayer of finding a CD of it.

Orchestration will certainly challenge your reading ability. There are at least twelve staffs and three clefs, plus transposing instruments (the note on the page might say C, but it’s really a B flat). You’ll learn the instrument ranges and how to orchestrate for each group (strings, woodwinds, brass) and combine them. This may help not your rock music, except for seeing how material can be spread across multiple instruments, but will change the way you hear symphonies. You may have to orchestrate something and get to hear the school orchestra play it. You may even get to conduct it yourself.

A Better Rocker?
Music Theory Notes-e4

Music Theory Notes-e4

For a rock guitarist, there are so many benefits to a music degree that this section became a second article titled Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2. This is a second major focal point aside from the content of a typical music degree. These benefits in the next article include:

  •   Knowing how to write variations
  •   Effective use of keys
  •   Writing multiple parts, including dual leads and harmony more easily
  •   More sophisticated arranging of guitar parts
  •   Being able to create much more emotional, complicated, or sophisticated music
  •   Significantly easier writing of lead guitar that is more melodic and does what you want it to
After College

Some think that the only point of a degree it to later get a job, especially in that field. While this is true in the practical sense, you are an artist, too, and if you never hold a music related day job again, you can still benefit enormously from your training. How many other fields can claim that?

Still, possible jobs include composing, arranging (orchestration), performing paid gigs (such as weddings), and teaching private lessons. To teach at any formal institution such as high school or college, you’ll need a music education degree instead of a classical guitar one. If you want to teach college level courses, you’ll need a master’s degree and probably a doctorate, but positions are rare due to the tenure of existing music professors. Many working musicians hold multiple jobs and have little job security, so if this isn’t for you, what then?

That’s where working in another field comes in, a prospect that leads many to snidely claim a music degree is useless, but this is nonsense. For starters, a degree is a degree. You’ve still proven to prospective employers that you’re mature enough to see it through. Don’t discount this. It’s important. Do you think people go to college just to have specified knowledge? They don’t. Many people change careers several times throughout their lives and don’t have a degree in the field in which they are now working. The fact that you’ve got a degree can be actually more important than what the degree is in, and if nothing else in college appeals to you, a music degree is far better than no degree at all.

Coda

People like to make fun of music degrees, but at the risk of being ridiculed, I’m very proud of my degree, my experience, my musical knowledge, my understanding of a truly specialized field that few understand (which makes me feel quite privileged and lucky), and most importantly, that I am able to do one of my most cherished things in my life so much better than before. I was always surprised when other music students complained about their music classes when I took more music courses than required. Maybe I’m just a geek (yes, I did do the extra credit stuff), but I thought the details of music were fascinating. I had always been an average student, but my love of music made me graduate with honors. And yes, it is an honor, one that I wear on my sleeve, thank you very much.

Be sure to read Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2.

Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 1

Whether a musician, author, or other artist, we’ve all received feedback on our work.  Obtaining meaningful feedback is an art all its own.  Sometimes we have to work at it, deciphering comments to figure out what someone means, so I’ve written some observations about this, with examples. Defining Helpful Feedback First we should define what […]

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Evaluating Artist Feedback, Part 2

This is part two of the blog about evaluating feedback on your writing or other artistic pursuits. Read part 1 here. Biased Feedback A person giving negative feedback can be biased in some way. We can sometimes tell from their words. I have some examples here: A CD reviewer once slammed my instrumental guitar CD, […]

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Got Tendonitis? What To Do

Like most guitarists, I never thought I’d get tendonitis, not to mention several times. One side effect is that, since launching my music career, I’ve fielded hundreds of questions about it. These range from how to avoid it, diagnose it, get treatment (and from whom), do home therapy, and continue with playing – and more […]

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Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 1

Many guitar players learn music theory and consider a degree in music, but wonder what they will gain from a traditional four-year degree and whether it’s worth it. The answer isn’t the same for everyone, but here’s what I can tell you about prerequisites, what you’ll learn, what the experience is good for as a […]

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Music Degrees and Rock Guitarists, Part 2

Read Part 1 here. Earning a traditional four-year degree in music, and specifically classical guitar, can make guitarists better at rock music, but it usually takes some effort to transport what you’ve learned from the classical concert hall to the rock arena. The possible benefits to this education include:   Knowing how to write variations […]

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Musicians and the Etiquette of Not Being Paid

Sometimes musicians are asked to perform without being paid, whether live or on an album.  The request can come from a venue, other bands, or musicians, and can stipulate (or not) what they get instead. I can’t address every situation here but can give some perspective on what is okay and not okay to say […]

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