In my sophomore year of college I started taking classical guitar lessons and briefly considered switching my major to Music Performance (I was a Business Administration major). However, my college guitar instructor gave me what I believe was sage advice: don’t. I was more than a little surprised when my primary interface with the Music department was steering me away from majoring in Music Performance. He went on to explain why.
First a little background. The university I attended had three music degrees: Performance, Theory and Composition, and Education. My career goals at the time were fairly simplistic: I wanted to play guitar for a living. The logical major, then, was Music Performance, the major that would allow me to spend the most time playing guitar in school. Classical guitarists have essentially three career paths. A select few classical guitarists become concert guitarists touring the world playing solo or with an ensemble. If that doesn’t work out, you can make a pretty good living playing weddings and other special events. Or, you can become a music educator and teach future musicians. Each of these are respectable career paths. Many guitarists do a combination of the last two and are music educators and perform at special events.
What my guitar instructor illuminated was that neither of the career paths available to performing guitarists (concert touring or special events) require a college degree. That is, if you’re an elite guitarist, you’ll be able to get gigs regardless of whether you have a college degree. Instead, my guitar teacher recommended that if I want to major in music, I should major in Theory and Composition or Music Education. Note that some schools offer additional music majors, such as a major in Music Business. As an aside, I ended up not changing my major for various reasons, but, in hindsight, I feel like my guitar teacher’s advice was sound. Majoring in one of these other majors provides a “fall-back plan” if you aren’t able to make a career out of performing music. In his book Practicing, Glenn Kurtz illustrates how he spent all of his college career preparing to become a concert guitarist only to find out that the career didn’t work out as he had hoped. What a discouraging realization that must have been!
I certainly don’t want to discourage anyone who has a dream of being a concert guitarist. Go for it! However, I would encourage you to be pragmatic in your college major selection and choose a music major that is not entirely focused on musical performances. I think that doing so will reap rewards in your career and will provide you with additional options in the event that your dream career turns out to be a nightmare.