Advising Students on Majoring in Music

A Little Nudge Can Do Them Good

By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl 

This article was originally published in the October 2019 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.

“You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose.”~ Dr. Seuss


Throughout high school, my interests and talents were leading me towards a musical career. However, I thought my career goals would lead in a different direction at the onset of adulthood. So, as a saxophone player, I participated in very few additional studies beyond my primary instrument. I was encouraged to study piano and voice to diversify my musical training, but I was stubborn, protested, and hadn’t given much more thought to music beyond high school. However, after transferring universities and switching from a business to a music major, I suffered through aural studies and piano technique. Looking back, I wish I had broadened my musical preparations and researched more musical opportunities within higher education towards a career path.

careers guidance counselor advising students | sturti


As a parent and music educator, I now realize the significance of advising students and their families on options beyond high school, specifically when contemplating music as a major. This counsel should include a positive attitude and prevalent information regarding current professional trends, collegiate requirements, and preparatory practices. An overview of assorted programs, institutions, scholarships, and funding is ideal, too. A diverse perspective of the options available to a potential music major is essential to the decision-making process.

What are we as music educators, specifically those at the secondary level, doing to enhance students’ decisions to major in music? Are we communicating to our students and their families the positive and productive opportunities available at the collegiate and professional levels? How are we informing students that they are a candidate for musical success? What information are we sharing with those students who demonstrate an interest in music? How are we guiding them to pursue music as a major? When are we choosing to have these forthright discussions? In what arena are we choosing to do so? Who are we including in these conversations? And, what resources and support are we providing?

One simple online search of the phrase “want to be a music major” leads to a handful of online and printed materials—specifically articles, books, videos, and websites entirely geared toward this subject. There are guidelines and suggested steps for students, educators, counselors, and parents to examine, prepare, apply, and transition from high school to college as a music major. In addition, specific attitudes, knowledge base, and required skills necessary to seriously consider the option to major in music are provided.

Mother helping daughter fill out College Applications in the Kitchen | SDI Productions


In my case, I didn’t follow through on suggestions to study piano and voice which could have simplified my transition from secondary education to collegiate learning. For some teenagers, the discussion occurs too late in the game to adequately prepare for a smooth transition. And, for others, as unfortunate as it is, students are often steered clear of majoring in music by those who are expected to advise without bias and judgement.

Consider these effective strategies when advising students to major in music:

1. Create

Consider creating a presentation for students and their families about the options, process, and application available to those interested in majoring in music. This can be a fantastic way to bring students and their parents together to receive the information simultaneously. From the lens of a parent, this idea can be a phenomenal resource for unchartered waters.

Two close colleagues* of mine offer a presentation geared toward secondary high school students interested in pursuing music in college. The families of the students are strongly encouraged to attend, too. Having previously served as feeder band directors, one at the middle school and the other at the high school levels, these two educators collaboratively guided a former student and her parent on the necessary steps to prepare, apply, and embark as a music major. After receiving such tremendous support, the parent suggested that the two educators create an educational talk. They took the parent’s suggestion and entitled the presentation, “So, You Want to Major in Music?” Since 2007, each year they locally provide this presentation on the Monday prior to Thanksgiving where they examine majors and careers in music, the process of selecting the institution that works best for the student, financial aid, and more. 

2. Collaborate

Venture outside of your music department to collaborate with other educators and leaders in your building who are influential in guiding students’ career paths. Schedule a meeting with these people, specifically the guidance counselor, to discuss how each of you can best serve students who may pursue the arts beyond high school. Offer possible courses, majors, scholarships, institutions, and positions that can best inform students with this aspiration. Check-in frequently with these colleagues to inquire which students may have explored a musical option. Collaborating with other influential figures in a student’s life allows the child to feel supported, encouraged, accepted, and excited about a possible musical path.

This collaboration can even begin at the elementary or middle school level when a child’s schedule may not immediately allow for a music course to be included. I have been amazed at how quickly and easily a student’s schedule can be altered to include a performing arts course once I, the music educator, take the time to share with the guidance counselor the musical engagement, skill, or knowledge of the identified student.

3. Connect

Never miss an opportunity to connect with students and families regarding an interest or passion for music. If you foresee a particular skill set in specific students or detect an enthusiasm beyond your classroom, communicate these observations and evaluations to both the students and their families. Don’t assume students or caregivers recognize these particular aptitudes. On the flip side, if you sense a negative connotation from families regarding students’ intended career paths, particularly with music, intercede in a cautious and compassionate way.

4. Contribute

Be certain your community views your passion for music. Share with your students and their families the remarkable opportunities you have been provided through the arts. Always speak, write, and conduct yourself in a manner that proves your musical path was beneficial, educational, and rewarding.

College consultant assisting student girl | SeventyFour


If students are showing interest in a career in music, steer them in an informative direction. A little nudge can spark students’ desires to transform music from passion to profession.

*Special thanks to M. Joseph Fischer and Andrew B. Spang for sharing an overview of their presentation. They can be contacted at:,

About the author:

band directorLori Schwartz Reichl is an author, educator, and consultant. Visit her at

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The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.

August 4, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (

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August 4, 2020


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August 4, 2020. © National Association for Music Education (

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