Frequently Asked Questions
The following page contains a list of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) often posed by students, parents, and the general public regarding NASM’s work with music in higher education.
1. What role does NASM play in education?
The major responsibility of the National Association of Schools of Music is the accreditation of education programs in music, including the establishment of curricular standards and guidelines for specific degrees and credentials.
The Association also provides counsel and assistance to established and developing institutions and programs. NASM is recognized by the United States Department of Education as the agency responsible for the accreditation of all music curricula.
In addition to the accreditation and consultation functions of the Association, NASM publishes documents and reports, holds an annual meeting and other forums, and provides information to the general public about educational programs in music.
NASM works with other peer accrediting associations such as the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAE), Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and the AACSB International — The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) as well as professional associations affiliated with music and related areas such as College Music Society (CMS) and National Association for Music Educators (NAfME, formerly MENC), the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA), and the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA).
NASM participates in the national conversation about educational issues with special emphases on music, the arts, and higher education.
2. Does NASM rank schools?
NASM accredits institutions located throughout the United States. To be an accredited member of NASM, an institution must demonstrate to peer reviewers that it meets and maintains basic threshold standards outlined in the NASM Handbook. Thus, NASM institutional Membership provides an assurance that each accredited institution has implemented all standards of the Association applicable to the music programs it offers.
Although the Association provides a list of accredited institutional members that have met its published standards, it, like all other accrediting bodies, does not rank institutions or programs.
Rankings can be useful in a variety of contexts. However, it should be understood that rankings usually represent a compilation of subjective opinions about an institution’s past achievements rather than an in-depth review of its total capacity for quality work. When considering the results of any ranking, it is important to know who was asked what, by whom, and for what purpose. Further, institutions vary widely in their purposes and priorities. Rankings that attempt to cover a broad range of institutions or programs may be comparing apples and oranges. The best schools appearing on any particular list thus may or may not be the best schools for the development of a particular individual.
3. What does accreditation mean?
Accreditation is a non-governmental system of academic review. It is a process which periodically evaluates and produces an independent judgment by peers about the extent to which an institution or program achieves its own educational objectives and meets the standards established by an Association. Standards address operational and curricular issues fundamental to educational quality.
The granting of accredited membership by an accreditation commission signifies that an institution has successfully demonstrated compliance with the procedures, standards, and guidelines of the Association. Integral to this voluntary process is ongoing, regularized self-evaluation and peer review.
Accreditation, in practical terms, is a stamp of approval; a sign that an institution ascribes to, believes in, and has met an external set of basic criteria for the programs it offers. In some cases, accreditation assists in the transfer of credits from one institution to another. In all cases, it indicates that threshold standards are adhered to in a fashion that provides a base of academic strength and operational integrity.
4. What standards are used for accreditation?
The standards are developed and approved by the accredited institutional members of NASM in consultation with other music professionals and organizations. As published in the Handbook of the Association, they provide a basic framework for the accreditation process, thus allowing objective analysis of a music unit including all curricular offerings in music. They serve as the basis for dialogue (a) within an institution as it prepares a self-study in preparation for an NASM review, (b) between an institution and the Association (the visiting evaluators and the Commissions), and (c) between the Association and the public as a whole.
The Association does not attempt to develop detailed formulas, plans of course work, or other inflexible specifications, which might impinge on the freedom of an institution to develop individual programs. Instead, NASM has developed standards and associated guidelines, which are specific enough to ensure a certain level of educational quality, but are not so restrictive as to stifle experimentation, innovation, and individuality of program content.
The NASM Handbook contains standards and guidelines for degree-granting programs in music in the following areas:
- Basic Criteria for Membership
- Purposes and Operations
- Music Program Components
- Undergraduate Programs in Music
- Admission to Undergraduate Study
- Two-Year Degree-Granting Programs
- The Liberal Arts Degree with a Major in Music
- All Professional Baccalaureate Degrees in Music and All Undergraduate Degrees
Leading to Teacher Certification
- Specific Professional Baccalaureate Degrees in Music
- Graduate Programs in Music
- Admission to Graduate Study
- Master’s Degrees
- The General Master’s Degree
- Specific Master’s Degrees
- Specialist Programs
- Doctoral Degrees in Music
NASM has also developed standards and guidelines for community college, non-degree-granting, and community education music programs.
5. Must all schools be accredited?
No. Accreditation in the United States is voluntary. It is the prerogative of an institution to seek accreditation from NASM. However, the United States Secretary of Education requires that institutions as a whole maintain accreditation from a recognized institutional agency in order to be eligible to participate in Title IV funding programs. This connection, in some cases, makes NASM accreditation a necessity for an independent school of music.
Beyond these issues, holding accredited status indicates that an institution or program takes a particular approach to academic citizenship. It signifies:
- that objective, external peer review is accepted and welcomed.
- that standards, procedures, and guidelines agreed to by peer institutions representing the field as a whole are in place and serving the students enrolled.
- that published threshold standards are adhered to in a fashion that provides a continuous base of academic strength and operational integrity.
- that there is a long-term commitment to participate with and support other institutions in maintaining and developing the quality of music instruction throughout the nation.
For these and other reasons, large numbers of institutions and programs seek, acquire, and maintain NASM accreditation.
6. Is institution XYZ accredited by NASM?
A searchable listing of accredited institutional members may be found under Directory Lists: Accredited Institutional Members.
7. Can I get a list of institutional accredited members of NASM?
NASM maintains an online Directory of accredited institutional members.
8. Which schools offer a specific type of degree or program?
It is an institution’s prerogative to decide which curricular offerings it will make available to students. In many cases, institutions work with state boards of higher education to ensure that sufficient offerings are available.
NASM does not recommend or favor the offering of one curricular program over another. It does, however, review all programmatic offerings in music to ascertain if each one and all constituent parts meet the standards and guidelines of the Association.
There are at least two ways to find out what curricular programs are being offered by accredited institutional members, first, the institution’s own catalog, and second, the NASM Directory.
An institution’s catalog should be sought directly from the institution.
9. How do I discover which schools are best for me?
The easiest way to discover which school is best for you is to have a general idea of what characteristics you are looking for in an institution and what you are interested in studying. Once these issues have been decided, the remainder of the task should be focused on research, study, and the process of elimination.
Each institution of higher education typically publishes catalogs and other documents of valuable and informative material ranging from campus size to student life, from curricular offerings to course descriptions. Usually, these publications are readily available from an institution’s admissions office.
For the reasons noted under FAQ #2 (Does NASM rank schools?), it is important to develop an in-depth knowledge of ranking systems, and the parameters used by those ranking and the reasons for the actual ranking. Make sure those areas ranked are those that are important and apply to you. A school at the top of a particular chart may not, by this indicator alone, be a perfect match for you. Learn about an institution. Study what it has to offer and how effectively it delivers education in your particular area of interest. Talk with musicians you know and respect, with recent graduates, with those who work professionally in your area of career interest. Look for matches between (a) your personality and goals, and (b) the institution’s environment, approaches to learning, artistic agenda, and corporate culture.
Try to visit campuses. Typically, institutions will provide informative tours for prospective students and their parents. These tours should provide a sense of the institution as well as an opportunity to pose questions and have them answered face-to-face by administrators, faculty, and/or students. Most music programs require auditions for entrance or placement. Whether held on campus or at an off-site location, auditions provide another opportunity to learn about the institution.
Approached without a plan, college hunting can be daunting. Approached with a plan, it should be an intellectual fact-finding mission that leaves the potential student with several positive choices and potential matches.
10. How do I apply for admission to a music school?
Applications for admission to music schools can only be made directly with the institution. Typically, a potential student will need to fill out an application form providing information such as high school course work taken, grades achieved, extracurricular activity involvement, etc. In addition, music schools normally wish to hear a performance and/or schedule an audition.
Students are encouraged to speak directly with admission counselors and music unit representatives in order to ascertain all information needed to complete an institution’s application process.
For a list of accredited institutional members, see Directory Lists: Accredited Institutions.
11. How do I get a loan, grant, and/or scholarship to a school?
Loans, grants, and scholarships may be available from a variety of sources. NASM does not offer students any type of financial assistance. Contact should be made directly with the source of assistance.
Typically, institutions and the federal government offer different types of loans, grants, and/or scholarships. Questions regarding institutional financial aid should be directed to an institution’s financial aid office. Questions regarding federal student aid may also be posed to the institution’s financial aid office as well as to the student financial aid office of the federal government.
Banks typically are a good source of financial aid assistance in the form of low interest loans. Some investigation and comparative shopping of interest rates in this area may provide useful information.
In addition, private scholarship money is made available annually for reasons such as need, area of study, place of residence, etc. Information which speaks to various and possible sources of aid may be found online and through appropriate library resources.
12. What should I know about financial aid?
National Financial Aid Protocols for Music Students Beginning a Degree or Diploma Program
- You are always free to seek information about the programs of any institution at any time. You are free to attend the institution of your choice. However, good citizenship in the music community means using these freedoms responsibly and ethically.
- If you accept admission with talent-based financial aid, please consider your decision carefully. You have important responsibilities to yourself, to other musicians, and to all institutions that teach music.
- Take time to consider all admission offers carefully, and be sure about your final choice.
- Accept at only one institution. Agreeing to attend more than one institution may harm other music students who are denied the place reserved for you.
- Plan to make your final choice as soon as feasible.
- When you make a commitment to attend an institution that grants you talent-based financial aid, you are agreeing to: 1) contribute your talent and effort to the education and development of other musicians by participating in ensembles, classes, productions, and the like; and 2) occupy a place and receive financial support that could have been given to another musician.
- If you make a commitment to attend and do not keep it, 1) the education of other music students can be adversely affected because you are not participating in various aspects of the program and there is no one to replace you, 2) the scholarship funding you were promised is not available to other students who sought it, and 3) the scholarship award reserved for you can be transferred to a student in a field other than music, thus harming the music school or department this year, and possibly in the future.
Pursue admission responsibly and ethically, considering the effect your actions may have on other students and the institutions which may extend offers of aid to you.
- Once you have made your decision, inform the single institution that you have selected of your acceptance. Inform all other institutions that have offered you admission that you are rejecting their offers. Make these notifications as soon as you have made a final decision about the institution you wish to attend.
- An institution may not ask you for a deposit or a commitment to attend as a condition of placing you on a wait list.
- Once you are pursuing a degree program, it is not ethical for any institution or any of its personnel to recruit you unless you will complete your intended program of study prior to the time of transfer.
- Remember, you may seek information about the programs of any institution at any time, and the institution may respond to your inquiry. You are free to attend the institution of your choice at any time you are accepted, as long as certain institutional protocols associated with talent-based financial aid are observed.
- Your considerations, choices, and commitments are important to you and to the field of music. Make them carefully and with full consideration of other student musicians who will join you in shaping the field during your lifetime. By following the steps outlined above, you can achieve your own goals and help others achieve theirs as well. Working together is natural to musicians, and when applied to areas in addition to performance, it strengthens the field to the benefit of all.
13. Are there timelines associated with the acceptance of scholarship offers?
Yes, there can be timelines associated with the acceptance of scholarship aid. Specific information should be sought from each institution directly.
As always, the pool of financial aid applicants far exceeds the availability of funds. Students should be advised that the acceptance of a second and better offer as the school year approaches may leave an institution with an empty chair for the year, the loss of a scholarship line in the budget, and an inability to attract with aid offers other excellent students. Inherent in this Code of Ethics is an implicit code of honor for both institutions and students. The understanding and practice of this principle hopefully will maximize for all students the small pool of dollars available.
Students considering offers of financial aid should consider carefully the “National Financial Aid Protocols for Music Students Beginning a Degree or Diploma Program” outlined in FAQ #12 above.
14. Am I required to articulate an agreement?
At an appropriate point in time, a mutual commitment in writing may be made between a student and institution. Any such mutual agreement must clearly state the nature of the commitment and obligations they impose on administration, faculty members, students, and all other parties involved, as well as, the schedules for their implementation, the condition under which such commitments may be released by any or all parties, and the institutional offices responsible for the areas addressed in the commitment statement.
15. Will my prospective school accept transfer credits from my previous school?
Although one of the main reasons the accreditation system was formed almost 140 years ago was to establish more uniform methods of granting credit, accreditation alone does not ensure that an institution will accept transfer credits.
It is each institution’s prerogative to accept the disposition and number of academic credits earned at other institutions. Usually, the transfer of credits is agreed to on a case-by-case basis depending upon the institution attended, the courses taken, and the course content. In some cases, a satisfactory audition or examination score is necessary before credit will be transferred. Students wishing to transfer credits from one institution to another should pose inquiries regarding acceptable practice to the transferring institution, ideally before the transfer process commences.
Normally, admissions officers are authorized to clarify the policies and procedures of the institution. Keep in mind that all institutions do not handle the transfer of credit in the same fashion. Specific information should be requested from each institution to which you may transfer.
Students at community colleges intending to transfer to four year institutions should get a list of articulation (transfer) agreements the community colleges maintain with other institutions, or inquire at the beginning of the freshman year regarding the transfer requirements and policies of institutions to which the student may transfer.
16. In NASM’s experience, what are the most important things to do in making applications to music schools?
- Sharpen your focus: decide what you would like to study. List specifics regarding conditions and environments you seek; prioritize your requirements.
- Start your inquiry process in enough time to collect the information you will need to make informed choices based on your decisions and priorities.
- Design questions that will help you to find out if an institution offers what you seek.
- Acquire and study published information available from institutions that interest you.
- Ask questions of people at institutions and in your community.
- Prepare to meet audition and entrance requirements.
- Visit institutions. Meet potential major teachers. Consider all factors. Include your possibilities for artistic and intellectual growth.
- Understand your commitments and responsibilities if you enroll.
- Enjoy the process. Consider it a voyage of discovery.
17. What is the relationship among giftedness, arts study, and work?
Most students considering an arts major in college are considered gifted by parents, friends, and teachers. What does giftedness mean, and how does it relate to the future? This short text explores relationships among giftedness, studies in higher education, and eventual work in art and design, dance, music, theatre, or some other field.
A longer, more in-depth version of this text is available (see bottom of the page for more information).
What is giftedness in general?
The field of human action is vast, interconnected, and continuously expanding. This field contains many areas: the arts, business, science, the humanities, sports, and politics, to name a few. While most people have the capacity to gain basic access to all areas of human action, almost everyone is more gifted in one or more areas and less so in others. In general, giftedness is a recognized talent, propensity, or ability that is higher than average in a particular area of human action.
What is giftedness in the arts?
Individuals with natural abilities in one or more of the art forms are said to be gifted in dance, music, theatre, or the visual arts. Such giftedness is not easily hidden. It seeks to reveal itself through some form of expression. As interest inspires study and work, individual results continuously demonstrate the depth of giftedness.
What does being gifted mean for life and work?
As already suggested, work is carried on across the whole field of human creativity and action. Each area uses particular habits of mind, subject matter, and processes to make its particular contribution.
Since the field of human action is so vast, each component area so complex, and connections among areas next to infinite, it is important to focus on what is unique about individual people before focusing on learning, learning before focusing on the arts, the arts before focusing on careers, and careers before focusing on jobs.
It is essential to remember that the particular order and priority of things that individuals love to do and have talent for is a direct reflection of who each person is as a unique human being. This is a starting point for connecting giftedness to life and work.
What changes giftedness into professional ability?
Inborn talent or giftedness is not enough. Education and learning enable each person’s gifts and affinities to be developed to the fullest extent in as many areas as possible. Giftedness must be nurtured by study, practice, and personal development if it is to function professionally in any area of human action. In all disciplines, including the arts, this means significant effort to build knowledge and skills.
It also means sharpening the intelligences associated with that area. In the arts, this involves developing abilities to work fluently and creatively in the special logic and expression of particular art forms: competence in speech and mathematical logics must be joined by those enabling communication through movement and gesture, music, or the visual arts.
Does giftedness mean automatic success and greatness?
Not necessarily. Not even with work. Giftedness should not be confused with greatness and success. Few individuals can truly be called “great.” Greatness is not the only, or even the most important, criterion for success. Just as for every J.P. Morgan there are thousands of successful bankers, financiers, and brokers; for every Beethoven, Rembrandt, Shakespeare, or Graham, there are thousands of successful and effective arts professionals. This point is important because greatness and success are regularly confused when assessing careers and jobs in the arts.
Just as there is a range of giftedness across the many areas on the field of human action, there is also a range of giftedness within areas such as the arts. Giftedness is extremely complex; thus, to be gifted, even supremely gifted, in an art form may not be enough for success, much less greatness, unless it is carried along by personal attributes that shape and guide it in productive ways. We have already mentioned willingness to work as one of these attributes; however, there are many others and it is all but impossible to plan their presence and use in advance. As is true in all professions, giftedness, capability, and personal attributes play against changing contexts of values, culture, and other conditions in the environments of specific individuals. For this reason alone, learning and skills development are lifetime tasks.
How do the arts work as professions?
The arts occupy significant territory on the field of human action. They are multi-billion dollar enterprises. They require vast numbers of talented, creative, and hard-working people. Individuals educated and trained as artists work in both commercial and not-for-profit settings. Some have executive and corporate responsibilities, some function in ensembles or on teams, others work alone. The basic components are creation and performance, education, and various support enterprises such as management, public relations, and fundraising. It is not unusual for an individual to cross these boundaries regularly.
Most of the time, work is obtained and sustained through demonstration of capability. While this is true in all professions, the arts rely more on auditions, portfolio reviews, articles, and management track records than certificates, licenses, degrees, or other indicators. The arts require professional specialists in other fields such as law, accounting, politics, and marketing. Indeed, basic conditions and services associated with any enterprise are also associated with the arts. At the same time, different arts professions exhibit different patterns of action and development. It is important to understand those patterns for the particular branch of the arts an individual wishes to pursue.
How do I know if I am gifted enough to work in an arts field? Will my educational experiences help me decide?
Remember that there is more to the arts than the “big time,” that there is a need for personal integrity, artistic goodness, and success in a broad range of professions as well as for greatness. Remember that giftedness indicates something higher than average, and that the level of engagement reveals the extent of giftedness. Institutions of higher learning that care deeply about quality and comprehensiveness, and are dedicated to the present and future well-being of each student have developed standards and expectations whereby students will come to understand relationships between the extent of their giftedness and the demands of work that draws on that giftedness.
What are my chances for the “big time”?
Small. As is true in all fields, “big time” is less important than “all the time.” The most critical thing is a steady flow of work and service in a good workplace. The “big time” comes–sometimes at once, more often gradually–to that very small percentage of people who benefit from a combination of remarkable proficiencies, good fortune, connections, and fortuitous timing. As is true with other fields, the arts world–the greater percentage of it–is filled with highly gifted, imaginative, productive people who have come to learn that fame, as desirable as it might be, has little to do with the nature of art, and that artistic goodness, creative integrity, service to others, and fulfillment can take place anywhere and at any level of recognition.
What is education supposed to do for me?
Education in any field is focused on developing the knowledge and skills requisite for work in that field. It also involves gaining the ability to make connections among a vast array of learnable things and to combine knowledge and skills in a variety of areas into useful tools for life and career. A good education is one that assumes the ultimate precedence of wisdom over knowledge, and knowledge over information. While encouraging steady inquiry and skill development in a specific disciplinary area of study, a good education further assumes the importance of synthesis over separation and career preparation over job training. Engagement with an education that inquires into how things are made, how they work, how they can be taken apart and reconstructed, how they can be intelligently explained, and how they interact provides access to means of creative thought, clear expression, further inquiry, and capacity to use giftedness, capabilities, and aspirations effectively. Most successful arts professionals are educated in this way. They have broad interests and multiple capacities that go beyond the particular nature of their work. Thus, they are able to balance the highest levels of professional competence with general understanding.
I am not sure which college major to pursue because I feel I have multiple talents or gifts. How can I decide what to do?
It is only natural that individuals should choose that which attracts them; that which seems to command their interest and time; in short, that which they love the most. What each of us loves is usually an indicator of the unique way in which we are “put together,” of what our mission or sense of direction is. When considering vocations and a future life of work, it is important to avoid the trap of selecting and isolating those studies which may apply only to a specific vocational future, especially if that future is not clearly and deeply understood. It is far more prudent to be widely prepared than to be limited to a skill marketable only at graduation. There is a strategic difference between being vocationally trained and comprehensively educated.
Students who have studied in-depth what they love, and mastered it along with its connections to other areas of study and work are ready for far more futures and career venues than the name of their disciplinary major or any of its related subparts suggest.
What more can be said about majors and preparation for work?
It is by no means uncommon for a student educated and trained in dance, music, theatre, or the visual arts to seek and find multiple career paths outside of the arts. This is not because arts-related jobs are necessarily scarce (some are, some aren’t), but because arts graduates of the kind described above are diversely capable people. What’s more, the desire to make things artistically, or to bring that combination of creativity and intellect we call artistry to whatever is undertaken vocationally, never really goes away because artistic giftedness always insists on revealing itself, whatever the nature of the work at hand.
If I major in the arts, am I prepared to do anything else?
Yes. Serious study of any arts discipline develops creativity, increases intellectual skill, and provides specific insights and perspectives. Studies continue to show that individuals gifted in the arts also show higher levels of ability in other areas. Arts study is not just about art, it is about thinking, analyzing, and creating unique solutions for unique situations. These abilities can be applied across the spectrum of human action, including both work and play.
It is not unusual for individuals taking undergraduate majors in the arts to pursue other professional paths in graduate school or in the workplace. Some institutions create undergraduate programs in the arts that facilitate preparation for entering graduate programs in other disciplines. On the other hand, an undergraduate degree in one of the art forms will not prepare an individual for entry into a vocation that requires another kind of degree or preparation for entry, certification, or licensure. For example, while an undergraduate degree in dance could be preparatory to law school, the same degree would not prepare an individual to become a registered nurse upon graduation. In this case, additional studies beyond the dance degree would be required.
What if I don’t want to major in the arts, but wish to continue my studies at the college level?
Most institutions offering arts majors welcome the participation of non-majors in various arts courses, performing groups, and activities. Many institutions offer minors in the arts, others offer opportunities for double majors in the context of liberal arts programs. There is no reason to give up serious study in an art form you love because you have decided to concentrate more in another area. Often, it is possible to continue private study in the art forms, work in support roles for performing groups and exhibition spaces, and otherwise contribute to the artistic and cultural life of the campus community.
Where can I get more information?
Talk with arts professionals in your local community. Ask them to discuss with you the relationships among your abilities, your aspirations for education, and the kind of work that is done by people in the field. Seek professionals who have a broad view of the arts and their particular arts discipline.
Get information from institutions and their arts programs. Talk with alumni, particularly recent graduates. Many institutional catalogs list faculty with the colleges and universities they attended. Ask local arts professionals about colleagues who went to schools that interest you. They are usually well-informed.
When you visit campuses, plan questions carefully. How do your goals for arts study match the approach of the institution? Use your perspective on issues raised in this paper as a starting point. For example, how do their programs bring specifics and generals together in the art form, or between the art form and other areas, or across all areas of study?
Through contacts with local professionals, institutions, and national organizations, get a sense of what attributes and preparations are required to enter other fields of interest.
For further information, you may download a published copy of the CAAA Briefing Paper entitled “Giftedness, Arts Study, and Work” from the Publications section of the website.
18. How should I best prepare to enter a conservatory, college, university as a music major?
Acceptance to an undergraduate program in music is based on many considerations. These vary widely among institutions. For example, some have stringent audition requirements prior to admission while others have open admission policies followed by thorough examinations at some point in the program to determine whether the student may continue as a music major. For specific application requirements, contact NASM accredited institutions directly. The suggestions below indicate how you can best prepare during the high school years, not what you must achieve to apply or be accepted. The advice provided describes two things: first, an ideal set of knowledge and skills goals for college-level applicants; second, competencies needed by musicians as they practice the various aspects of the profession in college and beyond. In brief, you should learn as much as you can as early as you can.
Take responsibility for your own development.
Each musician brings a unique set of talents, aspirations, and abilities to the musical scene. Although you are in school and probably studying with a private teacher, it is important to take increasing responsibility for developing your particular abilities toward your specific goals. Begin by obtaining the admission requirements of schools you may wish to attend, the earlier, the better. Ultimately, you are responsible for choices about how you use your time to prepare for your future. For most musicians, that future involves music at the center supported by many other capabilities.
Practice, practice, practice.
Whatever you do or intend to do in music, try to practice it as much as possible. This applies not only to your instrument and/or voice, but also to other types of musical work. For example, composers should practice composing, prospective teachers should try to observe and gain teaching experiences under appropriate supervision, those interested in music scholarship or criticism should practice writing and speaking on musical topics. No level of knowledge or skill that you can attain will be too high.
Perform alone and with others.
Performance ability is essential for all musicians. You should be a competent performer on at least one instrument or with your voice whether or not you intend to have a performance career. Keyboard ability is important for the life work of most musicians. Students with keyboard skills have a head start as music majors. Ensemble experiences of all kinds should be sought. Work in large and small ensembles develops different kinds of musical skills. Fine ensemble playing comes primarily through practice.
Master the basics.
Be sure that you can read both treble and bass clefs, that you know key signatures, the major and minor scales, and how to write basic notation. Knowledge of musical terms and usage is important, as is the ability to recognize intervals and basic chord types.
Develop your ear.
Take every opportunity to train your ear by taking courses or studies in musicianship that include sight-singing, ear-training, sight-reading, rhythmic and harmonic dictation, and so forth. Developing the ear is a lifetime job. The earlier work is started, the better.
Hear as much music as you can.
You need to be familiar with far more music than that which you perform. Try to hear as much music from as many historical periods and cultural sources as possible. Ask your teachers to recommend a listening list for you that covers the various solo, small, and large ensemble repertory in your performance area. Try to make sure that you have heard the major works of all types in the particular area of music that interests you. Listen more to learn the breadth and depth of the repertory than to enjoy what is already familiar. Whenever possible, follow the score as you listen.
Learn how music works.
Take opportunities to learn the basics of musical structure, including studies in such areas as form, harmony, counterpoint, composition, and improvisation. Like so many other things in music, this knowledge is developed throughout a lifetime. Those who are able to get started early have an advantage. Work with your music teachers, enroll in an AP music course if it is available in your high school, take classes at your community music school, and otherwise explore opportunities to gain initial acquaintance with this material.
Become a fluent, effective English speaker and writer.
As a musician, you will communicate in music, but you will also rely heavily on your ability to communicate in words. Everything from rehearsals to teaching, to writing grant proposals, to negotiating, to promoting your musical interests relies on fluent English skills. Focus attention on learning to speak and write effectively.
Study one or more foreign languages.
Musicians practice their art internationally. You are likely to perform music with texts in foreign languages, and to work with musicians from all over the world. Significant musical scholarship and criticism are in foreign languages. If you seek advanced degrees in music, reading fluency in one or more foreign languages is often required. Since foreign languages are difficult for many people, you should begin acquiring knowledge and skills in at least one foreign language as early as possible. Consult with your music teacher about which languages are best for you.
Get a comprehensive high school education.
Music both influences and is influenced by other fields of study: the humanities, mathematics, the sciences, the social sciences, and the other arts-architecture, dance, film, literature, theatre, and the visual arts. For entrance into college-level study, you are encouraged to gain a basic overview of ancient and modern history, the basic thought processes and procedures of math and science, and familiarity with works in as many of the other arts disciplines as possible. Most professionals who work with music comprehensively develop a particular sensibility about the connections among music, history, and the other arts. Understanding the basics of math and the sciences support future work in music technologies. Social studies are related to understanding the context for various musical endeavors.
Think of everything you study as helping you become a better musician.
As we have already said, the best musicians continue to learn throughout their lives. They are always studying and thinking, always connecting what they know about music with their knowledge of other fields. Since you never know the direction your career will take, it is wise to spend your high school years gaining the basic ability to understand and work in a variety of fields beyond music. Keep music at the center of your efforts, but accept and enjoy the challenge of gaining the kind of knowledge and skills in other areas that will support both formal studies at the college level and your music career beyond.
19. What do NASM standards for institutions say about requirements for admission to undergraduate programs in music?
The NASM standards statement provides a national framework. Using this framework, each institution creates its own admission standards and procedures. It is critically important to understand the admission requirements of specific institutions to which you are applying.
For further information, see the NASM Handbook, Standards for Accreditation, “Admission to Undergraduate Study.”
20. What learning and competency development is required to obtain an undergraduate degree in music?
NASM has made available lists of competencies expected of students graduating with baccalaureate degrees in various music specializations.
The lists of competencies are derived from accreditation standards for the professional and liberal arts undergraduate degrees in music.
21. How do music and the other arts fields evaluate achievement and quality?
A website devoted to Achievement and Quality: Higher Education in the Arts has been developed by NASM and the other arts accrediting associations to assist individuals and institutions. This website is rich with information and resources that reflect a basic consensus by the representatives of over 1,200 accredited institutions and programs across the disciplines of art and design, dance, music, and theatre who seek broader public understanding of the nature of what they do and how they evaluate it as experienced professionals. Further information regarding achievement and quality may be found under Publications.
Click here to be redirected to Achievement and Quality on the Council of Arts Accrediting Associations website.