Learning as a professional

As of next week, I am going to be a college student again. I signed up for one class (an advanced harmony class) at Berklee College of Music. I don’t know where it will lead but I chose to take it for credit so if I decide to pursue a degree, it will be a start down that road.

I know my decision to go back to college will surprise some of you for a few reasons. Some people simply don’t understand why I feel the need to keep learning. They ask me what I can possibly learn that I don’t already know. The truth is that there are tons of things I don’t know. And on top of that, there are new perspectives that I need to be exposed to. I have been studying fairly hard for the past ten years but within one particular system of music theory. It is not the only system and I want exposure to other systems.

Another reason some of you will be surprised is because I have not been shy about telling you guys that you don’t need a music degree to be a professional musician. I still believe that. I do in fact wish I had a dollar for every person with a music degree that has told me they can play complicated Chopin but they feel like a fish out of water when they have to play real life music (such as in church). I think the typical music degree is unrealistic and inefficient in many ways except for training future music teachers to perpetuate the same problems. I wish universities did understand better that real life music is not about replicating Chopin.

I chose Berklee because Berklee has an outstanding reputation for teaching real life music. Countless musicians you would recognize have studied there. And I am not interested in doing a typical music performance degree. I will be picking and choosing classes for the sole purpose of pursing my own goals, which happen to be on the writing side of things rather than performance. I will be focused on arranging and orchestration mostly. I will have a lot of control and will not have to take useless classes that most universities would make me take for a degree.

Even so, I don’t know that I will actually pursue a degree since I have an established professional career that includes musical accomplishments that most would consider of much more significance than a degree. In fact, I see only two benefits and both of them are pretty weak.

First, it would give me more credibility in academic circles if I wanted/needed that credibility (I rarely get asked to speak in certain academic circles for that reason). Second, getting a degree is a method of holding yourself to a learning plan and keeping yourself responsible. Those are not bad reasons but I can’t convince myself I should be too worried about academic credibility and while I have many weaknesses, I tend to be pretty good at keeping myself responsible.

Those are just my thoughts on music degrees and you probably get my point. Degrees are probably not so important but learning is very important. If a degree can help your learning process, get a degree. But a music degree does not guarantee anything. It does not guarantee you will actually know anything useful and it certainly does not guarantee that you will be successful in music.

The same goes for college in general. Learning does not stop with college. There are other ways to learn and probably more effective ways to learn. On top of that, I am convinced that you can learn faster and more efficiently once you get out of college. The more you know, the easier it is to learn more. One thing of interest to me is that the top demographic for customers buying my courses is people over 50 and a huge percentage of them are retired and over 65.

Learning is not a place and it is not a degree. It is an attitude that should be a perpetual part of your life. In today’s world with all the online opportunities, it is hard to come up with a valid excuse to stop learning. That is true for all areas of life but it is doubly true for musicians.

So do I need a degree? No. Do I need to go back to college? No. But yes, for sure I need to keep learning. Berklee is just my new way of going about it.