Reader email: multiple woodwinds degree or single-instrument degree?

October 27, 2010

photo, bobtravis

I get email on a pretty regular basis from people who are considering multiple woodwinds degree programs. They usually have excellent questions for which there are no real answers, but I’m always happy to try to offer whatever perspective I’ve got.

I heard recently from one of my readers who is working on a bachelor’s degree at a very large and well-respected university music department. They are currently enrolled as a double major in jazz studies (playing primarily saxophone) and flute performance, and have some skills in additional woodwinds.

The question was whether this person should continue on that track, or switch to a double major in jazz studies with a 5-instrument multiple woodwinds degree.

I like the idea of getting just a flute degree, because it makes it sound like I’m a REAL flute player. The woodwind degree also makes it sound like I can play any double—but I’m afraid it still kind of sounds like I’m just a “doubler.” (Not really an EXPERT at any of them).

The work I’d like to do after school is anything that utilizes woodwind doublers – playing in shows, playing on cruise ships, playing in big bands, playing in recording studios (dream job!).

What would you suggest I do?

Here’s the best advice I was able to come up with. (All quotes here are somewhat edited.)

For the kind of career you are talking about, you won’t need a degree of any kind—you’ll just need to play at a very serious level. Your reputation will get you gigs, and what’s on the diploma won’t matter. (Of course, the study you put into your degree will help you become the player you want to be.)

You may be right that the flute degree will give you some cred as a flutist, and some people may not take the woodwind doubling degree as seriously. But in most situations—getting gigs, applying to graduate schools, etc.—you will be required to prove yourself as a player anyway.

In general, I’m not a big fan of bachelors-level degrees in multiple instruments—I think most students benefit at that level from focusing on one instrument, and really learning the kind of musicianship that you can only achieve if you have already conquered the technical challenges of an instrument. Studying multiple instruments multiplies the technical challenges. You will have to decide, perhaps with the help of your professors, if that advice applies to you.

A double major at a high-caliber music program is already a lot to deal with. You might consider options such as a multiple woodwinds degree with a jazz minor, or a BM multiple woodwinds and a masters in jazz studies (or vice versa). Again, you will have to decide what works for you.

The person reads this blog, so if you’ve got additional advice, feel free to add your comments below.

Comments

  1. David Erato

    Yes, I would agree. Unless you plan on getting a college gig, it doesn’t matter what the piece of paper says. There are several guys in this town who get the top “doubling” jobs and they have music ed degrees.

    If you look at some of the websites of the best doublers in LA, rarely do their bios mention what specific degree they’ve got. It’s all a matter of what level you take it to while you’re in school.

    As long as you treat each instrument as your primary you’ll do well.

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  2. Larry Lange

    A degree in multiple woodwinds or performance or whatever is irrelevant. Having spent 40 years in the music business, and half of it as a contractor or touring, you hire musicians based on how well they play for a specific job, and if they can get along with others. The majority of the best players did not have any degree. When I joined the Buddy Rich Orchestra a few months after getting out of college I asked the split lead trumpet player where he went to college. His reply was “I never went to college.” He moved to NYC and studied with the best trumpet player/teacher he could find who was well connected in the business and practiced a lot. Most of those degrees a music department gives out are just pieces of paper. It is up to the individual to determine their path, not some chairman trying to keep faculty employed. Having said that, college is a wonderful thing.

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