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What is a Musician?

Swing grew out of jazz, and big swing bands mushroomed all over the United States during the late s, s, and into the s. Big bands diminished by the late s as rising costs and new popular music styles, such as rhythm and blues and rock and roll, directed the move to smaller groups using electric and electronic instruments. With the advent of electronic mass media, the musical superstar was created, as millions of people at a time could hear and see musical performers.

Although the mass electronic media created an enormous market for popular music, it has ironically limited the market for live performances by musicians. The demand for live musicians was also reduced by the widening use of advanced electronic instruments, such as the synthesizer, which itself can replace a whole band, and the DJ disc jockey , who plays recorded music over highly sophisticated sound systems, replacing musicians at clubs and gatherings.

What does a Musician do?

Until about the mids, musicians and singers were largely an exploited group who made little money for the use of their skills. The growth of organizations designed to protect performing artists has helped greatly to improve the lot of musicians. In some situations the union requires that live musicians be hired. Musical instruments are usually classified in several distinct categories according to the method by which they produce sound: strings violins, cellos, basses, etc.

Instruments can also be classified as electric or acoustic, especially in popular music. Synthesizers are another common instrument, and computer and other electronic technology increasingly is used for creating music. Like other instrumental musicians, singers use their own voice as an instrument to convey music.

Musicians may play in symphony orchestras, dance bands, jazz bands, rock bands, country bands, or other groups or they might go it alone. Some musicians may play in recording studios either with their group or as a session player for a particular recording.

What does a musician do?

The most talented ones may work as soloists with orchestras or alone in recitals. Musicians who play popular music make heavy use of such rhythm instruments as piano, bass, drums, and guitar. Jazz musicians also feature woodwind and brass instruments, especially the saxophone and trumpet, and they extensively utilize the bass. Musicians in jazz, blues, country, and rock groups play clubs, festivals, and concert halls and may perform music for recordings, television, and motion picture sound tracks.


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Other musicians compose, record, and perform entirely with electronic instruments, such as synthesizers and other devices. Instrumental musicians and singers use their skills to convey the form and meaning of written music. They work to achieve precision, fluency, and emotion within a piece of music, whether through an instrument or through their own voice. Musicians practice constantly to perfect their techniques. Many musicians supplement their incomes through teaching, while others teach as their full-time occupation, perhaps playing jobs occasionally. Voice and instrumental music teachers work in colleges, high schools, elementary schools, conservatories, and in their own studios; often they give concerts and recitals featuring their students.

Many professional musicians give private lessons. Choral directors lead groups of singers in schools and other organizations. Church choirs, community oratorio societies, and professional symphony choruses are among the groups that employ choral directors outside of school settings. Orchestra conductors do the same with instrumental musicians.

Many work in schools and smaller communities, but the best conduct large orchestras in major cities. They are responsible for the overall sound and quality of their orchestras. Composers write the original music for symphonies, songs, or operas using musical notation to express their ideas through melody, rhythm, and harmony.

Librettists write words to opera and musical theater scores, and lyricists write words to songs and other short musical pieces. A number of songwriters compose both music and lyrics, and many are musicians who perform their own songs. If you are interested in becoming a musician, you will probably have begun to develop your musical skills long before you entered high school. While you are in high school, however, there are a number of classes you can take that will help you broaden your knowledge.

If your high school offers courses in music history or appreciation, be sure to take these. Finally, take classes that will improve your communication skills and your understanding of people and emotions, such as English and psychology. Finally, no matter what type of musician you want to be, you will need to devote much of your after-school time to your private study and practice of music.

Depending on your interest, especially if it is popular music, further formal education is not required. College or conservatory degrees are only required for those who plan to teach in institutions. Nevertheless, you will only benefit from continued education. Scores of colleges and universities have excellent music schools, and there are numerous conservatories that offer degrees in music.

Many schools have noted musicians on their staff, and music students often have the advantage of studying under a professor who has a distinguished career in music. By studying with someone like this, you will not only learn more about music and performance, but you will also begin to make valuable connections in the field. You should know that having talent and a high grade point average do not always ensure entry into the top music schools. Competition for positions is extremely tough. You will probably have to audition, and only the most talented are accepted.

College undergraduates in music school generally take courses in music theory, harmony, counterpoint, rhythm, melody, ear training, applied music, and music history. Students will also have to take courses such as English and psychology along with a regular academic program. Musicians who want to teach in state elementary and high schools must be state certified.

What Music School Programs and Degrees Are Available?

About institutions in the United States offer programs in music education that qualify students for state certificates. Music education programs include many of the same courses mentioned earlier for musicians in general. They also include education courses and supervised practice teaching. To teach in colleges and universities or in conservatories generally requires a graduate degree in music.

The American Guild of Organists offers a number of voluntary, professional certifications to its members. Those who have talent and are willing to make sacrifices to develop it are the ones most likely to succeed. How much talent and ability one has is always open to speculation and opinion, and it may take years of studying and practice before musicians can assess their own degree of limitation. Foremost among these is a love of music strong enough to endure the arduous training and working life of a musician.

Musicians who would move ahead must practice constantly with a determination to improve their technique and quality of performance. Musicians also need to develop an emotional toughness that will help them deal with rejection, indifference to their work, and ridicule from critics, which will be especially prevalent early in their careers. There is also praise and adulation along the way, which is easier to take but also requires a certain psychological handling.

For musicians interested in careers in popular music, little to no formal training is necessary. Quite often, popular musicians do not even know how to read music.


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  • Some would say that many rock musicians do not even know how to play their instruments. This was especially true in the early days of the punk era c. Most musicians, however, have a natural talent for rhythm and melody. Many musicians often go through years of paying their dues—that is, receiving little money, respect, or attention for their efforts.

    Therefore, they must have a strong sense of commitment to their careers and to their creative ideas. The first step to exploring your interest in a musical career is to become involved with music. You also may have chances to perform in school musicals and talent shows.

    If you can afford to, take private music lessons. Besides learning more about music, you will most likely have the chance to play in recitals arranged by your teacher. You may also want to attend special summer camps or programs that focus on the field. College, university, and conservatory students gain valuable performance experience by appearing in recitals and playing in bands, orchestras, and school shows.

    The more enterprising students in high school and in college form their own bands and begin earning money by playing while still in school. It is important for you to take advantage of every opportunity to audition so that you become comfortable with this process. Most musicians find work in churches, temples, schools, clubs, restaurants, and cruise lines, at weddings, in opera and ballet productions, and on film, television, and radio. Religious organizations are the largest single source of work for musicians. Full-time positions as a musician in a choir, symphony orchestra, or band are few and are held only by the most talented.

    Musicians who are versatile and willing to work hard will find a variety of opportunities available, but all musicians should understand that work is not likely to be steady or provide much security. Musicians who want to perform with established groups, such as choirs and symphony orchestras, enter the field by auditioning. They perform in a variety of styles, such as classical, jazz, opera, hip-hop, and rock.

    Musicians play one or more instruments. To make themselves more marketable, many musicians become proficient in multiple musical instruments or styles. Musicians play solo or in bands, orchestras, or small groups. Those in bands may play at weddings, private parties, clubs, or bars while they try to build enough fans to get a recording contract or representation by an agent.

    Musician Career Information - IResearchNet

    Some musicians work as part of a large group of musicians, such as an orchestra, whose members must work and practice together. A few musicians become section leaders, who may be responsible for assigning parts to other musicians or for leading rehearsals. Others musicians are session musicians, specializing in playing backup for a singer or band leader during recording sessions and live performances.

    Singers perform vocal music in a variety of styles. Some specialize in a particular vocal style, such as opera or jazz; others perform in a variety of musical genres. Singers, particularly those who specialize in opera or classical music, may perform in different languages, such as French or Italian.

    Opera and musical theater singers act out a story by singing instead of speaking the dialogue. Some singers become background singers, providing vocals to harmonize with or support a lead singer. In some cases, musicians and singers write their own music to record and perform. For more information about careers in songwriting, see the profile on music directors and composers. Some musicians and singers give private music lessons to children and adults. Others with a background in music may teach music in public and private schools, but they typically need a bachelor's degree and a teaching license.

    For more information, see the profiles on kindergarten and elementary school teachers , middle school teachers , and high school teachers. Musicians and singers hold about , jobs. The largest employers of musicians and singers are as follows:. Musicians and singers perform in settings such as concert halls, arenas, and clubs. Musicians and singers who give recitals or perform in nightclubs travel frequently and may tour nationally or internationally.

    Some spend time in recording studios. There are many jobs in cities that have a high concentration of entertainment activities, such as New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Nashville. Rehearsals and recording sessions are commonly held during business hours, but live performances are most often at night and on weekends. Many musicians and singers find only part-time or intermittent work and may have long periods of unemployment between jobs. The stress of constantly looking for work leads many to accept permanent full-time jobs in other occupations while working part time as a musician or singer.

    Get the education you need: Find schools for Musicians and Singers near you! There are no postsecondary education requirements for musicians or singers interested in performing popular music.

    Musicians and Singers

    However, many performers of classical music and opera have at least a bachelor's degree. There are no postsecondary education requirements for those interested in performing popular music. Many musicians and singers of classical music and opera have a bachelor's degree in music theory or performance. To be accepted into one of these programs, applicants are typically required to submit recordings or to audition in person and sometimes must do both.

    Undergraduate music programs teach students about music history and styles. In addition, they teach methods for improving instrumental and vocal techniques and musical expression. Undergraduate voice programs also teach courses in diction. Such courses help students perform opera in foreign languages.

    Start Your Music Career - The Truth EXPOSED

    Some musicians and singers choose to continue their education by pursuing a master's degree in fine arts or music. Musicians and singers need extensive training and regular practice to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to interpret music at a professional level. They typically begin singing or learning to play an instrument by taking lessons and classes when they are at a young age.

    In addition, they must practice often to develop their talent and technique. Musicians and singers interested in performing classical music may seek further training through music camps and fellowships. These programs provide participants with classes, lessons, and performance opportunities. Auditioning for jobs can be a frustrating process because it may take many different auditions to get hired. Musicians and singers need determination and dedication to continue to audition after receiving many rejections.

    Talent is not enough for most musicians and singers to find employment in this field. They must constantly practice and rehearse to improve their technique, style, and performance. Interpersonal skills. Musicians and singers need to work well with a variety of people, such as agents, music producers, conductors, and other musicians.

    Good people skills are helpful in building good working relationships. Musical talent. Professional musicians or singers must have superior musical abilities. Physical stamina. Musicians and singers who play in concerts or in nightclubs, and those who tour, must be able to endure frequent travel and irregular performance schedules.

    Promotional skills. Musicians and singers need to promote their performances through local communities, word of mouth, and social media. Good self-promotional skills are helpful in building a fan base.