Monday, April 8, 2013

Faculty Post - The Minimum Requirement Fallacy for Musicians - Dr. Tim A. McMillin

The Minimum Requirement Fallacy for Musicians

Premise 1: There are N (arbitrary number) minimum requirements for my degree in music.
Premise 2: If I complete the minimum requirements, my institution grants me the degree.

Conclusion: By achieving my degree, I am well-prepared to face the world as a fine musician and scholar.

Fallacy is defined as “an error in reasoning.” Do you see the error in the above illogical conclusion?  I’m not sure I became aware of the enormous flaw in the reasoning demonstrated above until after I was actively involved as a student musician.  Here it is - The dirty secret of the musician’s minimum requirements… Are you ready?

Minimums will neither guarantee success nor expert status. A degree in music neither guarantees success nor expert status.  Achieving a degree by meeting minimum standards won’t necessarily guarantee employability or admission to graduate programs. Minimum requirements are just that – MINIMUMS. What is the minimum wage?  The very least amount one would expect to be paid…ever.  What is a minimum age?  The absolute youngest age you can possibly be in order to qualify.  What are minimum requirements in education?  The absolute fewest activities or tasks one must complete in order to receive a degree.  I submit that the minimum concept does not stand the test for performing musicians. It is in our nature and at the core of our training to strive to make every performance the best that it possibly can be. Nothing about that conforms to the concept of a minimum. Rather, serious musicians should be asking themselves how they are achieving significantly more than the minimum requirement in order to be competitive in a tough field.

There are certainly other fields where the concept of minimum might be fallacious (although I am admittedly not expert in any of them). Consider: As a consumer, do you want to trust a doctor who has completed only the minimum requirements to gain his or her degree?  How about your pharmacist?  How about your teacher?  Do you want to know that any of these people met minimum requirements in minimum training – that would typically be Cs and/or Ds in only the fewest classes required in their training?  I would guess not.

For serious musicians, many minimum requirements are moot.  An important premise not mentioned above is this: You have only four years in an undergraduate music program to hone and polish your skills to the level of professional.  Being a musician is a personal and individual task.  Be as selfish as you possibly can when it comes to improving and perfecting your musical skills.  Consider a few minimums that exist in all music programs, ask yourself why they exist, and assess whether you are currently blowing them out of the water. If you are not, what benefit might you realize if you did?

Performing opportunities:  In typical degree programs, there are a minimum number of required opportunities for every music student to be involved in making music. Are you going above and beyond the minimum requirements in your experience?  What benefit might you reap if you added an additional ensemble, an additional solo opportunity, sang or played on music convocation even if it isn’t required in your studio?  Perhaps more importantly – If you aren’t taking advantage of the extra opportunities that abound, what is keeping you from doing so?  Is it something as easy as laziness?  If so, fix it!  Is it something more dubious like a fear of failure?  Seek help in overcoming that fear! Is it that you lack the skills to perform in a manner that you are proud of showcasing?  Take steps to become a better performer with great haste – time is fleeting!

Practicing your craft:  Most applied music studios ask for a minimum number of minutes in a practice room from you.  Are you far surpassing those expectations?  If not, what are you waiting for?  Will there ever be a time in your life again when you have the resources of time and ample and undivided guidance to assist you in becoming the finest musician you can be?  I don’t think so!  So, why aren’t you practicing at least 2-3 hours a day in your major applied area (for singers; 4-8 for pianists and instrumentalists, right?) and adding another hour or two in a minor area for good measure?  Imagine what you COULD accomplish if you doubled whatever you currently are doing.  Will you graduate with a degree if you rarely practice? Perhaps.  Will you be the musician you could be? Absolutely not.

Attending Performances:  Attending recitals, ensemble concerts, workshops, master classes and seminars all carry minimum requirements on some level. First, think about the educational implications.  What do you learn from performances by others? Literature, performance practice, and honing your own ears for excellence in a variety of genres are but a few of the myriad benefits of hearing others perform.  What about guest master classes and workshops?  What could possibly be more important to a musician on a Saturday morning than taking advantage of an opportunity to hear nationally recognized presenters or expert performers speaking about and demonstrating their craft?  For a student who is serious about a successful future in the field of music, the answer is nothing! Later, all of these opportunities will cost you dearly. Moreover, they will not benefit you in the early years of your career!  Why wait? 

There is a larger ethical and moral consideration when it comes to attending performances of your peers to consider as well.  As professionals in the field of music, what is the one thing that we all require?  Audiences!  If you are unwilling to set the example by being part of an audience, what possible reason would you have to think or expect that anyone would ever be a part of an audience for your performances?  Further, the issue of creating a collegial environment in your department is a serious one.  How much more pleasant and inviting is a place where students support one another in their performing ventures by attending and engaging?  Whether in ensemble concerts or solo recitals, your presence (or absence) is noted by your peers and the faculty.  How would you feel if there were no faculty members at your own recital?  If your faculty can make time to attend for collegial reasons, what prevents you?  The model of prioritization is an important one to grasp!

There are numerous other minimum requirements that one could enumerate.  However, I believe the same essential questions can be applied in all cases. What is the minimum?  Why does it exist?  What are the benefits associated with achieving the minimum?  Wouldn’t those benefits be expanded by greater exposure and study?

If one engages in this logic, the idea of “minimum requirement” for a musician really does become moot.  Instead, the successful student of music views each “requirement” as an opportunity.  Who doesn’t want to take advantage of as many opportunities for self-improvement as humanly possible?  It does take a level of maturity and dedication of purpose to achieve, but I guarantee the end result is worth the immediate perceived sacrifice.  Go forth and grab as many opportunities as you can in such a short time.  Embrace your education and make the most of it!

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