Going to music school for percussion performance vs strictly drum set performance

Diegoro

Member
As a high schooler soon going to college with a love for both percussion as a whole and drum set, it is getting hard on deciding which I would like to study for my first 4 years at college. I need to start picking my audition pieces soon and preparing. I plan on auditioning at Berklee, where both majors are offered. I am aware that most universities don't offer a major just for drum set, but I feel like Berklee is for me and I will be visiting the school later in the spring to see if that's where I really want to go. Double majoring is an option, but I was advised not to, due to the fact that I will have two different instructors and both will be expecting me to be hitting the practice room for hours on only what they assigned me. As for my career, I would like to just perform and possibly be a freelance private instructor. For wherever and for who ever. Any style, any genre, sessions, symphonies, tours, etc...One of my dreams is to play in a broadway pit for a musical, and touring also sparks my interests. Income may be an issue depending on how well I network and the type of gigs I am hired on, but I'll be happy doing what I love and that's what matters. Deciding between these two majors is the only thing I need to do. Any advice and help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
 

bermuda

Drummerworld Pro Drummer - Administrator
Staff member
A degree is fine, although by itself doesn't open a career path in music. It does show your dedication to your art, and that's certainly a good thing, but you'll still be auditioning next to guys who took private lessons, and some who are self-taught.

But I'm a big fan of learning all you can, and if by percussion you mean mallets, I highly recommend getting a good background in that. Not that you'd necessarily want to play mallets professionally, but a melodic background is definitely more useful than just drum set. I wish I'd had some melodic training. I know that the C scale is all white keys on the piano, and that's about it. I still have to play a scale until it sounds right in order to identify C. I typically find it within 7 tries.

Bermuda
 

BillBachman

Gold Member
My advice is this, if you're going to get a music degree, get a music education degree. That's the only music degree that anyone will ever give a rip about, and the only one that will be useful towards the aim of making a living. If anyone has the drive to become a super player, he/she can do it via private lessons, hard/smart practice & real world playing experience--a piece of paper will do nothing for you there.

That said, from practically every goal you're describing you will absolutely want a well rounded full percussion oriented training. Berklee is not even on the map for percussion or music education. It's well known for drumkit training of course, but again that piece of paper won't do anything for you. And Berklee costs a ton.

My advice? Find a less expensive state school with a reputable music program (ideally where you can pay in-state tuition) and get a music education degree. While doing that you can practice like crazy, get extra lessons and play with plenty of great players. In the end you'll have a legitimately useful piece of paper, lots of skills and you won't be saddled with monumental student loan debt (or parents won't be broke).

I live in the world of percussive academia. I have a piece of paper from Berklee with "drumset performance" written on it and I studied at North Texas for a year part way through. I'm professionally surrounded by percussion educators plenty of whom teach at the college levels or run college programs. None of this makes me cool in any way, but it puts me in a position to help you out.

Where do you live? I can make some recommendations.
 

denisri

Silver Member
Agree..with Bill.In State Music Ed Degree!
Study with the best instructors in the area and play with every band possible.All styles! Denis
 

tcspears

Gold Member
I have a degree in performance, and for some reason am going back to get my masters in it now! (I must be crazy).


I think one of the benefits to going to school for music is that you will be immersed in it. just like going to Italy to learn Italian. You will live and breathe music everyday, and be around people who are doing the same.


You won't necessarily be taught anything that anyone else couldn't learn, but I think the intensity of the study really puts you ahead of many who are self-taught. That's NOT to say that there aren't tons of slackers who graduate Berklee (or other schools).


I went to NEC, which is more of a Classical and Jazz school a few blocks over from Berklee. Berklee still has a large performance program, but it's really branching out into other areas (music therapy, music business, film/video game composition). Only 28% of Berklee students are there for a performance degree, and only 13% are there for percussion or drums. Berklee's main focus is also rock/pop, since they are a contemporary music school. They still have some jazz and classical, but those schools aren't nearly as well attended as they were. Berklee is smart in that it teaches you how to be a successful musician, where most musical schools just focus on technical skills.

If you are just looking for performance, there are other schools out there that focus on performance over business. That being said, Berklee did just merge with Boston Conservatory, which was one of the leading schools for theater in the area, so if you are looking for pit work, you may want to look at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee.


One thing to note is that a degree won't give you a career. It will be a great networking tool, and will be a badge of honor, but you'll still have to start at the bottom... either as a union guy, or as a freelancer (like me). I think it's a great thing to help you take your playing, and your career to the next level. Just think about what it is that you want to do, and try to fit your college decisions based on that.
 

caddywumpus

Platinum Member
I got my degree in percussion...would you like fries with that?

The degree in music is practically worthless, unless you are going for an education degree, or unless you want it in your credentials as a private instructor. I'm not trying to dissuade you, but give you the facts. I will say that the immersive quality of the education is great, but if you want the end goal to be ready to perform in any situation, it would be more cost-effective to take private lessons and get out there and play with people. You might also consider majoring in business or accounting, with a minor in music, if you want the "meat" of the music education, but want a degree you can actually DO something with when you are finished. Being a badass player with a day job is nothing to sneeze at.
 

pgm554

Platinum Member
As a high schooler soon going to college with a love for both percussion as a whole and drum set, it is getting hard on deciding which I would like to study for my first 4 years at college. I need to start picking my audition pieces soon and preparing. I plan on auditioning at Berklee, where both majors are offered. I am aware that most universities don't offer a major just for drum set, but I feel like Berklee is for me and I will be visiting the school later in the spring to see if that's where I really want to go. Double majoring is an option, but I was advised not to, due to the fact that I will have two different instructors and both will be expecting me to be hitting the practice room for hours on only what they assigned me. As for my career, I would like to just perform and possibly be a freelance private instructor. For wherever and for who ever. Any style, any genre, sessions, symphonies, tours, etc...One of my dreams is to play in a broadway pit for a musical, and touring also sparks my interests. Income may be an issue depending on how well I network and the type of gigs I am hired on, but I'll be happy doing what I love and that's what matters. Deciding between these two majors is the only thing I need to do. Any advice and help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
Have friends that went to Berklee,you will be competing with folks that are nothing short of incredible talent wise,so be prepared to be humbled.

At the time they went there ,it was instrumental performance or education.
Education let's you teach at public schools and once you got tenure ,it's job security for life.
For education ,I would go to a public college as you will not come out as deeply in debt.
Berklee is like 40 or 50K these days per year ,so...
WVU,San Jose State,and North Texas State to name a few have excellent faculty and no where near the debt burden.
But they do have academic and GPA criteria that Berklee does not.
 

BillBachman

Gold Member
I got my degree in percussion...would you like fries with that?
LOL! Well played.

And, I stand somewhat corrected with the reminder that the Boston Conservatory has been folded into the Berklee umbrella. The reputations of each will stand though, there will probably be 15-20 years where you'll have to specify BC until the elements of that program become commonly associated with the name Berklee.

Someone mentioned the "prestige" associated with having gone to Berklee, that's actually a double edged sword. For instance, in Nashville you wouldn't dare tell anybody you went to Berklee as you might well be instantly written off as a "too technical & schooled" player in a world that revolves around feel, smooth talk & street cred.

There are definitely great things about Berklee, don't get me wrong, but personally if I had to do it over again I'd go with a quality state school & get a music education degree.
 

pgm554

Platinum Member
LOL! Well played.

And, I stand somewhat corrected with the reminder that the Boston Conservatory has been folded into the Berklee umbrella. The reputations of each will stand though, there will probably be 15-20 years where you'll have to specify BC until the elements of that program become commonly associated with the name Berklee.

Someone mentioned the "prestige" associated with having gone to Berklee, that's actually a double edged sword. For instance, in Nashville you wouldn't dare tell anybody you went to Berklee as you might well be instantly written off as a "too technical & schooled" player in a world that revolves around feel, smooth talk & street cred.

There are definitely great things about Berklee, don't get me wrong, but personally if I had to do it over again I'd go with a quality state school & get a music education degree.
I was living in LA for a while back in the day and remember reading an ad in the Recycler for guitar player wanted , no Musicians Institute grads need apply.
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
A few things:

-- I wouldn't be getting an ed degree unless you actually want to be a band director. It's a specialized thing, and you're not really going to school to be a player in that case. If you're going to be thinking about back up plans, broaden your scope-- think about something you really want to do, not just something sort of music related. I think you'd be better off minoring in business.

-- Majoring in perc performance may not be as much fun as jazz studies, but you may learn more, and be more qualified for those pit gigs you want, and for teaching the other instruments when you inevitably get into teaching private lessons later on.

-- You don't need to go to a "top" school. You're better off going to a good state school in the city or region you're going to live in. Or start at a state school, practice 8 hours a day for three years, then go to Berklee or wherever in your senior year, or the last year before you drop out. The only reason to go to a big school is to meet some people when you're already a smoking player— not to learn how to play.

Most importantly:

-- TAKE ON AS LITTLE DEBT AS POSSIBLE. Every musician I know with college debt spends the next 20 years being ground down by it. This is a much more important decision than anything else you're thinking about right now. Seriously.
 

BillBachman

Gold Member
A few things:

-- I wouldn't be getting an ed degree unless you actually want to be a band director. It's a specialized thing, and you're not really going to school to be a player in that case. If you're going to be thinking about back up plans, broaden your scope-- think about something you really want to do, not just something sort of music related. I think you'd be better off minoring in business.

-- Majoring in perc performance may not be as much fun as jazz studies, but you may learn more, and be more qualified for those pit gigs you want, and for teaching the other instruments when you inevitably get into teaching private lessons later on.

-- You don't need to go to a "top" school. You're better off going to a good state school in the city or region you're going to live in. Or start at a state school, practice 8 hours a day for three years, then go to Berklee or wherever in your senior year, or the last year before you drop out. The only reason to go to a big school is to meet some people when you're already a smoking player— not to learn how to play.

Most importantly:

-- TAKE ON AS LITTLE DEBT AS POSSIBLE. Every musician I know with college debt spends the next 20 years being ground down by it. This is a much more important decision than anything else you're thinking about right now. Seriously.
Great advice here! One little thought though, there's more to it than just being a band director. Much of the country doesn't have these positions, but there are many school district percussion specialist jobs that fall under the "assistant band director" title. All over TX especially there are tons of guys with great jobs/benefits that teach nothing but percussion in a given school district. Most of them also gig on the side.

And if you want to be an independent teacher, that degree will help you as you can teach all instruments. Your potential of getting hired by a school to work with their percussionists on a part-time basis will certainly skyrocket.
 

brentcn

Platinum Member
The only reason to go to a big school is to meet some people when you're already a smoking player— not to learn how to play.
Spot on.

This bears repeating. So often students think that going to Berklee will mean that they'll gain a ton of ability. If you spend a few years practicing and performing every day, you'll get good at any decent school. But at Berklee, you'll be competing for opportunities with players who are scary good. If you're not already a mother****er, study, shed, and play somewhere close and cheap until you are, and then go.
 

mikyok

Platinum Member
Some really great comments on here I totally agree with.

A degree in music shows you care about your art. From a personal level it's seeing how far you can push yourself. I wanted to come out a better drummer than I went in and luckily there was some great teachers that helped me get there but there's a lot of people who don't push themselves at all.

Do the degree while you can, nothing worse than looking back and thinking what if.

If I look back on my degree I met some amazing like minded friends and was lucky enough to have some amazing drum teachers. Steve Palmer (Carls bro) Mal Garratt and thanks to Mal, Jim Chapin. But most of the lectures I've forgotten.

Once you get to the other side, unless you're going into teaching there's not much unless you're lucky enough to know someone or be in the right place at the right time. Hence why I'm typing this from an office.

Just don't be one of those arses that use the letters after their name like it means something.

Michael York B.A. (hons)...........sorry :)
 

Morrisman

Platinum Member
Back to the original question - percussion vs drum kit - it really depends what you're passionate about. Do you enjoy 4 mallet chord exercises on marimba, or would you rather develop your 4 way independence on kit?

One leads to orchestra and military band work, the other leads more to a jazz/rock/pop freelance career. Both could lead to teaching, and the adice on education degrees is sound.
I did a performance degree followed by a post grad education qualification, and I'm now a band director/theory teacher who plays occasional gigs for fun. Works for me. But it has to be something you really want to do.
 

Chollyred

Senior Member
An old buddy heads percussion studies at Emory University and Perimeter College, where he teaches applied percussion, conducts the percussion ensembles and leads masterclasses, clinics and sectionals for various ensembles, and is the principle percussionist for the Atlanta Ballet. He has also recorded and done stints with several Inde artists including "Sugarland".

(And is a hell of a player on set. Probably one of my biggest mentors when in school.)

From an interview a couple of years ago:

If you could give one piece of advice for someone starting out in music performance, what would it be?

I've taught all levels of percussion from elementary private students through college graduates and post-college. I get a thrill working with anyone who strives to improve. Going into performance as a career or serious study comes about many years after one's connection with the love of studying the instrument.
Two main pieces of advice: study with the best teachers you can, and try to put yourself into situations that will help you grow and improve. These situations will also probably force you to become flexible in new ways. A career in music, especially music performance, is rarely a straight path; so flexibility and adaptability are important along with the foundational basics of your instrument(s).



All that being said, don't just limit yourself to set.
 

Elpecs

Senior Member
Berklee grad here. You won't to have to decide your major until your third semester. So don't worry too much about it yet. A lot of people get there with a major in mind and end up switching to something completely different.

There is a lot of great discussion here about if it's a good idea to go in the first place. Berklee is a great option, but pretty expensive. I know what's your family's financial situation but if you decide on going to Berklee, I would aim on getting a scholarship . If you don't get it on your first try, just try again! Even if it's just a third or half scholarship, it helps a lot. Going even further, you could go to a BIN (Berklee international network) school and get credits for way cheaper (like a 1/10th but it's been awhile, not sure about the rates now) and later transfer them to Berklee. That's what I did, and spent some wonderful years in Barcelona (I'm from Peru btw)

I live from playing music and teaching, have a decent life and save enough for the future. It's true that Berklee open some doors for me, but 75% of the gigs I got they didn't even know where I went, you just gotta be a good player. Still, Berklee is great experience, but there are ways on making it cheaper.
 

Elpecs

Senior Member
One more thing, it would be a great idea to reach out to Berklee itself about what would be better for your audition (playing percussion or drums), they are really helpful and can help you out with a lot of doubts you might have.
 

DrPsyche

Junior Member
Weird, but just last month I got an ad from Berklee about their guitar course online. And then, 2 weeks later, I receive an email invitation to join the private drum set lessons by Terrell Hines, Berklee College of Music student - the rate for online lessons is $80/h. Seems Berklee likes my email address a lot :LOL: . Or they may have found my pimion portfolio which I left open after Leonardo Guitar Research Project. Does anyone have any idea who this guy is and perhaps someone was taught by him?
 
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