Can one really enter a BA degree of Music (particularly in Europe) if they have not been playing three instruments and studying theory since they were five? This really is the feeling I get every time I talk to the admission office of ANY university that has a degree in music. They all have at least three or five stages for their entrance examination and that you can easily play any Chopin piece on the piano.

I have been yearning for studies in Music/Composition since my early teenhood. I picked up the guitar when I was about 15. I remember practicing no less than 8 hours a day until I was 17-18 when I entered university. I had to opt for a BA in Computer Science (because of family pressure) and not Music.

Years have passed since then and my love for music has increased day by day, and I have been adding more and more different instruments to my room (flute, piano, clarinet) becoming more and more obsessed by instruments and music in general. I am on the verge of finishing my Master's degree in Computer Science, and it was during the previous semester that I took a Music Theory course at the university as an elective course. I was so amazed by how enjoyable the classes were for me. However, I was so depressed to see that all those people in the class know all the scales by heart, they can play the piano so brilliantly, and they can do chord/harmony analysis in a matter of seconds.

Music is not a hobby for me and that's what's killing me, because doing Computer Science is just forcing music into being a hobby, and that's not what I want. Music is my entire existence and the more I go forward academically in Computer Science I see how much less time I have got for music and practicing.

My utmost concern is firstly, how to enter a BA degree given my background? And secondly, can I really be optimistic about earning money from a PhD in music? I know that if I start a BA in music right now, it is gonna take me a good 8-9 years to reach PhD level. Can I then be absolutely sure I would be able to earn money from my degree and completely throw away Computer Science for good?

My goal is to become an impeccable musician/performer and truly learn composition, music theory, and orchestration extremely well and put it into use. That is, I wish to not only be a performer of few different instruments but also be a composer very well familiar with all the meticulous details of theory and composition, and potentially even do research in music theory.

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    The conductor of my current orchestra is getting his doctorate in music. His musical knowledge never fails to amaze me, and it certainly romanticizes the idea of a music degree, but the truth is, you can earn enough to make a living for one, maybe, two people (if you have self-control) on conducting, but it's labor intensive and HIGHLY competitive. Have you considered maybe taking it as an undergraduate or lesser degree? It seems to me that you might have more time to just enjoy music if it wasn't your career. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 16:28
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    @Flank You can comment on answers to your own question, the problem here is that you have two separate accounts! Please follow the instructions here to have them merged: music.stackexchange.com/help/merging-accounts
    – user28
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 19:46
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    Many pairs of skillsets/passions can be combined into a job somewhere, and I think that music and computer science certainly is such a pair. You could most likely have a nice career at some music production software company, like Ableton or Native Instruments etc. While there is probably a lot of signal processing and pure engineering involved, I would guess there is a lot of music-related things to do as well. Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 23:38
  • @JakubTarnawski Please consider making that comment an answer.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 7:50
  • Definetely do not let go of your CS skills, at worst treat is as a source of income if nothing else. Music business is tough and unless you are exceptional, CS job will give you way more freedom than any endavor in music.
    – dtldarek
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 10:59

5 Answers 5


Why not rather use your science in some sort of music technology trade? I'm sure some of the science things regarding acoustics would not be above a computer scientist ability.

You have to be real about your chances of gainful employment. Conserve training is hard, no I mean it really hard. Ask yourself do you want to put 4 years of grinding into a profession that you are not even sure you will be able to enter when you are done?

There should be excellent music technology programs in your area, really consider them. You probably have the science and the computer knowledge to master them already and you can still be a productive member of the Music Fraternity by being one.

Rather use your current abilities towards a new music career.

  • Amen. I know it's not what you (OP) want to hear, but there seem to be far more people with music degrees who can't make a living applying their degree, than ones that can. I know several of them personally, 90%+ seem to be plying other trades, and not by choice.
    – DVK
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 21:28
  • And these are often people who are excellent with their instrument. SO it is not that they are unskilled or uneducated.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Dec 31, 2016 at 6:51

An academic degree in Music is no different in principle from an academic degree in any other subject. Any reputable university or college requires that all new students, in any subject, can demonstrate they have sufficient knowledge to successfully do the work that will be required.

That is most easily done by specifying some requirements based on standard tests which are widely accessible to potential applicants, but most academic institutions have the option to treat individual cases on their own merits.

As a non-musical example, I know of a guy who had no "official" record of any academic achievements up to first degree level, since it had all been destroyed in a war zone, and the university he had attended no longer physically existed. But after been granted asylum status in the UK he was accepted by one of the leading UK universities for a PhD, having convinced them that he did in fact meet the requirements.

Simply "having a love for music" is no more relevant than "being passionate about winning an Olympic gold medal" or "becoming an astronaut". It seems significant to me that your question never mentioned being taught to play the guitar, and taking a single elective course isn't going to count for much.

Realistically, you are currently in the same situation as somebody who says "I never took any math or science courses in high school, but I'm passionate about physics, so please give me a university place on a physics course."

I think the best advice would be to find a teacher and get some examination results in performance and theory. You certainly didn't "need to start when you are five," unless you want to be an internationally famous performer. Find out what pieces of paper you really need to be a serious candidate for admission, and get them - and it shouldn't take too many years to achieve that, if you really want to do it.

  • Perhaps I forgot to mention the most important thing: I am not only 'in love' with music. Given my terrible time-limits, I have already managed to record and release 11 full-length albums in three different genres, therefore I am not at all in the place of the guy who has "never taken any math courses". I am constantly composing music and release it when I can. But that's all, I release on websites like Soundcloud and most of the time I set the price on 'free'. I was also 'never' taught to play the guitar, neither the clarinet or the piano. I am strictly an autodidact.
    – Flank
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 1:00
  • @Flank - with all that going on, is it a missed opportunity to leave your profile on this site blank?
    – Tim
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 8:19

It's somewhat contentious: there are plenty of excellent musicians out there who didn't go down the academic route. To a degree (pun intended), a PhD or whatever will probably gain you a place as a lecturer at college or uni, but won't necessarily get you a job in an orchestra or band, playing. In fact, it may not help at all. To be in an orchestra, o.k., you need to have theory, and be able to apply it, but primarily you have to be an excellent player. The uni course will help with this, but a lot of it will come from within. You're either a brilliant player or alright at the end.

If you are already a not bad player, the theory should make sense quite quickly and easily. In my opinion, applying theory for someone who can hardly play is really hard work. Much better the other way round - learn the instrument, then find out why certain things happen.

The other aspect you ask about is the propensity to make a living with music. Of course, people do, but there's also many many poor musos out there. Happy doing what they love, but that doesn't pay the mortgage and feed the family. For a lot of musos - myself inc. - it's a great second job/income, and a great relief from the tedium of what brings home the bacon. I'd advocate stuying by yourself, whilst continuing to learn/play music, and use it as a very satisfying back-up, that, one day, when you feel the time is right,may become the main job. Good luck!

  • "it's a great second job/income..." This. Your MA in computer science is more likely to let you buy a $10,000 guitar (or whatever else you want to make music with) than your musical talent ;)
    – user19146
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 17:50
  • @alephzero - sad, but true! But why would anyone want a $10,000 guitar? Seriously! If I had one, it'd never get gigged, and maybe even never get played! Nevertheless...Had a student (at grade III) who had a £9,000 Les Paul. His dad reckoned it was that or a nice picture, and that was a better option.
    – Tim
    Commented Dec 30, 2016 at 17:56
  • @Tim I am not very much fond of 'academia' in general. Also considering that many of my favorite composers were autodidacts who even made revolutions in music. Anyhow, the reason I want to hit the academia route is that I see it as the only way to 'focus' day and night only and only on music and thus excel at playing better and understanding music better and secondly I look at it as a 'bridge' to have my composed music played by orchestras. By studying music, my academic worries will be related to 'music' and not 'computer science', and I believe that will help me improve much quicker.
    – Flank
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 1:03

Realize that while the skills you mentioned are useful as a musician, that in many cases these are not sufficient to earn a living or deriving all of your income through music. Many musicians also choose to do other supplemental things to earn a living.

I have a BA in Music Education and half a masters in performance. I also just finished a BA in Information Systems. I routinely gig with my former trombone professors; one of them is the chair of the music department I went to. He spends most of his time doing administration, sometime teaching private lessons, but doesn't derive a major source of income from music performance. As mentioned, this is not unusual for the profession. He plays more than I do professionally but I'm still young and he has a much deeper network of connections. On an hours/week basis, he actually probably has more non-music work than I do given how much he works.

Nothing is stopping you from practicing and taking lessons as a Computer Scientist. Indeed, with a sufficient income, you can afford to study with some terrific teachers either over Skype or in person depending on your location. This includes both of the instrument(s) you wish to be accomplished in and composition, arranging, and engraving. You may be surprised at how much you can accomplish when you are outside of an academic setting and working for a firm, particularly if you are located in the US.

The avenues that are generally open to musicians are:

  • Performing
  • Teaching
  • Sound Engineering/Recording
  • Composition
  • Administration

A PHD will allow you to teach at the university level. If that's what you want to do, you have little choice. You'll probably have to get a doctorate. [US/European centric, I'm not aware of other locations.] If you want to teach elementary-high school (again US centric), you'll have to get a certification which usually requires a specific bachelors or masters' degree.

However, if you want to do any of the others and particularly if you're okay doing administration or non-music stuff to supplement any of the other activities, you're probably better off finishing Computer Science. With a Masters in that, you can get a job as a mid level technician fairly quickly. I work 8:15-4:30. Lots of time on the weekends, before work, and/or after work to practice. There are also many freelance opportunities in, for example, web development that allow you to work from home on your own time. Lots of ways to structure that where you'll have lots of time to make music and have an income much higher than someone who has even a PHD in music.


You don't need college titles to do what you can do.

  1. Because you can do just by finding people that needs good professionals. A lot of people realise that university certifications are useless to engage good professionals, and can ignore or even reject professional studies.
  2. It can be a very good filter to you: organisations focused on certifications are interested only on certifications and you risk a very bad time there. Organisations focused on good professionals will accept you, if you are really good. And you will be really productive there, and probably will have a really good boss.

This is precisely my case, despite on another branch. My titles are not valid in Europe, so I decided not to revalidate them here. I had some trouble finding job at the beginning, but the jobs I've found turned to be excellent experiences, leaded by people focused on quality, not certificates. It was a great filter to find good bosses and amazing experiences.

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