truth about music college

Making the decision to go to Music College takes balls. I did it back in the early 2000s before Music Colleges were replaced by YouTube. It’s a great option if you’re somewhere near getting your shit together and have some pretty decent chops, otherwise you’ll find yourself buried under a pile of guitarists with shitty vibrato. The idea of playing guitar all day sounded like heaven but how would I cope with hundreds of guitarists and their incessant wankery? Would there be enough chicks to go around?

First Things First
The first week at Music College is critical, you need to make friends and fast but you have to be selective as you need to be able to tolerate these people for the next however many years. On the first day you’ll probably be lumped together with all the other guitarists, unless there’s some cringeworthy getting-to-know-you fest where everyone is forced to meet everyone, and the usual suspects abound:

‘Too Cool for School’ – Usually the ones wearing shades inside, and moments away from getting a record deal—according to them; will only make friends with people they consider ‘influential’.

‘Pretty Boy’ – Spends more time on his image than practicing guitar, can probably play well enough not to sound shit but no lead stuff; hang around with this dude if you want access to chicks.

‘Tendonitis Guy’ – The guy who thinks speed is the be all and end all of guitar playing and will stop at nothing, not even tendonitis, to be the next Yngwie.

‘The All-Rounder’ – The ones that are just good at everything, and pretty humble about it, which makes you secretly hate them even more.

‘The Foreign Student’ – Foreign students can be easily spotted, not because they look different, but they will almost inevitably sport 80s guitars, 80s haircuts and only listen to 80s shredders; they have no guitar references past 1989.

‘The Fossil’ – There’ll inevitably be a group of old guys who decided to go to Music College, probably to learn the theory of what they’ve been playing all these years. These guys are great to hang out with due to the amount of times they’ve been married and their endless anecdotes. Steer clear if you want to pick up chicks though.

‘Theory Guy’ – This is the go-to guy when it’s exam time and you need to swat up on your theory, the guitar equivalent of a computer geek but a fountain of useful knowledge; will immediately make friends with other theory guys and make jokes about the modes of the harmonic minor; be careful not to get drawn in.

‘Bedroom Guitarist’ – This is his first venture out of the bedroom with his guitar in hand. Bedroom guitarist finds it difficult to play with real humans and will often be found complaining that, ‘it sounded better when I played it in my bedroom’.

Once you’ve sorted through the above stereotypes during the first week you’ll probably want to do what I did and just hang out with the bass players.

Getting Into a Band
You’ll want to avoid the initial wannabe rush to get into a band with all the people that look like they should be in a band. When the dust clears get into a 3-piece; this will be the best thing you ever did because a) the ideal number of guitarists in a band is 1; b) you’ll learn a hell of a lot as you have to play rhythm and c) the door is always open for a hot singer to join.

The Truth about Music College
It’s no secret that a degree in music is a thinly disguised degree in marketing with music as a sideline. Most guitarists don’t realize this and get nothing out of Music College; this is why it’s handy to have some kind of purpose for being there so that you can spend more time getting laid than learning the modes of the aforementioned melodic minor scale. Decide on your purpose from the following so that you can adjust your study habits accordingly; remember, you don’t want to be wasting time and energy on information that will not serve your purpose, we need that for other things.

I want to get famous – Spend time cultivating your image, networking and making friends with anyone and everyone who looks like they could be of use to you, especially the instructors as they’ve already, ‘made it’. Do enough to pass the trivial subjects.

I want to be the next [insert name of famous guitarist] – Bear in mind that 80% of the guitarists there will have the same purpose; make sure you already have tons of money in case you end up being a guitar teacher.

I want to be a session musician – This is a more viable option, especially if you’re an ‘All-Rounder’ and have a decent haircut. The boring subjects will be extremely useful to you plus you’re going to have to suck it up and learn to read. Make sure you’re the first one to stick your hand up when the singing instructors require a guitarist to play the chords to a sensitive ballad.

Things to do BEFORE you go

  • It’s somewhat of a paradox but to get the most out of Music College you need to know the theory and technical stuff you’re going there to learn, before you go… Let me put it another way: this is the stuff you want to be using at Music College, not learning.
  • Suck it up and start playing stuff you don’t like.
  • Learn a ton of chords and work on your rhythm playing as this is what you’ll be doing 80% of the time.
  • Be open to learning other styles – you can still draw the line at country though.
  • Learn the frickin’ notes on the neck!
  • Learn how to read music.

The Final Word
I’ll let John Mayer have the final word on Music College. Check out this masterclass where he describes two very different semesters at Berklee College of Music and provides some great insight.