Majoring in Music at Middlebury

As a music major or prospective music major at Middlebury, you may find it useful to understand what a B.A. is in general, what a B.A. in music is specifically, what implications that degree has for your future musical and professional life, and how you can optimize your time at Middlebury to reach your goals.

What Is a Bachelor of Arts Degree?

The Bachelor of Arts degree is the one undergraduate degree that Middlebury confers. Someone with a B.A. degree has completed a course of study in the liberal arts, designed to prepare a person to think clearly, act ethically, and communicate effectively. A liberal arts education emphasizes breadth of learning and encompasses the fine arts, sciences, languages, and humanities. Although the choice of a major is important, two things should be kept in mind: (1) many students go on to graduate study and careers in fields other than the ones they majored in; and (2) the heart and soul of a liberal arts education lies in the general distribution requirements, for that is where you acquire the life skills of a well-educated citizen. The Bachelor of Arts degree can be superb preparation for any future endeavor, regardless of major.

What Is a B.A. in Music?

Let’s begin with what a Bachelor of Arts in music is not. It is not a technical or “pre-professional” degree: that degree, the Bachelor of Music or B.M., is offered by music conservatories or university schools of music. In a B.M. program, music courses usually make up two-thirds to three-quarters of the courses a student takes in college, leaving little room for courses in other fields.

A Bachelor of Arts degree, in contrast, requires fewer courses in a student’s major, opening more space to explore a wide range of interests. At Middlebury, ten courses are required for completion of the music major—fewer than one-third of the thirty-six courses a student takes in four years. That proportion, in which most courses a student takes are outside the major, presents both challenges and opportunities. Before getting into specifics, however, remember that all Middlebury undergraduates are earning B.A. degrees, regardless of their major, and will face similar challenges and opportunities after their years at Middlebury.

First, the challenges: The lighter load for the major in the B.A. degree means that, should you decide to pursue graduate study in music, you will be competing against students whose B.M. degrees have given them more extensive technical training. From this perspective, the student with a B.A. is at a disadvantage in comparison to a student with a B.M.

Next, the opportunities: The flexibility of the B.A. program allows a motivated student to craft a course of study more responsive to his or her individual interests. The B.A. program often produces unusual and interesting musicians whose broad knowledge and varied modes of thinking feed their creative work in a multitude of ways. But that happens best when a student takes an active role in shaping the course of study.

As a student in a B.A. program, you can make the most of the other courses you take at Middlebury beyond the ten courses required for the music major and the seven courses that fulfill the distribution requirements. There are at least three different ways to make use of the remaining nineteen courses:

(1) Some students choose to pursue a second major and fulfill requirements in each of their chosen departments of study as Double majors.

(2) Other students choose a joint major. The joint major usually involves a slight reduction in the number of required courses for each of the two majors (in music it means dropping two electives), with the added stipulation that senior work must incorporate aspects of both majors and be supervised by two advisors, one from each department. Previous Middlebury students have completed successful joint majors in music and such fields as Spanish, Italian, history, and English and American literature.

(3) The best option for most music students is the single major, carried out with a three-pronged strategy:

  • Take extra music courses beyond the required ten (sixteen is the maximum number Middlebury allows in any one department).
  • Take courses in other departments that directly enhance your music education. For example, a singer can take poetry courses to improve song interpretation, language courses to improve diction, and acting classes to build performance skills for musical theater or opera. A student interested in electronic music can take courses in computer science.  One interested in music theory can learn much by studying linguistics and math. One interested in music history can benefit from a broader exposure to cultural and political history. A songwriter can take courses in creative writing. A student interested in music cognition might take courses in psychology and neuroscience. An aspiring ethnomusicologist can choose from a variety of courses in anthropology, sociology, and international studies. And a musician of any kind will benefit from a dance class.
  • Pursue an internship. Middlebury music students in the past have interned with record companies, music publishers, performing arts organizations, and summer music festivals. An internship can be an excellent way to learn about practical aspects of the music world. You can learn more about internships through the Center for Careers and Internships (CCI).

In short, your education in music can and should reach beyond the borders of the music department.

What Can You Do with a B.A. in Music?

Planning your B.A. in music with creativity and foresight puts you well on the way to becoming a musician with interesting, unique things to say through and about the art of music. For that reason, many graduate programs in music view applicants with B.A. degrees favorably, since those students often excel at graduate work, not only in musicology, music theory, and ethnomusicology but also in composition, vocal performance, and to a lesser extent, instrumental performance.

But graduate school in music is not the only path for someone with a B.A. in music. Music alumni have used their Middlebury education to launch their careers as performers and songwriters, to serve as church and synagogue musicians, to work in the music industry and the U.S. Copyright Office, and to teach music in schools in the United States and around the world. Others have pursued advanced degrees and careers in other fields such as medicine, English, and linguistics. After all, music majors, like other students of the liberal arts, leave Middlebury with an improved ability to learn, to think, and to express themselves effectively. With those skills, a wide array of career options will be open to you after your years as a Middlebury music student.

Department of Music

Mahaney Center for the Arts
72 Porter Field Road
Middlebury College
Middlebury, VT 05753