College Culture Shock

As we come to the end of another school year, I noticed that some tuba/euph folks who were all-staters or top notch players in their high schools went to college motivated to take their game to the next level. Unfortunately, the college experience proved very overwhelming and they ended up changing their majors. Either the competition or incompatible instructors or whatever brought years of elementary and secondary preparation for these kids to a screeching halt.

Is there something that can be done on the secondary level to better prepare a student for that next level experience? Is it harder going from small or large high school to major university? How can we convince a hot shot tubist or eupher that maybe going to a smaller, less competitive college is their better option? Any ideas?

Ken F.
Hi Ken,

I imagine where you and I are coming from are very different education systems. For a start the school year here has just started really...

I don't know about the states, but here most kiddies who have taken an interest in studying music as a career are encouraged to build relationships with the people who will be teaching and lecturing them throughout their university years. Brass Banding and tertiary study of Brass Instruments are becoming increasingly linked by key teachers and conductors occupying positions in both worlds, so to speak.

Presuming that you've made your mind up that you want to be a proffesional musician a good year before it's time to enter university, I've noticed in myself and my peers that you are encouraged in that time to start making your contacts and connections, getting good lessons and putting together a picture of what you're really in for.

I've also found that here, tuition often seems a lot less clinical than the american colleges and teachers seem to be, and the emphasis is always on encouraging people to grow mature as a musician, rather than a constant drilling of breathing, fingering, articulation etc...

I think it all works out around encouraging students to have the self-drive to get out there and make their contacts and really know what exactly they're doing and why they are doing it before charging head-long into a degree.


Supporting Member
Ken -

Are you studying with Brian Bowmen down there in Texas?

If so, you may have chosen somebody over your head. I think most schools in the states are not 'overwhleming' on tuba/euphonium unless you get a Bowmen/Perontoni, etc...

Nope, those studying days have long since past. I do talk chat and meet those in the high school ranks and the enthusiasm I've seen from these kids I would like to continue after their high school days are long behind them.

Ken F.

BTW, I can see what you mean. Dr. Bowman's studio is pretty formidable.

Okiedokie of Oz

Active Member
Australian Euphonium said:
I've also found that here, tuition often seems a lot less clinical than the american colleges and teachers seem to be, and the emphasis is always on encouraging people to grow mature as a musician, rather than a constant drilling of breathing, fingering, articulation etc...

Speaking as an Aussie who's seen a little more of the system, I can understand why you perceive the music system this way. In my opinion, I feel you are close with this remark but not quite on the mark.

Our system is schools works from the US band method, and is as technical as the book is. If you take up music more seriously, AMEB and other external examination schools will push your theory and technique. Maybe not as hard as we see Americans being pushed in movies, and through comments by people on forums such as this, but we do have a deliberate focus on technique.

The reason I say you aren't right with your comment (and please I am not trying to offend you Ben), is at times I don't think we are stong enough on the motivation or even the enjoyment of music. Schools are now start incorporating dententions of sorts in bands!! Band, which is usually rehearsing in the student's own time, is now a case of "be there, or have a damn good excuse". The finer points of performance such as style, interpretation and expression are barely touched! Why??

We have a brilliant system here with our Instrumental Music Program (IMP), and unis are working appropriately to educate teachers for the program. But just the same as classroom teachers, you get some teachers that will pour their heart and soul into their work, and others who only do it as a "9 to 5" thing. Education systems are trying to save money my sending in "multi-instrumentalists" but I am yet to see how they assess these teachers to prove they are multi-talented! Just because someone taugfht you basic trombone positions does NOT make you a real trombone teacher, and although your beginners may do just fine, your advanced kids will suffer. I see it every day with myself and flutes. I know the basics, I can blow a few notes on a flute, but I am NOT a flautist!!

Now going back to Ken's original topic, why aren't secondary kids surviving their tertiary experience? Yes it may be a culture shock to suddenly realise there is REAL REPERTOIRE and TECHNIQUE for their instruments! But are their teachers knowledged enough to help with this??

All it would take is for every year, teachers to take some sort of in-service that isn't as broad as the current one. 2 weeks INTENSIVE on a new instrument, including repertoire, technique, role models and so forth. It's not just enough to know which fingers to push down. You have to know the instrument!!


Staff member
I realise I am writing here as an outsider, not having studied music at the highest level at all, but my perception, having been involved with a number of trombone and tuba/euph sites in recent years, is that the American system appears to be extremely competitive. It seems that much of the emphasis is placed on being better than the next person, with people challenging for positions in various groups at local, state, inter-state etc, and almost seeming to be putting all their efforts into being able to beat the person they're sitting next to rather than improving their own playing per se. This can also lead to very negative feelings if your challenge is unsuccessful, or if someone new joins the course and is placed one seat higher than you in the ensemble.

My impression, certainly of lower brass studying over here, is that more emphasis is placed on learning to play together in various groups, and in developing personal playing techniques. I'm not saying that it isn't competitive, and I know there are various competitions and prizes involved, but it does appear to take on a minor role. Hopefuly some of our own tMPers with experience at RNCM, Salford etc with chip in on this thread and give their views.

One other thing, and this may be where something could be done earlier in the education system, is that it can be a big shock to the system moving from a general school or college programme where music is one of a number of activities, and where you may be struggling to fit in band, practising etc, to a course which is predominantly music-based, especially if it involves a lot of performance studies - I've read several postings from people who have said that they have just lost any enjoyment they had, and that playing has just become a chore, a hoop that has to be jumped through in order to reach the end of the course.
I'm with the visiting the campus,interviewing, scheduling a lesson, etc. The problem I see with this sometimes is when recruiting new students, sometimes the 'welcome mat' supercedes honesty and frankness. I would suggest along with teachers, the student needs to interview other students at the university and the music department. No one is paying them and they can give a point of view that's a little more 'eye to eye.' If the 'friendly' atmosphere extends down the ranks, maybe the 'recruit' can make a more rational decision on their future.

Ken F.


I found that going to University to study was a major challenge. i arrived at uni expecting that i would enjoy music making more than ever, as I would be devoting serious quality time to it. unfortunaly, I was put off firstly by the level of competion at the University, and also by the attitudes, mainly of brass players around the music department. I found that music making was no longer fun, and that all aspects of success didnt rest on how much practice you put in, but rather on what band that you played for and what section they were in.

I may be wrong, but maybe that's what college music is like everywhere.

Now I have changed my major studies and find that I enjoy playing a lot more, and am playing for a decent band with a decent reputation. My confidence has come back now that the competition of doing a music degree has gone.


Supporting Member
As Australian Euphonium wrote, I think many times, teachers are forced to teach techniques to those outside their comfort zone. It, as he mentioned, not take much to keep up with a family of instruments to help them along the way. However, at least in the States, you can’t excel without private lessons, and I think it more the role of an advanced student to take advice on musicianmanship from their band director, and advice on their instrument from their private lesson instructor.

Going back to Ken’s (if I may call you that) original point, I think if you look at the number of students that enter college as a music major as compared to the number of professional musicians, it is not much different than the number of college (American) football players that enter as compared to the number of professional football players (I’m not quite sure of he UK equivalent as). I have had friends (more than I can count on one hand) start as music performance majors, and then switch to music ed once they found out they couldn’t cut it and just as many drop out of a music major al together. To be a professional musician is an incredibly competitive field!! Jobs are just hard to come by.



New Member
It is really hard and my biggest regret ever (over 10 years on) is that I didn't find a way to stick it out.

The competition is very tough, no-one is on your side anymore, everyone is waiting for you to make mistakes and you can feel very alone.

I have a good job and enjoy banding (I didn't enjoy music when I was at college at all), but still wonder what could have been...

If any tutors read this, I know some people need to be pushed but please also remember how much of a culture shock this can be to new students - they should be encouraged as much as possible as they are the future of banding and music.

To any struggling students I would say give it a year if you can and then review things. Hope this helps

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