Antique image of formally dressed teacher instructing piano student“For music and service to become your way of life, you must confront economic realities.”
The Musician’s Way, p. 299

Aspiring classical musicians commonly study in a context resembling the ancient “master-apprentice” model.

That is, they take lessons from one individual over a span of years and depend on that person to cultivate their artistic, technical, and career skills.

Does that educational arrangement make sense?

Apprenticeship in the Pre-Industrial World

When cultures and technologies changed little from one generation to the next, apprentices could reasonably expect that the knowledge masters conveyed would remain relevant.

In the 18th century, let’s say, blacksmith apprentices could gain the ability to make horseshoes under the assumption that horseshoes would be in demand throughout their lifetimes.

Career Preparation in the 21st Century

In our rapidly-changing world, the knowledge bases of people who built careers a generation ago remain pertinent in some ways. But the cultural, technological, and economic transformations of the preceding two decades mean that aspiring 21st-century professionals require knowledge and skills that experts of earlier generations often lack.

Case in point, emerging musicians need to understand contemporary arts cultures and economies, which differ markedly from those of just one and two decades past.

For instance, many of the music employers of a generation ago are shrinking or disappearing (e.g., orchestras, pit bands), yet there are more music graduates than ever pursuing those dwindling jobs. Emerging artists, therefore, have to acquire diverse artistic, entrepreneurial, communications, teaching and tech skills to build new sorts of careers in which they tap multiple income streams.

Music Schools: Stuck in the Past

As the music industry has transformed, music schools have largely continued training students as they did in the last century.

A typical example: Conservatory students might apprentice under active or retired orchestra musicians who are masters of the orchestral repertoire, and those teachers often don’t guide nor encourage their students to acquire 21st-century skills.

All the while, the large-ensemble industry contracts, and full-time orchestra jobs are so scarce and sought-after that it’s irrational for students to enroll in costly degree programs with the sole aim of landing such jobs (e.g., I’m told that the recent 3rd horn opening in the Nashville Symphony attracted hundreds of applicants).

So, even though orchestral music represents some of the greatest art ever produced, and the skills that veteran orchestra players possess are of immense value to students, those skills aren’t sufficient for today’s graduates.

New-century musicians need an educational model that supplies broad, up-to-date artistic and professional know-how such that they not only become capable ensemble players but also innovators, educators, producers and arts leaders in their communities.

The Mentors-Apprentice Model

As an alternative to the antiquated master-apprentice scheme, I propose a structure in which students receive artistic and career coaching from multiple mentors and not primarily from one applied teacher.

Under such a mentors-apprentice system, students would still benefit from studying under masters in their genres, but those masters wouldn’t be the exclusive source of students’ artistic, technical, and professional education.

Instead, as I outline in “Music Education and Entrepreneurship,” students would concurrently enroll in courses, workshops, and project-based intensives that would encourage them to think independently and enable them to target their artistic interests along contemporary career trajectories.

They’d receive individual career advising from dedicated professionals, and there would also be curricular integration such that academic courses would promote creative thinking and communication skills as opposed to rote learning and multiple-choice testing.

In sum, established masters offer priceless knowledge to young people, but when it comes to professional arts education, the master-apprentice model is dead.

See my book The Musician’s Way, for strategies that enable rising musicians to acquire inclusive artistic, collaborative, and career skills. For additional help, contact me for coaching via Skype.

Related postsThe Musician's Way book cover
Do Musicians Often Resemble Underpants Gnomes?
Entrepreneurship: Not a Slice of the Pie
Music Education and Entrepreneurship
Orchestras Contract, Opportunities Expand
Preparing for Portfolio Careers

© 2013 Gerald Klickstein
Photo © Everett Collection, licensed from

Back to Top