The Perils of the Classical-only Music Education

Article by Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry published on

The Perils of the Classical-only Music Education

  • The Classical Dead End

The “Classical-only” music education model, as good as it is as a technical foundation, can be, and sadly, usually is, a dead end for performance opportunity. If you are a talented high school player, you could go on to major in college for music performance. But then what? If you work hard and are really good, and really love it, maybe you could get a job playing in a symphony orchestra! That would be neat, but the sad reality is that these jobs only open up when someone who has one… dies!

When this happens, an advertisement is put in the “trades” for auditions for that one seat (job). Many hundreds, (I’ve heard of up to 800 or more) of the best of the best from all over the world will come to audition for that one job, each one very qualified, having studied and practiced for decades.

This is the terrible part…

The math is simple. We all know that only one of these applicants is going to get that coveted job of course, which leaves 799 good players… unemployed; but often times, it is not even the best player who gets the job in the end, due to internal politics of the orchestra! Not fair. Not ethical. Maybe not even legal… but true. Reality stinks.

  • Possibilities limited

So, what is a player (or a parent) to do? If you (or your child) only know how to play Classical music and only can read off the page (and do not get that Symphony job)… let’s see… you could play at church once in a while. You could play a weekend wedding occasionally. You could maybe play in a local community orchestra for little or no pay (if your community has one that is!). But that’s about it that I can think of.

It is no wonder so many quit after high school… I can’t tell you how many countless times I’ve have heard people say “I used to play… I don’t know why I quit… ”

I know why. It’s too boring for kids, for one. And two, there is no viable future (income) in it!

Music is a great thing! It is good for you! It can give you pleasure! It gives others pleasure! It is proven to make you smarter, make you a better problem solver, and helps your brain to grow in ways that give you permanent benefit! Music’s benefits to society are too great to ignore! Something must be done!!

…and fortunately, it is easy…

  • Music for life

From my view, the answer is simple… learn how to jam! “Jam” means to enthusiastically improvise and play in a joyous way that comes from within… that’s the “inside-out” rather than the “outside-in” (as reading music-only tends to orient it).

You see, once a player of any age or ability level knows a few simple and easy things, and is gently coaxed into being creative with it, a whole new world of possibilities opens up! This gives countless opportunities to play for the rest of your life!

  • Unlimited Possibilities!

That’s right. If you learn to improvise just a little bit, you can suddenly play in a Blues band anywhere in the world!… or, put an inexpensive pick-up on your instrument and join a Rock band! Or a country band! Just like that Alabama song says, “If you want to play country… You gotta have a fiddle in the band!” Memorize a few fiddle tunes and play at local backyard potluck pickin’ parties that happen regularly in nearly every community. Bluegrass and Old-Time Fiddling, Irish-Celtic, Cajun/Zydeco, and countless isms and schizims and musical hybrids are now within arms reach… take it just a little further and you could learn to play Latin music, Heavy Metal, or Jazz… do any or all of this for fun, or MONEY! Whether extra cash on the weekends, or a full living… work your way through college playing in a tribute band (like of the popular Dave Mathews Band, who has an electric violinist)… or blaze new musical paths as your own artist going places few have gone before you… how about violin in HipHop, Rap or even Reggae? All these things are possible with just a little bit of knowledge and a gentle push to become comfortable with making stuff up!

I personally have done most of these things… and so can you!

  • How to get started

It all starts with learning a “Blues scale.” The Blues has improvisation as a major component of its style built in, and playing this rich style does not require any great amount of technical skill to participate… as a matter of fact, often it is the most simple players who get the biggest response from audiences! Blues is the basis for most of the “alternative” “non-classical” styles of the past 125 years or so.

  • The Formula

The Blues scale is simply a minor pentatonic (5 note) scale. And can be learned from just about any guitarist out there, or here as an enrolled member of the Fiddle Jam Institute, but here is the formula for you to give it a try: If you know the 7 note major “do-re-me” type scale already: simply skip the 2nd and 6th notes of the scale and lower the 3rd and 7th notes one half step and you are there! That’s it!

Example: C Major = C, D, E, F, G, A, & B’s… C Blues = C, Eb, F, G, & Bb.

As an extra tip: try also throwing in the flatted 5th of the key (Gb/F#) to sound extra Bluesy!

  • The Call

Now just trust yourself. Try starting on the 1st note (“tonic” or name of the scale) and ending on the 1st note, and doing anything that pleases you in between, add in some fun rhythms, take a musical breath once in a while, and you should sound great right from the start! It doesn’t have to be the most amazing thing you ever played. Just try to keep it simple and play sort of “on purpose” as if you are hearing it before-hand in your head (if you pay attention, you actually may do just that!).

Give it a try!

Let’s have fun together and change the world!…because a world with more creative musicians in it is a BETTER world for us all to be in! For it is creative people who have the ability to solve our world’s greatest problems… jamming musicians are made for that!… this is now scientifically proven! And that’s a world that I personally want to live in.

Happy Jamming,

Geoff Perry (“Fitz”)


Geoffrey Fitzhugh Perry, 30 year veteran musician, MCA Records, Newport Jazz Fest, public speaker, school & private teacher, author of Hal Leonard’s “Fiddle Jam, a way-cool EZ way to learn how to improvise” For more info visit:,

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