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What’s the right way to learn how to play an instrument? Music education, just like any other discipline, used to have certain gatekeepers one would have to pass through in order to be considered a “real” musician. Today, that’s not quite the case. We have lessons to watch online, community message boards, hundreds of college programs, and many other outlets for becoming better at what we do. Whether you’re on the cusp of college or just getting real with music as a middle schooler, you might be asking yourself what kind of programs and camps you should be taking seriously. Music school, camps, and do-it-yourself learning are three big ways in which young musicians look to improve. So what’s the difference between these options?
The Difference Between a Music School and a Music Camp
Similar to what you’ll find in school environments and athletic programs, there are many different ways to learn about music. A music school is a year-round or semester-long institution where young musicians come together to learn from established professors about music theory, how to play in an orchestra, what the recording process looks like, and so on. While there are some special schools out there who solely focus on music, most everyday music schools will be part of a larger university system. Such is the case with the Berklee College of Music. You can find a music school for kids in all levels of secondary education, but most often these centers for learning are intended for young people in the age range of 16-25.
Music camps, on the other hand, are shorter term places of learning. Typically a summer experience, music camps bring together students of all ages to learn how to better perform on their instruments and establish the basic tenets of what it means to be a musician. The best music camps will group players together based on skill level, instrument of choice, and other important factors so that they can best meet the needs of each camper. Music camps may be facilitated through colleges, churches, community centers, private foundations, or anything in between.
Costs Associated with Music School, Camps, and Teaching Yourself
No matter how you further your music education, there will be costs associated with your journey. For someone attending music school, these will mostly be up front as you cover tuition and anything else related to your program. Since music school is often a long term choice, you will be paying the most money for it. Depending on the institute, this could be somewhere north of $10,000 per year. Think of it like college or private school tuition. It’s certainly a big amount for a side hobby or a short-term placement, but those who attend a music school are willing to pay the cost because the experience is vital.
WIth camps you are looking at an event lasting anywhere from a few days to a full summer. Naturally the longer the program, the more you can expect to pay. The price can also differentiate based on whether it is an overnight camp or a place where you just check in each morning and leave by late afternoon. Lastly, the costs associated with a music camp are influenced by how prestigious the facilities and faculty are. You can easily find a cheap summer music camp in an area near you, but the question is whether or not it’s worth the money. Local day camps for musicians may only be a few hundred dollars, whereas a famous music institute’s six week course could easily surpass $5000.
Those who prefer to teach themselves how to play guitar or drums, etc. may think that their education is free, but you’re likely going to pay something at some point. Maybe you’ll need a digital membership to an exclusive teaching site or you’ll decide to get some private lessons to help you improve (something we always recommend). You won’t be paying for thousands of dollars in tuition to fun camps or exclusive music programs, but you’ll also be missing out on the benefits offered by such places.
What is Learning Like in Each of These Environments?
If we’re going to properly compare each of these methods of learning, we should probably make an honest assessment of each according to its purpose for existing and what kind of teachers you’ll find taking care of the students.
Simply picking one of these three learning environments as your favorite is not the point of this article. We want to help you understand the reason for each and how you can use them to your advantage.
A music school exists to help talented young musicians receive expert training so that they can become the best of the best. Many of these academic settings are focused on more formal players, like those found in the orchestra. You can of course find a place for an acoustic guitar player or a vocalist, but that’s not always the school’s main purpose. These places are training up the next generation of composers and philharmonic players. The tuition is so high because they wish to weed out those who are not fully invested in the process. For many, this is enough of a reason to stay away, On the other hand, if this is exactly what you are looking for, you’ll be happy to have fewer half-hearted students to deal with and you’ll enjoy the business-like demeanor.
Music camps are similar to school programs, however they often focus on the joys of creativity and learning and take themselves less seriously. Long Lake Camp for the Arts, located in New York, is a place where kids can explore everything that is great about music and related studies. Music camps like this one are meant to be fun and educational, rather than a training ground for someone looking at Julliard. The same can be said for Camp Electric. We focus on helping young Christian musicians discover themselves and be the best players they can be, all while offering fun classroom experiences and enriching material.
As for doing your own thing as a musician, that’s kind of up to you. Plenty of self-taught players have made a name for themselves in touring bands and as studio musicians. Many others, however, see music as just another hobby and easily give it up once they get older. Training yourself is something every musician must do, but from time to time it’s important to seek guidance from an instructor or by attending a special camp or program. In a nutshell, the purpose of teaching yourself how to play is that you can go at your own speed and keep things informal.
An important part of any music education endeavor is the teacher. Just like with private lessons, the prestige of the teacher(s) can be part of the exclusivity which drives up the cost of music camps or a music school. If you are to attend a music school, your instructors are likely to be world-class players and/or highly sought after professors. These individuals know what it takes to succeed as a musician, particularly in the classical side of things.
The reputations of teachers and instructors found at music camps may vary from place to place depending on the goal of the camp and its own notoriety. Some music camps feature musicians just as renowned as those you would find in a music school, while others hire teachers who are a little closer to average. At Camp Electric, our instructors come from a variety of well-known Christian bands touring today. This allows for us to meet the needs of our students both musically and spiritually while preparing them for a career in music if they choose to pursue one.
When you are teaching yourself how to play an instrument, the only consistent instructor is yourself. You can always seek out private lessons or subscribe to the YouTube channel of someone more experienced, but no one is keeping track of your progress unless that’s something you want.
How Can I Choose What is Right for Me?
At the end of the day, you’ll probably find at least two of these three learning options to be something you want to pursue at some point in your journey. Many of us start learning to play an instrument all on our own, whether it’s when we are 13 years old or 30. If you start younger than that, you’ve probably been signed up for lessons by your parents. Either way, there are times in our lives when we want to try new things or go our own way. Don’t shut out any education possibilities that might help you in the future.
Not everyone is meant to attend a music school. It can be a very competitive process, the ultimate goal of which may not even line up with what you are wanting to do in life. You can still be a great musician even if you never paid thousands of dollars to learn from amazing teachers. Think about what you are hoping to get out of music and see if that matches the likely outcome from attending a school of music.
As for music camps, the stakes are much lower because they are often easier to attend than actual schools, carry less of a financial burden on average, and are available at different times throughout the year. So many musicians who teach themselves will sign up for camps during the summer because 1) they are fun 2) camps can serve as a creativity booster 3) the instructors rock and 4) it’s just nice to try something different every now and then.
We hope this has helped you to better understand the pros and cons of each of these methods of learning and how you should view them. Go to school, take time to teach yourself an instrument, and go to music camps that have the ability to help you out. Find the mix which works for you and use that process to be the best musician you can be.
Again, Camp Electric is a wonderful opportunity for young Chrisitan musicians who are trying to improve their abilities and discover the connection between faith and music. Our teachers provide valuable classroom discussion and years of experience. Find out how you can be our next student by clicking on the link below.