Wednesday, April 1, 2020

From Dartmouth to deadmau5, a guide to online music courses

Posted By on Wed, Apr 1, 2020 at 1:00 AM

  • Rob Marmion /

Back in my days of working low-paying office jobs, I hit upon the idea of taking some evening music classes at the local community college. At the time, it seemed like an ideal way to get away from the tedious routines of the corporate underclass, and maybe even learn something. Soon, I was making my way through rush-hour traffic four evenings a week to attend two-hour classes in music theory and keyboard technique. Meanwhile, I got to reacquaint myself with the forgotten art of homework, showing up late for class, and falling so far behind that you can never catch up.

But that was then, and this is now. With virtually all of America under some level of quarantine, many of us have a lot more time on our hands and a lot less to fill it with.

The good news today is that, especially for those who live and breathe music, there’s a world of educational opportunities just waiting for us online. Even Ivy League universities are currently offering classes for free, and you don’t even have to come from a good family to take them. Before long, you’ll be starting every other sentence with “Back when I was studying at Harvard” (or Brown, Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, etc.), and people will love you for it!

Two of the easiest ways to shop for your Ivy League education is through one-stop-shop search sites like and, where you’ll find all sorts of tuition-free courses in music theory, practice and appreciation.

As you may have guessed, the more high-brow schools go heavy on classical music and opera. Harvard, for instance, has its First Night series of “modules” that range from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and the Birth of Opera to Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring: Modernism, Ballet, and Riots.

And while we’re on the subject of riots, you may also want to pay a virtual visit to Yale, where you can check out its Music and Social Action course. While the syllabus doesn’t specifically advocate musicians taking to the streets — something you wouldn’t want to do at the moment, anyway — it does cover several artists who, over the past century, have shown their commitment to political and social issues, as well as government initiatives like the WPA’s Federal Music Project and the various ways in which our artistic outlook can change the way we see the world.

Also for do-gooders, there’s the University of Florida’s Healing with the Arts and the University of Melbourne’s How Music Can Change Your Life, both of which explore the values and practices of music therapy.
Meanwhile, have you ever wanted to deconstruct music through the lens of European philosophers like Pierre Bourdieu, Theodor Adorno and Jacques Attali? Of course you have! Which is why the University of the Arts The Hague offers its course in The Importance of Music and Power in Our Society. There, you’ll find classes devoted to topics like music and the state, music and subversion, affective tonality, fetish character in music, and the regression of listening.

For those who prefer more depressing subjects, West Virginia University is now offering a multi-part course called Today’s Music Industry, which includes classes on concert promotion, music publishing and record contracts.

Or maybe you actually want to make music. Many people do. To help out with that, the Berklee College of Music — whose graduates range from Levon Helm to St. Vincent — offers online students a broad spectrum of specializations that include DIY Music, Electronic Music Production, Developing Your Musicianship, and the Business of Music Production. You can also take classes taught by award-winning musicians on subjects ranging from musical improvisation to funk-rock and R&B guitar soloing.

Along the way, you’ll also find no shortage of opportunities to spend money. does offer some 250 music instruction classes, ranging from beginner to intermediate levels, that you can take for free. But for those who want to dig deeper, there are a few thousand more priced from $19.99 to $199.

Of course, if you take any of those courses — or maybe even just think about taking one — expect to find deeply discounted, limited-time-only offers showing up in your Facebook feed for the remainder of your natural-born life. (Not lying: Within hours of scrolling through their catalog to write this, Udemy sent me a sponsored Facebook ad offering 90 percent off on their $199 beginner’s piano course.)

Or you could just fall under the spell of those beautifully lit ads in which celebrity icons like Neil Gaiman, David Lynch and Steph Curry promise to tell you the secrets of success in everything there is to succeed at. Most of those come from, where musicians can seek out words of wisdom from Timbaland, Reba McEntire, Itzhak Perlman, Carlos Santana, Herbie Hancock, Christina Aguilera, Usher, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, composers Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman, EDM artist deadmau5 and Armin van Buuren, with more to come.

And finally, of course, there’s an ever-growing array of musical instruction apps (Yousician, Fender Play, Simply Piano, Tunefox), live music tutors (Lessonface, LiveMusicTutor, Musika), and countless video lessons on YouTube and Vimeo.

Whatever route you take, there may be no better time than this to change the way you play, hear and think about music, and to eventually share it in the company of others.

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