Studying Jazz

Anybody wanting to study jazz in Germany these days has a whole range of possibilities. The country has 18 universities and music conservatories that provide a broad spectrum of courses and this is complemented by the options available at universities of applied science, music schools and colleges.The qualifications gained vary from institute to institute and are very much geared to the students’ later careers. As is the case in other industrialised countries, the students can specialise as instrumentalists, music teachers or even musicologists - all however with the focus on jazz. 

The subject, like all other fields of improvised music in general, enjoys great esteem, even if the chances of being able to make a living from this art form after graduation are often dependent on factors like fortunate coincidence and luck.

The historical situation

Apart from a few exceptions, until the middle of the 1980s academic jazz training was mainly centred on Hamburg and Berlin and, above all, on Cologne. Towards the end of the decade a few further institutes joined the scene, offering different course content and points of focus. The approach in Cologne mainly concentrated on American mainstream jazz, whereas from 1988 onwards at the Folkwang-Hochschule in Essen the aim of the course was, for example, more stylistically diversified. It was the first institute to offer a degree course in jazz music that was not geared to becoming a teacher, but becoming a professional artist.

The universities today

Such daring beginnings have now given way in many places to the courses being more standardised. Most of the universities now offer courses to become a teacher, as well as an instrumentalist or singer. In many places jazz is taught as a separate subject, at others it is combined with pop and rock. On top of that, depending on the facilities and staff, the institutes offer specialist instrumental subjects. For example, you can study unusual instruments like the vibraphone in Mannheim, in Dresden the Hammond organ is an independent subject.

Furthermore the courses differ due to the size of the individual institutes and in the way they are geared to certain specialist areas. In Detmold, for example, jazz/rock/pop are part of the school music department, in Freiburg or Frankfurt there are post-graduate courses in jazz and pop music for trainee teachers for colleges of further education. Based on the number of students enrolled, Cologne and the Jazz-Institut in Berlin, set up by the Berlin University of the Arts and the Hanns Eisler Academy of Music, are the largest institutes. The institutes in Nuremberg, Essen and Mannheim are for example, more or less medium sized, and there are some small departments to be found, among others, at the universities of Bremen and Hanover.

Course content

The profiles of the individual institutes vary according to the course syllabus and examination regulations. Irrespective of that however most of the jazz lecturers set great store by imparting a broad spectrum of content and skills. For them today’s musicians have to be aware of past traditions as well as of the styles of the present and should furthermore be able to get their act together as an artist and to promote themselves. As there are only very few jobs going for jazz singers and musicians, for example in the Big Bands of the radio stations, the secret of success is in people being versatile.

Hardly any of Germany’s a hundred or so young musicians who graduate and start their working lives every year can make a living from jazz alone. Nevertheless most of them try to get their careers off the ground, often while still at university, by releasing CDs and giving concerts, in the hope of establishing themselves as artists. Many of the graduates earn their living performing in genres that are far removed from jazz, like pop and classical music. Quite a fair number give private lessons at a music school or do studio work like the music for advertising jingles. Others put their in-depth training to good use working as editors in specialist, subject-related publishing houses or in the field of culture management.

In the face of all these changing demands German universities are now moving more towards an internationalisation of this course of study. Whether it is Stuttgart or Munich, Leipzig or Würzburg, Saarbrücken or Weimar, by 2010 at the latest European standards will have taken over in the form of Bachelor’s degrees (8 terms of study) and Master’s degrees (12 terms of study). The compressed range of complementary studies can be enhanced with a sophisticated range of course subjects that above all, when the student goes on to do a Master’s, will open up further job prospects. At the University of Mainz, for example, the course emphasis is on jazz research, in Cologne and Essen Master’s courses are being set up in studio production and in Lübeck world music and pop music are on the agenda. Irrespective of all that there are also specialised basic courses, for example, at the University of Applied Sciences in Osnabrück they offer a Bachelor’s degree in teaching an instrument.

Music schools and colleges

These improved opportunities for the teaching of music in Germany have also led to a considerable upgrading of the instruction at music schools and colleges. In the meantime jazz-oriented schools and colleges are to be found almost everywhere. These institutes quite often have university graduates not only instructing schoolchildren and amateur musicians, but also helping prepare hopefuls for a university course in jazz or the qualification of “Staatlich geprüfte/r Leiter/in in der Popularmusik” (state-certified teacher of pop music) as they do at the Neue Jazzschool in Munich.