Student Profile: Arooj Aftab
Born and raised in Pakistan, Arooj Aftab was an entirely self-taught female guitarist in a culture where opportunities for music study—especially for women—are severely limited. When she applied for and was awarded a Steve Vai online scholarship from Berkleemusic.com (Berklee's online continuing education division), she had no idea how many doors it would open—or that it would eventually lead her to the United States.
After taking several online courses, Arooj applied for admission to Berklee in Boston—and was accepted. She had already built a solid foundation by studying Berklee's core curriculum online, and many of the courses transferred directly towards her degree.
How did the cultural differences in Pakistan affect your music education?
We're very conservative, culturally, and our society has assigned roles to women. Women sing, but they can't play guitar or compose on their own. You just don't see it. A girl with a guitar is a big deal here.
I had always dreamed of going to Berklee, but it wasn't until I won a scholarship to Berkleemusic and began studying music online that my family took notice of my abilities and agreed to let me study abroad.
Tell me about your experiences learning online with Berkleemusic.
Coming from a traditional Pakistani music background where nothing is written down, I had no idea how people teach music, let alone online. I was pleasantly surprised by how well organized the information was at Berkleemusic. The lessons were challenging but easy to follow, with homework and assignments that made sense. The teachers were highly dedicated and easy to reach, and we could chat online with other members of the class from around the world. The combination of networking opportunities and comprehensive course material made it a wonderful learning experience.
How did your online courses prepare you for Berklee?
When I decided to apply to the college, I had no training in Western music theory. The online school was exactly what I needed to get up to speed. At Berkleemusic, you have the freedom to study whatever you want without degree requirements and restrictions. I covered all the basics of theory and even some guitar and production classes! When I arrived at Berklee in Boston, I was completely familiar with things like notation software and Western teaching styles.
What courses and instructors have made the biggest impression on you?
With Berkleemusic, I got to study Basic Ear Training 1 with Matt Marvuglio and then Music Theory 101 with Dave Limina. When I started going to Berklee, I looked at the faculty list and I said, "Hey, they teach here, too!" When I saw them on campus at Berklee, they remembered me, which was really nice, and they were very happy and helpful.
Matt Marvuglio is also the dean of the Professional Performance Division and he's doing great things at Berklee. The fact that he's teaching a course like Ear Training shows us that Berkleemusic offers us some really great teachers. I didn't know this when I was in Pakistan; I am just so surprised, how did Berkleemusic get them to fit that in their schedule? They're all over the place! I felt like this was a really important aspect of the courses.
What has been the biggest benefit from your Berklee studies?
I can now use my music to speak openly about social issues in my country and around the world. I am one of four individuals who started the Berklee Peace Institute, a group of musicians working together as social activists, motivating people with music and instigating them to make positive changes.
Arooj's Current Playlist
- Erkan O ur — "Bir Ömürlük Misafir"
- Crosby, Stills & Nash — "Guinnevere"
- Farida Khanum — "Mohabbat Karne Wale"
- Ella Fitzgerald — "Lady Be Good"
- Luciana Souza — "Viver de Amor"