Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Musician in Training: Some advice for the new school year.

Summer is sadly winding down,  but many of us are looking forward to a new semester.  I always think the new academic year in early fall is a time of great excitement and renewal, and for me is like   most people'sNew Year's Day on January 1st.  It's a time to reflect on past accomplishments and consider how we want to improve ourselves and our careers. With that in mind,  I thought I'd write a post to all of you music students out there with a little advice on being a student.

(I got to the "22nd grade" as a doctoral student,  so I had lots of experience!)

  • First and foremost, remember that you are both a student scholar and a  musician in training. Keep your goals in mind with all that you do.

  •  You'll likely have some auditions at the beginning of the school year for ensemble placement. This isn't a test to see how you match up with others in your studio or school. This is an opportunity to test YOURSELF to see how much you've improved. Don't compare yourself to others or be jealous if someone gets a better placement than you. Only compare your playing to where YOU want to be. And I don't mean who gets first chair, etc. That's petty stuff that no one cares about in the really big picture. Think about skill attainment, improvement on  specific techniques,  repertoire that you want to master, opportunities to seek out, etc. Then go get it! 

  •  Get organized! Write out your schedule in a weekly calendar. Know when your classes are and then WRITE in the times that you plan to STUDY and PRACTICE and MAKE REEDS. Then stick to it. 

  •  No really, I mean it. Stick to your schedule. That way you'll look back on the day with a sense of accomplishment instead of feeling behind. 

  • Find a quiet place to study, away from the music building, reed room, or any other distractions. The school library is built for this! Use that time to really study and learn all that your classes have to offer. Turn off your cell phone. As a scholar in training, your study time is yours alone.
  •  If your teacher asks you to purchase specific music and reed materials, do so!  If some of the materials are too expensive for you,  be honest and TELL your teacher that you have financial constraints. They can often help you come up with an alternative plan or order fewer supplies, etc. But if you don't tell the teacher and don't show up to reed class or lessons with the proper music/supplies,  it will just seem like you're not interested or unorganized. For music, order it through interlibrary loan until you can buy your own. Find a way to work around your problems.
  •  Realize that your teacher has your best interests in mind. When your teacher gives you an assignment that you don't like,  don't whine or avoid it. Your teacher was a student at one time too, but they also know from direct experience what it takes to get a job. Listen to what they have to say and do what they assign.

  • If you don't understand what your teacher is teaching you, ASK for clarification. Even if you think you'll feel/ look "dumb." You only look "dumb" if you DON"T ask,  because then you'll surely not   understand the concept. Teachers are here to help you and usually like to know when they need to clarify a point.

  •  Never be afraid to stop in a professor's office hours. Stop in for extra questions and help. Really,  PLEASE! I can't tell you how many times I've had no students stopping in during office hours even though I KNOW some students are struggling. Office hours are YOUR time that you've PAID for as a student.  

  •  Minimize distractions while practicing. Turn off your cell phone. If there's a window on the practice room door, either put paper over it or turn your back to it so you don't see other students in the hall. Resist the urge to chat half of your practice away with others in the practice room areas. You can't count that time as practice! And let your friends know that when you're practicing, to not disrupt you. When you are in the practice rooms......practice.

  • Get enough sleep. You're probably thinking,  "yeah right!  I'm a busy music major! We don't sleep!!" If you have a schedule, stick to it, and still don't have time for everything you do,  then do less. Cut out the extra clubs, gigs, etc until you have a sustainable life. Remember that this is YOUR time as a musician in training to learn as much as you possibly can.

  •  Eat well. The junk food you've eaten as a teen won't sustain you very well as a musician in training. You're an adult now.  Eat veggies and fruits and only consume as little caffeine as is necessary (it can really affect nerves/performance anxiety). Foods with lots of sugar and fat will only make you feel lethargic and unfocused. So very not fun.

  •  Get some exercise. Add it into your schedule. As a college student you likely have a recreation center/pool/fitness classes that are really affordable. Use these resources to become a strong, healthy scholar musician in training. This will have important benefits for years to come. At the very least, take short practice breaks by taking a walk. Get out of that music building and breath some fresh air. The exercise will clear your mind and help you focus on your next endeavors as a scholar and musician in training.

  • Your fellow students are your colleagues NOW and are your FUTURE colleagues/contacts in our great profession after you graduate. Be supportive of one another and learn from each other! You'll be amazed at how many doors can open to you by being a good person and reliable colleague NOW. That big job you apply for just might have a former classmate on the hiring committee. They'll likely remember you, so make sure it is a positive memory. 

  • Form study groups with the strongest students. Learn how they learn. Take mini lessons from older students whom you admire. Learn how they learn.

  • Be kind to those struggling; they may not have had the advantages you've enjoyed. Share with them what you know and teach them how to succeed.
  • Work hard, but enjoy the process. Have fun with your fellow classmates and make some great music!

That's all for now. I'm SURE I'll have more to share soon.

Oboe and out,

The Oboist


  1. I really enjoyed reading this, Dr. Garvey. I should probably read this at least once every week..!

  2. Glad you find this useful, Jonathan! Best wishes, CG