If you're a high school junior, now is the time when you're probably starting to think seriously about what you want to do after graduation. If you're interested in studying music at the college level, it can be hard to tell how you compare to your competition and if you have what it takes to get into a good music program.
Here are some things you should consider if you're thinking about studying music:
Am I prepared to be tenacious?
Depending on your background and the major you choose, there will be things about your curriculum that you find difficult to the point of impossibility. Many people change majors when they come up against these challenges, but the ones who bite down and refuse to give up are the ones who end up with their music degree.
Am I willing to be resourceful?
There will be times when you aren't sure what's going on in a class. Be willing to seek help if you need it, whether from a fellow student or your professor. A lot of professors spend their office hours sitting and waiting for a student to care enough to come ask for assistance with something.
There will also be times when music school gets incredibly stressful. Most schools offer some sort of counseling or mentorship program, and you should take advantage of this resource if things start to feel overwhelming.
Do I have any idea what I want to do within the music field?
It's not enough to love music and want to spend four years at band camp. You need some idea of what you want to pursue, even if you don't have it completely narrowed down yet. Common fields of focus include education, performance, musicology (history and analysis), music theory, and composition.
Am I aware of my financial future?
Unless you're independently wealthy, chances are you'll need to take out some student loans to cover the cost of music school. Bear in mind that music is not a traditionally high-earning field; for every big-name orchestra musician who makes six figures a year, there are many, many musicians piecing together a career that supports them financially and spiritually but doesn't leave a ton of financial wiggle room.
Am I looking for a 9-5 job?
Because if you are, music is not the field for you. Performers tend to work evenings and weekends, and teachers work all day and into the night. If you want a desk job with guaranteed vacation time and benefits, music is not the field you should choose.
So perhaps the question shouldn't be "Am I good enough to go to conservatory," but rather, "Is conservatory something I want?"
Do some serious thinking about what you want out of it and how it will benefit you to go to music school. If you're unsure, examine why, and be honest with yourself about whether it's the right decision. But if at the end of your introspection you determine that music is a non-negotiable part of you, a part that would diminish and cripple you if it were taken away, then you'll love conservatory. Go for it.
In the summer months, you might notice that you have a hard time keeping your lip plate stable against your chin, since our faces get sweaty when it's hot out. The lip plate slides around when your chin is slippery, and makes it hard to get a focused sound.
I've heard a bunch of remedies to this problem, ranging from sticking a postage stamp on your lip plate (inadvisable) to applying antiperspirant to your chin (probably bad for your face and your flute's finish). One trick I use when it's humid out is to place a small piece of paper medical tape on my lip plate where it will come in contact with my chin, like so:
The tape creates a little friction between your chin and the flute, preventing the sliding-around that tends to happen when our faces get sweaty.
It's important to use a tape with a gentle adhesive when you do this: I like Nexcare, but any medical tape that bills itself as "gentle" or "low-adhesive" works just fine. This will prevent any damage to the finish of your flute.
Another thing you must do if you use medical tape on your headjoint is remove it when you pack your flute up at the end of the day. Keep a roll in your flute bag and apply a new piece every day, but never leave it on overnight. This will help prevent buildup of adhesive residue and will also keep you from getting breakouts due to sweaty, old tape touching your face.
So don't let the dog days of summer get in the way of your practice routine. Tape up and good luck!
Summer is a great time to delve into a project. Why not spend some time getting to know a piece on a deeper level?
Use this throwback post from October 2013 to help you analyze your piece. You don't need to know advanced music theory; all you need is a basic knowledge of scales and arpeggios.
Good luck finding the skeleton!
It's OK to screw up when you practice. In fact, if you never make a mistake, you're probably not taking enough chances or trying enough practice techniques. We need to venture into the unfamiliar and uncomfortable in order to grow.
What matters is that you recognize the mistake, learn from it, and let that be the last time you do it wrong. They say that once you come down with a specific form of the cold virus, you're immunized to it and you won't ever catch it again. This is only minimally helpful when you're young, because there are so many variations on the cold virus. But as you get older, you get fewer colds, because your repertoire of immunity has expanded. (Let it be known that I am not a scientist and that this could be a total myth. But you get the point.)
The same should be true of the errors you make, both in music and in life. Some mistakes are unavoidable, and some are spawned by ignorance of the correct way to do things. However they arise, they should be treated as a powerful opportunity to strengthen something about yourself that you weren't even aware needed shoring up.
Relish your mistakes. They're what will eventually make you great.
This summer, my students will be working through Andersen's Op. 41 book of etudes, and I encourage you to work along with us. This etude book is a great summer project because it's challenging enough to be interesting without crossing the line into overwhelming.
Click the images below to download the complete book of etudes as well as the accompanying activity sheet.
When I was in music school, many of my peers took pride in how much they practiced. The goal was to spend as many hours per day as possible in the practice room, and heaven forbid you miss a day. Sheer volume of hours accumulated was king.
When I was in music school, many of my peers also struggled with overuse injuries, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, as well as a nagging lack of satisfaction with their progress.
Are these two things related? Absolutely.
Practice is how we get better. But when we work toward acquiring a new musical skill, we have to make sure we're ingraining the right things: ease of technique, healthy body position, and confident performance style. Frustration, annoyance, and inattention are all you'll learn when you practice for the sake of racking up your hours.
Your practice sessions should be inquisitive and illuminating. If you find yourself losing focus, find a way to bring yourself back. There are so many ways to approach the same subject that there's no reason to be bored in the practice room. If you're not sure where to begin, start with some opposite practice.
One of the most helpful and rejuvenating techniques I use is to skip a day on purpose. I use this day of rest to focus on aspects of my musicianship that sometimes take a backseat: I might spend some time researching the history of a piece I'm working on or looking up definitions of unfamiliar terms in my sheet music. I might also delve into diagramming the form and basic chord progression of the pieces or etudes I have in my rotation. These are all things that can feel less important than spending a certain number of hours with your hands on your instrument, but they are skills that differentiate the great musicians from the rest.
Taking a day off also gives you a chance to want to play your instrument. If you're in an intense program of musical study, whether through a private teacher or in a conservatory, it can be easy to lose sight of how much of a gift it is to be able to play music in the first place. It can start to feel like an imposition or a chore. Taking one day off gives you a chance to miss your instrument a little and remember the value of what you do.
So one day a week, leave your instrument in the case. It'll be OK, I promise.
The circle of fifths is a diagram that displays every key signature, as well as what the names of the major and minor key that are associated with it. For example, one sharp in the key signature can mean either G major or E minor. The key signature is the actual collection of sharps or flats on the staff (one sharp), and the name refers to the letter name and quality used to identify it (G major).
When a major and minor key share the same key signature (for example, one sharp) they are called relative. E minor would be the relative minor of G major.
When a major and minor key share the same name (for example F major and F minor) they are called parallel. G minor would be the parallel minor of G major.
The circle of fifths also shows you the three sets of enharmonic key signatures--that is, key signatures that are written differently but sound the same. F sharp and G flat are examples of enharmonic key signatures; F sharp has six sharps, and G flat has six flats, but they sound the same.
Here's a great example of a circle of fifths:
So why does this matter? Because great musicians can play comfortably in any key signature, even one with many sharps or flats in it. So it's good to include all the key signatures in your practice.
Below are some ways to include the circle of fifths in your home practice sessions:
Teaching music lessons in your own private studio gives you a great deal of freedom compared to teaching under the auspices of a community music school. One of the basic administrative things you have to decide if you teach private lessons independently is whether you want to charge students by the week or by the month. There are three setups you can choose from:
1.) Students pay weekly.
Pros: Easy to keep track of whether a lesson has been paid for or if a student still owes; no need to deal with refunding for lessons.
Con: Harder to get a student to pay for a lesson that gets cancelled with less than 24 hours notice.
2.) Students pay a lump sum for all lessons scheduled in a given month (payment usually happens at the first lesson of the month).
Pros: Fewer payments to keep track of; discourages last-minute cancellations.
Cons: Creates more work when students require a refund for a cancelled lesson; assumes that students have a fairly regular lesson schedule.
3.) Students pay a flat monthly tuition, regardless of the number of lessons scheduled for that month.
Pro: No need to calculate lesson tuition for each month because it's the same; ensures a more steady income for the teacher.
Con: Students might feel that a month when they don't have a lesson every week but still have to pay the same flat rate is unfair.
I used to charge my students weekly, but when I switched to the second method above, I found that my students cancelled less and gave me more notice when they did need to miss a lesson. It also meant fewer checks to deposit, which made trips to the bank easier. Some teachers prefer to do things differently, but the monthly invoices have worked well for me.
How do you bill your students? How does your music teacher charge you? Share in the comments!
I spent six years getting two degrees in music performance, but it wasn't until the very end of my time in higher education that I realized that I get more fulfillment out of being the person behind the scenes making everything run smoothly than I do out of being the person on stage. I was so fixated on performance when I started college at age 18 that I never stopped to notice that somewhere along the way, my priorities changed.
I knew that something was off, of course. Especially in graduate school, I had a nagging feeling that I wasn't as committed to the orchestral job search as my classmates were. I was, and am, extremely dedicated to learning how to be a great teacher, so I spent most of my time in my classes observing how my own teachers operated. They all had different styles, and it fascinated me. In retrospect, perhaps I was meant to be an education major.
College is expensive and changing majors usually means staying an extra semester or two, so of course you should think carefully about what course of study you want to pursue. However, don't be too hard on yourself if you graduate and realize that your interests lie somewhere other than where they did when you were just entering college.
The chances of you working in a job that exactly mirrors what you studied are slim; you might be the lucky one who majors in music performance and wins an orchestra job, but this is by no means a guarantee. It's more likely that you'll find something related to your field that also interests you, or is at least close enough to be worth pursuing. Or perhaps you'll discover something else entirely that you feel passionate about but weren't aware of until after school ended.
Regardless of what you major in during college (if you decide that's the path you want to take), you'll learn a great deal about yourself and about how to be an adult. Many of the things about myself that I take the most pride in--punctuality, personal responsibility, follow-through, and organization--are byproducts of my college experience. It's only after graduation that you're able to see the full weight and merit of your education.
Do you have a question about how to pick a major? Share in the comments or email me!