Fostering the habits of a successful music major
I often meet students who have high hopes of pursuing music on a collegiate level. Sometimes these students are elementary school students just beginning their musical studies, and sometimes they’re in high school and much closer to their college career. No matter what age, there are habits that I believe set a student up for a better chance at a successful collegiate career in music.
Learn to value hard work
Music lessons are often begun with an end goal of having fun with music. Music is fun. At some point, the fun experience of music lessons may inspire new goals: making this fun experience into a career sounds like a fulfilling profession. Who wouldn’t want to play music for a job? The life of a musician requires a strong work ethic and a willingness to put in a tremendous amount of effort for each performance opportunity. Does your student love working hard for their music? Learn to take satisfaction in the exertion it takes to complete a major task, and then find a new task to tackle.
Practice takes Precedence
Students who spend quality time on disciplined practice are already on the road toward a productive future. When a student wants to pursue music professionally, practice becomes even more important. When a student tells me that they want to pursue music in college, the first thing I want to know about is their extracurricular activities, and whether those activities take away from daily practice time. Many instrumentalists will need to practice for 3-4 hours a day in college, much of which will be spent focused on the consistent, correct execution of fundamental technical skills. If practice is not at the top of a student’s to-do list, I would encourage the student to re-work his/her schedule to make practice their number one priority. Students equipped to become music majors shouldn’t need regular prompting to practice!
Music is the focus of your Music Degree
In a perfect world, students who consider a music degree should be passionate about music for the sake of music. Students who develop an appreciation for genres of music beyond their usual musical tastes will find musical studies challenging and gratifying. Reading and interpreting the music of an established composer should be part of the part of the draw of studying music. Students who are more excited about the attention they might receive from performing music than the music itself may be disappointed in their learning experience. Performing is an important part of study – but the object of a performance should be to share beautiful music with the audience.
Expect Criticism and Rejection
No one likes being told they cannot do what they want to do, yet anyone pursuing an artform needs to know that accepting criticism with a positive attitude is the only way to grow as an artist. No one is born with a masterful knowledge of music, and realizing that a teacher may ask you to make radical changes in your technique is the first step in becoming a mature musician. Furthermore, despite the care and attention that a musician takes to improve their skills, rejection is a large part of pursuing music professionally. There are days when another musician plays better or other actors look the part more. More experienced performers may have more seniority, know the right people, or call in a favor. This is not a reflection on your ability as an artist, but can be discouraging nonetheless. Students who have trouble coping with criticism or rejection will struggle to find contentment as they pursue music in college. Receiving regular, useful criticism from a teacher and from parents helps students to grow the “thick skin” required by the arts world.
Enthusiastically and Gratefully accept performance opportunities
When a musician is trying to make a living off performing, every performance is a chance to make connections that can result in new performance (and money making) opportunities. As a music student, the luxury of being picky about the style of music or the grandness of the venue doesn’t exist. There were times in my college career when I would have chosen different music, or a different audience. Ultimately, the performances I was the least excited to give ended up being the most valuable learning experiences. Anyone who is willing to give you a stage to perform on is someone you want to build a relationship with. Students considering a future in music should start seizing any chance to perform that presents itself – and write a sincere thank you note to follow up the performance.
Music is beautiful and rewarding to those who develop the skills to perform it. A decision to pursue music in college is not one to be taken lightly, and requires a high level of commitment from anyone interested in making the effort; there are no short cuts or quick fixes. Students brave enough to earn their degree in music develop much more than musical skill – they learn to value daily discipline, to persevere despite setbacks, to work hard and maintain focus on achieving long-term goals, and to build professional relationships that promote future business opportunities. Arguably, these are life skills that could apply to any profession – musicians just make it sound better.