Being A Music Major and Your First Year of College
Studying music at the college level can be an incredible, rewarding path for the four years of college. It can also be incredibly difficult unless you become efficient at managing your time and energies. Here is some insight I gathered after four recent years of being a successful music major, as well as some observations about my fellow students who did not do so well.
Know what you’re getting into
It took me two years of study to realize that I had absolutely no desire to teach at the high school level, simply by doing a week of observation with a high/middle school director. While that didn’t mean I completely left the music track, it did mean I had to switch some of my focus. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you start, in terms of career, further schooling, etc., but you do need to know that being a professional musician is difficult, and being a music teacher is even more hoops to jump through. Spend some time talking to your old band/choir director, talk to your college advisors and try to get a feel for what life is really like for the everyday musician. All that said, its hard to know exactly what an experience will be like before you experience it, so don’t worry too much, you have time to figure things out.
If there was one thing I would've spent more time in school doing, it would have been playing my instrument. You really don't realize how much time in school you have to dedicate to playing until you're out of school and have even less time. Play as much as you can, you won't regret it.
Practice and Practice and uh Practice
You will have this preached at you until your ears bleed. You have to practice, there is no other way to improve; you cannot do it through osmosis, yoga or long nights of playing Halo. (Trust me, I’ve tried)There is nothing more frustrating as a teacher or more embarrassing as a student than to show up unprepared for your lesson. And if you don’t feel that way, you might want to pick a different collegiate route. Here are a few tips on practice (Allen Iverson, take note):
- Quality, Quality, Quality- If you dilly-dally around on your instrument for two hours you will be much less prepared (if you're prepared at all) than if you spent one hour focusing on a specific section of music or exercise.
- Practice does NOT make perfect, it makes it permanent- If you play the same bar 1,000 with the wrong rhythm, you are going to play that bar with the wrong rhythm, every time, and no amount of repetition can change that. The opposite is also true, if you play it correctly a 1,000 there is a very good chance that you will continue to do so.
- Practice slow then slower, then even slower- This one hinges on the last one; if you can’t play it at tempo, play it slower. Much slower. You have to be able to put your ego aside and realize that Beethoven is not leaning over your shoulder demanding immediate perfection.
You Reap what you sow- I know its cliché, but it's true in far too many ways to enumerate. If you hurry through a section, repeatedly playing part of it wrong, you will continue to play it wrong. If you put garbage in, garbage is all that is going to come out.
Choosing the Right Ensembles
Find out how many ensembles and lesson hours you are required to take each semester, and whether there are specific ones you are required to be in for a scholarship that you have. The reason I say this, is that I ended up playing in Jazz Ensemble (which I was not at all a fan of) all four years, even though I didn’t need to, when I could have participated in choir or a different class, and broadened my overall experience. I’m not saying you will like every collegiate musical activity and therefore should quit; but I am saying that the more experience you can gain, the more perspective you’ll have. And that, in my opinion, was worth more than any other aspect of college.
Frisbee and Halo
The only way to keep your sanity is to be involved in other things outside of music, or it will start to drive you towards insanity. As a musician, you may not have as much free time as your fellow classmates, but the free time that you have, would be best spent engaging in other activities. Find a club to join, ultimate Frisbee, yoga, Halo, whatever. You need an outlet to release stress as well as something that engages you with others. Again, any chance to gain experience and build perspective is a chance you should definitely consider. If there is anything in college, there is the chance to learn new things… *ahem*
If you’re worried about surviving your first year, being a music major and balancing life, don’t be. There is time, there is always time, and if you take 5 years to get through, so what? By the end of your time in college, hopefully, you will know more about yourself than you ever had before, and you will be an excellent musician and human being. If you discover that you aren’t as passionate about music as you thought, try other things out. This is the best chance you’ll get at discovering the host of possibilities and experiences available. Like I said, no worries.
Here's some more first year of college info: