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Claire Allen

Ten Ways To Make The Most of Your Music School Experience

March 2, 2013 at 3:38 AM

1. Make building fundamental technique a priority. In music school, it's often overwhelming when you try to balance lessons, orchestra, chamber music, gigs, etc. No matter how much repertoire you have, make some time each day to focus on your fundamental skills, scales, and technique. It will pay off and make everything easier.

2. Schedule your practice time. With a full schedule of classes and rehearsal, making sure you have enough time to practice is key. Make appointments with yourself to practice, and don't break them.

3. Play chamber music. In addition to being some of the best music in the world, chamber music teaches you how to truly play with other people. Learning to be a good chamber musician will also help you in your solo playing and your orchestral playing. It also teaches you creative problem-solving skills and important social skills. It's also one of the most tremendously rewarding and fun things you can do. :-)

4. Take orchestra seriously. It's easy to let orchestra slide in music school. Sometimes people are overwhelmed by scheduling. Some people just want to be soloists and don't think orchestra is important. Most of us, however, will end up playing in orchestra at one time or another.

So do the following things: Show up to rehearsal at least ten minutes early. Listen to the music before the first rehearsal. Bring a pencil. Pay attention in rehearsal - be respectful to the conductor and your colleagues. Keep your phone on silent, and don't text during rehearsal. Even if the conductor doesn't notice, the people sitting around you definitely will, and it makes you look bad.

5. Make your health a priority. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy food. Get some form of physical activity, even if it's just going for a short walk every couple of days. Your body and your brain will work so much better if you are in good health.

6. Choose not to participate in drama. In a small, emotionally-charged, competitive environment, there will be drama. Choose not to participate. It takes your time and energy away from what's really important - your music. Don't complain about orchestra chairs. Don't say anything bad about anyone else's playing - ever. Find someone from home - a friend, a parent, a relative - that you can trust to rant to when you need to. At school, be positive and professional at all times.

7. Take classes in pedagogy, arts administration, music business and orchestral repertoire. Great for elective credits and future employment opportunities. Regardless of whether you will eventually work as an orchestra musician, a teacher, a soloist, or an administrator, these courses will help you gain a more complete picture of the music industry.

8. Take advantage of free counseling at the student health center. College is rough. Whether it's navigating living away from home for the first time, roommate troubles, dealing with all the stress, or wondering what direction to take your life in, you'll go through a lot during your college years. Most universities offer free counseling. Take advantage of that. This is a great safe space to speak freely about any issue going on in your life. It will help you manage your stress, and help you get to know yourself better.

9. Plan your summers. Whether it's attending a summer festival, studying abroad, or working, make sure you plan ahead. Auditions and job applications are usually due in January and February, so think about your summer early. This is a great way to supplement your college education. If you want more orchestra, look for an orchestra festival. Same for chamber music. A summer internship at an arts organization can count for college credit and give you valuable insights into the music world. Regardless of which direction you take, make your summers work for you!

10. Learn to multi-task, schedule, and plan ahead. If you don't keep a calendar or a personal schedule, learn to. Buy a planner or invest in any number of free calendar programs (like Google Calendar). Set them to alert you before things. Write down rehearsals, concerts, and other events as soon as you receive the dates. Show up to everything on time - create a reputation of responsibility for yourself. Respond to emails about gigs, rehearsals, or projects as soon as you possibly can. Learn to plan ahead - in your school life alone, you'll be juggling solo performances, orchestra concerts, homework, tests, and everything else. You can't wait for one thing to end before working on another. You might have to write a final paper for theory class the same week as your recital. Or any other imaginable combination of things. Learning to keep track of your schedule in an organized way will be one of your most valuable skills to survive music school.

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