Advice to a College Music Student (From Someone Who Has Met Thousands)

I’ll never forget the first time I met another music student in college.

It was orientation at the University of Michigan, my undergraduate alma mater. I had struck up a friendly conversation with another student in my group, a percussionist.

I immediately noticed something I could never forget…

A sense of liveliness, passion, even determination in her eyes, for the journey she was about to embark on.

Contrast this with the “same old, same old” college majors many of my high school friends were about to start, and I realized something very quickly…

photo via Max Pixel Creative Commons

People who decide to major in music are special.

They have passion, fire…

They are looking forward to something they love.

Since that time, I have met thousands of music majors.

Some have gone into careers in music, and some have found their livelihoods in other passions, both of which are totally great.

Over the years, I have noticed that the most successful music majors have many of the same qualities.

We will start with the first piece…

It Begins with The Right-Fit School

Finding the right-fit school as a music student is the most crucial step…

It’s also the first step in your journey as a college music student.

Fitting in with a school’s culture is one step in all of this.

For many students, finding the right teacher is equally crucial – during four years of undergraduate, many students study with just one private teacher for all four years, developing a crucial mentor-mentee relationship.

The school MUST give you what you need as well, be it in music, academics, or something else.

Winning Music Majors Think Long Term – and Work Unbelievably Hard for It

The most important part of being a music major is thinking long term.

If you want to be successful in music, it can be easy to fall prey to short-term thinking.

Many think about their next concert performance, or their next exam, and sure, some degree of short-term thinking is necessary for daily survival in college.

However, once the short-term strategy is on autopilot, it’s time to start thinking long-term about your bigger goals.

What do you want in 1 year?

What do you want in 5 years?

How about 10 years?

I have found the most successful music majors are the students most laser-focused on their goals and take steps every day to realize them.

That includes practicing, building relationships with other musicians, performing, auditioning for opportunities and competitions, meeting patrons, and more.

Honestly, the big difference between some musicians who succeed and some don’t can come down to one big thing…

How much do they care?

The longer you work towards your goals, the more resolve you consistently show to achieve what you want…

The more people realize you care, the more people realize you are the real deal.

Longevity and long-term thinking always wins for a musician.

Don’t Optimize for ONLY a Degree

I’m going to let you in on a secret.

You don’t have to work extremely hard to end up getting the degree from a school you attend.

But if you don’t work extremely hard for the greater mission – that hyper-critical mission being your career – you’re shortchanging your own college experience.

If all you did was optimize for a degree, then you just simply have to be “good enough” to get past your classes, exams, and ensemble work to get the degree.

But, if you optimize for your career, all of the sudden you will treat college very, very differently…

What do I mean by this?

When you optimize for your career, you realize that your school can provide valuable connections, stepping stones, networking, perhaps even internships or equivalent opportunities.

After all, the degree is just a formality – what you REALLY want from going to school is setting yourself up for the career where you can work everyday doing something you love.

Be Someone Others Can Count On

I’ll never forget a quote I heard from Pulitzer Prize winning composer Steve Reich at a seminar I attended nearly a decade ago.

“Music is a social art.”

Should you remember anything from this article, remember that music is a social art, and YOU have to play your role in that.

If you say you are going to show up to a rehearsal at 11am – show up to that rehearsal on time.

If you are going to be available for a recording studio opportunity – make yourself available and don’t back out in the last minute.

Whether you are in a choir, orchestra, jazz band, chamber group, rock ensemble…

If you are not someone others can count on, then they will not be able to progress in their own goals and have a productive session.

And trust me, you don’t want to be “that guy” other musicians won’t want to work with.

Sometimes, all you have to do is show up, and that in it of itself can be an amazingly productive ritual.

On the next page, find out why bonding with your teacher is a priceless investment of your time…

One Response

  1. Melonnie January 30, 2019

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