classical musician

9 Essential Pieces of Advice for Music Majors

I had wonderful experiences as an undergrad and graduate music major. Reflecting on my own experience, these are the things I would tell my younger self knowing what I know now.

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1. Take Opportunities While They’re There

There are a lot of them when you’re in school and attached to a program. You may have already heard that you should “take advantage of every opportunity,” and it’s true. Once you graduate, it can become increasingly difficult to come by opportunities to network and build your resume.

If you’re slammed with too many opportunities at once, use your best judgement to say “no” to things that aren’t worth your time and energy. Be as forward-thinking as you can to pursue opportunities that will benefit you both now and in the future.

If I could go back in time, I would take advantage of competitions and auditions while I had the support of my teachers and colleagues, as well as easier access to recital halls, recording equipment, and experienced collaborative pianists. 

2. Create Your Own Opportunities

While you’re in school and have the support of faculty and colleagues, go after your own vision and create opportunities that speak to you! Start an ensemble, dive deeper into your area of research, or start a side hustle while you’re surrounded by potential clients.

Start trying and experimenting. You don’t have to wait until you come up with the most unique vision in the world to begin developing your own unique voice. Your personal endeavors can and will change over time, so take the plunge and start exploring!

 

3. Keep Your Lesson Notes, if Nothing Else

While practicing on my own after graduating, I frequently pull out old lesson notes and practice journals to be reminded of the most important ideas my teachers shared with me. Your future self will thank you for recording this information in great detail. (Bonus points from your future self if you're well-organized!)

 

4. Be Efficient With Your Time While Waiting for a Practice Room, Or Adapt to a new Practice Schedule

As an undergrad, I attended a school that had just about a dozen practice rooms (with a lot more than a dozen students wanting to practice.) There was almost always a line for the practice rooms, so I'd do homework or mental practice while waiting.

While I love using 20 minutes to work on something between tasks these days, in school, you could sit there waiting for 20 minutes without ever getting into a room. To ensure I could practice and touch my instrument before my lessons and rehearsals, I ended up adapting my routine to one that allowed me to thrive (although it seems crazy to me now!):

I would wake up by 5:00 in the morning to complete assignments that were due that same day (sometimes earlier if I had a lot of work do), then, I'd get to a practice room as soon as the building opened and practiced until the dining hall opened for breakfast. After that, classes began, and my schedule was usually packed until the late afternoon. I often wouldn't get back to practicing until later in the evening before or after dinner, but I'd always be back in my dorm room by 10:00 to wind down and watch the Golden Girls! (Some things never change!)

 

5. Get Recordings of Your Performances

Many music schools record recitals and ensemble performances and allow you access to a copy. In grad school, there were times I procrastinated getting particular recordings and I never ended up getting a copy before I graduated. 

If I could go back in time, I would carve out the time to go get myself a copy of the concerts where I had the chance to play solos and excerpts from major orchestral repertoire in addition to solo and chamber recitals.

 

6. While You're At It, Get To Know the Perks and Resources of Your School and Take Advantage of Them

Does your school have a music library or a dedicated music selection? Go explore and take advantage of the resources! (Don't wait until you have an assignment that requires it like I did!) Does your school have career counseling or guidance? (Go ask them what-on-Earth kind of job you should be looking for once you graduate like I wish I had.)

Do they offer resume assistance? Gig listings? Entrepreneurial workshops? Grants or competitions? Early music ensembles? Discounts or free anything? Especially free or discounted concerts and other live performances? Stop and read the posters!

 

7. Cultivate Community and Extend Your Network

As an introvert, the word “networking” has always frightened me. However, saying yes to social opportunities during school can be just as important as participating in performance and educational ones. The more people you connect with in school, the bigger your support system will be after graduating.  

If in-person interacting is difficult for you, use social media to your advantage. Friend and follow your colleagues’ pages and support their endeavors. They’re more likely to notice you if you’re interacting positively, and if you run into them in-person, you’ll have something to talk about!

 

8. Enjoy Your "Academic" Music Courses

Courses like Music Theory and Music History are extremely important for enriching your performing artistry and teaching skills, but the coursework can be dense and demanding while you're juggling everything else. If you’re struggling in one of these courses, apply what you’re learning directly to your own instrument.

Because I went into my music degree without any background beyond playing my own instrument (or any intent on becoming a music major before I got there), I felt like a fish out of water in many of the academic music courses. Bringing flute into it helped me feel more comfortable and confident while learning, and allowed me to apply new dimensions to my performance right away.
  • If you’re about learning about seventh chords on paper, start memorizing them on your instrument.
  • Practice singing solfège using your etudes.
  • Practice analyzing chords using your current solo or orchestral repertoire. 

 

If your're really struggling, ask for help. Your teacher is a teacher because they want to help you learn. Take advantage of their office hours and get one-on-one help. You can also start a study group to help and support your classmates!

 

Side Note: If you have to take general academic courses for credit that you're simply not interested in, consider it an opportunity to practice focus and efficiency - another skill that will help you later on. Also, apply anything you're learning to your instrument to make it more interesting. See number two: this could enhance your unique point of view in a new and insteresting way!
 

9. When You Graduate, Things Might get Hard, But It Doesn’t Have to Stay That Way

After you graduate, there’s a good chance you’ll get a job that isn’t related to music. You are not a failure. If you fall into a low place with your instrument while working an outside job, remember that your degree is still valid.

You haven’t stopped learning and you’re not going backwards - you’re just going slower. (Especially compared to being in school, when you’re going lightning speed for a few years in a row).

Learning to grow slower is all in the attitude - appreciate the process! Continue refining fundamentals a little bit each day. Listen to music as often as possible. Go see live performances. Find out what inspires you the most, and lean into that in your own way.

17 Must-See Resources if You're Preparing for an Audition

In the spirit of audition preparation, I've been collecting various resources on auditions, effective practice, mental skills, mock auditions, and more. There are countless resources available, but here are a few that I've found bookmark-worthy. Many of these resources contain further articles and links to even more resources that you may find useful in your own audition preparation.

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UNDERSTANDING + RE-FRAMING PERFORMANCE STRESS

 

Why I Don't Talk about "Stage Fright" and "Performance Anxiety" by Kate Conklin

  • "They’ve got the idea...that to perform, one should be “calm” or “relaxed.” And so when they experience *excitement, they re-interpret it as “stress” or “anxiety.”

 

Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement by A.W. Brooks

  • "Compared to those who attempt to calm down, individuals who reappraise their anxious arousal as excitement feel more excited and perform better. Individuals can reappraise anxiety as excitement using minimal strategies such as self-talk (e.g., saying "I am excited" out loud) or simple messages (e.g., "get excited"), which lead them to feel more excited, adopt an opportunity mindset (as opposed to a threat mindset), and improve their subsequent performance."

 

Go Ahead and Sweat It! A Flutist's Unconventional Guide to Handling Performance Anxiety by The Self-Inspired Flutist

  • "When you fight your performance anxiety, you actually give it strength." 

 

What To Do About Performance Anxiety by Barbara Conable

  • "There are four distinct phenomena that go by the name performance anxiety. Each requires a different response, so it is important to name all four and distinguish them from each other so that the appropriate response may be chosen."

 

A Few Things Every Musician Ought to Know About Stage Fright

  • "Have you ever had a performance when everything just “clicked?" ...You may have heard of this referred to as “the zone.” Well, this magical state pretty much requires that you experience some degree of anxiety. No anxiety, no zone."

 

Helen’s Highly Recommended Books for Confident Performance via The Flute Examiner

  • Fourteen resources compiled by Helen Spielman, Performance Anxiety Coach

 

Douglas Yeo, Trombone, on Performance Anxiety

  • "Think about all of this in a different way. Instead of trying to solve the problem of performance anxiety, think a little deeper and work toward putting your performance in context with your broader life. Performance anxiety may not really be a problem, but rather may be a symptom of other issues (such as insecurity, or emotional hurt, lack of preparation and dedication, etc.) which, once addressed in a straightforward, direct way, can lead to a healthier life in all areas."

PREPARING TO PERFORM UNDER PRESSURE + STRATEGIES FOR EFFECTIVE MOCK AUDITIONS

 

Bulletproof Musician: How Can You Create the Feeling of Real Pressure in Practice Situations?

  • "Being clutch under pressure is a skill we can get better at – by practicing under pressure...What are the most effective ways of manufacturing pressure training situations in advance of a big performance or audition?"

 

How Juilliard Teaches Musicians to Handle Stress by Daniel McGinn with Noa Kageyama

  • "In another class, he makes them do burpees until they’re sweaty and breathing hard — then asks them to play for the group. “It’s distracting when your heart is pounding,” he says, but if you practice playing while feeling that sensation, it can become a little less unnerving."

 

Rob Knopper: How to Stop Shaking Snare Drum [Video] + Stress-Inducing Exercises Download

  • "Going through a realistic mock audition forces you to experience the full range of things that you're going to have to get used to and get comfortable with at an actual audition. If you're not practicing like this, then you're not really practicing for an audition."

 

Four Alternative Methods to Make Sure Your Practice Efforts Survive the Pressures of Performance - The Strad

  • "A violist with a background in neuroscience, Molly Gebrian shares some alternative practice methods informed by studies on how our brain processes learning."

 

Audition Practice - Mock Auditions by Toby Oft, Trombone

  • "I want you to consider one thing: The better you get, the less often you perform for just trombonists."

 

MockAuditions.com - An Online Platform to Help You Win Your Next Audition

  • "Mockauditions.com is an online platform that connects and enables users to play for professional coaches and receive valuable feedback." 

ADVICE for Advancing in Auditions + REAL AUDITION STORIES

 

Rob Knopper's Free Mini-Course: How to Advance in an Audition 101

  • A free, 3-video course: 4 Reasons Why Anyone Can Win an Audition, The 3 Vital Phases of Audition Preparation, & What a Winning Audition Sounds Like

 

How to Win an Audition: Advice and Strategies from 3 Renowned Performer/Teachers by The Bulletproof Musician

  • "We all know that success requires talent and hard work, but on some level, we’re also deeply curious about the “secret sauce,” or those tiny, but significant little details that can be the difference between advancing and going home, or winning and being runner-up."

 

New World Symphony Audition Panel Discussion [Video]

  • "NWS Coaches on Auditioning with Craig Morris (trumpet), Marianne Gedegian (flute), David Allen Moore (bass), William VerMeulen (horn), Daniel Matsukawa (bassoon), Jonathan Vinocour (viola), Mark Kellogg (trombone), Robert Davidovici (violin)."

 

Doug Rosenthal's A Tale of Two Auditions

  • "This is an account of a specific time in my specific life.  What I did for these specific auditions worked well enough specifically for me at these specific moments. I hope you find it helpful, insightful, or at the very least, entertaining."

Have you utilized any of the above resources? Share your favorite resources in the comments!

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How A Video Revealed a Surprising Fact About Expressive Movements

I recently made a side-by-side duet video of the Flower Duet from Lakme. I noticed something really interesting while watching it back-- my movements were synchronized without even thinking about it. 

Take a Look:

The parts follow the same shape in most of the duet, and my body follows similar shapes as well! When the parts differentiate towards the middle, my movements separate, but when they come back to the opening theme, my movements align once again.

What does this reveal? 

I did not do this on purpose. I wasn't even thinking about it! Our patterns of movement are so deeply ingrained, that when we produce the same piece over and over, we are likely moving our bodies in very similar patterns every time!

I took it a step further and made a side-by-side comparison from my Ibert Piece practice session to see if my movements would line up.

And sure enough, they do! While it is more subtle, and there are slight differences in tempo between the two takes, I noticed several key things:

  • I pull up and back the same way both times in the opening, then bring my face back down slightly.
  • I pull my right arm up and back at the same spot, and release it back down while taking a breath.
  • In the second clip, I bow down and rapidly pull back up both times.

How Can I Use This Information?

These patterns are information that you can use to break yourself out of movements that might be holding back expression or ease in certain moments!

For example, in my second clip, pulling my arm up and back just before the breath led to a more dramatic movement while taking the breath, which may prevent ease and efficiency. I can now try allowing my arms to release at that moment in preparation for the breath.

Choosing an alternative movement from the one your body naturally creates gives you the chance to experience a new feeling while playing a piece!

Become aware of your habits and unlock the possibilities!

 

May Inspiration Calendar

This Month's Themes!

There are two main themes present in this month's calendar!

  • Improving Technique
  • Audition Preparation: Deep and Effective Practice + Mental Strength and Focus

Over the past few weeks, I have been digging in to as many resources as possible while preparing for a professional audition. There are so many layers to a thorough preparation when it comes to auditions, but deep practice and mental strength for consistent, uninhibited performances have been my main focus. I have included several resources that I find useful, in addition to practice intentions and activities that led me to several breakthroughs!

In addition, I have received many requests for technique tips and a technique calendar! I have put a lot of thought into the subject, and will be sharing a Technique Workout Tracker, Technique Prompt Sheet, and a video full of tips and exercises demonstrations that will be available during the first week of May!


Tips for Using Your Calendar

  • While this is not a practice calendar, there are several actions that are to be implemented directly into your practice session, such as the Practice Intention ideas.
  • There's no need to do every action in the order specified. If you're one to print out calendars like this one, then stop using them after one day if you haven't done everything as listed perfectly, here's permission to use it however you'd like
  • Half the days are intentionally left blank, and you're encouraged to fill them in with actions that are very specific to your own personal sources of inspiration or goals.
  • The first action involves reviewing your goals, and writing them specifically in the space at the top. 
  • Items with an asterisk (*) have corresponding links and explanations that are available below the calendar at the end of this post! 

Set Your New Goals

Take a moment to reflect and check-in on goals, experiences, and behaviors, ask the following questions:

  • Am I on track with my overall goals?
  • Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term?
  • What have I observed in myself that I wish to change?

Here you Go!

Click the image or click the button below to download your free PDF!


#practiceroomrevelations

I am SO EXCITED to see your calendars and the ways you're staying inspired throughout the month! Use the hashtag #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share!

April Inspiration Calendar

How to Use It

  • While this is not a practice calendar, there are several actions that are to be implemented directly into your practice session, such as the Practice Intention ideas.
  • There's no need to do every action in the order specified. If you're one to print out calendars like this one, then stop using them after one day if you haven't done everything as listed perfectly, here's permission to use it however you'd like
  • Half the days are intentionally left blank, and you're encouraged to fill them in with actions that are very specific to your own personal sources of inspiration or goals.
  • The first action involves reviewing your goals, and writing them specifically in the space at the top. Here are mine:

Set New Goals

Take a moment to reflect and check-in on goals, experiences, and behaviors, ask the following questions:

  • Am I on track with my overall goals?
  • Are my behaviors reflective of what I wish to accomplish in the short and long-term?
  • What have I observed in myself that I wish to change?

Last Month's Goals

  • Spend time on my body map, specifically re-evaluating my representation of my hip joints and the relationship of the spine and balance of the head.
  • Use video recordings to evaluate movements and habits in a more specific way to better understand how I'm moving as a whole.
  • Spend time experimenting with throat tension, and learn more about the relationship between the soft palate and support.

How'd It Go?

I set my goals knowing that I would be completely out of commission for two weeks in the middle of the month during my wedding and honeymoon. I did not spend time on my hip joints, but I did have a pulse on my head-spine balance. It helped me with my third goal of figuring out my throat tension. (Read about that here!) I committed to recording more videos of myself, and now that I'm back and well-rested after a busy month, I'm ready to begin putting my findings into action to replace unnecessary habits.

Goals

  • Turn findings from video recordings into action steps. Begin to replace unnecessary habits with efficient movements.
  • Revert to using a timer to focus more during fundamentals.
  • Continue listening to recordings each day that inspire musicality and effortlessness.

Calendar

Click the image or click the button below to download your free PDF!

CORRESPONDING LINKS


#practiceroomrevelations

I am SO EXCITED to see your calendars and the ways you're staying inspired throughout the month! Use the hashtag #practiceroomrevelations and tag @joleneflute to share!