5 Things They Don’t Teach You in Music School

Studying music is the absolute best thing I ever did in my life.  I loved college and I loved graduate school.  I thrived in that environment and am so much a better musician for having survived!  As wonderful as some of the courses were, and as awful as others were, there were things that just were not covered.  This is what I want to address right this minute.

1. A Great Musician is a Healthy Musician.

I discovered, after having completed my studies, how important striving for good health is for the musician (and for everybody else too).  During my school years, I struggled just to get my homework and practice in, on top of all the classes, concerts, studio class, masterclasses, and teaching.  I was busy ALL THE TIME.  I had good friends, in the same program, that would try to go running or go to kickboxing or yoga.  It was never a regular thing.  The piano professor tried to start a yoga for pianists class that was supposed to be a requirement.  I think that only one person went faithfully.  Since leaving grad school, I have had some health problems that probably would have happened anyway.  Stress impacts health significantly – this I am remembering.  I have figured out, though, that when I make time for exercise – running, boxing, group fitness,etc – that I play better and am a more focused practicer.  I am sure there is some lengthy scientific explanation for this but I am not a scientist.  I just know that eating well, exercising, and taking time for me make me a better and much more healthy pianist.

2.  You Are the Only One That Can Make You Practice.

When you graduate, the time that was written into your schedule for practicing disappears.  It is kind of like a magic act – poof and it’s gone.  I now know the time that I have in my current schedule when I can practice and stick to that 90% of the time.  No one is going to make you practice.  Why would you stop, though, when you have spent so much time and effort into becoming this fabulous musician?  So — go practice.  Make yourself.

3.  You Must Set Your Own Goals

There are so many goals set for you when you are in school.  You have to have your pieces performance ready in such a short time in order to get the required performances in before juries.  You have to learn all your collaborative pieces early to be ready to work with your group members and be ready for coachings.  You have to learn dictation and sight singing by the exams.  You have three weeks to write a fantastic paper for your 20th century music history class.  Everything that you do in school is done with an end in mind.  You graduate and, just like #2, it goes away instantly.  This has been the hardest thing for me.  I have to set a goal just so that I am working toward something and not just working aimlessly.  My goals are now dictated by me and what I want to accomplish and my goals rarely follow a semester schedule.

4.  The Pencils Will Always Disappear, So Make Sure You Have Plenty

Who remembers going to practice and not being able to find your pencil?  You could swear that it was in your bag…or your binder…or your hair.  Now it’s gone.  Well, the pencils will keep disappearing.  I practice on the piano in my living room.  The pencils cannot go far but they are gone nearly every time I go to use one.  So, at the beginning of the school year, I took advantage of the back-to-school sales and bought probably 60 pencils.  I keep them in my bench and am surprised at how quickly I am going through them.  I am absolutely certain the pencils are in the room somewhere…but where?  Maybe the ghost of Beethoven and Scarlatti have absconded with them.  I choose that theory…it’s kind of like the theory of the socks and the dryer.

5.  Music is a Business and You Need to Know a Little About Running One

So, you can play a 75-minute program of solo music.  You know how to teach any student from 4-104.  You can dictate the heck out of a Top-4o song you hear on the radio.  What do you know about business plans?  What do you know about marketing?  What do you know about taxes?  What do you know about the business side of your music plans?  Do you know what is going to be required from the government?  You must learn.  You must do your research.  You must study.  You must plan.  Start now.

Now, I am going to give you a bonus lesson:  Never, ever, ever give up.  They teach this a bit in school but I feel it should be said over and over and over.  If you know what you want, if you believe in what you want, if you have the guts to do what you want, never give up.  Never let anyone discourage you from proceeding.  I let this happen to me and now I am struggling to get my feet on the ground and follow my dream…but I am doing it now.  This is your life and your life only.  Do what you must do but always make your happiness the number one priority.  If you are stuck in a job you hate, change it.  Do it now.  Never, ever, ever give up on your dreams.

One thought on “5 Things They Don’t Teach You in Music School

  1. I really liked the end of your post. I gave up a corporate career and started teaching the piano, after 10 years of working in the corporate world. I enjoyed my earlier job, but i really love my current one, and i look forward to monday mornings, as i’m thrilled to be starting a new work week, every week.

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