7 Things They Don’t Teach You at Music School

Most music programs are rife with a variety of classes, ensembles, and other opportunities for aspiring musicians. You can learn the inner workings of music theory, the beginnings of early music, and any number of other diverse subjects. However, there are just some things that aren’t (normally) taught in most music programs. Most young musicians are met with a harsh reality upon graduation and have to learn many lessons the hard way without the safety and comfort of an institution.

Here are 7 things I learned outside of music school, and I hope they help all aspiring musicians and artists!

  1. Proper recital preparation. In most undergraduate music programs, you’ll perform a junior and senior recital. Graduate degrees require another couple of recitals, and then…you’re out in the real world, where you might have to play 5 recitals a year (or more!). Students often spend the entire year preparing for one recital, and not only is this unrealistic, but it also places an unnecessary amount of pressure on students throughout the entire year for this single performance. Of course you should spend more time preparing for your first few recitals, but after that, try to decrease the amount of time you need to prepare so you can be ready at a moment’s notice!
  2. Effective practice techniques. Many teachers are great at assigning new repertoire, but some are not so great at teaching you how to practice effectively (kudos to all the teachers that include this in their curriculum!). There are many wonderful blogs (hint hint), podcasts, and other resources available to learn a variety of different practice techniques, so get started today to maximize your time in the practice room.
  3. How to network. When you’re still a student, it’s a lot easier to come by gigs through your professor, band/orchestra director, and friends, but it can be a bit harder once you graduate. It’s never too early to start building a network of colleagues and friends in the music industry, so take advantage of the opportunities you have as a student so you can build upon this after graduation. Attend conferences, festivals, and other events to meet new people, and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself to others.
  4. How to find gigs and other performance opportunities. Sometimes, a serendipitous opportunity falls into your lap, but most of the time it takes a lot more effort. Reach out to local ensembles, schools, teachers, and anyone else to introduce yourself and offer your services (whether you’re a performer, educator, or other). It takes time to create a steady flow of gigs, especially if you’re new in the area, so be patient but persistent.
  5. Professional comportment. I get it – school is a lot more relaxed, and your mistakes aren’t taken as harshly as they would be in the real world (after all, you are there to learn and improve!). But be prepared to present your professional side when you’re on the job – show up early, respond to emails in a timely fashion, dress professionally, and carry yourself with confidence.
  6. Fiscal responsibility. In the volatile and uber-competitive world of music, managing your finances is crucial. Start saving and managing your money responsibly now so you can be an exception to the one-too-many starving artist jokes your friends make.
  7. Branding and marketing yourself. Long gone are the days when the music spoke for itself. Today’s audiences want to buy into a brand, or the promotion of you and your unique ideas as an artist. Find your niche and market yourself to stand apart from the crowd.

Good luck as you navigate the transition from student to professional. I’d love to hear what else you learned outside of school, so please leave a comment below!

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