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There are some basic things that I find myself repeating over and over when it comes to posts. While I am obviously going to continue explaining stuff and answering questions, I thought it might be good to explain some basics of my attitude towards musicianship as a whole. As there turned out to be ten things, we can consider these the Ten Music Major Commandments.
1. Thou shalt remember that no single audition will make or break a music major career.
Your career isn’t hanging in the balance just because you are auditioning for an important to school or orchestra or whatever. Unless you insult the director, sit on his cat, and start yelling slurs to the room as a whole, a single audition will not torpedo a career. You can always attend a different school, work with a different ensemble, or try again at a later date when you’re better prepared.
2. Thou shalt remember a music major is not a competition, it is a process of personal growth and improvement.
There are few quicker ways to kill your love of music than by comparing yourself to the inevitable “people who are better than you.” There will ALWAYS be people better than you. Use that as motivation to get better yourself, or just admire them for their skill.
3. Thou shalt remember that you can’t know what other people have gone through to get where they are.
If a freshman can play a piece you can’t perform as a senior, take a deep breath and chill. For that to be the case, they likely started earlier than you, had better training at an early age, were forced to practice more, or simply had different priorities when they were younger. You can’t know those circumstances, and you can’t know what you’d have done if you been in their shoes. Don’t judge people who are older but haven’t yet reached your skill level – you can’t know what they have dealt with. So just admire their abilities and perseverance, and mind your own business if you can’t think of anything nice to say.
4. Thou shalt remember that if you decide music may be better as a hobby, that’s okay. It is not a personal failing.
Simply put, not everyone feels comfortable betting their future on the roulette wheel that is the potential career outlook of a music major. Music is stressful, it requires a lot of emotional labor and self-sufficiency, and sometimes that’s just not what a person wants. If that person is you, that’s okay. You don’t have to try and make a living making music for it to be your passion. That’s what community ensembles and after-work gigs are for. And if it turns out music isn’t your true passion? That’s okay too. Things can be important to one part of your life but move to the background later. That doesn’t mean you weren’t dedicated to it when you loved it – it just means you have moved on.
5. Thou shalt take care of yourself – taking a break is better than burning out.
Recently, someone I knew dropped out of school completely, essentially because of musical burnout. They had simply given too much of themselves to their music major, and didn’t have any emotional reserves for the other hard parts of life. Do your best to take care of yourself, because you are the most important part of the music you make. You are the true force behind the performance – that doesn’t change just because you need tools (your instrument) to make music. If you feel overwhelmed, as a music major often is, take a break. It’s okay to rest, I promise.
6. Thou shalt write your schedule in stone, but follow it like the Pirate Code.
It is VERY IMPORTANT to have a schedule. Musicians have to handle too many classes and performances and rehearsals and other responsibilities to try to get by without a strict schedule. When you write one up for the semester, imagine each day, and try to be realistic. You should assume that you’ll live each day exACTly like it is written. If it seems impossible, then reschedule stuff.
However, when you’re actually living your final schedule, remember you can be flexible. If you know you can manage your assignments later, then absolutely use your assigned study time to go on that adventure with your friends. You still need to live your life, after all. Balance is the key, here.
7. Thou shalt never be afraid to ask someone a polite question.
While it is a personal pet peeve of mine when people talk out of turn (especially when they don’t know what they are talking about!), I firmly believe there is always time to answer a question. If you want to know more about something, or if you are confused, find someone who knows the answer and politely, at a convenient time, ask them. This means asking a question to clarify important class material during class, and asking that nitpicky question about that tangent your professor went on during their office hours. The main point is to ask!
8. Thou shalt try to practice at least once a weekend.
Weekend practicing is honestly one of the hardest things for me to do. However, I always feel awesome after I do it! Taking a two day break from practice can be good for the mental health, but if you aren’t practicing just because you can’t be bothered, then maybe you should try bothering. Practice is good for you, and it builds character. Go practice.
9. Thou shalt treat yourself like you would your best friend.
If you wouldn’t make a comment about them, don’t make it about yourself. You are your first, foremost, and most permanent friend. Take care of yourself, and build yourself up. No one ever became an amazing musician by beating themselves up at every failure. The best musicians take mistakes and use them as fuel to get even better. Stop beating yourself up and start being friendly to the only person who is guaranteed to be around forever – yourself.
10. Thou shalt take a deep breath.
Sometimes we can get so lost inside our own heads that we forget how to leave. The next time you suspect you’re on an anxiety spiral, find somewhere quiet and do you best to just breathe. You’re okay. You are not going to die/get expelled/get thrown in Bad Music Major Jail. That’s not even a thing. Do your best to keep things in perspective: “it’s just one class/jury/audition/performance. There will be more classes/juries/auditions/performances. No matter how this one goes, life will go on.”
Because it will. Life goes on.