As we wrap up the school year at A-State, I find myself thinking about how well the school year went, how proud of my students I am, and how much work we still have to do! This is a good thing - take time to appreciate what we've achieved, but always look forward to how we can make it even better.
But what can we do now to make next year even better? Spend a little time with these questions. Write them down on a note card or a piece of notebook paper. Really be honest with yourself here - it will make all the difference!
1. How was the end of the semester? Was it a mad scramble to get everything done, or were you able to handle the various items as they happened without too much added stress?
2. How much better of a (fill in the blank with student, player, friend, etc) would I be if I had followed all the advice of my teachers? How did you react to phrases like, "You really should think about..." or "It would be a great idea to...."? Did you write them down and implement them, or did they fade away with the ghosts of intentions past?
If you can honestly say that the end of the semester was manageable, and that you came out on the other side relatively unscathed, then you are likely organized, and have a good routine established which allows you to address each project for a short time every day, or every other day. It probably also means that you can honestly say that you listened to your teachers from the beginning. If you thought the end of the world was coming during the month of April, then it might be time to listen to your teachers more intently.
Now that you've taken time to answer these two questions, it's time to put this information to good use. How can you make Fall 2015 better than Spring 2015? I have a few suggestions that I really think will help.
1. Get and use a calendar. If you have an iProduct, you already have a great calendar app built right in, and if you have more than one iProduct, they sync seamlessly across the platform. Others might prefer a paper planner. The type of media used is less important than actually using it! (Bonus for going digital - the studio calendar, with every required event of the semester, is a Google calendar, which can be imported into your personal calendar with just a couple of steps.)
Put down everything you're going to do for the day. Block out meal times. Block out practice times. Block out hang time with friends. This is a great time of year to get used to the technology or the habit of putting pencil to paper! When you get back in the fall, it will be part of your routine to add each new event to the calendar. You'll be able to transfer all of your deadlines from your fall syllabi to the calendar as well, and set up as many reminders about that history paper as you think you'll need. :)
2. Practice fundamentals. Abe Lincoln once said, "Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe." For musicians, the "axe" is made up of the various skills on the instrument. Articulation, flexibility, range, scales, legato, clef studies, etc. Many of these can be covered in just a couple of books that you already own! Think Arban, Blazhevitch, etc.
Do you remember Legos? One of the things that makes Legos so awesome is that they always work! Any and every two pieces always fit together snugly. There is a level of quality control in the Lego factory that ensures this quality fit. Think of your fundamental work as "quality control" for your trombone playing. If you want every note you play to "fit" and sound its very best, then this work is essential. Test your fundamental work by taking repertoire that has troubled you recently, and record your performance. I would be shocked to find that your fundamental work didn't make the music sound better!
3. Read. I have heard it said many times that Leaders are Readers. There are some great books out there to help you focus your thinking and start next school year in a positive way. Click here for my previous blog post with book recommendations from earlier this spring. Also, instead of spending the summer Netflix binging an entire TV series, find a book in a genre of movie that you already like. Get lost in that world a bit, and you'll see your imagination grow and blossom in ways that will help your music making in the future. Then, go back to Netflix.
You don't need to read half a dozen books to be successful at this, either. Read a little, think about it, and tomorrow, do a little more. If a page really seems profound, mark it, read it again, and then move on. If you grow as a person and musician from reading only the first 30 pages of a book, then you have still grown!
4. Have fun! I know that this is a given, but I wanted to make sure I listed it anyway. :) Go to the beach. If you have several days off, pile in the car with 3 or 4 friends, split the gas evenly, and road trip to the Grand Canyon. Find some way to cut loose, but put it in your calendar, so that you'll commit to it. Just like the school year, the summer is always shorter than we expect it to be, and it can go by in a flash.
I know that I'm asking for a lot from each of you. I know that it's summer, and I'm supposed to leave you alone, right? But remember that when you chose to be a musician, you chose something that really doesn't have an off season. When you get back in August and you're playing like a champ, all of the work will be worth it.
Have fun, be safe, and I'll see you in August if not sooner.