This post is for my students at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, but I believe that the materials presented here transcend the city limits of Durant to music students all over. After some deliberation, I have chosen to pose a series of thought-provoking questions. Remember - you are all wonderful people, but we all have room for growth! If you feel that a particular question or statement speaks directly to you, choose to accept it as constructive criticism on your path towards your goals. Improvement begins in 3.....2....1....
Consider the weekly lesson as a "pit stop" on the road to successful performances, rather than a destination or end-point. If that is too vague of a concept, consider each weekly lesson as a "pit stop" on the road towards your jury performance at the end of the semester.
I believe that many musicians need to redefine "practice." Many musicians spend this time entertaining themselves with things that they already play well, rather than focusing on what they do not play well. There is a time to chalk up multiple reps of the entire piece, but that should ONLY come after true mastery of every note in the passage. Practicing something that you play sloppily at tempo only engrains the sloppiness deeper! Take your time, dig in, and even if you only fix one measure in half an hour from time to time, you can come away satisfied knowing that you have made a difference in your playing.
Stack successes on top of successes. If your teacher pats you on the back and says 'Good lesson!', then you should duplicate that work ethic each week thereafter. Compare that pat on the back with the disappointed sigh, and ask yourself which one you would rather hear each week. :)
Being a musician is more than playing the instrument. This takes on many forms:
When was the last time you stepped out of your comfort zone? Step out of your comfort zone in some way, each day. I am not suggesting that you do something crazy like climb the Himalayas, but if you are terrified of performing in front of a particular faculty member, seek them out and ask for an opportunity to play for them. Speaking for each of my brass colleagues at Southeastern, I know for a fact that they would love to listen to you! Do you want to paint? Find an art class and take it. Do you want to ask someone out on a date? Ask! You never know what the answer might be.
Get in the habit of not generating excuses for each shortcoming. Sometimes, it is best to simply own up to it, take your lumps, and move forward. From time to time, traffic happens. From time to time, alarm clocks don't go off. Learn from the mistake by leaving earlier, double-checking your clock, or even better, setting it up across the room to force yourself out of bed to turn it off. When you have graduated and enter the workforce, your principal or personnel director won't care about your reasons, and neither should I!
Unless a professor tells you otherwise, assume that all university teachers demand to be called by their title. That means "Mr./Mrs./Ms or Doctor ______________." If one teacher prefers to be called by their first name, that is fine...but it does not apply to all teachers.
Play with passion! We do this because we love it. If you don't love it, go find whatever it is that you love, and embrace it whole-heartedly!
When the day is done, put the horn in the case and go have fun. Play as hard as you work, and realize that everyone needs time for rest and relaxation. Reward yourself when you deserve it.
Remember, you are all wonderful people, and I care about each of you a great deal. Take these suggestions seriously, and use the summer to start working on them. You'll be glad you did. :)
As always, I welcome your comments below!