I recently received an email from a young music student who recently graduated high school and was about to begin music school at the IU Jacobs School of Music. He was looking for any advice that I could share that might help him succeed in his new environment. What I came up with essentially boiled down to five main points. I thought that sharing his email could be helpful to others in a similar situation. I've copied the entire email below. Thanks for reading.
I'll be starting at Jacobs this fall and I was wondering if you had any tips on how to get off on the right foot in music school. Stuff like how to develop a good routine, balancing class work, and so on. Any tips you have would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for getting in touch. Glad to hear you'll be at IU! I think the main thing to keep in mind is that you will have tons of time on your hands, so you want to use it wisely. Yes, you have a demanding course load and homework, but as long as you don't procrastinate your class work, you will have a lot of time (more than when you get out of school and start working/touring/teaching or whatever you end up doing).
Everyone is productive in different ways, and people approach work differently, but I like to have an actual work schedule instead of saying "I'll get my practicing done sometime later this week". When "later this week" rolls around, and people want you to go to a party, it's tough to resist! This might be helpful: https://www.seanimboden.com/blog/2017/6/19/blog-1-freelance-musician
After your first week of class you should have a good idea of the course work, and know how much time you'll need to allot to various tasks. Here are the main things I would do if I were in your shoes:
1. Plan your homework and practice time in a calendar (along with your actual classes and rehearsals, this means that 75% of your time will be planned in advance). Do your best not to deviate from this schedule. For me personally, I know that if I keep my schedule open-ended I am much more likely to go to social outings on a whim, or just watch Netflix when I should be working, etc. I treat my practicing like a day job that I must do, and plan 1 or 2 things with friends per week.
2. Go to as many of the best recitals and concerts that you can. There are amazing recitals by grad/doctoral students and faculty that can be pretty mind blowing that happen every week, so be a sponge and soak it all in.
3. Build your network of friends in the music school, not just to have job contacts in the future, but it's nice to have people to hang with who can relate to the workload, etc. It's also nice to have friends outside of the music school, but this can be more challenging.
4. It's not too early to start making career plans and setting goals. Do this and start taking steps in whatever direction you want to go.
5. Exercise, eat well, and work hard, but not to to point of a nervous breakdown. You're not there to compete with anyone other than yourself, so just do the best that you can do. You should find joy in constantly striving, improving, and achieving the goals you set for yourself. Don't worry about anything/anyone else. Basically, work hard while being kind to yourself.
Ultimately I think it all comes down to the idea of sacrifice. What is most important to you? There is no right or wrong, just what you want to do. Do you want straight A's, or to meet the most people, or to be the best flute/oboe doubler, or to get a military gig right out of school? I think all of those are actually great goals, however it is most likely impossible for any one person to do all 4 of those things. So it's helpful to narrow your focus to some extent rather than trying to do everything and spreading yourself too thin. Think about what you want to be doing in music, and plan on being as possibly prepared as you can be for whatever that is in 4 years. So if it's playing Broadway shows, you should have your doubles and reading rock solid.
I hope this is helpful. Have fun, and keep in touch!