Over the past couple of months, I have been introducing snare drum rudiments at PercussionEducation.com. For the percussionist, rudiments are like scales. You should be practicing them everyday just like a wind player practices scales. In this video, I would like to introduce my snare drum warm-up that I wrote a year ago. This 12 minute warm-up includes all of the basic strokes to give you a well rounded warm-up. Please download a copy of my snare drum warm-up, get out your practice pad, a metronome and go for it.
Metronome Click Track Accompaniment
Download Tempo Advance
Originally posted on PercussionEducation.com on September 17, 2014.
Over the past several years I’ve noticed a fair amount of discussion about the relevancy of a college education, especially one in the arts. And this post by Ivan Trevino echoes many of the concerns recent graduates are having about their college music degree experience.
I was asked recently to serve on a committee of faculty from the College of Fine Arts at UT to look more closely at the offerings, or lack thereof, of our current curriculum and to suggest changes and/or additions to better help students cope with life after school.
I’ve been writing and thinking about these things for quite some time and I’m excited about the opportunity to help our college adapt to the changing needs of our graduates. So, the purpose of tonight’s post, is to try and get a better pulse on what we, the protectors and directors of higher education, need to be aware of as we develop our offerings to become more relevant to today’s college music student.
To that end: whether you are a current college student, or college professor, what are your thoughts on how higher education needs to adapt to better prepare our graduates for success. Please leave your thoughts below and be sure to check out Ivan’s post (link above). Thanks for your ideas in advance!
In his recent post, Tom Burritt asked us (percussionists) “Are we there yet?” I think that he brings up some very interesting points, and they perfectly set the stage for a post that I have been working through in my mind for the past few weeks. So, a big thanks to Tom for asking the right question at the right moment!
When we’re asked “Are we there yet?” my first response is “Where are we going?” If we don’t know what our destination is, then how can we possibly know if we’ve arrived? Using Tom’s post as our point of departure (no pun intended), it seems that our destination is “recognition” from the people and institutions who are the elite of “classical” music.
Of course, convincing ourselves that we need to be legitimized by those institutions or individuals is a slippery slope. That would imply that what we do, the art that we all love, is somehow lacking. Steve Schick recently said that for so long percussionists have felt as though they were “standing outside of the conservatory, banging on the door and hoping to be let in.” It seems like a valid assertion, given that we’re discussing whether or not percussion has “arrived” in the world of legitimate “classical” music. The next question in my mind is then: “Should we even care about being in the conservatory?”
In 2009, Allan Kozinn of The New York Times wrote that “drums are the new violins.” Perhaps this is exactly the kind of recognition that we are seeking? An article in one of the world’s most widely-read newspapers proclaiming the arrival of percussion as a viable art. But, drums can never be violins. Or, perhaps more importantly, violins can never be drums. And, frankly, I think that we should all be proud of that.
The violin is like the piano. It’s an instrument that is also an icon. It’s a symbol of the highest form of musical artistry. Seeing a violin, or walking into a concert hall and seeing a Steinway sitting on the stage, immediately recalls centuries of great artistry and compositions. The violin is played by “prodigies” (Mozart) and great “virtuosi” (Paganini). It’s repertoire is full of “masterworks,” which are written by “geniuses” (Bach, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky). The music caters to the thoughtful, insightful, intellectual listener. The violin has achieved a status as a cultural icon, and rightly so. Many great artists have written for and played the violin. It’s not that percussion music, artists, or instruments are any better or worse. It’s just different.
When we talk about great violins, an Amati or a Stradivarius, we, of course, talk in terms of tone quality, and eventually the conversation usually comes around to a dollar amount. We’ve all read about the million dollar violins that are left in the trunk of a taxi after an orchestra concert. But percussion instruments aren’t talked about in terms of cost. They are generally regarded as interchangeable and relatively inexpensive. How many times are percussion instruments referred to as “toys”? Ironically, for percussionists, those same instruments that get thrown in the back of trucks and hit with all kinds of beaters receive a sort of reverence that can only be described as almost religious. Rocky Moffitt writes of the gong: “Mystery, spirituality, beauty, and power – all this can be found in the sound of a Gong,” and he goes on to say that “They were believed to banish evil spirits and attract wind or rain. It is said that to be touched by the sound of a gong imparts strength and happiness, and that ‘bathing’ in the vibrations of a gong can restore health.” Put another way, we take our shoes off to play Gamelan, but not Beethoven or Bach. What does that say about the value we are already placing on percussion music?
And yet, percussionists are still the outsiders. If you don’t believe me, think about where your school’s percussion studio was located. In almost every music building that I’ve visited or studied in the percussion studio, faculty offices, practice rooms, and other facilities are about as far away from the front door as possible. Sure, it’s nice to have a dedicated percussion “suite,” with all of our instruments and rooms close to one another, but what message does it send when we’re tucked away in the basement, or in the back of a building? What are the implications of having all of the music faculty offices side by side in a hallway, and the percussion teacher all alone on another floor of the building?
Percussionists are also anonymous. I walk in a room and go straight to the back, because that’s where I’m used to being. We always hear that “good students” sit in the front of the classroom, so what does it mean to be perpetually in the back? Obviously, I acknowledge the practical issues with putting a concert bass drum, chimes, and a section full of standing percussionists between the conductor and the rest of the ensemble. But still, the soloist stands in the front of the orchestra to play their concerto. The maestro is always at the front, in full view of the audience. The brass stands to play the last strain of “Stars and Stripes Forever.” How often is there a spotlight on the percussionist?
And what about our music and the people who write it? Percussion music, in its most fundamental form, is also anonymous. Our performance tradition is measured in millennia, not centuries. Our ancestors are entire cultures of people, not individual dead white guys who we’ve labeled as “geniuses.” We can trace our roots to West Africa, China, India, Java and Bali, and the oldest cultures in the world in the Middle East. The Bible specifically mentions tambourines and cymbals (but no violins, just saying…). When we consider all of that music, can we name a single composer? No, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. We know that the music of those people and cultures has become so intertwined with their identity, that it supersedes any one individual who might have initially created it. It’s more appropriate to think of the music as a living, breathing entity that is being constantly shaped and influenced by all who perform and experience it. Master drummer Mamady Keita writes about African drumming: “In a very short time, it creates an atmosphere of warmth, a closeness, and a completely different type of relationship between people.” It’s not about who wrote it, or who gets to stand in front of the ensemble when it’s performed. It’s about the people playing it and how they interact with one another. It’s about building relationships and bonds between people.
The world of western art music strives to establish the most outstanding and elite through competitions, prizes, publications, awarding grants, or performances in highly-regarded venues. Applying for a teaching job at a conservatory? What other prestigious conservatory did you study at? Who was your teacher, and what’s their lineage/pedigree? Where is your research published? How many times have you played Carnegie? What major symphony orchestras have you performed with? Who are your corporate sponsors? What competitions (performance or composition) have you won? How have you distinguished yourself from all the rest?
Percussion music is different. As Cage famously said “Percussion music is revolution.” It’s not a revolution (solely) because of its aesthetic properties. Just compare the last paragraph to the Keita quote before it. Our music is democratic, egalitarian, and inclusive. Percussion music truly is the music of the castoffs and outsiders. Percussion music is for everyone, and its goal is to bring people together and create a sense of community. I’ve heard other musicians label percussionists as the “salt of the earth.” Our reputation is one of collegiality, flexibility, experimentation, and open-mindedness. Is there a better label than the one that we already have? What is still missing for percussionists? You can find percussion permeating the fabric of daily life all across the world. Just like you can go to Disney Hall and see a full percussion section on stage with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, you can find teenagers playing drums in garage bands, people in subway stations and on street corners drumming on 5 gallon buckets, contemporary chamber music performances in bars and art galleries, and you can’t round a corner between August and October without running into a high school drumline. And that’s just here in the US! Every other culture has their own versions of the same story. Percussion may just be the most widely accepted and frequently encountered music on the planet, and it’s been that way for thousands of years.
And so I pose the question again: “Where are we going?” Should we be measuring our success in terms of Pulitzer Prizes? Do we know that we’ve “arrived” when the great arbiter of culture, the New York Philharmonic, programs more percussion concerti than violin concerti in a season? Does any of that even matter? Our art form is ancient and sacred. Cultures use percussion music to celebrate new life, the end of life, the joining of lives, and all of the events in between. It seems to me that no other form of music represents the people of the world, and the diverse lives that they lead, better than percussion has already been doing for thousands of years. And, of course, John Cage has something else to say about all of this:
“I don’t think, as some seem to be thinking, that the percussion should become like the other sections of the orchestra, more expressive in their terms. I believe that the rest of the orchestra should become as noisy, poverty-stricken, and unemployed as the percussion section.”
If the percussion world is headed in a different direction, I just might want to stay where we are now… It’s kind of nice to be outside of the conservatory.
How many times have you stepped up to the marimba to work on a passage and it seems like you have never seen the music before even though you spent hours practicing the day before? Well guess what? This happens to everyone including me. It is frustrating and makes you want to throw your mallets across the room. If this sounds familiar, I want you to start incorporating block chords into your practice routine.
If you think about it, we use block chords in our warm up routine (or at least you should be). Block chords allow us to warm up our big muscle groups and work on accuracy. So why do we only use them in warm ups? Here’s are some tips on how to use them on your next difficult marimba and/or vibraphone piece.
I have been working on Vignettes by James M. Stephenson for an upcoming recital with trumpeter Rob Frear. (BTW, this is a great piece if you are looking for some material for an upcoming recital. Thanks to everyone on FaceBook who recommended the piece to me this summer.) In Movement 6, titled Leandro Perpetuo, the entire movement is 16th notes. It is written in Perpetual Motion form (a fast instrumental passage made up of equal length notes) and with all of the leaps and chromaticism, it is very challenging for the percussionist. Measure 3 & 4 look like this:
Music Example No. 1 – Measures 3-4: Vignettes by James M. Stephenson
The issue is that the movement is marked quarter note = 116. I have been struggling with this the past week and today, I decided to use block chords to help me learn this section. I took measures 3 & 4 and turned them into block chords, like this:
Music Example No. 2 – Applying Block Chords to Measures 3-4: Vignettes by James M. Stephenson
Viola! It worked like a charm. I was able to increase my accuracy and speed immediately. Why? By using the block chords, I was able to check the position of my hands and practice moving from one chord to the next. I can also start to make decisions about where I am going to be striking the bar. If the passage is easier, you could do a smaller amount of repetitions.
Practice this slowly and be deliberate about your movements. Hopefully you will find that this helps to create the muscle memory that is required to play music example #1.
Have a great week and let me know how you are using block chords in your practice sessions. Leave your comments below.
Recently, as I was putting the finishing touches on the University of Texas Percussion Group Fall 2014 Concert I discovered a connection between the composers; all had recently won Pulitzers.
2014 – John Luther Adams
2013 – Caroline Shaw
2012 – Kevin Puts
2011 – Zhou Long
2010 – Jennifer Higdon
2009 – Steve Reich
2008 – David Lang
With the exception of Puts, I had works by JLA, Shaw, Long and Higdon all on the docket. That represents 4 out of 5 of the last Pulitzer Prize Winners in the music category. Most of us are more familiar with the works of Reich and Lang than the previous 5 names on the list, but it was, in the end ridiculously easy to make an entire program of works who’s genesis began with a prize winner. And, Puts for what it’s worth, has several very nice offerings for percussion as well. So, what does this mean?
I believe we are living in an important time for percussionists, especially for those who play chamber music. Is there anything to this observation that suggests percussion instruments have taken a huge stride forward (in the last 7 years) in relevance to contemporary music? While I obviously feel strongly that there is a pattern here perhaps we won’t really get there until a work written entirely for percussion wins the big one.
Are we there yet? Leave your thoughts below the post.
Today’s guest post is by return contributor Ben Wahlund. Ben is a percussionist, composer, and educator based in the Chicago area and earlier this year shared Of Drumming and Farming (his PASIC Manifesto) on DrumChattr. He returns today with a great article that I think most of us can appreciate and hopefully institute into our daily lives. If you have something you would like to contribute, please send it us and we will be glad to check it out.
Musing on a Career Teaching Music in the Private Sector
By Ben Wahlund – Black Dog Music Studio
These are ideas that I’ve compiled in no particular order while sitting in a comfortable chair at the end of a long day. I may change my mind tomorrow, but these are the thoughts at my fingertips now (BW – 11/12/13).
Your career is only that – a career. Life is much bigger than your career. Invest time and energy appropriately.
Band Directors hire you because they need your help. Don’t bother getting upset by what they know or do not know. It is your job to gently usher them to different arenas of ideas while still implementing theirs.
Families hire you to make time for their lessons, just like you expect them to carve time out of their busy schedules for lessons with you. This is a pact you share. Do not cancel lessons flippantly. They need you to be consistent. Besides, you may be the only consistent thing in a student’s life.
Every time you cancel on a lesson with a student you betray their trust a little more and another teacher looks more inviting.
Always be prepared for lessons. Students are amazing at sensing if teachers know what they’re doing.
Never use sarcasm with students. In addition to being risky it betrays your main source of income – trust.
The best advertisement you can hope for is a terrifically gifted student who works hard, studies with you and runs around being awesome because of the work you do together.
As far as building a studio is concerned, most of my colleagues worry about “getting” students. The really good ones are concerned with keeping them. Retain students, don’t just recruit them. The best way to do that is to actually teach them.
Save money. Save money. Save money.
Get a job – any job – as soon as possible so that you can make artistic and professional choices that serve your dreams, not your needs.
Find a mentor – hopefully, many of them. Emulate them and don’t be scared to ask for help.
Surround yourself with healthy, intelligent people who share your values.
Know the difference between a friend and a colleague.
A career is a marathon, not a sprint. Make decisions with short, medium, and long term goals in mind.
Moderation does not mean mediocrity.
Making money is only good if you use money to do good things.
For everything you add to your schedule consider what you will need to remove.
Keep growing! Read books. Listen to good music. Watch intelligent movies. Above all, attend concerts. Scheduling and purchasing tickets well in advance will help you get out of your house “the night of”.
Practice – seriously, practice. Nobody is going to want to study music with a mediocre musician.
Don’t lie. Ever.
Learn and practice empathy, patience, sincerity, and reliability in everything you do.
Actively listen to people. Don’t just wait for your turn to speak. In fact, consider “reading up” on how to listen better.
Remember that everyone you meet has something they can teach you.
Treat people exactly how you know you are supposed to treat them, regardless of what kind of day you are having.
Other music teachers and other activities are not competition. They are part of the same team you are fortunate to be a part of. The people who designed Grand Theft Auto V, bake crystal meth, and dream up the horrible programming on television are your competition. If other teachers are doing their job well, they will elevate the work you are doing – increasing the value of what you have to offer to the community at large.
Many of my most important meetings ended up over dinner or drinks. Learn good etiquette in a number of situations.
I think there are only two types of “good debt” – college debt and mortgages – even though they’re both pretty scary. Do everything you can to avoid buying things on credit. If you have to, know how you will pay things off when you do. Credit cards are toxic.
People love to say, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know.” I suppose it is true to a point, but in the end it matters that you actually have a skill set or product to share with people.
Most people I’ve met appreciate an honest person – with all of his or her flaws – over some one living a lie.
When it comes to your career, prepare to work. It is not always going to be fun and certainly not always artistically engaging.
Brevity is the essence of wit. Don’t use fifty words when five will do. Answer e-mails and phone calls quickly and professionally.
Make sure you know what a word means before you use it.
Dress well but don’t break the bank doing it. If you’re working a lot you’ll probably ruin a lot of clothes. Don’t be scared to shop at Target, J.C. Penney, etc. The only people I know who care about the name brands of clothes generally irritate me anyway.
Guard your free time jealously. Don’t be scared to say “no” to things.
I believe that there is a spectrum of “R”s to be considered when it comes to free time. First, I recover. Then I rest. Then I finally relax. Sometimes I never get around to actually relaxing until two or three days of down time have passed.
Once you have established a healthy business, schedule vacations – actual vacations – and budget money and time for them beforehand so that you’re not regretting it afterward.
Give your students Halloween candy and holiday gift bags of pencils, etc. It’s nice to do and they’ll be more likely to give you even better gifts back.
Schedule time to write “thank you” cards and do it.
Maintain a studio e-mailing list by updating quarterly. Use that list to distribute a studio newsletter.
Budget about $500/year for solo and ensemble literature to use with students.
Only write honest letters of recommendation – and do so promptly.
Organize your sheet music now – even if it is only twenty pieces of music and a Mitchell Peters book. You will have filing cabinets full of paper before you know it.
Figure out what you believe about copyright laws and live by it for your students to see.
Never swear in front of students or their parents. It betrays a lack of control and vocabulary.
Pack your own lunches and make your own coffee or tea. Starbucks adds up – a lot!
Bear in mind that the appearance of impropriety is often as bad as or worse than a given impropriety.
If you are ever torn between dressing up for something or not, dress up.
If you do not have space for a student in your studio refer him or her to best teachers you know.
Do everything you can to show up to rehearsals exceptionally well prepared.
If you don’t think you can remember all of your students’ names in an ensemble, just make name tags for them to wear until you do.
Knowing and using students’ names is a very, very important thing.
A responsible sense of humor can take you far.
Do not gossip and try not to be around people gossiping. It will always hurt you and others in the end.
Get comfortable singing, playing piano, and improvising.
If you are not good at drum set get good at it.
Develop good music notation software skills (e.g. Finale/Sibelius).
If you are working at a school, be prepared to submit to background checks and wearing I.D. badges.
A music education degree is actually worth something – even if you are not looking to work as a certified staff member at a school. I think it is totally worth the extra year of university classes if you want to teach.
Music Theory, Ear Training, Music History and Conducting classes matter. “Gen Ed.” classes matter, too. Don’t just “get them out of the way”. Psychology, Business, History, etc. are a huge part of what makes up the society you are trying to improve with music. True intelligence involves connecting ideas from different disciplines.
I don’t know any great music teachers who aren’t, first, great musicians.
Use appropriate grammar as much as possible. People will not pay attention to ideas clouded with poor grammar.
If you own your own teaching space, make sure it looks like a temple of learning and treat it that way.
Have an idea of what you want to teach students before walking in to lessons together. In fact, if you have an idea of where you would like them to be years from now it helps a lot more. Every student is different. Because of this, they will all need different approaches.
Learn how to make really good posters. If you don’t know how, ask someone who does to show you what it takes.
If you are going to put up a website, make sure it is exceptional – even if it means saving money for three years to hire someone else to do it. Bad websites can kill a person’s career.
Know how you intend to use digital social networking – as a professional tool or a personal one. Craft your friend lists appropriately and behave that way.
I am still trying to decide if competitions are all they are cracked up to be.
I have heard it said that it is better to be owed a favor than money. I am still not sure, but favors should not be treated like commodities.
Don’t get clever on your taxes. Stay honest and no IRS harm will befall you. However, deduct every legit expense you can on your taxes. Set aside a safe place where you put business receipts. Save about 30% of your income for tax expenses. Learn about quarterly tax payments and whether or not they are right for you.
Make a point to pay your bills in a timely fashion. If it helps, build bill payments in to your schedule.
Try to smile as often as possible.
Get a hobby or two.
Develop a consistent sleep schedule.
Above all, see to it that the world is a better place because of the work you do – every day.
Ben Wahlund (www.blackdogmusicstudio.com) is a Grammy nominated, award-winning music educator, composer and performer who lives in the Chicago area with his wife and three dogs. Mr. Wahlund serves as the Director of Percussion at the College of DuPage (Glen Ellyn, IL) and music education faculty at North Central College (Naperville, IL). Wahlund also conducts the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra Percussion Ensemble, is Program Director for the Birch Creek Summer Music Performance Center’s Percussion and Steelband Session, and enjoys teaching many successful private students in his home studio – Black Dog Music Studio. Additionally, Ben is a percussion specialist for Naperville, IL School District 203 where he directs the NCHS Drumshow – a high school percussion ensemble concert that draws over 2,000 paying audience members in one weekend. Ben Wahlund performs as part of the ¡The Screaming Norwegians! Percussion Duo, the Harlem-West Ensemble, endorses Innovative Percussion Sticks and Mallets and Sabian Cymbals, and his compositions are performed around the world (published by Bachovich Music, HoneyRock Publications, and Innovative Percussion).
Don’t underestimate the importance of understanding the problem at hand. In our “neurotic” (obsessive) percussion culture we often concern ourselves too much with playing the geekiest, nerdiest, and most expensive gear. While this obsession isn’t necessarily a bad thing (and often is the most important thing) there are some instances, especially for younger players, where it can throw us off course.
As usual, I like to take things I learn in life and apply them to my teaching and playing. I recently got back to water skiing. And, as is often the case, I was reminded of something I learned way back in my skiing hay-day (too long ago) that applies to my profession today. You see, I learned to slalom ski (one ski) on mediocre to good equipment. After several years of experience I was invited to try a top of the line, very expensive ski. I got up, hit a cut as hard as normal and the next thing I knew I was eating serious water. I learned the hard way that I had greatly underestimated the ski! It was TOTALLY different, almost to the point where I was a beginner again. That ski took time to adjust to, a long learning curve to be sure! I wasn’t able to continue skiing with it, but if I had, I know my skiing would have eventually taken a big next step. Why? Was it just because the ski? Well, only partly, if I didn’t have the strong foundation of skiing well on good equipment, I would be less likely to adapt to the high test qualities of the new ski. If I had started on that high end ski I would have failed immediately.
That story leads me to my question today; how important is the equipment (both instruments and stick/mallets) we use? Could it be that we look to our instruments and mallets to solve problems that only we can solve as players? If this is true, are we really reaping the benefits from that super geeky expensive gear?
Learn how to make more than one sound out of one set of sticks than only one sound out of each stick you own.
I’ve seen it often; younger players allowing their tools to distract them from the more important goal. This summer I witnessed a student insisting they needed a deeper snare drum when what they really needed to do was solve a more important problem first; playing any drum in time with the orchestra and conductor. Often students, after learning a new trick of the trade, are too eager to unveil it in an important audition or concert, and after doing so don’t realize that it made that excerpt flop even harder. Or, what about that show player, who is more concerned about having 8 sets of timpani mallets at their disposal in the middle of a large Broadway show set-up, than taking into consideration how that seemingly constructive idea actually causes logistical issues because it causes more problems that it solves (extraneous timpani mallets flying about the set-up as mallet changes are attempted but failed).
Actually, maybe this is a phenomenon seen all around us. Think about the infamous launch of the iPhone 4. It was made with 2 sides glass! Cool and shiny right? So I bought in.. (you did too..) and in a matter of weeks or months one or both sides of my “super elegant and high-end” smart phone were shattered. Think about it. How many iPhones have you seen around you with shattered screens? So much so that it gave birth to an entire business of screen replacement establishments eager to make money off of a design that had noble intentions but was a terrible idea. I fell in love with the bling, the status symbol, drank the Apple cool-aid; “this is what YOU want”. When all along what I really needed was a more durable smartphone, a hardware design that was more practical for the constant and stressful use of a device that went with me everywhere. Imagine a phone with a rubber back, one that didn’t feel like a slippery “fish” in the hands. Admittedly, a bit less “high end” but way more functional and durable. So I turned to Android, a platform that was at the time a bit less design oriented but infinitely more customizable. After experiencing the stable but restrictive capabilities of iOS Android turned out to be the high end ski! A software experience more adaptable with more practical hardware.
But what is the problem at hand? The point is to encourage younger players to find your own solution. Don’t let the bling of a new set of sticks, or a new super geeky marimba design distract you from making a mediocre to good instrument sound great. Ask questions like: why do I only use my teachers mallets? Keep it simple. As a starting point use minimal amounts of mallets. Learn how to make more than one sound out of one set of sticks than only one sound out of each stick you own. When you fully explore this minimal approach and learn to make your best sounds the bells and whistles of a new set of mallets, or a new instrument design will then become as important as they were meant to be by the brilliant designers who created them. Because you understand the foundation you will know how to apply the icing on the cake.
Real artistry doesn’t exist on high end equipment alone. Make the marimba sound great when you play it without resonators. Learn how to play an entire show with one set of timpani mallets while still creating articulate and legato notes. Learn how to make a lower end drum kit sound like DW’s top of the line model. If you can do all of these things and you finally get that “high end ski”, you’ll begin to really understand the difference between low and high end gear.
As always, I like to hear your perspective. While I’m obviously passionate about what I write here I’m also convinced there are many other ways to this end. Please share them and any other reactions below the post.
One final article. Have a great beginning to your year! (Originally posted on August 26, 2013).
For most of us in the college ranks, school has started or starts soon. I had orientation meetings on Friday as well as large ensemble audition placements with my students at CSULB. When I got home today, I received an email from the new Director of the Bob Cole Conservatory, Dr. Carolyn Bremer. She has been the chair of the Cole Conservatory for the past three years and was just elected Director over the summer. Below is the email she sent out (posted with her permission). Some of it is specific to to the BCCM, but a lot of it is applicable to music students everywhere. Have a great year and please add your thoughts below.
It’s All About How You Spend Your Time
By Dr. Carolyn Bremer
One of the most difficult aspects of life as a music major is managing your time. We put a lot of demands on you in ensembles, academics, lessons, classes outside of music, concert attendance, and learning from your peers. The theme of this little tome is:
It’s All About How You Spend Your Time
Here is a list of suggestions for how to survive school, do well, and be happy.
1) How you want to spend your time?
Think about it now, before the semester ramps up. When you get your syllabi, write in homework, test and paper due dates, and block off time in your calendar to study throughout the entire semester. Write in your rehearsals and performances, and when to practice ensemble music so you’re ready when your director needs you to be prepared. Write in your class meetings and lessons. Write in your daily practice/study/composing time, be it two or even five hours per day. If you have a job, write in those hours, too. Look at your calendar. It is already insane, yes? The remarkable choreographer Twyla Tharp wrote that “being creative is a fulltime job with its own daily patterns… Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.” How do you want to spend your time?
2) Make a “To Stop” list
What can you give up that, compared with what you’ve set aside time to do, stacks up as less important? In the scheme of things, 30 weeks a year for 4 or 5 years to study music… and I am going to make a pretty safe assumption here that music is incredibly important to you… in the scheme of things, that is a small portion of your life. If you live to age 75, you’ll have lived for almost 4,000 weeks. A four-year education takes 120 of those 4,000 weeks. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Anything that gets in the way of becoming the best musician you can has to be set aside during school. Enjoy it when you’re on vacation. Make a “to stop” list.
3) Listen to good music and good performances every day
You get to decide what “good” means for you. I challenge you to do this, however: broaden your vat of familiar music. Listen to classical and jazz from all eras and genres, and a lot of other music, too. If you do repeat listenings, do it with an ear to learn something new about the piece or the performance. Musicians fundamentally use their inner ear and aural memory to bring everything they learn together in order to make it instinctive. The bigger the vat of music you know, the better musician you will be. There a lot of music out there. For example, to listen to all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, it will take over 10 hours. To listen to all of Mozart’s operas will take about 70 hours. Duke Ellington made 5,618 recordings. There is a lot of music out their to get to know; make time every week to expand your repertoire. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Put listening time in your calendar. Go to concerts and hear your friends make music. Listen deliberately.
4) Make lots of friends from all around the conservatory
There are amazing people here – not just good and smart musicians, but really amazing people. You do so much to help each other: my hope is that you will always be kind (even when someone is not kind to you; you don’t know what they’re feeling or what may have just happened in their life); always be supportive of them as musicians (this can include giving them criticism and see above, always be kind); always be supportive of them as growing young adults (most all of you will go through or have been through some tough times here—ask for help when you need it and give it when you can); and always be generous (we can forget that generosity includes so much more than money. It includes a ride to the grocery store, listening to a run-through of a piece, a genuine smile, or even just giving someone your full attention). Help your friends stay on track. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Spending it with amazing, like-minded people is really important. Make time for your friends. They’ll be your friends and colleagues for life.
5) Heed the advice of others who have been through it
Your Area Director, private teacher, ensemble directors, classroom teachers, advisor, and administrative team are all here for one reason: to help you. Go to your mentors the moment you see yourself slipping from the path. Don’t wait until you’ve dug yourself into serious trouble. We understand that this journey is full of bumps. We’ve had many of those same experiences and can help to steer you back on your path. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Take advantage of the remarkable and thoughtful faculty you have here. Make time to talk with them.
6) Take care of yourself
Sleep is important. Eating well (even if on the cheap) is important. Paying attention to how you feel is important. We all encounter stress. Try to find something that helps you in times of stress. It might be a trip to the gym or a hike, it might be listening to great music through headphones, it might be a nap. Figure out what helps you when you are stressed before you get stressed so you don’t make decisions while under stress that actually hurt you. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? When you are stressed you need to take care of yourself by nourishing your mind and body. (Double check that you didn’t get stressed because you didn’t heed your “to stop” list.)
7) Put aside negative thoughts
This is helpful: “The last three notes were out of tune on the scale I just played. I will try it again more slowly and work on intonation.” This is not helpful: “I suck.” Allow yourself to make mistakes. Don’t expect perfection. Perfection is just a concept, and a rather harmful one at that. If your inner chatter is railing on you, it is taking away from your time and energy to study and practice well, be with friends, relax, and be happy. Invite it to stop for awhile. If you think about what you should be doing, you’re not paying attention to what you are doing. Be vigilant about this in the practice room. Spend your time (and your thinking) on things that will make the biggest difference in your performances, compositions, and your class work. Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time? Think about things that can help you rather than things that will weigh you down.
Eight ways to succeed:
1. Understanding is based on knowledge and experience. Understand all that you can: the innate and the difficult, the read and the heard. If you’re not understanding, ask for help right away. That’s why faculty have office hours every week. If you’re only interested in learning what’s going to be on the test, you’re missing out on being the best musician you can be. You cannot predict how what you learn now will assist you in the years to come.
2. What you say to yourself is within your control. When you catch yourself needlessly berating yourself, ask that voice to wait. Be patient with yourself. You’re on a life-long learning course as a musician. This path doesn’t have successive stages, rather there will be a cumulative expansion of who you are and the music you make. You’ve made it into BCCM so you’re already a good musician and scholar.
3. Be kind with your words even if you need to say something that’s going to be hard for someone to hear. Do that for your friends and peers as well as with that voice in your head. Being kind does more good for you than for others to whom you are kind.
4. Do what makes you a better musician and simultaneously support your friends and colleagues in doing the same. Sometimes you need to put your feet up and relax so you can hunker down later. Sometimes you need to hunker down when you’re tired. The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do.
5. Balance all of the demands on your time. Easier said than done. This requires getting ahead when you have free time so that you don’t get dangerously behind at crunch time. That is the only way to make it work. We still have to do laundry and clean the kitchen as well as sleep. Get ahead so you can stay caught up when it gets really busy. And it will get really busy.
6. Practice and study take repetition and discipline; learn to listen for and to see subtleties in sound and meaning, then zoom in on them to keep you focused. Boredom is excess attention with insufficient intention. Progress comes most often in very small increments, sometimes hard to perceive. Don’t get discouraged it you are not going at a pace you imagined you should be. That’s just a negative voice in your head. Remind that voice that it is not your boss and that you learn at whatever pace it takes.
7. Be aware of what you need to do to take care of yourself; make the ultimate effort to understand yourself. Do this through a persevering effort that is clear and precise. It takes courage, self-compassion, and sobering honesty.
8. Practice concentrating on what truly needs your attention. If you slip from it (and you will because you’re human), gently coax your mind back to what you need to focus on. The way to get from Point A to Point B is to really be at Point A.
Now, go back up to No. 1 above and ask yourself again: How you want to spend your time?
BCCM is a special place. We challenge you without pushing you into ugly competition. We give you a well-rounded education in music and general education so your musicianship and scholarship come from a deep understanding of the art form and of humanity. We give full attention to undergraduate education and offer opportunities to undergrads that in other schools, only graduate students receive. We integrate our graduate students with our undergraduates so they learn from and teach each other.
In addition to excelling in your chosen area, we want all of our graduates to be inspired, passionate advocates for music and the arts. To do that, you need to maintain your own passion for what you do. On a bad day, just look around at all of the music makers, the intellects, the creators, and the lovers of music here. Inspiration lives 24/7 at BCCM.
Do your best. Let that be enough. Be right there, continuously.
-Dr. Carolyn Bremer, Director
Bob Cole Conservatory of Music
August 25, 2013
Here’s another article that I hope will help to inspire you as you begin the next school year. (Originally posted September 13, 2001).
Over the summer, I came across this speech that Dr. Karl Paulnack delivered to the parents of the incoming class at The Boston Conservatory. The speech is a thoughtful justification for studying music and the arts. If you have never read this speech, I would recommend that you sit down and take a couple of minutes to read through it. I hope it inspires you to forward the link to your students and make some comments below.
Check out Dr. Karl Paulnack’s website for more information about him and his studio at The Boston Conservatory.
Karl Paulnack Welcome Address
One of my parents’ deepest fears, I suspect, is that society would not properly value me as a musician, that I wouldn’t be appreciated. I had very good grades in high school, I was good in science and math, and they imagined that as a doctor or a research chemist or an engineer, I might be more appreciated than I would be as a musician. I still remember my mother’s remark when I announced my decision to apply to music school—she said, “you’re wasting your SAT scores!” On some level, I think, my parents were not sure themselves what the value of music was, what its purpose was. And they loved music: they listened to classical music all the time. They just weren’t really clear about its function. So let me talk about that a little bit, because we live in a society that puts music in the “arts and entertainment” section of the newspaper, and serious music, the kind your kids are about to engage in, has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with entertainment, in fact it’s the opposite of entertainment. Let me talk a little bit about music, and how it works.
One of the first cultures to articulate how music really works were the ancient Greeks. And this is going to fascinate you: the Greeks said that music and astronomy were two sides of the same coin. Astronomy was seen as the study of relationships between observable, permanent, external objects, and music was seen as the study of relationships between invisible, internal, hidden objects. Music has a way of finding the big, invisible moving pieces inside our hearts and souls and helping us figure out the position of things inside us. Let me give you some examples of how this works.
One of the most profound musical compositions of all time is the Quartet for the End of Time written by French composer Olivier Messiaen in 1940. Messiaen was 31 years old when France entered the war against Nazi Germany. He was captured by the Germans in June of 1940 and imprisoned in a prisoner-of-war camp.
He was fortunate to find a sympathetic prison guard who gave him paper and a place to compose, and fortunate to have musician colleagues in the camp, a cellist, a violinist, and a clarinetist. Messiaen wrote his quartet with these specific players in mind. It was performed in January 1941 for four thousand prisoners and guards in the prison camp. Today it is one of the most famous masterworks in the repertoire.
Given what we have since learned about life in the Nazi camps, why would anyone in his right mind waste time and energy writing or playing music? There was barely enough energy on a good day to find food and water, to avoid a beating, to stay warm, to escape torture—why would anyone bother with music? And yet—even from the concentration camps, we have poetry, we have music, we have visual art; it wasn’t just this one fanatic Messiaen; many, many people created art. Why? Well, in a place where people are only focused on survival, on the bare necessities, the obvious conclusion is that art must be, somehow, essential for life. The camps were without money, without hope, without commerce, without recreation, without basic respect, but they were not without art. Art is part of survival; art is part of the human spirit, an unquenchable expression of who we are. Art is one of the ways in which we say, “I am alive, and my life has meaning.”
In September of 2001 I was a resident of Manhattan. On the morning of September 12, 2001 I reached a new understanding of my art and its relationship to the world. I sat down at the piano that morning at 10 AM to practice as was my daily routine; I did it by force of habit, without thinking about it. I lifted the cover on the keyboard, and opened my music, and put my hands on the keys and took my hands off the keys. And I sat there and thought, does this even matter? Isn’t this completely irrelevant? Playing the piano right now, given what happened in this city yesterday, seems silly, absurd, irreverent, pointless. Why am I here? What place has a musician in this moment in time? Who needs a piano player right now? I was completely lost.
And then I, along with the rest of New York, went through the journey of getting through that week. I did not play the piano that day, and in fact I contemplated briefly whether I would ever want to play the piano again. And then I observed how we got through the day.
At least in my neighborhood, we didn’t shoot hoops or play Scrabble. We didn’t play cards to pass the time, we didn’t watch TV, we didn’t shop, we most certainly did not go to the mall. The first organized activity that I saw in New York, on the very evening of September 11th, was singing. People sang. People sang around fire houses, people sang “We Shall Overcome”. Lots of people sang America the Beautiful. The first organized public event that I remember was the Brahms Requiem, later that week, at Lincoln Center, with the New York Philharmonic. The first organized public expression of grief, our first communal response to that historic event, was a concert. That was the beginning of a sense that life might go on. The US Military secured the airspace, but recovery was led by the arts, and by music in particular, that very night.
From these two experiences, I have come to understand that music is not part of “arts and entertainment” as the newspaper section would have us believe. It’s not a luxury, a lavish thing that we fund from leftovers of our budgets, not a plaything or an amusement or a pass time. Music is a basic need of human survival. Music is one of the ways we make sense of our lives, one of the ways in which we express feelings when we have no words, a way for us to understand things with our hearts when we can’t with our minds.
Some of you may know Samuel Barber’s heart wrenchingly beautiful piece Adagio for Strings. If you don’t know it by that name, then some of you may know it as the background music which accompanied the Oliver Stone movie Platoon, a film about the Vietnam War. If you know that piece of music either way, you know it has the ability to crack your heart open like a walnut; it can make you cry over sadness you didn’t know you had. Music can slip beneath our conscious reality to get at what’s really going on inside us the way a good therapist does.
Very few of you have ever been to a wedding where there was absolutely no music. There might have been only a little music, there might have been some really bad music, but with few exceptions there is some music. And something very predictable happens at weddings—people get all pent up with all kinds of emotions, and then there’s some musical moment where the action of the wedding stops and someone sings or plays the flute or something. And even if the music is lame, even if the quality isn’t good, predictably 30 or 40 percent of the people who are going to cry at a wedding cry a couple of moments after the music starts. Why? The Greeks. Music allows us to move around those big invisible pieces of ourselves and rearrange our insides so that we can express what we feel even when we can’t talk about it. Can you imagine watching Indiana Jones or Superman or Star Wars with the dialogue but no music? What is it about the music swelling up at just the right moment in ET so that all the softies in the audience start crying at exactly the same moment? I guarantee you if you showed the movie with the music stripped out, it wouldn’t happen that way. The Greeks. Music is the understanding of the relationship between invisible internal objects.
I’ll give you one more example, the story of the most important concert of my life. I must tell you I have played a little less than a thousand concerts in my life so far. I have played in places that I thought were important. I like playing in Carnegie Hall; I enjoyed playing in Paris; it made me very happy to please the critics in St. Petersburg. I have played for people I thought were important; music critics of major newspapers, foreign heads of state. The most important concert of my entire life took place in a nursing home in a small Midwestern town a few years ago.
I was playing with a very dear friend of mine who is a violinist. We began, as we often do, with Aaron Copland’s Sonata, which was written during World War II and dedicated to a young friend of Copland’s, a young pilot who was shot down during the war. Now we often talk to our audiences about the pieces we are going to play rather than providing them with written program notes. But in this case, because we began the concert with this piece, we decided to talk about the piece later in the program and to just come out and play the music without explanation.
Midway through the piece, an elderly man seated in a wheelchair near the front of the concert hall began to weep. This man, whom I later met, was clearly a soldier—even in his 70’s, it was clear from his buzz-cut hair, square jaw and general demeanor that he had spent a good deal of his life in the military. I thought it a little bit odd that someone would be moved to tears by that particular movement of that particular piece, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve heard crying in a concert and we went on with the concert and finished the piece.
When we came out to play the next piece on the program, we decided to talk about both the first and second pieces, and we described the circumstances in which the Copland was written and mentioned its dedication to a downed pilot. The man in the front of the audience became so disturbed that he had to leave the auditorium. I honestly figured that we would not see him again, but he did come backstage afterwards, tears and all, to explain himself.
What he told us was this: “During World War II, I was a pilot, and I was in an aerial combat situation where one of my team’s planes was hit. I watched my friend bail out, and watched his parachute open, but the Japanese planes which had engaged us returned and machine gunned across the parachute cords so as to separate the parachute from the pilot, and I watched my friend drop away into the ocean, realizing that he was lost. I have not thought about this for many years, but during that first piece of music you played, this memory returned to me so vividly that it was as though I was reliving it. I didn’t understand why this was happening, why now, but then when you came out to explain that this piece of music was written to commemorate a lost pilot, it was a little more than I could handle. How does the music do that? How did it find those feelings and those memories in me?”
Remember the Greeks: music is the study of invisible relationships between internal objects. The concert in the nursing home was the most important work I have ever done. For me to play for this old soldier and help him connect, somehow, with Aaron Copland, and to connect their memories of their lost friends, to help him remember and mourn his friend, this is my work. This is why music matters.
What follows is part of the talk I will give to this year’s freshman class when I welcome them a few days from now. The responsibility I will charge your sons and daughters with is this:
“If we were a medical school, and you were here as a med student practicing appendectomies, you’d take your work very seriously because you would imagine that some night at two AM someone is going to waltz into your emergency room and you’re going to have to save their life. Well, my friends, someday at 8 PM someone is going to walk into your concert hall and bring you a mind that is confused, a heart that is overwhelmed, a soul that is weary. Whether they go out whole again will depend partly on how well you do your craft.
You’re not here to become an entertainer, and you don’t have to sell yourself. The truth is you don’t have anything to sell; being a musician isn’t about dispensing a product, like selling used cars. I’m not an entertainer; I’m a lot closer to a paramedic, a firefighter, a rescue worker. You’re here to become a sort of therapist for the human soul, a spiritual version of a chiropractor, physical therapist, someone who works with our insides to see if they get things to line up, to see if we can come into harmony with ourselves and be healthy and happy and well.
Frankly, ladies and gentlemen, I expect you not only to master music; I expect you to save the planet. If there is a future wave of wellness on this planet, of harmony, of peace, of an end to war, of mutual understanding, of equality, of fairness, I don’t expect it will come from a government, a military force or a corporation. I no longer even expect it to come from the religions of the world, which together seem to have brought us as much war as they have peace. If there is a future of peace for humankind, if there is to be an understanding of how these invisible, internal things should fit together, I expect it will come from the artists, because that’s what we do. As in the concentration camp and the evening of 9/11, the artists are the ones who might be able to help us with our internal, invisible lives.”
Summer is almost over (Boo!) and this week, the Director of the Bob Cole Conservatory, Dr. Carolyn Bremer, wrote another great opening article for the department’s blog. Everyone should take some time and read this now!
Time Management 101
By Dr. Carolyn Bremer
Opening speeches (notes) are meant to instill inspiration for the coming year but I can say quite honestly that inspiration is encountered every day at BCCM. Instead, this is about how to accomplish what you need to do, maintain your sanity, and reach your potential.
One of the most difficult aspects of life as a music major is managing your time. We put a lot of demands on you in ensembles, academics, lessons, classes outside of music, concert attendance, and learning from your peers. The theme of this missive is:
Time Management 101
You’re a Music Major. You have classes, you have to practice, you have rehearsals, you need to learn music for ensembles and for your lessons, you have theory and history and general ed homework, practice sight singing, practice for class piano, listen to the major rep for your instrument/voice, and for band/choir/orchestra. You may need to make reeds, write in bowings, practice conducting, diction, secondary instruments, learn a foreign language, and take on a part-time job. Plus, you have to do laundry, eat, put gas in the car, and sleep. How can you do it all and stay sane?
Here is the truth: you cannot do it all at 100%. You need to figure out when you have to be at your best, when good enough is good enough, and what to let go of during the semester. It would sure be nice to retain some semblance sanity at the end of the semester. Is it impossible?
No, not impossible, but it takes careful planning that starts in the first week of class and a test for yourself around week 3 or 4 to see how you really spend your time. You have to know when you can be on free time and scheduled time, and to stick to it. Here’s how I do it.
First, you need a calendar you’ll use and have with you all the time. It doesn’t matter if it is digital or paper, but it should accommodate events hour-by-hour. 24 hours of slots works best, but those who make calendars often think schedules end a 5p (clearly none of them was a musician). You can use any blank book and customize it to fit your needs. I use Google calendar.
Second, block off in your class times (and travel & parking time), lesson times if you know them in advance, and when you have all of your syllabi, add all of your tests, papers, readings, and other homework, and of course extra dress rehearsals and concerts. Add in your job(s) and other firm commitments. These are immutable so write them in ink (or in bold, or in a bright color).
Third, and this is where it starts to get fun, figure out your next set of priorities and schedule them. I would suggest you start with daily practicing, then block out some slots over a few days in advance of a test or paper. (All-nighters? You never do your best work, you waste the opportunity to recall information that could prove immensely valuable at some point in your life, and it negatively affects everything else you do until you’re well rested again.) Then write in homework slots so you keep up with the work day-by-day and don’t cram it all into a Sunday night that could have been spent with friends.
Fourth, write in when you will sleep. College students sometimes think that sleep isn’t important, but it really is. You are not functioning at your best when you are sleep-deprived. A recent Harvard study noted that the number one reason to get enough sleep is to aid learning and memory. Another study, according to a recent New York Times article, notes, “Sleep, it turns out, may play a crucial role in our brain’s physiological maintenance. As your body sleeps, your brain is quite actively playing the part of mental janitor: It’s clearing out all of the junk that has accumulated as a result of your daily thinking.” So, if you want to do well and stay sane, get enough sleep.
You may notice by now that there is very little time left in your calendar. This is the truth of your life for 15-week stretches of time. To maintain balance and reduce anxiety, the next thing to do is try to find one day per month that has nothing scheduled. You may not have that luxury, so look for a half day. Block it off. Do not let anyone take it from you. That is your day (or half day) to do absolutely nothing you “have” to do without guilt. Try especially hard to get one in during the last month of every semester. So, fifth on this list is a full day off, if possible, every month.
Sixth, try to find an hour at least a few times a week if not every day for you to do whatever you want guilt-free. You need time to recover and recuperate from a stressful schedule every day. Caveat: do not take that out of sleep! Also, do your best to treat this scheduled time with respect. Take it when it is scheduled and move on when it is time to do the next thing.
Now what? For some there aren’t enough hours in the day to schedule what I’ve already mentioned. Start to make some decisions now while you’re not in exam- or jury-stress time. What can go out of your life for 15 weeks, or at least get cut down significantly? Part of the crux is knowing how you spend your time. I’ll give you an assignment that works best if you wait until week 3 or 4, when school is in full swing.
At the end of this post is a pdf with a grid for 24/7 which you can print. You can make a semester-long calendar out of it if you want to. The assignment here, though, is different, and successfully managing your time is predicated on doing this diligently and honestly for a week. You don’t have to share it with anyone, so if you fudge a bit here and there, you are lying to yourself. You will learn a lot about yourself.
The assignment: print two copies of the 24/7 calendar grid (link below). In one, fill out your perfect week (including anything extra you need to do). Pick a week you plan to do this. Think about everything I’ve noted above. Fit in sleeping, showering, getting coffee/tea, meals, errands, driving to school, parking, classes, homework, practicing, rehearsals… the entire routine. Do this with some care and be realistic. Got it all filled in? Terrific. Fold it and put it aside. Don’t look at it again for a week.
The other copy is your log of what you actually do. Keep the paper with you and write in your activities every couple of hours so you don’t forget. Be brave and be honest. Write in everything you do, when and how long you do it. You’ll cringe a bit here and there when a quick lunch ends up becoming a long afternoon and dinner when you had other things you had to do. Write it down and move on. Don’t forget time spent surfing the web, reading and answering emails, and sending texts.
For bonus points, write down how well you practiced each day that week. Did you have a plan? Were you focused? Think about your warm up routine, how carefully you paid attention to all aspects of your technique exercises: posture, breathing, intonation, tone quality, etc. Did you devote the right ratio of time to what you needed to practice? When practicing, watch your mind to see if it is with you or off having a Mai Tai in the Bahamas. When you’re not aware of the sound you’re producing and how you’re producing it, you are not practicing.
At the end of the week, sit down and compare both pieces of paper. Look at what you wanted to do and what you actually did. This gives you an idea of how you spend your time.
Now you may have to rethink your life. Perhaps the most important question to ask first is if you can do what you “want” to do. Most. of us overestimate what we can complete because we’re focused on the product rather than on the path to get there. A list of achievements isn’t who we are: it is our actions from moment to moment.
That week of logging your life starts to tell you about yourself. You may find that you have spent more time that your realized – maybe a lot more time – doing things that aren’t high priorities and therefore some important things didn’t get done.
This is the hard part. Coming face-to-face with something about yourself that is going to take some work. And remember, especially here, don’t look for the product, consider what path you need to take to move toward the person you want to become.
Did you stay up later than you planned every night? Try to get to bed on time three nights each week and see how that goes. Did you go an entire week without practicing for musicianship or piano? Give each of them 15 minutes twice a week. That’s how you start down the path. Once you’re okay on that schedule, push it a little bit more, but don’t try to completely change overnight. That sets you up to fail: it is too hard to do.
Make an intention to move toward the schedule you want to keep. Talk with your friends so they understand what you’re trying to do and will support you. Make plans for those guilt-free times and tell them that they have to make you stop what you’re doing to spend time with them. Talk to your roommates and see what you can arrange with them that will help you move toward a schedule that makes sense during the semester.
The other assignment: Make sure you do the first assignment early in the semester. That’s the time to implement change. If you wait until Week 13 and find that you’re hopelessly behind in everything, you cannot catch up in two weeks. The real discipline is consistency from Day One, that’s “the other assignment.” It is hard. You will slip. You’re human. Catch yourself as soon as you can. If you’ve missed a two homeworks, talk to your teacher. Figure out what to do right away. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to rectify. Remember how hard it was to even schedule a perfect week? Think about what it would take to schedule a week with two week’s work in it. Or three. That’s why it is so critically important to keep up. What if you get sick? You’ll get behind, yes, but there should be no remorse about being sick. It is part of being human. Stay home if you’re contagious. It is not going to help you in the long run to power through the flu, and you may pass on those germs to many others. When you start to feel better, email your teachers and make a plan to get caught up.
Most of the students with sticky problems I’ve talked to got way behind in classes and made poor decisions while under a great deal of stress. This university is amazingly well prepared to help you. You just need to ask, and – I can’t say this strongly enough – ask for assistance as soon as possible. You can go to your teacher, your Area Director, your advisor, or me. We have a fabulous counseling center, CAPS, that you can call and everything said there is absolutely confidential. There are tutors, centers to help you write, librarians to help you research, tech support by phone or you can walk-in with a troublesome computer or a phone that won’t get on Wi-Fi. You can even get your taxes done for free (but only if you’ve got everything ready early).
If you are able to stick to most of your schedule, you will have time for friends. You need to have time with them. The friends you make in college are life-long friends. You’ll be in their wedding parties, and if history holds true, there will be a fair number of music student weddings. Professionally, most artists get their first breaks from friends, get into the network for gigs, and support each other over the years. Please don’t take this missive to be an edict to work all the time. It isn’t. Having time for yourself and for your friends is as important as anything else. Schedule it in!
The weekly log will help you to find your weak spots. Facebook? Video games? TV? Those are all things you can decide to give up or do in careful moderation. If you lose track of time when you get online then set an alarm to go off when you need to move on. Before I got rid of my TV, I discovered that if I got up to get a drink and left the TV on, I always went back to it. But If I got up, turned off the TV, and got a drink, I found it easy to decide to do something else. Learn your habits.
Summary: schedule your time and keep to it. Schedule in everything including free time. Learn how you spend your time so you can make good decisions. If things start to take a turn, notice it and ask for help. You do not need to do this on your own.
You may live to be 100 and spend only 4 or 5 of your years in college. 4 or 5% of your life. A little over half a year is spent in class, so now you’re looking at perhaps 3% of your life soaking in knowledge about your deepest passion at an elite level. Take advantage of your time in college. Take it from us with joy.