Seven habits of highly effective music students

Photo, greek0529

Here are seven habits (apologies to Stephen Covey) I’ve observed so far in my most effective university music students—those that are making consistent improvement, performing successfully, and progressing toward graduation and career.

  1. Hit the practice rooms early. My best students don’t wait until the final hours of the day to get their practicing done. Practicing earlier on establishes in the student’s mind (and mine) that practicing is a priority. It also makes practice sessions more focused and less fatigue-prone, and encourages healthier sleep habits. (I do usually have the university’s music building to myself when I get to the office to practice at 7:00 am, but most weekdays a few student go-getters are warming up in the practice rooms by 8.)
  2. Use a pencil. A lot. I know it’s going to be a successful lesson when a student opens their etude book or repertoire piece and it’s covered with pencil marks. It shows me that students are getting to know their music in a meaningful, in-depth way, and that they are thinking through technical and interpretive issues. The students who keep their sheet music in perfect mint condition? Not so much.

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6 advantages of adult students

Now and then, non-musician friends express to me their regrets about their own supposed inability to play music. My usual response to this is meant to be encouraging: “It’s not too late to learn!” This is most often met with a doubtful look and a lament about wasted youth.

I find that there is a prevailing attitude that learning a musical instrument is a new trick of the sort that old dogs simply can’t learn, and that if you didn’t start young you’ve missed your chance. I don’t think that’s true.

Do children naturally learn more quickly or easily than adults? Possibly. But if it’s true that children have some sort of built-in edge at learning musical instruments, I would say it’s also true that adults have at least enough advantages of their own to level the “playing” field.

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More thoughts on multiple woodwinds degrees

I often get email from people who are considering pursuing a college or conservatory degree in multiple woodwinds. Now that I’ve completed two of them myself, here are a few thoughts.

If you want to enter a multiple woodwinds degree program, you should already have at least a basic technical command of each instrument to be included on the degree. This really should include a background of good private instruction on each instrument. In my experience, self-taught players on any instrument are rarely very well prepared for the rigors of college-level study.

Bachelor’s-level programs are rare, and I think that’s with good reason. For most woodwind players, I think, diving right into college-level study of three or more instruments is ill-advised. You will do much better to spend those years focusing on your strongest instrument, developing your musicianship, learning good practicing techniques, and hopefully racking up some achievements like contest awards or high placement in top university ensembles. All of those things benefited me very much (my bachelor’s degree is in saxophone performance), and it’s likely I wouldn’t have been able to achieve as much if I had been dividing my practice hours between multiple instruments (plus completing music coursework AND general education coursework).

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Auditioning for a multiple woodwinds degree program

I had an exchange by email with someone today, that I thought might be of use to all you hordes of prospective multiple woodwinds majors out there.

Hi Mr. Pimentel,
My name is Mike ________ from _______ University, and I am an aspiring doubler. I have been doing some looking around at graduate schools and programs, and I have found there still are a few programs that still offer doubling. What I have not found are the requirements or guidelines for auditions. I was wondering how an audition for a doubling program would go. What kind of things should I prepare? Do I audition on all the instruments? Thanks for your insight.

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Doctoral multiple woodwinds exams

I am starting what hopefully will be my final year in pursuit of a doctoral degree in multiple woodwinds performance (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and saxophone). Today I kicked off five days of written comprehensive exams. In addition to a musicology exam and a music theory exam, I have been preparing for woodwind-related test questions such as these:

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University/conservatory degree programs in woodwind doubling, part II: jazz

In response to my recent post about woodwind doubling degree programs, someone sent me this question:

My question is, out of that list, do you know of which schools offer multiple woodwinds with a Jazz/Contemporary focus … or at least some focus on jazz?

I checked out most of those pages, but it seems it’s all very classical focused.

Before addressing that question, I think it’s worth saying that if you’re going to be a woodwind doubler, a little jazz background is really valuable.

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University/conservatory degree programs in woodwind doubling

I’ve updated my list of schools with woodwind doubling programs. The current count as of this writing is 5 schools with some kind of bachelor’s degree program, 15 with a master’s program, and 5 with a doctoral program.

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A jazz improvisation curriculum: Junior high through college

The following is a suggested curriculum for teaching jazz style and improvisation to students from junior high school through college. The materials listed are geared toward the developing saxophonist, but may be substituted or adapted to meet needs of other instrumentalists. The curriculum assumes the student has a basic command of the instrument, and should be used in conjunction with classical study. The layout of the curriculum suggests materials for junior high, high school, and college, but will of course need to be altered to fit each individual student’s needs.

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Ideas for directing student jazz bands

The following is a summary of lessons learned from observing rehearsals of jazz big bands. A great debt is owed here to Dr. Ray Smith of Brigham Young University, director of the Synthesis big band.

A picture is worth a thousand words

The student jazz group should be exposed to recordings (or, when possible, live performances), especially of the arrangements they are learning. This benefits the band in several ways:

First, the band members further absorb general concepts, such as swing feel, sense of time, and concept of tone, as well as bits of jazz “vocabulary” (melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic ideas, for example). These concepts, no matter how clearly explained, can only really be learned by listening and imitating—like learning the correct accent for a foreign language.

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Private teaching methods of university music professors: Observations, analysis, and application


During the month of October 2001, I observed the private teaching methods of music professors at Brigham Young University. Though each professor’s methods differed in some details, the underlying principles of effective teaching were very similar: first, provide an environment in which the student is comfortable and undistracted; second, provide clear objectives, including honest evaluations of progress; and third, provide needed motivation.

1. Provide a comfortable learning environment

A comfortable learning environment includes a trusting and secure student-teacher relationship, proper facilities and equipment, and a distraction-free environment. These allow student and teacher to concentrate on the lesson, prevent unnecessary stress, and promote optimal performance.

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