Five things to do before starting a new school year as a college music major

July 11, 2015

Most colleges and universities will be starting classes again within the next month or two. If you are a music student, now might be a good time to make some preparations that will set you up for success in the new school year.

photo, KosmoKarlos Photography
photo, KosmoKarlos Photography
  1. Get your instrument ready. After a year of hard playing in ensembles, lessons, solo recitals, and the practice rooms, your (woodwind) instrument is most likely in need of a little maintenance. Take (or ship) your instrument to your teacher’s recommended technician for some care and you will be glad you did—a well-maintained instrument is fun to play, and makes you sound better with less effort. High-quality woodwind instruments played daily probably ought to have a full overhaul at least every 5-10 years; this is a bit expensive and includes things like replacing all the pads and corks, making sure the keywork fits precisely, removing dents or bends, and thorough cleaning and lubrication. In between overhauls, get your instrument checked out at least annually for what some shops call “playing condition”—a cheaper service, replacing or repairing just what is necessary to fix the most immediate issues.
  2. Get in shape. If you can feel a case of “summer chops” setting in, then now is the time to start getting back into fighting shape. If your summer days are long and unstructured, it can be easy to procrastinate, so set up a routine. Make a practicing schedule and stick to it. I recommend doing it first thing in the morning, before you get distracted by other things.
  3. Get a jump on lesson preparation. If you are a returning music major, you probably have a good idea what you will be assigned in that first lesson (let me guess: scales and/or technical exercises, etudes, and repertoire?). How pleased would your teacher be if you showed up to the first lesson of the semester with a week’s worth (or more) ready to go? What kind of momentum would that give you for the semester? You might not know yet exactly what repertoire your teacher will want you to tackle in the fall, but this could be a great chance to get started on a piece you would really like to play. (I, for one, am usually happy to accommodate students who show that kind of initiative.) If you are a new music major or aren’t sure what to expect, your teacher may or may not be answering email or phone calls over the summer, but it wouldn’t hurt to try.
  4. Clean up and stock up. Take a few minutes to clean out your instrument case, reed case, backpack, sheet music filing system, etc. and get rid of the clutter. If you have been working at a summer job or saving rent by living at home, now might be a good time to provision yourself for the coming months (reeds, cleaning swabs, cork grease, pencils). If you have been saving money toward a new instrument or mouthpiece, hold onto it and get your teacher to advise and assist you with that purchase after the semester starts.
  5. Choose some new, positive habits. Times of changing routine (such as the start of a new semester) are great times to insert new habits. Ask yourself what habits a really excellent music student would have: increased practice? better recital attendance? instrument care? reedmaking? listening to recordings? Make a list, commit to some plans, and hit the ground running from day one.

Have a great year!

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