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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Show respect. My students have charming Southern manners (I’ve never been called “sir” so much in my life!). In my best students, the respect is evident not only in their language but in their attitudes and actions. They listen and follow instructions when I or their other professors speak, and also show conscientious respect for the university staff, their fellow students, concert audiences and community members, and everyone else.
- Seek out musical experiences. Like most university music students, mine have a requirement to attend a certain number of recitals and concerts per semester. Some of my students plan carefully in order to get the right number of performances in. But others attend every musical event on campus, and then go looking for more live music in the community. These same students are the ones who can’t wait to find out what next semester’s required recording will be.
- Diversify. Good music students have the problem of wanting to play (or sing) in all the ensembles. While it’s definitely possible to spread oneself too thin, and it’s not always possible to be in all the ensembles that are of interest, it is healthy to get a taste of lots of musical situations. My best woodwind students play not only in the concert bands, but also in chamber groups, jazz band, or marching band, sing in the choirs or opera troupe, or even seek out opportunities to gain ensemble experience on secondary instruments. Many also play or sing in local bands, church services, and so forth.
- Keep up with academic work. The students who are getting their practicing done, sitting first chair in the ensembles, putting on successful recitals, and otherwise training to be very fine musicians also seem to be the ones who are excelling in the academic side of their college studies. The ones who will have successful careers as musicians and music educators are gaining musical skills plus an organized, disciplined, and well-rounded approach to life.
- Self-motivate. With a long fall break weekend around the corner, a few of my top students have approached me to make sure we can reschedule the lessons they stand to miss. They are the same ones who get their practicing done without being bribed or threatened. Some of my other students, I think, are hoping that the break means not having to practice or prepare (or to face my wrath for once again failing to do so).
What kind of student are you?