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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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?


7 responses to “Seven habits of highly effective music students”

  1. As a graduate of William PAterson College’s Jazz program (1997), I guess I’m nowhere near *technically* being a student.

    Of course, all of life is a classroom and all of that good stuff…

    I really like when you said “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.”

    So many musician’s are complete flakes, and as a result allow amazing opportunities to pass them by.

    Funny how many of the most talented people I went to school with are experiencing little success, since they were not too big on the getting organized/hustling/business side of music. I’ve seen some of the less gifted folks thrive because they had the ability to follow through and stay on top of their careers.

  2. I really enjoyed this post, Bret.

  3. Rusty Bella Avatar
    Rusty Bella

    Great post! I like number 4 “seek out musical experiences”. I find this very useful when I feel like I’m stuck in a rut. Attending concerts, and recitals can provide the much needed inspiration, and fresh air to continue on.

  4. I often wonder about talented musicians who never seem to amount to very much, go no where, and are easy to book. I like to be the weakest player in my group. Keeps me on track! :O)

  5. Zachary Avatar

    This is very motivating and have it posted on my wall at the moment for some inspiration :)

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