Once you leave the safety of academia and break into the professional world things get a lot scarier, and the stakes get a lot higher. You forgot to practice? Forget the potential stern lecture from your teacher. You could (and very well may) get fired from a gig, which means you won’t get paid, keeping you from being able to afford groceries, gas, rent, and other necessities. We could talk at length about the musical skills, as well as the entrepreneurial skills, that you need to learn in school in order to succeed in the highly competitive field of music. However, I think it’s more important to give a few pieces of advice that don’t have anything to do with that stuff. Here are a few simple habits that you should get into while you’re a student which will pay dividends long after you leave school.
1) Get a planner. Use your planner. – It doesn’t matter if it’s on your phone, tablet, computer, or just an old-fashioned paper planner that you keep in your backpack. Write everything down, and continually reference your schedule to make sure that you aren’t forgetting things. Meetings with professors, extra rehearsals, study sessions, group project meetings, coffee dates with friends… Write them all down. In the “real world” missing an appointment or a rehearsal/performance can have major consequences. Get in the habit of being organized and honoring your commitments.
2) Have your stuff. – Unfortunately, at most of your professional engagements your mere presence is not all that is required. As a professor I constantly encounter students who come to class without their books or assignments, or who show up for lessons or rehearsals without music, mallets, etc. We could have a whole separate discussion about the importance of investing in percussion equipment, but that’s not necessary here. If you’re using your planner be sure to notate what you’ll need to have with you for all of those engagements. You’ve got a group study session for class, so don’t forget to bring your notes and textbook. If you take a gig in the future playing tambourine with a group, don’t be counting on someone else to provide the tambourine. Be proactive and come ready to actively participate. That’s what they’re paying you for.
3) Make to-do lists. – As a student you are probably VERY busy. I was, my teachers were when they were in school, and I know that my current students are too. When we’re busy things tend to slip through the cracks and that’s when we get ourselves into trouble. Keep a list of the things that you’re working on. Check them off as you go. You have to email some people, practice, study, and return a couple phone calls on a given day. Make a list of everything so that you won’t forget. It also gives you a nice sense of accomplishment as you cross them off, which keeps you motivated and free of that overwhelming feeling that you’re forgetting something.
4) Learn to communicate. – Email, phone, in writing, face to face… They’re all important. I’m talking about everything from knowing how to properly address a new acquaintance to being able to use proper spelling and grammar in that personal statement for the job you’re applying for. In most cases, this is how you make a first impression. It has to be a good impression. Get into the habit while you’re in school of addressing professors in a professional, respectful manner, and by making sure that all of your correspondence with faculty, staff, and fellow students leaves nothing but a positive impression.
5) Make yourself a priority. – It might seem sort of corny, but make sure that you’re taking care of yourself. Mentally, physically, spiritually, socially, and any other way that you can think of. Be as healthy as possible, and keep your mind and body operating at maximum capacity. Make time to enjoy books, movies, or TV shows that you like, and be sure to carve out time to spend with friends and family. Finding the right balance between your professional and personal life is an important skill. As students we often sacrifice our own things in order to please others and complete necessary assignments. While it’s important to get your work done, it’s also important to make sure that you aren’t harming yourself in the process.
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