Guest Article: 17 Pieces of Advice for Incoming Music Majors

This RMS guest article is written by Jenny Maclay, a clarinetist and blogger based in Quebec.


Being a music major is a simultaneously rewarding and stressful experience. Besides having to endure the puzzled looks from your friends and the well-intentioned questions from your family (“But what do you do with a music degree?”), you have to balance practicing, studying, and performing.

Here’s my advice to music majors of all ages to get everything you can out of your program:

  1. Hang out with people in other disciplines. It’s really easy to find common ground and make friends in your studio, but be sure to branch out and meet other people. Defy boundaries and introduce yourself to other woodwind, brass, percussion, string, jazz, pop, audio, opera, industry, whatever people you might not normally meet. You can learn so much about other instruments and disciplines if you are open to meeting new people.
  2. Don’t fall off the practice bandwagon. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but music majors have to practice. A lot. Create a practice plan that works for you and try to stick to it as much as possible. My advice? Get it over with first thing in the morning so it’s not hanging over you all day.
  3. Study with different teachers. If you school has different teachers for each instrument, ask to take a few lessons with each. You can also see if it’s possible to take a lesson with a teacher of a different instrument.
  4. Live a fulfilling life outside the music building. For me, music and life are symbiotic. Living a rewarding life enriches your music, and your musical training will enrich your life.
  5. Consider studying abroad. Music truly is universal, so take advantage of any festivals or study abroad programs your school offers to learn about another musical culture.
  6. Perform every chance you get. Don’t be an elitist when it comes to performing. If you have enough room in your schedule for rehearsing and performing, say yes to every opportunity you can! You’ll learn a lot in school, but you’ll learn even more on the job!
  7. Go above and beyond your course catalogue. Research summer festivals, competitions, masterclasses, and outside activities to further develop your musical abilities and prepare for “the real world.”
  8. Network, network, network. Don’t be afraid to reach out. Introduce yourself, make new connections, and learn everything you can from everyone you meet.
  9. Take advantage of school resources. One day you’ll kick yourself for not taking advantage of your school’s music library, tech lab, recording center, Naxos subscription, student memberships, or any other resources to help you improve as a scholar and musician.
  10. Go to as many recitals and guest artist appearances as possible. Don’t stop attending recitals and lectures after you’ve gotten your recitals credits! Go to guest performances and masterclasses (whether they play your instrument or not) and learn as much as you can.
  11. Carry yourself for the job you want. Being a student is no excuse not to act like the professional you hope to one day become.
  12. Pay attention in music theory and history. Study hard now so you can test out of these classes in grad school!
  13. Take notes. Record your lessons, keep your textbooks, use a practice journal, write down new ideas, and preserve all this knowledge so you will have it readily available in the future.
  14. Take advantage of student tickets to concerts. Live music on a student budget? Yes please!
  15. Be open to new ideas. Music is so great because there are infinite ways to achieve results. Try new things and be open to different perspectives.
  16. Take care of yourself. Between classes, practice, rehearsals, studio, concerts, recitals, and life in general, it’s easy to get burnt out. Get enough sleep, don’t subsist on junk food and caffeine, and try to stay physically and mentally healthy.
  17. Accept that you will always be a lifelong student of music. Soak up as much knowledge as you can, continue to grow and expand your musical horizons, and make sure your quest for knowledge never ends.


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