Thursday, December 27, 2012

How Many Hours a Day Should YOU Practice?

How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?

by Dr. Noa Kageyama

2 hours? 4 hours? 8 hours? 12 hours?

How much is enough?

Is there such a thing as practicing too much?

Is there an optimal number of hours that one should practice?

What Do Performers Say?

Some of the great artists of the 20th century have shared their thoughts on these questions. I seem to recall reading an interview with Rubinstein years ago, in which he stated that nobody should have to practice more than four hours a day, explaining that if you needed to practice more than four hours a day, you probably weren’t doing it right.

Other great artists have expressed similar sentiments. Violinist Nathan Milstein is said to have once asked his teacher Leopold Auer how many hours a day he should be practicing. Auer responded by saying “Practice with your fingers and you need all day. Practice with your mind and you will do as much in 1 1/2 hours.”

Heifetz also indicated that he never believed in practicing too much, and that excessive practice is “just as bad as practicing too little!” He claimed that he practiced no more than three hours per day on average, and that he didn’t practice at all on Sundays. You know, this is not a bad idea – one of my own teachers, Donald Weilerstein, once suggested that I establish a 24-hour period of time every week where I was not allowed to pick up my instrument.
What Do Psychologists Say?

When it comes to understanding expertise and expert performance, psychologist Dr. K. Anders Ericsson is perhaps the world’s leading authority. His research is the basis for the “ten-year rule” and “10,000-hour rule” which suggest that it requires at least ten years and/or 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to achieve an expert level of performance in any given domain – and in the case of musicians, often closer to 25 years in order to attain an elite international level. Note that the real key here is not the amount of practice required but thetype of practice required to attain an expert level of performance. In other words, just practicing any old way doesn’t cut it.
Mindless Practice

Have you ever listened to someone practice? Have you ever listened to yourself practice, for that matter? Tape yourself practicing for an hour, take a walk through the practice room area at school and eavesdrop on your fellow students, or ask your students to pretend they are at home and watch them practice during a lesson. What do you notice?

You’ll notice that the majority of folks practice rather mindlessly, either engaging in mere repetition (“practice this passage 10 times” or “practice this piece for 30 minutes”) or practicing on autopilot (that’s when we play through the piece until we hear something we don’t like, stop, repeat the passage again until it sounds better, and resume playing through the piece until we hear the next thing we aren’t satisfied with, at which point we begin this whole process over again).

There are three major problems with the mindless method of practicing.

1. It is a waste of time

Why? For one, very little productive learning takes place when we practice this way. This is how we can practice a piece for hours, days, or weeks, and still not feel that we’ve improved all that much. Even worse, you are actually digging yourself a hole by practicing this way, because what this model of practicing does do is strengthen undesirable habits and errors, literally making it more likely that you will screw up more consistently in the future. This makes it more difficult to correct these habits in the future – so you are actually adding to the amount of future practice time you will need in order to eliminate these bad habits and tendencies. I once worked with a saxophone professor who was fond of reminding his students that “Practice doesn’t make perfect, practice makes permanent.”

2. It makes you less confident

In addition, practicing this way actually hurts your confidence, as there is a part of you that realizes you don’t really know how to consistently produce the results you are looking for. Even if you establish a fairly high success rate in the most difficult passages via mindless practice, and find that you can nail it 3 or 4 out of every 5 attempts, your confidence won’t grow much from this. Real on-stage confidence comes from (a) being able to nail it 10 out of 10 tries, (b) knowing that this isn’t a coincidence but that you can do it the correct way on demand, because most importantly (c) you know precisely why you nail it or miss it – i.e. you know exactly what you need to do from a technique standpoint in order to play the passage perfectly every time.

You may not be able to play it perfectly every time at first, but this is what repetition is for – to reinforce the correct habits until they are stronger than the bad habits. It’s a little like trying to grow a nice looking lawn. Instead of fighting a never-ending battle against the weeds, your time is better spent trying to cultivate the grass so that over time the grass crowds out the weeds.

And here’s the biggie. We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously – not a great formula for success. Recall from this article that you have a tendency to shift over into hyper-analytical left brain mode when you walk out on stage. Well, if you have done most of your practicing unconsciously, you really don’t know how to play your piece perfectly on demand. When your brain suddenly goes into full-conscious mode, you end up freaking out, because you don’t know what instructions to give your brain.

3. It is tedious and boring

Practicing mindlessly is a chore. Music may be one of the only skill-based activities where practice goals are measured in units of time. We’ve all had teachers who tell us to go home and practice a certain passage x number of times, or to practice x number of hours, right? What we really need are more specific outcome goals – such as, practice this passage until it sounds like _____, or practice this passage until you can figure out how to make it sound like _____.

After all, it doesn’t really matter how much time we spend practicing something – only that we know how to produce the results we want, and can do so consistently, on demand.
Deliberate Practice

So what is deliberate, or mindful practice? Deliberate practice is a systematic and highly structured activity, which is, for lack of a better word, scientific. Instead of mindless trial and error, it is an active and thoughtful process of experimentation with clear goalsand hypotheses. Violinist Paul Kantor once said that the practice room should be like a laboratory, where one can freely tinker with different ideas, both musical and technical, to see what combination of ingredients produces the result you are looking for.

Deliberate practice is often slow, and involves repetition of small and very specific sections of your repertoire instead of just playing through (e.g. working on just the opening note of your solo to make sure that it “speaks” exactly the way you want, instead of playing the entire opening phrase).

Deliberate practice involves monitoring one’s performance (in real-time, but also via recordings), continually looking for new ways to improve. This means really listening to what happens, so that you can tell yourself exactly what went wrong. For instance, was the first note note sharp? Flat? Too loud? Too soft? Too harsh? Too short? Too long?

Let’s say that the note was too sharp and too long with not enough of an attack to begin the note. Well, how sharp was it? A little? A lot? How much longer was the note than you wanted it to be? How much more of an attack did you want?

Ok, the note was a little sharp, just a hair too long, and required a much clearer attack in order to be consistent with the marked articulation and dynamics. So, why was the note sharp? What did you do? What do you need to do to make sure the note is perfectly in tune every time? How do you ensure that the length is just as you want it to be, and how do you get a consistently clean and clear attack to begin the note so it begins in the right character?

Now, let’s imagine you recorded all of this and could listen to how this last attempt sounded. Does that combination of ingredients give you the desired result? In other words, does that combination of ingredients convey the mood or character you want to communicate to the listener as effectively as you thought it would?

Few musicians take the time to stop, analyze what went wrong, why it happened, and howthey can correct the error permanently.

So How Many Hours a Day Should I Practice?

You will find that deliberate practice is very draining, given the tremendous amount of energy required to keep one’s full attentional resources on the task at hand. Practicing more than one hour at a time is likely to be unproductive and in all honesty, probably not even mentally or emotionally possible. Even the most dedicated individuals will find it difficult to practice more than four hours a day.

Studies have varied the length of daily practice from 1 hour to 8 hours, and the results suggest that there is often little benefit from practicing more than 4 hours per day, and that gains actually begin to decline after the 2-hour mark. The key is to keep tabs on the level of concentration you are able to sustain.

5 Keys For More Effective Practice
1. Duration

Keep practice sessions limited to a duration that allows you to stay focused. This may be as short as 10-20 minutes for younger students, and as long as 45-60 minutes for older individuals.

2. Timing

Keep track of times during the day when you tend to have the most energy. This may be first thing in the morning, or right before lunch, etc. Try to do your practicing during these naturally productive periods as these are the times at which you will be able to focus and think most clearly.

3. Goals

Try using a practice notebook. Keep track of your practice goals and what you discover during your practice sessions. The key to getting into the “zone” when practicing is to be constantly striving to have clarity of intention. In other words, to have a clear idea of the sound you want to produce, or particular phrasing you’d like to try, or specific articulation, intonation, etc. that you’d like to be able to execute consistently.

When you figure something out, write it down. As I practiced more mindfully, I began learning so much during practice sessions that if I didn’t write everything down, I’d forget.

4. Smarter, not harder

Sometimes if a particular passage is not coming out the way we want it to, it just means we need to practice more. There are also times, however, when we don’t need to practice harder, but need an altogether different strategy or technique.

I remember struggling with the left-hand pizzicato variation in Paganini’s 24th Caprice. I was getting frustrated and kept trying harder and harder to make the notes speak, but all I got was sore fingers, a couple of which actually started to bleed. I realized that there had to be a smarter, more effective way to accomplish my goal.

Instead of stubbornly keeping at a strategy or technique that wasn’t working for me, I forced myself to stop practicing this section altogether. I tried to brainstorm different solutions to the problem for a day or so, and wrote down ideas to try as they occurred to me. When I felt that I came up with some promising solutions, I just started experimenting. I eventually came up with a solution that I worked on over the next week or so, and when I played the caprice for my teacher, he actually asked me how I made the notes speak so clearly!

5. Problem-solving model

Consider this 6-step general problem-solving model summarized below (adapted from various problem solving processes online).
  • Define the problem (what do I want this note/phrase to sound like?)
  • Analyze the problem (what is causing it to sound like this?)
  • Identify potential solutions (what can I tweak to make it sound more like I want?)
  • Test the potential solutions to select the most effective one (what tweaks seem to work best?)
  • Implement the best solution (make these changes permanent)
  • Monitor implementation (do these changes continue to produce the results I’m looking for?)
Or simpler yet, check out this model from Daniel Coyle’s book The Talent Code.
  • Pick a target
  • Reach for it
  • Evaluate the gap between the target and the reach
  • Return to step one
It doesn’t matter if we are talking about perfecting technique, or experimenting with different musical ideas. Any model which encourages smarter, more systematic, active thought, and clearly articulated goals will help cut down on wasted, ineffective practice time.

After all, who wants to spend all day in the practice room? Get in, get stuff done, and get out!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Faculty Post - Bruce Brown - Healthy Body, Healthy Life!

This week's blog post is by Assistant Professor of Voice, Mr. Bruce Brown.

I thought I would discuss a topic in this week’s blog covering the importance of taking charge of one’s body as being an important decision for a professional musician.  

Trust me, taking charge of your body is a lot easier than many might think.

Most everyone who has known me over the past 3 decades might label me fixated on being somewhat of a health nut.  Health nut?  Really?  What exactly is a health nut?  Let’s examine the nuttiness of it all by asking one simple question.  How difficult is the discipline required to maintain one’s health through a lifestyle choice of physical exercise and sound nutrition?  

Before I address that question, just let me say that I am not here to berate anyone – student, faculty, parent, or friend – about the choices they make.  The topic might be best focused around the choices that people do not make, rather than the ones they do make.  We might easily make a choice to spend 30 minutes a day on Facebook and the Internet.  We might easily make a choice to spend 30 minutes a day vocalizing, or practicing our instrument.  We might easily make a choice to spend 30 minutes a day blowing off steam doing absolutely nothing.  We might easily make a choice to spend 30 minutes a day texting, or talking on the phone.  We might easily make a choice to spend 30 minutes a day staring at the television.  We might easily make a choice to spend 30 minutes a day studying or reading.   We could go through the day’s routine of each and every one of us to find where we all easily make choices to spend time doing the things we feel are important.

How difficult is it to make the choice to spend 30 minutes a day doing moderate aerobic exercise?  How difficult is it to do 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity?  Okay, okay.  I know you want to know what it is I am blogging on about.  What is moderate aerobic activity not to mention what the heck is vigorous aerobic activity?  Moderate is the easy form of exercise.  Mowing the lawn.  A brisk walk to class qualifies as moderate aerobic activity as does a brisk walk from one end of the mall to the other.  So does going for a casual swim.  Vigorous (the kind I like and crave) is running, cycling, full out dancing like we did in the 1970’s, swimming on the swim team, bumping things up a notch so you are out of breath, the heart is pounding and the sweat is dripping from limb to limb.  Oh yeah!  Give me a dose of that.  

The more you do of both moderate and vigorous aerobic activity – the more the weight is shed and the health benefits start to add up.   Throw in working with some weights twice a week to boost one’s metabolism – and now we are talking about utilizing some of the minutes in the day to boost our physical and mental health.  

Ah – there’s the lifestyle choice that many seem to want to avoid.  The discipline of building 150 – 300 minutes per week of exercise into our schedule seems too daunting.  It’s not if we simply build it into our schedule.  The simple addition of an exercise routine allows us to take control of what our body is – an instrument – so we can play it and utilize it for our music making.

I discovered early in life that exercise really made me feel good.  What was it that made me feel good?  I now know, it was the endorphin release, the adrenaline release, the stress reduction, the boost in self-esteem, and the benefits of looking fit and healthy.   I liked it all.   I was running and riding bikes for exercise back in the 1970’s.  And that has continued to this day – all as a part of my normal routine.   

We know that regular exercise has many benefits.  It is a stress reducer, improves one’s sleep, fights anxiety (great thing to fight for performing musicians – nicht wahr?), reduces body fat, strengthens bones, increases energy levels, fights depression, lowers blood pressure, is healthy for the heart, releases chemicals to make you feel good and on and on.  Who wouldn’t want all of that?  Pass the plate filled with all of that stuff right over here so I can have seconds, please.

Call me a health nut if you want.  However, I would be the first to advise all other musicians to grab some of the nuttiness I have come to enjoy the past 3 or 4 decades.  You will feel better, perform better, sleep better, eat better, and look better all due to a simple choice of physical discipline.  

The choice is yours.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Faculty Blog Post - Learn to love history (if you don’t already)

This week's blog post comes to us from James Poulsen, Instructor of Music at Simpson College.

Learn to love history (if you don’t already)

by James Poulsen, Instructor of Music, Pianist and Composer/Songwriter

     I would like to talk about something outside of making music or ‘making it’ in music, and that’s my love of history. Besides music theory, ear training, and piano, I have taught ‘Discovering Music’ for over 20 years. The class does teach some music basics, but it is essentially a survey of music history, mainly from the fall of the Roman Empire to the present. One of my favorite things about this class is not to just make non-music majors aware of the vast world of ‘classical music’, but to get more than a few students interested in history in general.
     I am always disappointed when I hear someone say they ‘don’t like history’--probably because it may involve a lot of names and dates that seem far off in time and distant and it involves a bunch of ‘old people’. It may be a bit cliché, but I think the way to get interested in history is to really put yourself in someone else’s place in the vast amount of possible circumstances, starting with daily life and basic survival. Another way to get more interested or connected is to remember that you had relatives a lot like you that found themselves in many situations ranging from day to day existence to life threatening situations including war and disease.
     It is mind-boggling to think that we each descended from an incredibly long line of ‘survivors’. Most of us mainly think of just the past two or three generations. Many people also go back at least to when their ancestor or ancestors came to America. My grandpa Poulsen came from Denmark in 1913, one year after the Titanic sank. If you think of it, your related predecessors were either some of the strongest, fastest, smartest, or even just the luckiest in countless situations. At least one of your relatives had to survive at least to child bearing years to continue that long line which led to you. We all probably had some individuals in our lines that may have only lived to be 12 or 13 years old.
     Each of us could be a descendent of survivors of countless battles, illnesses, droughts, crop failures, or even one-on-one fights. It’s hard to grasp how lucky we might be to exist and be an aware, thinking, and creative being.
     In terms of well-known historical figures, I think its very interesting to know anecdotes and stories of their daily lives and personal experiences. We are incredibly fortunate to have many letters of correspondence that involved some of history’s most interesting people like Mozart, Beethoven, and many other artists, authors, poets, musicians, and royal family members. I fear that with letter writing a thing of the past, plus easily ‘disposed-of’ email and texting, we are losing ‘tons’ of information that actually might mean something to future generations. If you don’t have a personal biographer or keep a diary, your life-story is not being preserved in letters!
    Young students might think of great individuals of history as ‘old’ or unreachable or simply, ‘we can’t relate to them and their life and times’. Once again, think about yourself in all situations as you learn more about people’s lives. Leopold Mozart took his two amazing children on tour throughout Europe in the 1760s. We have letters from Leopold, that state ‘We almost lost little Wolfgang’ (to high fever). It is very interesting to know that W. A. Mozart, the amazing child prodigy had an older sister, ‘Nannerl’ that was probably as talented as he—but as a young woman was not allowed to continue performing after a certain age. Mozart’s many childhood illnesses may have contributed to his early death at age 35, even though that was a typical life expectancy in the 18th century. One other ‘real-life’ fact is that Mozart’s wife Constanze was present when a monument was erected to his memory in Vienna some forty years after his death.
     Ludwig van Beethoven had to return home at 18 years old when his mother died and there were still younger siblings to care for as he was trying to start a performing career. Later in his life, Beethoven went through personal problems that kept him from composing almost anything for years. Plus, there is the whole story of Beethoven being able to compose some of the greatest works of all time as he became more and more deaf in his 30s. The Czech composer Bedrich Smetana was also totally deaf by his 50s, but composed the beautiful set of symphonic works including ‘The Moldau’ and many other pieces.
     Chopin probably contracted tuberculosis in his teens, something he and thousands of others in the 19th century lived with for years. It is incredible to think that he was able to compose hundreds of piano works that we are still performing and talking about 170 years later. Franz Schubert was another amazingly young genius, but also a real person! He was mainly put on earth to compose music every day until about one o’clock and then hang out at the coffee shop (Vienna Starbucks) with his friends. He rarely had a ‘real job and mainly stayed with friends. Unfortunately, he contracted syphilis in his mid-twenties and was quite ill, but continued to compose masterpieces until his death at age 31. He probably died from the treatment for syphilis in the 19th century, which was mercury! The history of medicine and medical treatments is quite fascinating and often tragic, but it makes us think what everyday people and ‘celebrities’ had to go through to survive or eventually succumb. J.S. Bach twice had operations performed on his eyes without anesthesia, probably for cataracts, by a ‘celebrity’ quack doctor in Europe. He was, of course, left blind in the last few years of life. One little known fact about Bach is that he actually tried to sell pianos late in his career—the piano was still a ‘new thing’ in the 1740s just before Bach’s death in 1750.
     Bach also fathered 20 or more children, according to baptismal records that seem to continue to be found! This may give pause to young female students as you learn that until birth control was modernized, women of child bearing years were pregnant almost every year--that could be 15-20 pregnancies and births for women before the 20th century! That leads to a discussion of child mortality. Today, we can hardly imagine what married couples and families of all stations in life had to endure as they often lost many children to disease and accidents before the age of 5. That’s another huge thing that all the people in your direct line also survived which led to you being alive today. It is morbid and fascinating to think of all fevers and infections your line survived especially before the discovery of penicillin in the 1940’s! In the 19th Century, many doctors were insulted when first told they needed to wash their hands before examining a patient or even doing surgery. George Washington succumbed from too many ‘blood-lettings’ and died with chickens tied to his feet. President Garfield would have probably survived his gunshot wound if doctors hadn’t dug around for the bullet with unsanitized instruments.
     I could go on and on with music history and other history anecdotes but I will close with one reference to Napoleon and his escapades. Napoleon thought he conquer and rule most or all of Europe. Things culminated in the 1810s when Napoleon amassed an army and mobile ‘city’ of over 600,000 soldiers, wives, families, and other support people to march across Europe to invade Russia. I just mention this because it is one of the most unimaginable occurrences in history and some of your relatives could have been involved in this giant fiasco or affected by it. One can’t even imagine the amount of support needed for all the people (and horses) involved in this operation. It wasn’t just French, but German and other nationalities who joined this huge undertaking—all instigated by one man! What’s even more amazing is that he made it all the way to an evacuated Moscow and eventually burned the entire city—everything but the Kremlin! Most everyone knows the rest of the story—Napoleon decided to return to France too late in the year and was slowed and hindered terribly by winter weather—there were numerous battles, slaughters, and desertions. Napoleon returned to France, amazingly alive himself, but with only a few thousand people out of the original 600,000 plus.
     So history is morbid, intriguing, fascinating—not just about a few boring Kings, Queens, and wars, but real people, including your ancestors and their lives—real stories to relate to and dive into plus use your imagination! Seek out and enjoy history wherever and whenever you can—you are part of it!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Surviving the Gap Year - Aliese E. Hoesel

This week's blog post is by Simpson College Music Alumna Aliese Hoesel. Ms. Hoesel graduated from Simpson College in 2011 with a Bachelor’s in Music Education. She is currently working towards her Masters in Music, Vocal Performance degree at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where she studies with Ms. Rachel Inselman. At UMD, Aliese is a member of the opera outreach program, Voyageurs where she instructs middle school students on the processes of singing, acting, and stage production and tours with the other Voyageurs members, presenting 40-minute educational musicals to elementary students.

Surviving the Gap Year
By Aliese E. Hoesel

“My future.” When I began my undergraduate career at Simpson College these two words held excitement and a promise of adventure. However, the closer I came to my graduation the heavier these words weighed upon me. Ominous, foreboding, they no longer held joyful connotations, but rather created for me an immense sense of pressure to make something of myself so that my professors and colleagues could feel pride in having played a key role in my artistic and personal formation. Despite the utterly amazing and beyond thorough education I received at Simpson, I was –and still am—keenly aware of how much I had yet to learn. (The trouble with Perfectionism is that it hinders one’s ability to accurately recognize one’s level of preparedness and competence). With the belief that I had so much knowledge yet to absorb, I did not feel ready to enter the teaching field, despite a particularly wonderful professor’s adamancy that I should “take a Valium” and trust myself. In addition, I did not feel prepared to enter graduate school either, as my voice was undergoing yet another growth period. So, that left me with a third option, take a year off. 

While I felt like a failure for moving back home after graduation and temping in a completely non-music related field, after a few months I started recognizing there were benefits to this “gap year.” It was the first time in four years that I got over 5 hours of sleep every night, and I even spent quality time with my family during holidays instead of confining myself to my room to finish research papers and projects. But, the greatest benefit of the gap year was being able to re-evaluate my future goals and determining what I needed from my career.

As an administrative assistant in the Maintenance department of a large corporation, working largely with individuals who did not relate to the world in an artistic way as I did, I learned how much music needed to be in my future. I learned just how important it was to my sanity that I be surrounded by art, collaborating with fellow musicians and actors. In addition, while it was wonderful to have a consistent paycheck to slowly tackle those student loans, the job I was doing did little to feed my soul. Yes, it was nice to leave my work at the office, but after a while, I recognized how much I missed having a career that consumed me. There is a certain intoxicating frenzy that overcomes a person when she is engulfed in her life’s passion, and I desperately required that in my life. I longed a career where I spent the day singing, deciphering poetry, enhancing my dramatic interpretation, researching history. Honestly, I even missed music theory! This perhaps prompted me to do the most important thing of my career, build my own musical environment and apply to graduate school. 

As an institution, Simpson already has a superb musical environment created for its students; we do not have to search for it there. But, outside of the ARMC, as professionals, we must build it on our own. That is the key to having a successful career, having the initiative to create musical opportunities for oneself. Below are five things I did to prepare myself for graduate school and create my own artistic environment.

Take Lessons and Practice Everyday
Continue taking lessons. A teacher will keep the technique in shape and keep you learning literature that is appropriate for your instrument. If a teacher doesn’t live close enough to you, at least try to do monthly coachings. At the very least, record your daily practices so that you can go back later to evaluate your skills. Going even further, challenge yourself to present a recital during your gap year. That way you have a tangible end goal that teaches you the necessary skills in reserving a hall, arranging for an accompanist, and advertising, in addition to preparing music and writing program notes.

Start a Private Studio
I truly standby the belief that one doesn’t fully understand her craft until she has taught it to someone else. Record these too so you can later evaluate and modify your instruction. Teaching allows you to learn literature really well, understand the development of one’s instrument, and improve accompanying skills. In addition, it’s a nice way to make some extra money, not to mention, shows graduate schools that you have not just been sitting around for a year staring at walls.

Continue to Read
The gap year is a perfect time to read all those history books you were assigned in Medieval/Renaissance or 19th/20th History, but never actually had time to read. (The Rest is Noise is actually a really interesting and incredibly informative book). Read books on pedagogy for your instrument, biographies of great singers, conductors, instrumentalists, composers, librettists, etc. Do not let the knowledge you spent four years and thousands of dollars on go to waste! Not only will it help you in preparing for entrance examinations, but will make you that must more impactful in your field. Knowledge is power, truly.

Attend Conferences and Workshops
Go to the music education workshops at Simpson. It will keep you abreast on effective educational trends and methods for if/when you do decide to teach. Also, it is a time to see your Simpson friends and colleagues and a chance to continue networking. Plus, there are donuts and cookies.

Join a Community Choir / Get a Church Job
Joining a community choir allows one to be involved in a no-stress, musical environment. In my experience, these choirs are full of encouraging people who love music. A church job, such as a cantor or choir director is another way to be involved in a community musically, and it also pays fairly well.

Each musician is different, some need to force themselves to finish advanced degrees for fear that they will never return to school, others need a year to settle into their own independence. Surviving the gap year depends entirely on how motivated a person is to form his own musical community. If taken seriously, it can be the perfect balance of “time off” from the hectic schedule one maintained at Simpson and a great stepping stone into one’s professional career. As with all things in life, the end goal is to find a path that suites your own goals, aspirations, integrity, and creative spirit.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Jayson Gerth - You Are What You Read

This week's blog post is by award winning South East Polk Director of Bands, Jayson Gerth. 

You Are What You Read

by Jayson Gerth

During a walk through my neighborhood in the early spring of 2010, I was plugged into my iPod and listening to a podcast of a recent episode of “The Dave Ramsey Show.” Dave Ramsey, the host of this financial advice radio broadcast, had as a special guest author and motivational speaker Tim Sanders. I had never heard of Sanders before, but the things he spoke about on that show changed the course of my personal and professional growth to this day.

Mr. Sanders had just written a new book: Today We Are Rich. He wrote about the life lessons learned over the course of his lifetime through the example of his grandmother. As soon as I got home from that walk, I pulled out a notebook and pen and listened to the entire interview again. This time, I wrote furiously, dissecting and outlining what Sanders was saying. The ideas he espoused were simple enough, but at the same time profound. I could not recall a time that I was as moved by someone speaking so enthusiastically and passionately about self improvement. I was inspired, and I purchased a copy of his book that night.

Now, please understand, this post is not a book report, but the story of my awakening to ideas and writings of deep thinkers, master teachers, motivational minds, and business leaders. The journey has been a rewarding one thus far, and although it is a path I'm glad I am now taking, it is one that I wish I had begun a long time ago.

I had browsed books on leadership before; I own books written by well-regarded music education thinkers and motivators like Tim Lautzenheiser, Ken Raessler and Peter Boonshaft, and I had attended band leadership seminars with my students. However, up until that point, nothing really stuck.

I suppose we all have a moment in our lives when we decide that we don't know it all – that there might be thinkers and luminaries whose ideas deserve our attention – and that we might benefit from their inspiration. Perhaps this is your moment.

One of the first principles that Tim Sanders writes about in his book Today We Are Rich is that we are what we read. Sanders encourages you to ask yourself, “what is the quality of information coming into my head on a daily basis?” News reports, political propaganda, internet grazing, and gossip about Hollywood celebrities bombard us continually. None of it will make us think deeply about ourselves or help us become better at what we do or aspire to do. In other words, so much of it is “junk food reading.”

Sanders points out that, for a society that is so concerned about the health benefits of what we put in our mouths, there is a shocking lack of general concern about what we put in our heads everyday!

Sometimes musicians and teachers get wrapped up in how much time we don'thave for our own personal growth in the profession. Too often we get stuck in the business of being busy and lose sight of our own need, as professionals, to continue to feed our mind good things – the things that will make us better teachers, musicians and people.

Following the example of Sanders' grandmother, I found that using time at the beginning of the day (getting up early if need be) to read, make some notes, and reflect has been incredibly beneficial for me. Taking 30-45 minutes while the house is quiet and the sun is not quite up is the best time to feed my mind. Often, ideas that I've read about in the morning stick with me during the day and set the tone for my approach to teaching, leading, or simply interacting with others. Further, reading great stuff early in the day makes me aware of the junk that continually wants my attention later in the day.

When done consistently, I have noticed that I go to bed excited about the prospect of waking up and having that quiet reading time (and I am NOT a morning person – just ask my wife!) I encourage you to give it a try! Simply find reading material that will either help you to be better at what you do or inform your worldview. Then set a time, perhaps early in the morning to read and digest it.

In the area of human relations, it's hard to beat books by Dale Carnegie, Claude Bristol, John Maxwell, Napoleon Hill, Wayne Dyer or the Arbinger Institute (theirLeadership and Self Deception and The Anatomy of Peace are must reads!). On the subject of music and music leadership, creativity, and the arts, great books have been written by the authors I have mentioned above as well as Sir Ken Robinson (The Element, Out of Our Minds) and Benjamin Zander (The Art of Possibility).

Making the time to feed your mind good things every day is an investment in you. I have become a better teacher, father and husband by reading, digesting and applying the ideas of great thinkers. Concern yourself with what you put in your head, and you will quickly notice a wonderful, positive transformation in your life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Guest blog post - Dr. Laura Drees - Musicians' Health

This week's blog post is about the health of musicians, written by Indianola chiropractor Dr. Laura Drees.
Musicians' Health
by Dr. Laura Drees

​You might wonder what a chiropractor with an undergraduate degree in Human Biology could possibly have to say that can help a student studying music. You’d be surprised how much health and taking care of your body can affect music, currently anddecades from now. I’m not a total science junkie; several years ago I tried out multiple musical instruments only to find out I’m not as coordinated as I’d like to be. My multiple music endeavors include piano, violin, and clarinet. Actually I was pretty skilled at the clarinet, second chair even, until I came down with pneumonia. It affected my lungs so much that it changed my tone and ultimately my ability to play. This brings me to the topic at hand; health really does relate music.

1. Keep yourself healthy and free of disease. Even catching a cold will put a damper on practicing, especially if you play a wind instrument. You don’t need me to tell you how impossible it can be to play with a stuffed up nose or sore throat. We all know we should do it, but how many of us wash our hands as long and as often as we should? Viruses and bacteria spread so easily on instruments which you touch several times a day. It’s even worse if you are handling reeds and mouth pieces.

2. Daily vitamins are another way to prevent or shorten many illnesses. A daily multiple vitamin can help to keep your body running at its optimum level, which will increase your disease fighting abilities. A good multiple will contain several antioxidants in one tablet such as Vitamin A, D, and E which all increase your immune system. If you feel a cold coming on, a great supplement to start is Zinc. By sucking on a Zinc lozenge right away, it can actually coat the throat and will not allow the cold virus to stick to your airway. It can greatly decrease the length of your cold and if taken early enough it may even prevent it. Another great preventative herb is Echinacea. It’s effective for sore throats, colds, and bacterial infections. Calcium is another important vitamin to have in your daily diet, or as a supplement. It keeps your bones and joints strong, which brings me to my next topic.

3. We will all develop arthritis in our bones and joints as we age. As a musician you need that fluid motion in your hands, arms and shoulders. Arthritis can inhibit this. It weakens and deforms your bones, also making your joints smaller and less mobile. Basically, the more arthritis you get, the harder it will be to keep playing. The best way to prevent arthritis is keeping Calcium in your diet, keeping your bones strong by exercise including weight bearing workouts, and maintaininggood posture. I recommend studying yourself while practicing your instrument in the mirror. Watch to see if you are sitting up as straight as you think you are, making sure your shoulders are held up and back. Optimal posture is when your head, spine, and pelvis are lined up. Make sure you’re not slumping forward with your shoulders rolled in. It’s important to be aware of posture and make the right changes now because arthritis isn’t just for the elderly and once the bones and joints start to change there’s no going back.

4. Another no-brainer we don’t always accomplish is getting enough sleep. It wasn’t so long ago that I was a student so I know that studying, stress, parties, and going out with friends can all hamper our sleep patterns. Our bodies actually heal while we sleep and we need an average of 8 hours of sleep to reap the benefits. Sleep actually increases your memory and concentration, increases abilities to fight illness, helps alertness, aids in weight control, and gives you energy.

Summary: It seems to me that above all, most of us just need to increase our health awareness and take better care of ourselves. Listening to your bodies, some preventative measures, and common sense will help tremendously in keeping your music career going strong, as well as keeping you healthy throughout your life.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Faculty Blogpost - Jay Nugent - We Build Musicians Here

This week's blog post is by Simpson College Adjunct Professor of Music, Mr. Jay Nugent

“We Build Musicians Here”

Many years ago, as a senior in high school, I came to Simpson College to audition for a music scholarship as an instrumental major. My aspiration was to be a high school band director. After playing the third movement of the Haydn Trumpet Concerto, members of the faculty asked a series of questions about my background and what I wanted to do with my music. At the conclusion of this discussion, one faculty member stated, “we build musicians here”. This one statement described Simpson Music then and is still true today.

Music at Simpson is all about training students to become better musicians through challenging course work, private instruction and performing in a variety of large and small ensembles. In a nutshell, Simpson encourages music students to explore all aspects of music as an academic pursuit, as a soloist and as a member of outstanding ensembles. Each part of the curriculum is designed to challenge students to mature as individuals and as musicians. But this is just one aspect in the development as a musician - the greater responsibility lies within each student to train themselves as critical observers and listeners.

Simpson music students are expected to attend vocal and instrumental recitals. Use this opportunity to become active listeners. Train your ear to hear faulty intonation, listen to how the soloist phrases, especially in slower movements or selections, and pay close attention to how the accompanist enhances or distracts from the overall performance. Listen for the nuances in the accompaniment and how these musical lines play off the solo lines. When attending large ensemble performances, watch the conductor closely as you engage in active listening. Watch how the conductor, through his or her conducting technique, shapes the musical lines, balances the ensemble and enhances the musical experience. Note how the inner voices are interwoven throughout and if these voices are brought to the forefront when appropriate.

When listening to an instrumental ensemble, do not overlook the percussion section. Listen for rhythmic accuracy and how the performers approach the overall musical presentation through proper playing technique. When attending a jazz concert, pay close attention the rhythm section. Listen for and watch the interaction between the drummer, bass player and piano player as they work together to lay down the time (groove), set up the horns and propel and inspire the soloists. Go to opera performances and sit where you can see the orchestra and also the performers on stage. Watch how the conductor communicates visually with both the instrumentalist and vocalists to create an inspiring performance. Also, pay close attention to staging. The lesson is: what the audience sees greatly influences their overall perception of what they hear.

Finally, as a student, take full advantage of all the musical opportunities that are available at Simpson. It is here that one sets a pattern for a successful musical career. Observe closely how faculty members approach their music, practice their art and motivate their students. These four years will go by quickly, but the musical foundation gained here will last a lifetime.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Nothing Gold Can Stay - Kate Harris

This week's blog post is by Simpson College Music alumna Kate Harris. Ms. Harris sang in many of the vocal ensembles during her time here and is currently teaching English at Centro de Lenguas y Estudios in Granada, Spain, an academy that serves both children and adults.

Nothing Gold Can Stay
by Kate Harris

“I can’t eat lunch with you today; I have a lesson.”  
“Where have you been?”  
“But it’s 8:30 on Saturday night.”  
“I’ll meet you at Pfeiffer later—it’s a band day.” 
“Mu Phi don’t bother me, Mu Phi don’t bother me!”  
“Good Lord, how many recitals do we have to go to this semester?” 
“Look at the list!  We’re going to be in Convo forever!!”

These are the familiar choruses heard up and down the hallways, lobby, and Cold Lounge of the Amy Robertson Music building.  We’ve all heard them, we’ve all uttered them.  However, what you may not realize is that you are currently in the Golden Age of your music career.  This is the time when you have the opportunity to study with the most talented and brightest minds of the music world (professional opera singers, featured musicians in the magazine Saxophone Journal, a Phantom of the Opera star (who was also in the Miss America pageant), composers, Poe enthusiasts, and even a professor who wrote his own opera).  Not only do you have the opportunity to study under the best professors, but you have the opportunity to study with some of the most talented students.  You are one of those students.  You should count yourself lucky to study with them, and they should count themselves lucky to study with you.  While at Simpson, students have composed operas, requiems, attended out-of-state instrumental conventions, performed at the Lyric, and given hour-long recitals while being full-time teachers in k-12 districts (all of you music education majors know how stressful that is!). 

In this musical Golden Age, you have the advantage of studying difficult music every day in lessons, band, instrumental ensembles, and choirs.  The level of music you rehearse is rigorous, demanding, and, come performance time, absolutely worth the emotional roller coaster of learning music well.  It is astounding to listen to and to perform a finished product after months of dedication and rehearsal.  Music is your passion.  You have many professors encouraging you daily to practice your passion and hone the talent you already possess and many peers that give you the same encouragement (sometimes reminiscent of Cold War tactics, but it still propels you to practice, does it not?).  As you stare graduation in the face, spectators around you shout words they perceive as helpful:  

“You can always join a community choir!”   
“My community band is excellent—you would really like it!”  
“Music is something you can take with you wherever you go!” 

Let me tell you this, my fellow musicians, Robert Frost says it best in his title poem: “Nothing gold can stay.”  Your Golden Age ends when you reach out and take that diploma.  It seems unfair to be finally be given the seal of approval that commemorates your passion, while at the same moment be ripped from the opportunity to work with the best and the brightest musicians.  It will not be the same.  Community band, choir, glee clubs… They are enjoyable, but they do not replace the level of musical study you receive at Simpson College. 

I had not anticipated this upon graduation.  The realization slapped me in the face the fall after I graduated when I sat idly by on my computer reading Facebook statuses proclaiming the outcome of the opera list,  the frustrations of rehearsals, etc.  I yearned for another lesson, another choir rehearsal.  I even missed Convo.  I missed hearing my peers perform and witnessing the accomplishments made in the practice rooms and in Lekberg, Harris and Duncan Halls.  Even after a year and a half, I still miss the opportunities that were taken for granted during my own Golden Age. 

My advice for you is to live the admittedly cliché phrase carpe diem.  Seize the day, seize the music.  Know that the end is near, but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the music around you.  My final comment is to, during your four years as a part of the Simpson Music Department, “stay golden, Pony Boy.”

Nature's first green is gold, 
Her hardest hue to hold. 
Her early leaf's a flower; 
But only so an hour. 
Then leaf subsides to leaf. 
So Eden sank to grief, 
So dawn goes down to day. 
Nothing gold can stay.
--Robert Frost

Monday, October 15, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Mr. Seth Hedquist - Inspiration

This week's blog post is by our instructor of guitar and jazz improvisation, Seth Hedquist

Inspiration In Unexpected Places 
by Seth Hedquist

Inspiration knows no vocation. It is just inspiration. Having sources for inspiration outside your chosen area of study may help you return to your comfort zone refreshed and with a simpler outlook at what you do.

I hope I never forget the Winter Olympics of 2010 for many reasons. The most poignant moment in my mind was watching skier Lindsey Vonn before she hit the slope in one of her many exciting runs. The camera showed her going through a mental run through of the course just moments before she went down the hill. She stood off to the side of the jump-off point in full gear, eyes shut, arms in ready position, head tilting to and fro as she went over the course in her mind. As if the course itself, with its twists, turns, ups and downs, were a piece of music, Vonn seemed in that moment to be the conductor.

More recently, in preparation for a master’s course in history, I finally took my mother’s advice and read a book called Remember Everything You Read: The Evelyn Wood 7-Day Speed Reading and Learning Program by Stanley D. Frank. I have for as long as I can remember struggled with finding motivation to read. It was always more of a “have to” than a “want to” because I never found a way around reading every single word. Reading a book therefore made for a long commitment. That is until the Evelyn Wood Method taught me to let go of my old mentality by catching a couple of old habits in action. First of all, I would continuously regress as I read, often reading a single sentence over again to make sure I understood it. While that may sometimes be necessary, it made for a poor pace as I tried to get through the book. Likewise I was always unconsciously accompanied by my “hidden voice” which sounded out every word. This too had its uses but the Evelyn Wood Method seemed to argue that such a technique is essentially just one gear to drive in. 

As I was reading Frank’s book I realized that I fell into these same habits when sightreading music. Even though I knew the vocabulary, the notes and rhythms, I let the “hidden voice” slow me down when I could have been cruising, and constantly second-guessed myself as I went along. Now I am a better sightreader as a result of the Evelyn Wood Method. Even more importantly, I want to sightread more.

Those history books I began taking home and reading in this new way seemed all the more simple too. In the best ones the authors did not ramble. They just stated their purposes, told their narratives and brought their works to a conclusion. In coming back to music I feel the aim is not that different. Listen to jazz standards like Stella By Starlight by Victor Young or Emily by Johnny Mandel. Take a turn into the classical realm and listen to Un sospiro by Franz Liszt. These incredible pieces of music have their melodic “thesis statements” too, and take the listener on lovely journeys to the end.

Inspiration does not stop, even when you stop doing “your thing.” I recommend you be open to sources of inspiration in other fields. They may tell you more about your area of study, and perhaps yourself, than you may have known had you only looked within your comfort zone. Wherever it is received, acknowledge inspiration for what it is and channel it into what you do. Then come back to the music refreshed and ready to inspire.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Faculty Post - Dr. Kim Helton

This week's blog post is by Simpson College's Instructor of Flute, Dr. Kim Helton.

Collaboration: The Art of Arts

by Kim Helton

In September, I had the privilege of performing in both the season debut concerts of the Des Moines Symphony and Orchestra Iowa (Cedar Rapids Symphony). Even with all the gloom and doom in many other symphony organizations, both are solvent and thriving. Both are expanding educational opportunities for youth in the community. Both are doing out reach performances in smaller venues. AND, for the first time ever, both included a collaboration of artistic diversity never before seen.

Orchestra Iowa worked together with the Quad-City Ballet Company and Historic Brucemore Museum—a collaboration of the local ballet company, the local historical site, and the local symphony. Thousands of people came to listen, drink local wine, and support their community through the arts. The DMSO worked together with the DSM Art Center and the Pappajohn family to commission a new piece, “Symphony in Sculpture,” celebrating the spectacular sculpture park down town. It was a collaboration including the local art collection, local composer, local Blur Media Productions, and the local symphony with enormous success.

So, what is so important about collaboration? How does it help the arts thrive? What are the lessons learned through collaborating with other artists? Here are some critical skills that will begin to evolve the more you work with others:

Always bring your “A” game.
There is nothing more inspiring that playing with other fine musicians or artists. If you need motivation to practice or hone your craft, work with an outstanding pianist, singer, instrumentalist, conductor or composer and you will find yourself running to the practice room to rise to the level of those around you. Do the hard preparations: study the score, find recordings, practice slowly, know your role within the music at any given time (soloist, accompaniment, thematic material, harmonic filler), know the tendencies of the instruments in your ensemble. Great accompanists always know which students or professionals come prepared and are thoughtful about the process of collaborating. You want those pianists to say yes when you ask. Don’t waste your pianist’s or ensemble members’ time by coming unpracticed or unaware of how the parts fit together. A little preparation goes a long way.

Relationships are as important as artistic endeavors.
Understand that how you interact with and treat others is critical in achieving high levels of artistic collaboration. YoYo Ma is famous for his incredible philanthropy and willingness to work with all types of artists from all walks of life. (See—YoYo Ma and Lil’Buck) He is a true gentleman in every respect, and a consummate artist. Consider those you work with as members of your team. Give your pianist the music far in advance, respecting his/her time. Arrive on time for rehearsals and plan ahead together as a group. When something goes wrong, admit your own errors and take responsibility for them. Respect the skills of all fellow performers, even if you don’t have any idea what challenges are found in preparing reeds, tuning a harp, improvising jazz, singing an aria, or rolling a snare drum. Always give others the benefit of the doubt and assume the best in people. It will come back to serve you when it is your turn to have a mishap or problem. If you cherish those with whom you work, then you will have the privilege of getting more work!

Get outside your comfort zone.Start small. Try working with instrumentalists or singers new to you. Try a new trio combination, or find an unusual piece and invite new musicians to play. I heard the most amazing flute/tuba duo at the NFA convention. Before their performance, I admit had my reservations. However, it was a stunning combination, resulting in many newly commissioned works because of these great players. Be willing to try things you never thought possible. If you have ever been interested in other artistic areas, start experimenting. Take a pottery class. Try modern dance. Write some lyrics to your instrumental piece. Write your own cadenza. Sing at the top of your lungs—even if it is in the shower. Take lessons on a new instrument for the semester. If you have always loved jazz, but have never tried to improvise, find a great web site and go for it. The more you expand your creative experience, the more you appreciate the skills of others and enhance awareness in your own area of expertise.

“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
When collaborative skills are combined with enthusiasm, the possibilities are limitless. Orchestra Iowa lost its performing hall to terrible flooding four years ago. But with the boundless enthusiasm and skill of Maestro Timothy Hankewich, the hall is slated to be re-opened this October, with a sold out symphony season ahead. He accomplished this feat in large part because of his ability to dig in against the odds and collaborate with all the resources in the community. Maestro Giunta worked for three years to bring about the new commission of “Symphony in Sculpture,” inspired by the Pappajohn family’s labor of love to bring great art to the city of Des Moines and create the sculpture park downtown. Their willingness to work as a team marked the beginning of an amazing 75th symphony season.

If you are dedicated to honing your musical skills, building great relationships with a wide range of colleagues, exploring new ideas, and attacking any problem with enthusiasm, you will beat the odds. You will create a better community and world with your artistic endeavors. You will be limited only by your own imagination. The art of collaboration is truly the art of arts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Guest Blog Post - Crystal Fisher

This week's blog post is by guest blogger Crystal Fisher. Ms. Fisher is a recent graduate of the Simpson College B.M program, and currently teaches in the Exira-EHK Community School District.

Four Surprises Upon Graduation: 
Reflections and Advice from a former SC Music Student
by Crystal Fisher

           Music Education is known as one of the more difficult and time consuming majors out there. You practice, study for difficult music history tests, perform, attend recitals, write papers, and some how find time to sleep and get on Facebook. Though all of this is necessary to graduate with your degree, the most shocking thing you will find is that you can’t do just the work to get an A in all your classes and finish with the pack, oh no.  You really do get what you put into music because music is never perfect, it can always challenge you and take you to new levels, and there is always someone out there that is better because they practice more than you.  

        Surprise number 1: practicing is not going to be as fun as it was in high school or middle school. You can’t just go into a practice room and run through your piece, mistakes and all, pack up for instrument, and leave for the night after only 5 minutes. You might prefer it that way, but your applied lesson teacher will not.  While there will be no blood (hopefully, unless you choose to grapple with your instrument during frustrating practices), there will certainly be lots of sweat and tears. Practicing will be just as important as completing your homework and going to classes.  You will practice new techniques, scales, arpeggios, solos, and even your ensemble music. The important thing to remember is that you are in college for at least 4 years, use those years to hone your skills as much as possible because this is the only time you can go without working and have as much available time as you do to practice. It shouldn’t be a hobby, but a lifestyle choice. You chose the route of music and you have to remember that the more you practice, the more you improve, and there is a lot of self-gratification that comes out of a good performance and will help you become a better teacher and performer overall.

        Surprise number 2: You actually have to know piano- yes, instrumental music majors, even you.  You may be a trumpet performance major, but you still have to learn your scales, arpeggios, transposing, and open score reading to pass proficiency to graduate. So, why do you have to do it?  To be honest, knowing piano is going to help you out a ton. First off, it helps get your fingers going and can make them much more agile when it comes to technical passages on your own instrument. For vocalists, they can play their notes and maybe even sing while they play the accompaniment for themselves, and instrumentalists can record their accompaniment and practice without their accompanist. Learning piano also helps with rhythm, sight-reading, and ear training skills necessary for vocalists or instrumentalists. You have two hands doing two different things, playing different rhythms; you bet your bottom you’re going to be able to feel a beat and count better playing piano unless you decide to play everything arhythmically but if you do that, your piano teacher will have your head. So… while you are “stuck” learning the piano for at least two years, make the most of it and create some beautiful music that touches the soul.

        Surprise number 3: Aside from being super busy with all your ensembles, lessons, practicing, and attending evening recitals, you’ll find that your classes are actually somewhat difficult and some even require hours upon hours of studying for difficult tests that take over an hour to complete. Ever notice that studying is the combination of student and dying?  I think it’s ironic since every music major looks and acts like the walking dead the day of a music test because they waited till the night before to study. Do your brain and body a favor and start studying at least the weekend before the test. Create flash cards, fun ways to memorize what a piece of music sounds like, and key in on what your professor expects you to know for a test. While you may still feel like a zombie the day of your test, you will see a much better test grade than what you would have if you waited to cram everything in the day before. The other upside is you will actually remember what you learned for the test and be able to utilize that information down the road for teaching classes or grad school entrance exams. Your professors are not doing it just to torture you, I promise!

        Surprise number 4: Doing the minimum required classes and activities will not fully prepare you for what is to come in your real job or grad school.  What I mean is take charge of your education, you are paying for it so do more than what is necessary and be a leader. No one wants to hire an ignorant teacher or a lazy performer.  For example, you pass piano proficiency just barely the end of your sophomore year, what SHOULD you do? Keep taking lessons and become a better piano player because it will benefit you long down the road with playing parts and possibly accompanying. Another example, you take percussion methods and want to teach band and feel that you still have no idea at the end of the semester when it comes to playing percussion, what SHOULD you do? Take percussion lessons because it will make you a better player and teacher.  You should also be involved in extra activities like Phi Mu or Mu Phi, Iowa Bandmasters Association, Iowa Choral Directors Association, Education Club, and any other leader society or activity that you can get involved with.

I wanted to make sure that I got everything I could out of Simpson before I graduated and went into the scary world of music teaching. In my four years, I took a year of french horn, bassoon, percussion, clarinet, a summer of flute, and four years of piano and euphonium lessons all spread throughout my four years in college on top of my method courses. I also took all of the performance majors’ required classes to prepare me for when I go to get my masters degree in music education. As for activities, I was involved in Mu Phi, Iowa Bandmasters Association, Pep Band-I was the director my senior year, Jazz Band, Symphonic Band, and I even went to the Iowa Bandmasters Convention in early May. You know what it all did for me? It helped make me a competent band director that can teach and play all the instruments without having to track down a fingering chart when I teach lessons or when a student asks me what a fingering is in rehearsal.  It also helped me build strong references for job applications, helped me network with other band directors, and provided me with a list of lifelong experiences that will continue to help guide me to success as I continue to teach.

        A few last things: While you will find that there are many more small surprises awaiting you in college, this is the time to both have fun and invest in your future. Go ahead and lose a few hours of sleep and play freeze tag at midnight in Buxton park, join Humans vs. Zombies, and go to Hump Day Ha’s to brighten your smile, but do remember to do your homework, practice, show up for class, and study for your tests. These are the years you will make lifelong friends and great memories, but they will also help determine whether or not you will be successful at what you have set out to do. While some things are out of our control, do your best from day one of college to turn your life into the story you dreamed of. While mine isn’t perfect yet, it is well on its way. Good luck!