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!


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