Preparing for Music Studies

February 16, 2013

Pedagogy

I’m frequently asked by students what they should do to prepare for their first semester of music studies. It seems most people understand how demanding it can be to earn a degree in music. Prospective students want to make sure they have the proper foundation in music in order to be successful. So, if you are one of these prospective music students here are a few suggestions.

1) Listening
One of the best things you can do is to listen to music. Not just music you like or are familiar with but with music you are not. Music genres have specific formulas that are utilized in the creative process. For example, if you are really familiar with a band or genre of music you might be able to “guess” what the next chord will be in a progression or which way the melody will turn. You develop this awareness through consistent listening to that particular genre.

Start developing an awareness of these formulas in other genres through repeated listening. I would suggest you choose three genres of music that you do not typically listen to and find two are three performers that are considered “greats” in that style. If you choose jazz as one of these genres you should listen repeatedly to someone like Miles Davis and Duke Ellington. For classical music choose an instrument(s) and time period. Something like piano music from the Romantic era.

2) Practice
Developing good practice habits prior to studying music in college is a must. Learn to devote an appropriate amount of time to practicing your instrument. An appropriate amount of time would depend on your goals. If you want to be a professional then the amount of time you spend practicing should reflect this.

You should also focus your attention on developing technique, learning new music, polishing music you know, and improvisation. I would suggest you spend 25% of your practice time on each of these areas. You can do a Google search for technique, music, and improvisation tips and find a wealth of resources for your instrument (comment below and we can provide some additional assistance).

3) Jam With Other Musicians
Playing with other musicians is one of the best ways to improve your skills. If you can, find musicians who are more advanced than you are. Don’t worry if they play a different instrument. You can still learn a great deal by playing along with other instrumentalists. If you are a guitarist play in a group with a trumpet player. Listening to how a trumpet player articulates notes, improvises, and shapes melodies can greatly influence your playing.

Playing with others also helps develop communication skills. Communication is an element of ensemble playing that is developed through the process of doing. You can learn how to communicate with others musically by reading but that will never fully develop this concept in you. It is learned through the doing.

What are some ideas or questions you have about preparing for music studies?

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