12 Tips for a Freshman Music Major from a Senior Music Major

by Ben Woodard

Entering your freshman year of college as a music major is accompanied by visions of leaping into the first chair of every ensemble, graduating with honors, and fostering a great social life. It can also come with anxiety about your abilities and your level of preparation.  Entering college comes with a lot of new responsibilities especially for a music student.  Here are some tips for getting the most out of your underclassman years that I’ve learned so far: 


1. Forget about High School 

If you are studying music in college, you were likely one of the best or most talented students in your high school. Bragging about being in the All State Jazz band won’t be very impressive because many of your peers probably were too.  And just because you were first chair in your high school wind ensemble doesn’t guarantee a first chair spot in your university band, or even a spot in the top band at all.  Stay focused on your new goals and leave your high school accomplishments behind. You are starting at the bottom of the ladder, but if you work hard, your time will come soon.


2. Go to Class

Don’t waste your money by not showing up to class.  It is much easier to just show up to class and stay on top of things than it is to skip class for a nap and be left spending more time trying to figure out what you missed and making up assignments. And besides, you came to college to learn so take advantage of your opportunity.


3. Make a Tangible Schedule 

Write down your schedule or print it out. Hang it up on your door or tape it to your desk.  You will have a much different routine and a more irregular schedule than you’ve had in school so far.  If you don’t have a schedule you can easily forget about a class or lesson.  Include your practice time, meals, homework, workout routine, and even Netflix time.  It may seem silly to schedule out your entire day but you will be more productive and your free time will actually feel free.


4. Stay Healthy

Get some sleep. Coffee is not an alternative to sleep. Disinfect your bathroom and clean your room. Bathe every day and drink a lot of water. Don’t eat pizza and chocolate every day and learn to choose the healthy options at your dining hall.


5. Don't Skip Lunch 

Skipping lunch may seem like a good way to get an extra practice session, finish an assignment or sneak in a quick power nap, but it is much better to make sure you eat lunch.  Do whatever you can to make sure your schedule allows for plenty of time to eat lunch during the day. You will lose focus in class or perform less effectively in your ensemble if you are hungry.


6. Say Yes

When given the opportunity to be in any ensemble, or take a class in a subject that interests you, do it! Take as many credit hours as you can because you won’t regret what you may learn. This applies to performing opportunities beyond school. If someone wants you to play in their rock band or fill in for their pit orchestra gig, do it! In your first couple of years be willing to play for free, especially when you are helping out other students. Your colleagues will be much more likely to play for your project if you played for theirs.


7. Make the Most of your Opportunities

Being placed in the second or third band is not something to be ashamed of, it happens to most students in their first year.  Any opportunity you get in any ensemble will be beneficial if you have the right attitude. Your general education classes may seem irrelevant but there is always something to be learned and they can always help you hone your skills in writing and research.


8. Find a Comfortable Place to Do your Homework

This can be a big boost to your productivity. You may want to avoid working in your dorm room because it can be full of distractions. Instead of going back to your room, find a cozy nook in the library or find a quiet café or coffee shop. On a nice day I highly recommend going to a park.  Homework goes by faster and seems less daunting when you at least enjoy your surroundings.  This goes for practicing too. Practicing in your dorm is annoying for your roommates and others in your building, keep everyone happy and find your favorite practice room (especially in a school where practice space is plenty).


9. Practice, Practice, Practice...

You are at school to learn and grow as a musician.  Your lessons and classes will be wasted if you aren’t applying them to your playing in the practice room.  Practice is not an optional activity.  It is the only way you can expect to get better.  Some days you may only get 30 minutes and other days you may get 5 hours, both are acceptable. Get as much practice as your schedule allows.


10. Go to Where the Music is

Find out where the music is happening on your campus.  Make a friend with a student that works in the recording studio, find out where the best musicians go to open mic night, or get an in with the open jam session.  Find out if any students host living room or basement shows and go check one out.


11. Relax...

Do not sacrifice your relaxation time or you will likely be less productive.  Exercise caution here…don’t use relaxation as an excuse for laziness. Watching the entire new season of Orange is the New Black in one sitting is not healthy relaxation.  Going for a walk, playing a board game with friends from your floor, petting cats at the animal shelter (one of my favorites), or listening to music are all great ideas. This leads me to my last tip…


12. Listen to Music!!!

Perhaps one of the most important and often most overlooked things every music major should do is listen to music.  Of course you should listen to examples of your repertoire or a new recording of the jazz standard you are trying to learn.  But even more than that, you should take time to listen to the music you want to listen to!  You decided to become a musician because you love music so don’t forget to nurture your love for music. Listen to the new album by your favorite pop-punk band or listen to all of your old favorite boy band hits.  Just listen to anything that inspires you to keep working hard! 


A lot of these ideas may end up working differently for each music student.  If you work hard and keep your mind open, there will be chances to learn.  These are some of the things that I wish I would have been told as a freshman but have since figured out the hard way.  These tips aren’t a magic formula but I hope they can help you find a healthy balance during your college career.



Ben Woodard

Ben Woodard is a Senior Commercial Music major at Millikin University.  He plays his primary instrument, saxophone, in many top Millikin Ensembles.  He is a doubler on clarinet and flute and also plays drums in various rock bands as well as guitars as a hobby. Ben is also a front of house sound engineer for several Millikin ensembles as well as a freelancer in the Decatur area.  In his free time he plays intramural basketball and watches Wes Anderson films. 

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