The outbreak of the Coronavirus has left a lot of people struggling to navigate a heavy transition to an online musical world. It's natural to feel frustrated by this, because music is by nature a collaborative endeavor. Even when it seems we are just playing by ourselves in lessons, there are so many things we do as teachers to play WITH our students. If you're not playing with your students on a regular basis, do more of it! Duets might seem like a waste of time to an educator focused on technique, but matching their teachers' sound, even subconsciously, creates a solid foundation in sound quality for any student, and my #1 question from band directors is how to get a better sound for their students. Unfortunately, online video chat platforms create a "lag" of a fraction of a second, making it nearly impossible to actively play duets with our students. There are ways to adjust time settings on a computer based on the distance of the student from the host of the chat session (interesting concept, but a lot of math involved), and the commonly suggested "mute the mic" on one side of the chat doesn't allow for musicality from both musicians or assessment from the teacher, and only works for easy pieces that don't change tempo. There's also the issues of internet connection speeds and device/camera/speaker quality. Here are some tips to optimize your experience teaching bassoon online.
1. Understand your student's home setup. When we teach in personal studios or even in a school, it is a "neutral" space; as teachers, we have some control over the environment provided for the lesson. When students are forced to have lessons online at home, it takes away our control, and some of theirs! I've had students set up lessons outside because their parents are in meetings, causing their device to overheat in the sun. I've had students with their parents in the room because they don't have access to a metronome other than their parent's smartphone, which impacts their confidence since their parent is sitting next to them! Take the time to see how your student is doing personally, be patient when they get frustrated and try to redirect negative emotions, and be more flexible with your expectations of their mental state than you usually are.
2. Understand your student's technical situation. A PC or Laptop are ideal for use in online lessons as they create significantly less lag and usually have a better quality internet connection. On ANY device, computer, smart phone, or tablet, the built-in microphone and camera are usually less than ideal-- unless you built and customized the computer yourself. Understanding if something your hearing is your student's fault or the computer's fault -- and then figuring out which connection, yours or theirs, might have been the problem-- is a waste of time. Even if this student is brand new to you, a good teacher will be able to tell if their student is having issues, or if it's just a computer glitch. Even with the best equipment, the internet does some weird things to sound. Solutions:
3. Find alternative ways to play duets. With the situation of lag, it's going to be nearly impossible to play duets over a video chat platform. Instead, try modeling more for them than you normally would. Teaching over video chat platforms, I feel very much like a conductor-- they can't hear me talk when they're playing, so I have to fit all my words into a small space. Sometimes it's just better to show than explain. Play it your way, and you'll find most students do very well at imitating your sound.
4. Create a system of PDF sharing. In a normal lesson, I take notes for my students in a notebook they can take home. In an online setting, I still take notes, but it is in my own personal notebook, and I send them a PDF of this directly after each lesson. If they are playing music you don't own, like a band assignment or a solo they found online, make sure you get a copy from them before the lesson, otherwise it's very hard to coach them on music you can't see! A great app for scanning from your phone if you or your student doesn't own a scanner is called "Genius Scan." The full version is about $5, enabling you to directly email PDFs from the app to your student from your phone. Google Drive is great if they know how to use it, otherwise ask them to create a 3-ring binder they keep all their printed assignments in.
5. Take full advantage of online resources! Right now, kids are bored and frustrated! Try to make lessons more fun by sharing online resources with them. I commonly use full performance videos for orchestral excerpts, ask them to look up videos they like, or mention online resources for technique like masterclasses, summer workshops, and more! I even created an online scavenger hunt for interesting musical nuggets, and a bingo board of activities that are interesting and challenging, yet riddled with easier activities for my beginners to feel accomplished as well. I'll try to share more of these resources on my website as they develop!
6. Don't forget to stay positive!
No one really knows for sure when we will all feel comfortable going back to in-person learning, but for now we can take full advantage of the technology at our fingertips. It is amazing how far we have come that these things are possible, and it's just plain fun for me to rise to the challenge of adapting to a challenging situation and making something positive out of it. All of my students are rising to the challenge of practicing with focus, consistency, and empathy for their own unique state of mind and personal living situation that may have changed. Not everything is able to be under our control right now, but being able to guide students to a better quality online musical experience is certainly a step in the right direction.
When I was prompted with a research project on creating a new kind of syllabus for my Music Education course, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to focus on-- "standard" repertoire requirements in applied music and how to branch out of it. As I read my first source of information, I realized quickly that this was interesting, but it wasn't the heart of the issue for me as a teacher. Every bassoon studio I have been a part of has felt different-- not only because of the different combinations of students, but because of the way the professors treated the students. The solution I eventually focused on wasn't allowing the students to branch out from conventional material-- it's about creating a culture for those students to feel comfortable enough to want to branch out and find their own voice.
The Minnesota Vikings hired new head coach Mike Zimmer in 2014. A level-headed, quiet, kind man, Zimmer took a team with a record of 5-10-1 (only 5 wins in 2013), brought them to the playoffs in 2015 with a record of 11-5, and led them all the way to the NFC Championship game (the semi-finals) with a record of 13-3 in 2017. He has gone on record saying he will not draft players who don't have the right mindset, and actively seeks out rookies who he can mold to his own standards due to their attitude, even if they don't have the best skills or ability. The culture change in the Minnesota Vikings is clear to the fans, and it is obviously effective.
Of course, in a music school, recruiting can be an effective tool for building a studio based on your appealing teaching style as the applied teacher, but you don't always get to hand-pick your students like Mike Zimmer can his players. This is where the concept of Flexiblity, Empathy, and Pedagogy come in. Have you ever trained a dog? There are many methods, but the most effective one is positive reinforcement. Connecting with the dog by praising them with treats or just plain excitement makes them feel more fulfilled than hitting them when they do something bad ever will. They want to keep receiving that infectious positive feeling, which becomes their motivation for doing whatever you want them to. Here's the rub: In order for that training to be effective, you can't just force them to do things that are unnatural for them-- you have to start with their instincts (like jumping), which leads you to branch out to related tricks (like agility). Some dogs just don't like jumping, and getting them to jump on cue is next to impossible! Flexibility is realizing that you have to teach each dog differently because of their traits-- Empathy is understanding that they might not learn the same tricks as fast or as well as another dog would.
When I get a new student, I always try to find out who they are first, and adapt to how they hear music. I recently had the opportunity to teach a friend of mine I met through subbing with local groups, an infectiously kind woman in her 60s. She came to me asking for help with the first bassoon part to Appalachian Spring. I asked her, "What do you see when you play this?" Most people I ask this reply with an image, like a meadow or a river-- but surprisingly, she replied "I see colors. Earth tones, greens and yellows." She played the first solo, leading up to a high A-- it was a bit choked off, and I wanted it to sound warm and resonant. She said she saw this solo as a lime green or bright yellow-- I asked her to view it as more of a goldenrod yellow, or a Jade green. Her face lit up and she knew EXACTLY what I was talking about, and the next time she played it, it came out warm and resonant without me even saying those words. Sometimes we overthink how we explain simple concepts, but the answer is so much simpler. Just by connecting with her personal learning style, I created a safe place by being flexible and empathizing with her-- while at the same time using my pedagogical skills I had learned from experience in school to focus on making her a more controlled, sensitive player.
If I can infuse the positivity I try to express in my private lessons into a syllabus-- designed to be inclusive of players from all backgrounds, empathetic of all majors and levels, and flexible enough to allow students to create their own voice, all while creating a positive, safe culture where students feel supported by one another and myself-- I can't wait to see the possibilities.
Recently I've been playing in a good number of amateur groups, band and orchestra, and at the U we frequently rotate parts. I've started to think of rotating and jumping into sections in different groups sort of like doubling on multiple woodwinds, since first, second, and even third and contra parts often call for different techniques in listening, blending, and technical ability. The bassoon section is unique to a large ensemble because most times, clarinets, flutes, oboes and even saxophones will play the same rhythms as a section in thirds or fifths, serving somewhat as the soprano and alto lines in a choir. Bassoons are usually given two completely different parts that coincide occasionally, making it more of a challenge to figure out who to follow in different situations.
The common misconception about bassoon sections is that the first bassoonist is always the stronger of the two, able to play with virtuosity in all registers, while the second is usually a backup, the lesser of the two. In reality, the second bassoon part is sometimes harder, and usually more important than the first part! In certain situations, seating a player who may be technically the best but have the strongest low range is often a better decision than seating a player who can't play low notes with precision consistently in the second position. Section chords, Tenor v. Bass, unisons, and octaves are all treated with different roles. I'll give a few examples to help explain this concept.
Unison. In Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 6, mvt. 4, the movement opens with a long, slow (and tiring!) bassoon soli. The solo ranges from a high B to a low C, from fortissimo to pianissimo. It's an excerpt often asked on auditions, for good reason. The concept of playing in unison is a pretty simple role. The first bassoon leads in tone, intonation, rhythm, and dynamics, and the second player should follow the first in all these aspects.
Octaves. In Hindemith's March from Symphonic Metamorphosis for wind band, the bassoon parts are some of the most fun to play in the repertoire. The piece calls for two bassoons and contrabassoon, and usually the first and contra are in octaves, while the second bassoon is in fifths or the octave between the first and contra. Here it's important to always listen to the lowest voice for intonation. The first bassoon is least important when playing in octaves, so it's always important to adjust to what is given to you. A good contra player will lay down those bass notes so solid that the first bassoon won't even have to try to adjust.
Tenor v. Bass. Any baroque orchestral piece (let's say a Bach oratorio) will have your typical second bassoon bass line doubling the celli or string basses, but often the first bassoon will be playing the tenor line with the violas or violins, if there are two parts. It's important in this situation to think of the parts as equal in the section, but separate as an orchestra. The parts usually do not differ in importance, instead the roles of the bass and tenor lines in the context of a cantata both need to be heard. At some points the tenor line will need to be more prominent, other times the bass, but it's up to the performer to determine when those moments are. Typically the moving notes are most important, and when the long notes come, lay back a bit for the other parts to be heard.
Section chords. Ravel's Rhapsodie Espagnole, mvt. IV. Feria is extremely technically challenging for all instruments. It's a fun piece to listen to. Typical of most french impressionist music, the piece is more about color and gesture than precision and sound. Rhapsodie Espagnole calls for three bassoons, usually in chords (root, third, and fifth) no matter how fast the notes on the page, and contrabassoon, usually playing specifically with the tubas on downbeats and chords. When playing in chords in the bassoon section, it's important to first figure out if the bass line is present. If so, follow the bass line for not only a solid downbeat to bounce off of (most of this piece is conducted in one, subdivided in 3 with constant 16th notes), but also for intonation. If a bass line is not clearly present, the first bassoon is the most important if they have the melody or end on the tonic, but again it's up to the section to determine which bassoon is most important at any given point, as the tonic of the key or the root of any given might be present in another voice. Bottom line for rhythm, musicality and breathing is to follow the first player.
Adding the section to the ensemble. In more modern compositions, you'll find bassoons are usually doubled, often given the same part as trombones or euphoniums, but in any large ensemble composition through the first half of the 20th century, bassoons have a unique role. I find myself playing with clarinets, tubas, french horns, saxophones, trumpets, you name a section and I've played with them at some point. This makes the role of the section even more challenging as we add the component of blending with other instrument sections, which is just as important as blending as our own section. Playing more reedy and bright on the tip of the reed with the upper woodwinds, playing low and full in the middle of the reed and a slight delay in sound with the low brass, and right in the middle round timbre with a soft tongue for playing with the french horns. A great conductor will tell the group who should be the predominant voice in any piece, but sometimes it's up to the players to determine whether the bassoons should bring their part out, or blend with another section, simply adding color and strength. For example, in any Beethoven piece (ex. Beethoven Symphony No. 5 mvt. 3), any low cello soli is usually doubled by at least the second bassoon, if not both. The bassoon here adds color, but also adds a bit of definition to the cello section sound. This type of scoring calls for the bassoon to bring their part out a bit, but still stay within the sound of the celli. Usually in recordings you can barely hear the bassoon, but if it weren't there, you would notice!
Bottom line, playing as a section takes the skill to listen to each voice and determine which should lead and which should follow, while playing with the ensemble takes the skill to change the style of tonguing, length, timbre, placement, and dynamic to match any voice for an optimal performance. With the proper concentration, the bassoons can be the most versatile and interesting section in the group!
For more reading, check out Second Bassoon: Specialist, Support, Teamwork by Dick Hanemaayer from The Double Reed. (first page and "psychology" section" on p. 8)
As many of you know, I am currently teaching the Woodwind Techniques course at the University of Minnesota. I've been using three books as references for my students:
Woodwind Methods by Charles West
Teaching Woodwinds by William Dietz
Guide to Teaching Woodwinds by Frederick Westphal
They are each very similar in general, including a large portion of the book for each woodwind, but some of the chapters go more in detail than others. What caught my eye right away was the section entitled "Choosing a Student" at the end of each chapter.
Before we get started, let me tell you a story. When I taught private lessons at middle and high schools in Indiana, my strategy was simple: go to the schools in person, play some fun bassoon music for the kids, and explain a little bit about what makes it a great instrument! The first school I went to was a middle school with good instruments available, but no students able to play them. The kids were so excited to be there. They were all looking at my bassoon and talking to their friends showing off their knowledge. To my surprise, the class started not only with an introduction of myself by the band director, but he also added in a pretty important sounding speech about how he was going to determine who could actually try the instrument. His requirements included a great grade in band and their other classes, and a determined and disciplined student. Then he used the classic phrase we all dread: "because the bassoon is a hard instrument."
We all know what happens when we tell kids something is hard: they automatically have trouble with it. I wished immediately that he had just let me go first; now that he made the bassoon sound so daunting, some of the kids probably wouldn't even pay attention to me since they were out of the running for switching. (I got lucky-- 4 students ended up taking lessons!)
As I read through the "student aptitude" sections of the West, Dietz, and Westphal, I expected to be appalled and upset about the discouraging text, but I was actually pleasantly surprised. The sections entitled "choosing a student" or "student aptitudes and qualifications" sounded so painfully negative based on the student's mental capacity or physical capability. I was happy to find the information provided was more about practical limitations with the goal of the student contributing to the success of the band program instead of giving up after the first year or less.
Dietz and Westphal mention the drive and discipline of the student, because the fingerings are more complicated than any other woodwind, but they countered with how you should switch a student from another instrument because they would grasp the concept more quickly, already having knowledge of the basic woodwind fingering system. They also mention body and hand size, which from a practical viewpoint sounds correct -- the bassoon has mostly finger holes instead of keys, and small fingers might not cover the holes all the way -- but then the authors countered this setback with a suggestion to start the student on a smaller woodwind with the goal of eventually playing bassoon. (This particularly struck a chord with me, as my thumbs are proportionally 3/4 the length of most, and I also had a student with extremely small hands excel on the Bassoon) I realized quickly that the problem with my band director in Indiana wasn't what he was taught, it was how he interpreted it.
When I stepped up to start my presentation for the kids, I immediately tried to clear the air by letting them know the bassoon is a challenge, but that anyone who is even the least bit interested should at least try it. The fingering system is extremely similar to the other woodwinds, and the embouchure is much simpler. My main argument became: Why do we take away the right of a student to try an instrument they are interested in based on their grade or physical size? Maybe they hate their instrument, so they never practice. Maybe they have hit a wall with learning because they just aren't getting the embouchure right, so they are discouraged. If given a new opportunity, this might all change!
About a year ago, you may have seen a video of a Starbucks Barista with Autism who, with some encouragement and training, is capable of making drinks by dancing and making a rhythm out of the movements. This is an inspiring story of someone who overcame their limitations in everyday life to excel at something they enjoyed-- because someone took a chance on them and dedicated their time to helping them. For me, it's the same with music. Sometimes students need a change of pace and a great mentor to reach their full potential, and I believe learning the bassoon is definitely one of those types of changes.
Of course, I might be a bit biased on all these issues because I am a bassoonist. I started on flute in a very well-off school district where music came very naturally to me. Upon entering high school, I was first chair out of 30 flute players in a group of 90 band musicians. I can't remember if my band director ever set any standards for switching to bassoon, but his main selling point was: scholarships! Eager to get out of an overcrowded section, I asked to try the bassoon, and there was no looking back.
The whole concept of what band directors pass on to their students about any instrument inspired me to start doing some research to improve that important first impression students get. My goal now is to help band directors with limited knowledge of the bassoon and/or without access to a bassoon teacher understand how to effectively teach bassoon without creating this elusive bubble around it that no student wants to pop.
My hope is that every dusty unused bassoon in a school gets some fresh air, and that band directors will one day treat the instrument as an equal in the woodwind family, instead of being tentative or afraid of not knowing enough about it to teach it in band, if this is the case.
I continue to discuss the "student aptitudes" debate with my Woodwind Tech students as they learn each instrument, and I'm constantly surprised how they react positively and share their own experiences. This just gives me a great amount of hope for the future of the bassoon to grow and flourish -- with their help, of course!
Teaching is hard, daunting sometimes, but also extremely rewarding when done well. It's one of those topics that has endless options, and based on numerous factors such as the school, subject, class size and even the students themselves, the teacher is obligated to make that class uniquely theirs. As we move through a post-modern world that is constantly changing economically, socially, politically, and environmentally, there are many new ways we can reach students in a personal way, and sometimes, touching a student with a personal adaptation of a topic in class is the only way to truly influence their lasting learning perspective. When we teach at the university level for the first time, questions swarm an active teaching mind. I'll address some of those to try and make the complicated task easier to navigate.
**I want to emphasize that I am a doctoral teacher's assistant who plays in the same ensembles (as a fellow student) as some of my students, so some of these points may not be applicable to applied or full-time professor positions due to the professional vs. peer dynamic.
Preparation is key
When I was appointed to teach my first university course, I was handed a finished syllabus and the simple advice "have fun!" What was I to do? I am a perfectionist, so when I heard "have fun teaching" my mind automatically freaked out with questions... but what do I teach first? how do I treat the students as a fellow student? how do I explain a syllabus that I didn't write? what about books and materials? what about classroom keys? what if I totally bomb this?! After reading over the lengthy syllabus 5 times, I still didn't have any idea what some of these assignments were. I didn't want to bother my Professor with constant questions past the two meetings we had, and I wanted to show that I had initiative to make this class my own while adhering to the university and state teaching standards.
My best advice in a situation like this one is don't let the lengthy explanations bring you down. It's overwhelming, but nothing you can't handle. I figured this out too late-- after reading the syllabus again and again I finally started to get a feel for the previous teacher's intent-- five days before my first class.
Explain it to yourself first. When I started explaining the syllabus to the class, I immediately got nervous and realized there were a LOT more assignments than I thought. This is where making changes to the syllabus is okay. Write it in YOUR words while maintaining the integrity of the underlying information. The first reading of the syllabus is important for the students to get a feel for what is expected of them, so you want to know every detail without overwhelming them as well as yourself.
Keep notes as you teach
As I went on teaching the class, I realized that a lot was going to have to change to fit my teaching style. The syllabus listed a schedule, which included topics for each class. In order to stick to the syllabus but also teach the way I felt was most effective, I made a list of topics on the white board every day, including assignments for the next class and quizzes coming up. If you are planning on teaching this course again in the future, I recommend keeping these lists in a notebook to remember your order of topics as well as suggest any changes in the future.
Keep your students' needs in mind, and provide help when necessary
My class, Woodwind Techniques, is divided into five sections, eight classes each, to learn to play and teach five different instruments. It's a LOT of information in a short amount of time. I learned about 4 weeks into the class that my students were also in a string techniques class, essentially learning the exact same information for a different instrument family. Despite my personal views on this administrative planning issue, this drastically altered my mindset towards my students. Practicing your OWN instrument to improve for your degree as well as preparing papers and homework for other classes is enough to fill a few hours a day. Add in learning two different instruments every 3 weeks, and you're looking at some serious time management skills and a huge demand for retaining information fast.
I started to spend more time in class on fundamentals, since I knew they might be overwhelmed with details. To aid with this, I kept track of all the notes we learned on a piece of staff paper after every class. At the end of the class section, I handed them a Finale document of all the notes we learned for two purposes: to study only these fingerings for the exam, and to give them a (nearly complete) chromatic scale to practice as a warm-up and apply their fingerings out of context.
Due to the complicated nature of my class, I felt it was unfair to ask so much of them without giving them a basic idea of the layout of how many assignments would count toward their final grade. I decided to make them a template of assignments to keep track of when they turned in all of their assignments. The key to this was to tell them: pace yourself. In a class like this one, where some assignments are dependent on when other students turn in their work (peer critiques), it became clear to me that this was more of a team effort, which teaches them accountability.
Pacing yourself isn't only for students. I have a tendency to get so excited about a topic I am passionate about (in the case of teaching woodwinds, it's literally everything), so when I would plan for my next class the night before, I had to remind myself not to talk about too much in class. Easier said than done! Teaching too many aspects of one topic in class (ex. going over 3 new fingerings, reed issues, maintenance issues, the clarinet family, clarinet history, and an assigned article with a playing quiz coming up in the next class) might end up having a negative result. It's easy for your need to pass on your enthusiasm to your students to turn into giving them every little bit of knowledge you have. To counteract this, you need to pace yourself and only teach the topics you have planned, and no more. There will be plenty of time to go over the details in future classes. Choose your priorities wisely!
Making changes and clear communication
As I went through each instrument section, it became clear to me that the template laid out for me in the syllabus I used would not work the same for every section. This concept can be applied to any subject-- if you are teaching a literature class, you wouldn't teach poetry the same way you teach a play, just because they are written in the same language. If you are teaching a social studies class, you can't teach the Civil War and the World War I using the same format just because they are both labeled Wars. There are concepts in each of these that just don't align due to specific circumstances involved in the subject. I started to make changes to the syllabus due to the amount of class time needed to properly guide the students through their journey of learning the instrument. Some changes included making playing tests into video submissions rather than taking up an entire class period. I used the free class period for review for the test both written and playing, which was extremely effective in ensuring my students received better grades all around.
The key to making changes is clear communication. I can't say I communicated perfectly; they had a ton of questions for me whenever something changed despite my clarity sent in an email AND describing it in class. The only thing you can do at this point is to reiterate the point in the same words every class.
The best way for the changes to settle in was to have students involved in the discussion. I would ask what would be more convenient for them-- video tests on their own resulting in more practice with me in class, or tests in class for personalized feedback, but less time to learn more as a class. They made their decision, executed it, and then I asked them what they thought about the change. The results were pleasantly well-spoken, adding in both good things about the solution we came up with as well as some setbacks. It became a learning experience for both of us, which was more than I could have asked for in a class like this.
Let students help!
The final advice I have on teaching your first class is to let the students help you teach. There are times when you are teaching a topic that you are only really capable of explaining one way. If you hit roadblocks, and you can see that some students understand what you are saying, have them explain it in their own words for the class. Every student experiences this at one time or another-- the teacher fumbles somehow, and a student wants to help explain it to the student who just isn't getting it, but depending on the teacher, the student could be too concerned about 'correcting' the teacher; as teachers we need to view this not so much as 'correcting' but as 'clarifying.' A student learning about the Civil War may be bored out of their mind learning dates and places, but once a student discovers they themselves or a classmate has ancestors who had a hand in one town's battle, their motivation immediately changes, and everything becomes clear when it's time to apply their knowledge. If we stifle this opportunity of peer knowledge sharing, the students have less potential when it comes to understanding, and more importantly, retaining the knowledge.
All over the world, new experimental types of teaching that philosophers and educators have been talking about for a century have one thing in common: the students need to be involved. People often teach how they have been taught. If you have sat through lecture after lecture in classes of 100 people, you might find yourself talking for an hour at a time, expecting vigorous note-taking. On the other hand, if you had the opportunity for a lower student/teacher ratio, you may teach a class by asking questions and creating discussions to retain information based on personal experience. There are merits to each style depending on the class topic and level, but as a new teacher, I believe a good mix of both lecture and discussion is key. Don't forget that your students have ideas too, and if you create an environment where you respect their opinions and needs, they will respect you right back and you will both reap the benefits of a great class! When all is said and done, my syllabus is going to drastically change next year based on my class outcome this year. I still have so many questions, and I look forward to exploring them through Professor advice as well as student needs and in-class experiences.
At some point in a young music career, you might find yourself thinking... do I take time between my degrees? Do I take a job in something else, just to have something solid? Maybe this music thing isn't working out. I'm just not as good as all those other musicians, I'm nothing special. Or maybe you had a rough go of it, you had someone in your life who made you feel like you didn't belong, or wasn't the right kind of supportive. It could also be that you did have those supportive people, but you just didn't see yourself making it a career, or lost interest after countless theory and history courses, etudes and research papers.
Here's the thing: YOU have the power to make a positive change in your life. YOU have the power to cut out negative thoughts, people, and situations. YOU have the power to think you ARE good enough.
Life is short. Make it YOURS.
I say this about not only music, but about life in general. You find yourself complaining more than usual. Ask yourself... why? You tend to get angry faster. Take a step back and figure out why. You are quicker to judge others. Ask yourself what knowledge they have you might not, and learn something new!
Life is a series of choices. Some of those choices are scary and take years to figure out, some of them are easy and come naturally. The decision to change or halt a career is never an easy one. What I want you to know is that that's okay. Sometimes, these times are the ones that help you figure out who you are and where you are meant to be. Sometimes alternate careers just don't feel rewarding. Sometimes your goals aren't met. But no matter where you are and what you do, you're learning something and growing from it. Here are some tips for taking some time off from music.
1. It's okay to NOT practice every day.
The guilt factor is a hard one to deal with. If you're fresh out of school, not playing with a daily ensemble, practicing etudes, solos and excerpts 5 hours a day feels like you're letting yourself down. Don't let it feel that way. You are taking time for yourself and that's okay.
2. Get a job.
Any job. Preferrably one related to a hobby or extra skill, related to music or not. Gardening, Cooking, Computer games, administrative, non-profit, it doesn't matter. You need to support yourself, and it's perfectly okay to be working for a livable wage somewhere people might not see as the highest success with a degree at 25.
3. Play with a community group.
But not if you don't want to. Community groups may not be filled with 20- or 30- somethings looking for friends, but you get to play simple, fun music that doesn't require much outside practice, which fulfills your childhood excitement of just PLAYING! This is a perfect way to remind yourself why you started a career in music in the first place.
4. Stop explaining yourself.
Sometimes it is hard for family and friends to understand why you spent all that money on a degree or two, but aren't pursuing a career in that field. After a while of trying to explain this to people, and them nodding their heads saying "hmmm. sure... oh, okay... but you'll do it again someday, right?" you might fall into the bad habit of explaining yourself to people who never even asked you why. Don't give in. Stand tall and accept your decisions, love yourself even if you don't love what you do. Explaining your decisions makes you second-guess yourself and begins a cycle of negativity.
5. Leave regrets at the door.
The minute you regret your decisions is the minute you feel inadequate. Depression and negative thoughts are not uncommon once you start doubting yourself. Remember where you were when you made that decision, and accept that you can't do anything about that now. You might pass up an opportunity for an audition, or take one but botch it, or look at a great program and decide not to apply. Everything happens for a reason, and each decision you make matters. It wasn't meant to be and you learned something from it, so let it go.
6. Assess yourself, and let it help you grow.
You'd be surprised how much you can learn about yourself when you just ask yourself, "why?" What did you experience that influenced your decision to leave music? Sometimes we just let ourselves think of an environment negatively when really if we had just changed our mentality, we could have gotten something positive out of it. Was it competitive, or did you make it feel that way when it could have been viewed as supportive? Embrace mistakes you may have made, but remember, don't regret them. Learn from them and move forward.
7. When it's meant to be, you'll know!
A few years down the road, you're ready to get back into it. You've done what you want to do, and you're trying to figure out how it'll all work. Then, suddenly, your finances work out, you get that scholarship you needed, you find that friend who gives you the best advice, you win that audition and got more gigs, you talked to the right people at the right time to get that opportunity you weren't expecting. It will all work out when it's meant to. Trust yourself.
As musicians, all of us are so unique and multi-faceted. One thing I've found as a common denominator is our passion and our malleability. We love what we do, and we are full of emotion. What would an artist be without emotion? Embrace it. We also absorb what we learn, use our creativity freely and take or give direct orders without a second thought. These traits can hold us back in other fields sometimes, but just because we tell it how it is and care (sometimes too much) about our work doesn't mean we are show-offs or bullies. Don't let people tell you any different. I will say, though, that being around other musicians again can be a breath of fresh air. If you're not getting back into music school, you can find it in a community group. A feeling of belonging, even once a week, can be more relaxing than anything. Focus on that feeling when you aren't at your best, and cherish it when you find it.
Time off from music really puts you in perspective socially. It teaches you how to connect with others who haven't been dedicated to the arts in a closed environment for so long, and believe me, you won't get along with everyone. That's okay. Every person who comes into your life during this time may not stay there long, but each one teaches you a different lesson, good or bad. Stay away from negative people. They will drain you of self-worth and ambition and you don't deserve that. If you're ready for it, let it charge your drive to return to music in a positive way.
When you get back into music, if you ever do, it should feel right. If it doesn't, it isn't for you, and that's okay. Find what you love and go for it. Let life excite you, frustrate you, push you, love you.
And love yourself and your life right back.
Lately, I've been doing a lot of thinking. Obviously thinking is part of human nature so I'm sure you've all been thinking a lot, but at this point I have come to the conclusion that I just think too much. I had this crazy idea that blogs were supposed to be inspiring. thoughtful. exciting. How am I supposed to live a more exciting life? Should I turn my brain on high so I have more thoughts that mean something to other people? I would look at amazing blogs like The Bulletproof Musician, and the Monday Motivator, my former IU colleague Cayla's blog and my sister Leah's blog, and think "why cant I write like that?"
Alas, lately I've come to a conclusion that no matter what you write, someone will read it and find it inspiring no matter how short or inelaborate that post is. I think this might be a new beginning to the blog I never got off the ground, and I hope you'll enjoy what I have to say. I'm not thinking of just writing about music, either. Sure, maybe I'll write mostly music posts, but I think I'd like it to be about things I am generally interested in as well. Like family and movies and fashion and cars! Here's to making myself blog more! to simple blogging!
Thanks for reading!
Everyone loves free T-shirts! Just try creating one-- it usually happens in high school or college when you finally get to be on some kind of committee to create THE T-shirt, the one that will create waves when everyone WANTS one, but can't get one unless they're involved in YOUR organization. It's a 'cool' factor, but not only is it a unique advertisement, but it usually creates a clever, strong, and motivational way to tell people what you're all about.
In the 2000's, you could find these strong quotes scattered around my high school, among others:
"Pain is weakness leaving the body."
"Without music, life would be a mistake"
But what does this have to do with music? Why, what a brilliant question! Why NOT incorporate this idea of a "catch phrase" into the world of music, where motivation, discipline and repetition are the main factors in creating great musicians?
Well, it seems that others have been thinking the same way...
"Head - Thinking, Heart - Musicality, Stomach - ... !!!!!" - Cliff Colnot
I've been through hundreds of rehearsals with numerous groups led by an extremely diverse group of conductors, and none of them compare to the rehearsals led by Cliff Colnot. A noted conductor, arranger, composer, teacher, advisor, and bassoonist anchored in Chicago, Maestro Colnot is known for conducting the Chicago Civic Orchestra, leading the MusicNOW program for contemporary music, and, around Indiana University, for his rigorous yet effective orchestral rehearsal technique.
Before every concert, after at least 8 required rehearsals and 2 voluntary sectionals for every section in the orchestra, Mr. Colnot takes a moment at the beginning of the dress rehearsal for a "pep talk," of sorts. He points to his head and says "Head -- thinking, technicality". He points to his heart and says, "Heart -- Musicality". And finally he says, "Stomach --", and shocks us by throwing out his fist and stomping his foot to create that "OOMPH!" factor that every conductor hopes to evoke from an orchestra. He quickly nods his head and raises his hands to begin rehearsing as the idea of creating an incredible performance resonates in our bones. We raise our instruments to begin one of the last times we will get to perform our well-rehearsed version of a great work of art with such a group of musicians.
After four different concerts under Cliff Colnot, his rehearsal technique is unmistakable. Yes, it's exhausting -- mentally as well as physically, but he wastes no time, encourages section communication, and fixes mistakes with a word. For every bit of constructive criticism he has, he never forgets to compliment the group. All of these factors combined create an unmistakably high level of performance from even the least experienced musicians, making every second of work worth it.
So when that pep talk comes around and the silence afterward tells us all what words couldn't, we all finally have the same understanding of what our conductor wants, all because of the High School T-shirt complex. Repetition in its finest form, all for the love of music, and ultimately I'm forced to remember that bright yellow text on a blue background peppering the halls of our high school -- that "without music, life would be a mistake."
Ariel Detwiler, bassoonist, woodwind doubler, arranger, composer, student, film and soundtrack enthusiast and member of Duo 231 -- loves to discuss musical things, new technology or innovations and of course new compositions!