How to Survive Going to Music School

I’m not really a big fan of post secondary education in general, but I think there is quite a bit of merit to going to music school. It’s highly specialized, and unless you grew up in a city like New York, it’s a great way to become immersed in music daily.

But, going to music school is tough. Really tough. So, how do you survive, and better yet, how do you excel while attending music school?


I’ve seen some of the worst musicians at a school become some of the best, and I’ve seen the best become the worst. This seemingly drastic change was largely due to practice.

Talent can help, but what really makes you successful while attending any musical  institution is practice. While I was going to music school,  if I was not in class, you could find me in the practice room. Logging eight hours a day was normal.

Practice is the best way for any musician to get better, and getting better is the key to surviving music school. If you aren’t practicing, you are probably wasting your money and your time. Hit the shed, and hit it hard.

Focus on Your Weaknesses

There’s an old saying that goes, “If you sound good, you aren’t practicing.” Few things are more fun than getting into the practice room and playing your stock licks as fast and as loud as you can, but it doesn’t accomplish much. Remember that there was a time when those licks didn’t sound so good.

Take the time to focus on the weak areas of your playing, and make them your strengths. Although it might be a drag to do, it’s essential to your survival while going to music school.

Find players who are better than you to play with, and ask them to challenge you on a style you aren’t comfortable in. If you can’t handle playing in 7/8, play more in 7/8.

If uptempo ride patterns are throwing you off, play more uptempo music. Music school is your time to learn what you need to, so that you don’t have to learn it when you’re on the job later.

Listen to Your Professors

You picked this school for a lot of reasons, but a huge reason was because of the professors on staff. Chances are that these guys are better players than you, and can teach you a lot more than you think. More importantly, they are good educators and have a knack for getting results out of their students.

If you want to survive while going to music school, listen to what your professors have to say, and do what they ask (Within reason). Remind yourself that they have seen almost every type of musician walk through their door, and  you probably aren’t anything new.

I’ve witnessed drummers flunking out or leaving music school because they couldn’t listen to their professors. If you aren’t agreeing with anything your professors are saying, chances are you picked the wrong school.

Play as Much as you Can

To get the most out of your music college experience, you have to play with as many people as you can. Do not take for granted the fact that you have such easy access to so many good musicians in one place.

There won’t be another time in your life that playing music with your friends will be that easy. If someone asks you to jam (Or for a “session” as they say in Texas), say yes and make it happen.

Even if you have to lug your own drum kit across the campus, do it. Don’t wait for others to call you, but set up as many sessions as you can yourself.

Going to music school is about being proactive and playing with everyone you can. All of those hours in the practice room are just a set up for the real deal. The majority of your learning in music school will be done on the bandstand.

Take Time Off

I may not have coined the phrase Sunday, Fun-day, but I certainly say it a lot. It’s important to take some time off every once in a while to let things soak in.

While attending the University of North Texas, I recall being completely overloaded with new information every day. For me, the best way to process new things was to take some time off and sleep on it. You’d be surprised how that lick you couldn’t get all week will just magically appear in your fingers after you take a full day off.

In order to survive going to music school, taking time to relax and reset is essential. Have some fun, head to a movie, or go to one of those wild college parties. Clear your mind of all things music related, and just relax. You’ll have more fun doing that anyway.

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