Thoughts on David Zerkel’s “Some Suggestions on Being an Effective Music Student”

Recently David Zerkel, Associate Professor of Tuba and Euphonium at the University of Georgia, posted a great Facebook note titled “Some Suggestions on Being an Effective Music Student, 2012 Edition.” The note quickly went viral, at least amongst music teachers, and can be easily found on Facebook. In addition, Kyle Hayes has reposted the note in its entirety on his blog here. Professor Zerkel covers a number of topics, but the bottom line is that being a successful music major takes a lot of work! This fact should not discourage students, but rather drive home the point that music is a serious field of study (but well worth it). I agree whole-heartedly with all of the suggestions presented, and I have reprinted the list and posted it on my bulletin board at school with the heading “READ THIS.” While I can hardly improve upon Professor Zerkel’s list, I’ve been thinking of some humble additions which might also be worth considering if you are a music student.

1. Consider your health, both mental and physical. College students can be notoriously hard on their bodies, often driving themselves to the point of exhaustion (needlessly, in my opinion). Simply eating more healthily and getting enough rest can do wonders for your overall state of being. Throw in some regular exercise and you’ll find yourself with more energy, a sharper mind, and better practice sessions. Mental health is also an important issue, though one which many students (and teachers) are hesitant to talk about. Most campuses have ample counseling for students and faculty, and it is generally free and confidential. There is often a negative perception about those who seek counseling, but this is unwarranted. Venting to an unbiased third party about anything from little annoyances to major life issues can be quite helpful in dealing with the stress of college life.

2. Make some friends outside of music. More so than students in other majors, music students often find themselves interacting with the same small group of people day in and day out. While this can create deep and lasting bonds of friendship between music students, it can also lead to an inability to interact with people outside one’s circle of friends. Being able to hold an intelligent conversation with someone outside your field of study is very important, not just as an exercise, but as training for a future career as an ambassador for the arts. This doesn’t mean you have to give up any of the friends you have in music, but that you ought to at least make an effort to get to know some people from another area of study.

3. Be positive, and others will follow. Lead by example; be as positive as you can be about everything (easier said than done, I know!) and it will pay off in several ways. For one, you’ll feel better. In addition, you’ll find yourself gravitating towards other positive people (and they will gravitate towards you). And finally, you’ll have a positive influence on those around you. Even when you don’t feel particularly motivated to practice, study, etc., fake it! Summoning the drive to get in the practice room or open your textbook is usually the hardest part, and once you get going you’ll find that the passage you were dreading to practice wasn’t really that difficult to get under your fingers, and that the theory homework you were having nightmares about wasn’t so bad after all.

4. And last, but most definitely not least, GO TO CLASS! Enough said, no excuses.

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