It’s hard to believe that I started my freshman year of undergrad 7 years ago. We go into music school without a clue and there is so much you won’t learn until you mess up, a lot. You will miss an important concert, you’ll be late to your flute lesson, you’ll buy the wrong textbook edition, you’ll oversleep your classes, and you’ll miscalculate how professional to be at the wrong times, but that is precisely what college is for.
A note to freshmen: I promise you that no one your age knows what they are doing, some of them are just better at hiding it.
And with that, here is my advice from the other side.
1. Ask questions
There will be so many times where you think you are supposed to know something like what period CPE Bach is from, how to get an instrument locker, or what juries are, but how would you know before you learn? Befriend someone a year or two older than you to show you the ropes, or ask friendly classmates and professors when you need help.
Go to as many concerts if you can, especially if you live on campus and they’re free. It’s so important to support your colleagues and immerse yourself in music. Live music is irreplaceable.
Rent books for classes that you don’t think you will need to reference later (like gen. ed’s) and try to buy used books for core classes that you might want to refer to when you graduate. If it’s a music class, find out if you will need the book for multiple semesters - in this case, definitely buy if possible. If the book is “recommend” but not required, save your money. It’s hard to predict what you will want to lug with you later on, but there’s a few books from undergrad that I still check out every now and then.
4. Learn how to email professors
Be friendly, professional, direct, gracious, concise, humble, and human. Email writing is its own art.
5. Eat meals
Sometimes you’ll have no choice but to schedule classes back to back with no long break, but if you can, do. You do not get a medal for working so hard that you skip wellness, so don’t brag about practicing instead of eating. (But also, pack snacks).
Don’t do nothing, but definitely don’t do everything. You have enough on your plate. If you are feeling called and excited to join a group, absolutely do. But do not fill up your plate just because that’s “what you’re supposed to do,” what your friends are doing, or just to put it on your resume. TLDR; expand your horizons, but don’t do it without a good reason (if it is just for your resume but you hate it, don’t).
7. Multiple alarms
Set multiple alarms at least for the first few weeks of classes!! It is so! easy! to accidentally oversleep 8AMs. Try not to make a habit of it, but if it's an accident, no worries.
8. Be friendly, supportive, and welcoming
Music is so competitive, but it is also community oriented, and it can also be lonely. Be supportive of your friends and colleagues by going to their recitals. Some trash talking is unavoidable, but don’t let that be your only language. Being a good person will get you farther than any line on your resume.
9. Find balance
Work as hard as you can and set boundaries. College is a place of fluid boundaries. It allows for creative lives and a unique experience as well as burnout. Balance work, play, and rest, the food you eat, your friends, and the media you consume. Be mindful.
Finally, here are some honorable mentions because there is a lot to know:
If your hands hurt, stop practicing!
Ben & Jerry’s!
Lastly, I’m not admitting to anything here, but steal lots of apples from the dining hall.
Best wishes to all this school year!