Without a shadow of a doubt, I can comfortably say my time earning my master’s in music was a whirlwind of anxiety, panic, and stress, but most just days of wanting more sleep. To make a comparison, let’s say undergrad was a steady slow 5k marathon and graduate was a 3k sprint. During my first two years as a graduate student, I learn lessons worthy of complete books, but I managed to narrow it down to just eight. Please remember this is my experience as one size never really fits all.
1. Be Reliable.
Thankfully I learned this lesson in undergrad from my amazing clarinet teacher at Southern Miss. Being reliable is a mark of professionalism which some of the older generations have still yet to master, and some of the younger generations still need to. In the first year of graduate school, I learned quickly that many people have not been taught to be reliable and how it reflects on the individual. In turn, this taught me to be more organized and dependable than before to help set me apart form my peers.
2. Be Kind.
Always be kind. Everyone is fighting a battle inside, and we can never truly understand someone until a discussion has happened. Every day in graduate school I always had a quote come back to me whenever someone was rude or just plain hateful to me, Never be cruel or cowardly, and always be kind. (Bonus points if you know where the quote originates.) Graduate school is hard enough on everyone so remember always to smile, be kind, but never cowardly. A big heart can set you apart.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Practicing goes without saying, but I am going to anyway. Some days are going to be harder than others to force yourself to hit the practice room after a hard day while you are simultaneously recovering from an injury. A little piece of advice is to schedule your practice session and stick to it. One rule I like to follow is to practice an hour before noon, and an hour before dinner, and an hour or two before I head home. This rule allowed me to establish a habit and set myself up for success.
4. Give yourself time to recover.
Yes, working hard is essential, but it is more important to take care of yourself. Self-care is nothing to be ashamed of and will help productivity later in the week. (https://blog.trello.com/self-care-for-productivity) Take time to separate yourself for your craft and enjoy leisure time to prevent burnout. In my second year, I establish a rule that on Sunday until 1 pm it is my time and I was not allowed to do anything work or school related. I also forced myself to be finished with the day at 10 pm during the week so I could unwind and get some rest instead of working until I went to bed.
5. Be honest with yourself.
Being honest with myself was a big lesson I had to learn with the help of recordings and self-reflection which need to be done regularly. I hate listening to myself, but I bite the bullet and recorded myself. Being honest with yourself also carries over into your personal life. Every day I learned to check in with myself during the day to make sure I am not suppressing any emotions or anxiety.
6. Not everyone is your friend.
Believe it or not, but not everyone you meet will like you, and not everyone is your friend. This is okay because life will go on and the sun will always rise in the morning. Just remember to be kind and press forward with the goal in mind.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Never be afraid to ask for help. It is not a form of weakness, but rather a form of strength because it shows how much you care. I could not count how many times I walked into my Director’s office asking for help because I was overwhelmed with my job and school. She listened and gave advice as best as she could. In result, she not only helped me out at the moment but established an example of who I hope to be someday.
8. Be persistent in achieving the goals.
I remember in a masterclass in undergrad Anthony McGill was asked if he had any advice for younger musicians he said, Always have a goal to work towards. I took this to heart. Along with my clarinet binder, I have a notebook where I keep both my long term, short term, and mid-term goals. The journal is almost full, and I am thankful I wrote everything down because it allows me to look back and see how far I have traveled in my musical journey. Be persistent in achieving your goals. If something happens, always remember that success is not a straight path but a wibbly-wobbly track and there are many turns and obstacles. Just keep your eye on the prize, and you will be fine.