Advice For Young Musicians from A Music Doing Good Student

Josie Whiteis first became a part of the Music Doing Good family when she applied for a scholarship in 2013. Now in her first year of college at University of Texas at Austin, studying under Professor Kristin Wolfe Jensen, we asked Josie if she had any suggestions for young musicians. When Josie wrote back she said “Apologies [if] this is a bit long–I’ve just learned so much this past year!” We were so glad to hear her first year in school had gone so well and we were not about to complain about having too many suggestions for younger students!

Now…on to Josie’s tips for young musicians!

I’d be happy to give any insights I have about my musical experiences. I have a list of a few tips that I have for younger musicians wanting to major in music in college!

1. Create a Practice Plan
Music school, and college in general, makes you really really busy! Not only do you still have core classes, but there’s also required music courses, ensemble, studio class and private lessons. You really have to play a lot! In fact, my bassoon professor in college expects us to practice 4 hours a day or 20 hours a week, not including rehearsal times with various ensembles. As a first semester freshman who had never really practiced that much while in school, this was really intimidating! It was difficult figuring how to balance personal life and school work, while still finding the time to practice bassoon 4 hours a day. I would recommend developing a scheduled practice plan before you get to college so that you can get used to not only practicing a lot, but also in a more structured way. Rather than practicing for hours in one session, I found that practicing in many different sessions throughout the day is more fruitful. It’s said that an average person can only really concentrate effectively for 45 minutes to an hour. Any longer than that and it’s usually not productive to practice. As such, I incorporated 3-4 45 minute sessions into my schedule, and I found that I could accomplish a lot more in that time and it was not as mentally or physically taxing. There are also ways to structure each session in the practice room. I think that most younger musicians aren’t taught exactly how to practice (at least this was true for me!). Practicing requires more than simply playing through a piece. There’s a really helpful book called “The Scientific Method of Practicing” by Timothy Hagan that I used to figure out how to practice. After implementing a lot of the practice strategies discussed in the book, I found that I accomplished a lot in each session and looked forward to practicing! I highly recommend the book and similar articles!

Here are some helpful links to articles, books and videos I used to structure my practicing:
D) Videos comparing how professional musicians practice vs students (featuring my professor Kristin Wolf Jensen!)
E) Follow the links on the side for the videos!

2. Attend Music Summer Camps or Programs to Gain Experience
I can’t emphasize how important it is to gain other musical experiences outside of playing with a school band, orchestra or choir. Experiences you will have at summer camps or after school music programs will help a lot once you get into college, and will create many opportunities for you! While I was in middle school and high school, I was a member of the Houston Youth Symphony, the Houston Youth Symphony Chamber program, and I attended many music summer camps. Especially as a wind player, getting the opportunity to perform in an advanced orchestra with other fantastic musicians my age was invaluable. At the University of Texas at Austin where I attend college, advanced musicians are rotated among the Wind Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra, New Music Ensemble and the Opera. The more experience you have playing with different groups of musicians prior to college, the better! I also highly recommend getting experience playing in a chamber group. In fact, having so much chamber music experience before college gave me an amazing opportunity to be a part of the chamber program at UT, which is usually comprised of upperclassman and graduate students. In my second semester of my freshman year, a group of graduate students asked me to be the bassoonist for their chamber group by my professor’s recommendation. My bassoon professor had known that I had many years of chamber music experience, and so felt comfortable in recommending me to join such an advanced group. It was a great honor to be a member of the group, and we had a lot of fun performing Samuel Barber’s “Summer Music”, known as one of the greatest wind quintets ever written! The experiences I had in HYS Chamber and other music programs gave me this opportunity in college. Additionally, while it is good to have experience in performing, it is also very helpful to have prior knowledge of theory, piano and music history! In college, you have to take beginner piano, music theory (both written and aural) and music culture and history courses. Having taken music theory in my senior year of high school and at summer camps, it made these courses a lot easier in college. The way I see it, students of other majors, such as math and science, take courses related to their major throughout their primary education. So they have a lot of prior knowledge of their field. However, unless you went to a performing arts high school, music courses aren’t a part of core curriculum, and so most music students struggle with non-performance classes in college. Even if your high school doesn’t offer music theory as a course, many music summer camps and programs offer music theory! It’s never to early to familiarize yourself with theory and music history! If you can make yourself familiar with the concepts and terminology prior to college, you’ll really thank yourself!

Here is a helpful music theory website that I used a lot in high school and college:

Here is a helpful beginner piano site with some helpful exercises (written by our group piano professor at UT):

3. Say ‘Yes’ to Every Opportunity!
Not only can you get more performance experience, but you also get to meet and work with more people! Several times in my first year, I was performing with as many as 3 different groups at a time. It made my schedule really busy, but the experience I got and all of the people I met made it worth it! Plus, the more you perform, the more exposure you have, and the more opportunities will be presented to you in the future.

Music school has taught me so much in just my first year, and it’s really a fun and enriching experience. I can happily say that I am glad to be majoring in music! I hope that any musician going into or considering majoring in music will find these suggestions helpful!”

Thanks to Josie for these INCREDIBLE suggestions!