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  • Writer's pictureBecky Mercer

Things you learn at music college... that have nothing to do with music!

Everyone goes to music college with the plan to learn more about music and your instrument, but your years in Higher Education will be some of the most formative in your life where you will also be learning a lot about yourself. In this blog, I’ve posted some of the things that you will learn at music college that have nothing to do with music!


The strength of your social battery


You may be going to music college knowing already if you’re introverted or extroverted and therefore know how you feel around new people and at social events like parties. However, it isn’t as black and white as ‘I am an extrovert and enjoy parties’ and vice versa. Everyone has a different tolerance for social interactions, big crowds, and late nights. This can become particularly prevalent during your Freshers’ Week. It’s likely that your Students’ Union will have planned lots of activities for you to get to know people during the first week which, for some people, can sound like a lot of fun in theory, but there’s more to it than that.


As well as the social events, your first week will also be filled with induction sessions during the daytime, meaning you’ll have long days of absorbing new information which can be mentally exhausting as well as socialising in the evening which can be physically exhausting if you’re out late.


I know I enjoy meeting new people, but I’m also an early bird, so I don’t enjoy late nights too much. Therefore, I know that I will always thank myself in the morning if I leave an event by midnight and that lots of late nights in a row will leave me irritable and put my routine out of whack!


Don’t worry if you don’t know these kinds of things about yourself yet though, that’s what your first year at college/university is all about! Also, don’t worry if it changes over time; during my first year at university, I was able to have late nights and still get up for the induction sessions in the morning, but by the time I reached my Masters degree, that certainly wasn’t the case anymore!


My best piece of advice for Freshers’ Week is to get to know as many people as your social battery will allow, but don’t be worried about taking a night off to relax and reset. Likewise, if someone says they’re going to take a night off, don’t try and pressure them to go to a party or stay up late. Everyone’s tolerance is different and you should always be respectful.


How competitive you really are


As you get to know your peers and start to play and perform alongside them, it can be easy to see them as your competition, which has its pros and cons. Surrounding yourself with people that you perceive as ‘better’ than you can inspire you to work and improve yourself. This is good in small doses, but try not to let what pieces you’re working on be everything you think/talk about. If you find yourself becoming too competitive with those around you, your mental health may begin to suffer for it.


One way to combat this is to try and make friends where you have things in common that have nothing to do with your instrument. Find out what societies your music college has and join ones that you’re interested in! Your college may also have connections with nearby universities that are likely to have more societies for you to join.


You, and everyone around you, are on your own individual path. Focus on yourself and your own journey.


Priorities and limits


In Higher Education, you are ultimately left to your own devices and it’s up to you to make sure you’re practising and keeping on top of coursework. As well as this, there will be a quick turnaround on pieces you need to prepare for performance classes, internal auditions, assessments, and ensemble works. It’s up to you to make sure you get the work done and that your practise is efficient enough to get it done in time.


Similarly, it will be common for tutors to tell you to ‘say yes to everything'; this is good advice to an extent. Especially in your early years, you’ll want to get as much experience as possible, but it’s all about balance. Taking on extra work is no good if you don’t have enough time for the essentials like cooking, cleaning, laundry, etc, especially if this is the first time that you’ve had to do it all by yourself since moving away from home.


You are allowed to say no to things if they are likely to take up too much of your time, as time is limited and valuable. However, my best piece of advice when you’re new to music college is not to drop out of something once you’ve said yes because something ‘better’ comes along. People will remember you for being reliable and those you need to turn down will respect you for sticking to prior commitments.


If you need help making the most of your time, here are a few of my tips:

  • Use a planner that works for you. That can be your phone calendar, a digital planner, an academic diary, or a bullet journal. I like to use my phone calendar for day-to-day planning and a digital planner on my iPad for tracking goals, practise, and workouts.

  • Plan your meals! Both in terms of what you’re going to eat but when you’re going to eat it. One tip I picked up whilst at music college is to make plans to have lunch with someone, which will ensure you take a break and have lunch. I use this meal planner from Sighh Studio which has sections for what’s already in your kitchen and a tear-off shopping list.

  • Set your time limits and goals. Avoid aimlessly bashing your way through a practise session, set yourself up for success with timings and your goals for that time limit. I’ll be covering how this more in-depth in my next post so keep an eye out for that!


If you want to read more of my tips before starting at music college, you can read this blog I wrote with Abigail Fraser for the Incorporated Society of Musicians.


What are you most looking forward to learning about if you’re about to start at music college? For those of you who are in a music college or who have graduated, what are some of the most valuable lessons you learned?


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