5 More Things I Wish I Did Better During College

Continuing the series from yesterday’s post, here are five more things I wish I did better during college. All of these things have been improved, but there is always room for more. After all – a true student of learning is just that..a continual student.

I wish I took more individual lessons outside of my weekly lessons.

The location of my undergraduate school was in Northern Indiana, just 45 minutes west of Ft. Wayne and 2 hours east of Chicago. While my teacher certainly had the credentials in orchestral playing, I really didn’t travel outside of my environment. Grant it, I attended Grace College because I wanted to study with my teacher, but other perspectives are always beneficial – whether it was a positive or negative experience. I will say, that during some breaks, I tagged along with a college buddy and stayed at his place in the Pittsburgh area. In my sophomore and junior year, I reached out to the Principal Trombone of the Pittsburgh Symphony for a few lessons which eventually led me to studying with him at Carnegie Mellon University. However, I never took advantage of Chicago – one of the great cities of brass playing – for individual lessons.

Advice: If you live in or near a large city, take a few lessons from OTHER professionals or professors. If you have a dream school for graduate work, take at least two lessons from the teacher of that school. It may help you with acceptance and scholarships for that school. As you get older, you may not have the same amount of flexibility to take private lessons. 

I wish I attended more concerts.

As you read above, my school was located in Northern Indiana – a.k.a., cornfields. Nestled along U.S. 30, there were many local colleges throughout the area, but the BIG cities (Chicago, Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne) were also not that far away – even though it felt that they were far. I get it now – I was busy with schoolwork, rehearsals, and well, college life. Not living in a big city hindered me from going out on the weekends to a symphony concert or opera. It was even more difficult to find someone to tag along.  While in Pittsburgh for grad work, it was easier to hear the orchestra perform, but still, there was the money and time factor that played into me not attending as many concerts as I would have been able to.

Advice: Make Time to hear performances. If you are a Music Education major, attend local school concerts. If you are a performance major, check out student rates for the local orchestra, or attend a school that gives a discounted rate to local concerts. If you are a Jazz Studies major, go to the local clubs or bars. Remember listening is an investment so your money can go a long way with attending concerts.

I wish I ‘jammed’ more with fellow students.

If you read yesterday’s post, you will remember that I went to a small school for undergrad. Out of the 40 music students, there were only two other trombone students – one of which was an education major. Sure, we were able to play quartets with our professor every now and then playing for the sake of playing didn’t happen. When I attended Carnegie Mellon, there were more like-minded students plus we were assigned brass quintets and/or trombone quartets. So we would rehearse for our brass class at the end of the semester – but that was about it (at least for me). At larger schools, this isn’t necessarily a problem of finding like-minded classmates and breaking out into a 4-hour excerpt session. I just wish I played to play more with my fellow, talented graduate students.

Advice: Take musical advantage of your colleagues in school. Don’t do ensemble playing for the sake of a class or a required performance. Sometimes you should get together to just play. After all, music is what brought you together. You never know where it might take you after graduation

I wish I took more auditions.

I took my first professional audition the summer going into my junior year of college (2008). I was put on the waiting list, and got a phone call three days before the audition saying there was a slot for me. Looking back, it was definitely a great learning experience (even though I play poorly). The following summer I took one more audition and that was it. I was fortunate to have a teacher that said auditions are an education by themselves. I really remember that in my senior year as well as grad school not taking as many auditions as I should have. Sure there were openings, but I used the excuse of not having the time to prepare, not having money for auditions, and not really believing I could win.

Advice: Ask a professor or professional for an honest assessment of your orchestral playing if you want to be in an orchestra. Be flexible to take an audition anywhere (including international). Start an audition fund in your bank account. Most importantly, prepare for auditions NOW with the mindset of wanting to win – not just for the experience. The sooner you want to win, the better your desire to prepare to win. College (and all that comes with it) is the training ground NOT the final destination.

I wish I taught more.

I began teaching lessons my freshman year of college, and I had one student. But I never really tried to get more students. My school had a community music school, and I taught through that program. When the program shut down midway through my college career, I was able to get one or two students still from the community. But I never marketed myself. There weren’t many teachers in the area other than the college, and so in one sense, I could have tried harder to get more students. Sure performance was my goal, but if I taught (and learned how to teach), I could have put myself in a better position to teach in the real world today.

Oh, and teaching in graduate school was non-existent for me….

Advice: Start teaching now in your community. If your college offers a community music school, join its program. Advertise on Craigslist that you are offering lessons. Contact the local high schools to get on their list of area teachers. Also, get a background check done as this will help ease the nerves of those parents that find you on Craigslist.

There certainly are other “I Wish” moments that I could place in these two posts – such as take a business marketing class – but for me, these 10 things are areas in my musical life that I sometimes regret not having done sooner in my life. College is great and is a fun time in your life….

…But remember why you are there.


Question: Are there things you wish you could have done better while you were studying to be a musician? Comment below, and let’s start a conversation.

Part 1: 5 Things I Wish I Did Better During College

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Jeremy Smith

Jeremy Smith is a trombonist, brass teacher, and blogger. He studied music performance at both Grace College and Carnegie Mellon University, and currently is the bass trombonist for Orchestra Iowa and the Huntington Symphony Orchestra. In 2014, Jeremy started Last Row Music as an online resource of job postings and artist links for brass musicians around the world. When he is not performing or blogging, Jeremy is giving brass lessons to students throughout the country from his home in Centerburg, Ohio.