10 Life Lessons I Learned from Music Classes

I am a strong believer in the values offered by music education.  In fact, the skills learned in those band, orchestra and choir lessons reach far beyond notes played or songs performed.  Today, I want to share a few of the real-world, life lessons that I learned from music classes.
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Practice.  Daily.  Really.  My oldest daughter practiced the cello every single day without fail for eight years.  Her effort paid off.  She earned the first chair and was placed in the school's advanced orchestra from her freshman year of high school.  She knew that if she was going to be competitive and reach her potential--she needed to practice.  This lesson is valid for any activity in life.  If you want to achieve your potential as an artist, an athlete, a musician, a writer--or any position in any field--you need to practice your craft for success.

Being Nervous Shows that You Care.  My oldest daughter was horribly nervous before every school orchestra performance--whether she was first chair cello or a row back.  Her concert performances mattered to her a great deal--and her stomach always produced a massive number of pre-concert butterflies. When you want to do your best--you worry that you may fail.  Being nervous is not a bad thing--it shows that your work matters to you.  A lot.

Believe in Yourself.  While being nervous before a performance or competition is a given--if you have practiced diligently and worked hard to prepare yourself; you are ready.  You are prepared to do the best that you can do whether on the concert stage or in an office presentation room or on the athletic field.  Believe in yourself, take pride in your efforts and your abilities.

Listen with your Heart Along with your Ears. My two younger daughters learned many Celtic fiddle pieces by ear.  Both girls are very adept at sight-reading their violin music because they learned how the notes sound and feel along with their rhythms and fingerings.  We frequently listen to music from artists venturing "outside their genre" because the artists were able to "feel" and relate to other music styles.  Listening involves so much more than the ears for us to "hear" what we should.

Enjoy your Job--or Make a Change. I played the clarinet in the band until I was senior in high school.  My mom played clarinet (and it was one of the cheapest instruments on the rent-to-own program that my school offered.)  I hated the clarinet for six years.  When I was a junior, I had the opportunity to "give up my job" as second chair clarinet for a solo-only-one-in-the-band tenor saxophone.  I knew that I wasn't going to be a composer like John Jesensky and that I wasn't likely to be playing an instrument beyond high school.  However; by changing instruments, I learned that changing my "job" wasn't a bad thing if I wasn't happy with my position.  I wasn't "giving up" on the clarinet.  I was much more valuable as a tenor sax player because I put a lot more effort into the position and filled a role within the group.  Neither the employee nor the employer benefits if the employee is unhappy with a purpose.

Accept New Challenges. When I was a senior, I was asked to "write music" for a duet with a trumpet player in our small jazz band ensemble.  I didn't really even know what that meant.  My trumpet playing friend came home with me on Friday night--and spent the night--and had some blank sheet music and we (mostly she with my note playing assistance) wrote the duet.  BUT.  She taught me that I DID know how to write music.  I just needed to believe in myself, kick the nerves to the curb, and listen to the notes with my heart (and my practice trained ear!)  This taught me that it was okay to accept any challenge without being 100% confident in the results.  The band teacher offered me that duet writing challenge, not because he expected me to write music like John Ross Jesensky; but because he knew I could...or knew I would figure it out..and wanted me to try.

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Memories Matter as Much as the Music.  I remember singing songs from the Monkees (acapella) on the band bus to marching performances.  And I'm not really sure why...or how..we all knew the words.  I will never forget the words to Daydream Believer.  I will never forget propping my tenor sax on a milk crate for band class when I broke my wrist and wore a cast for months.  I will never forget two little girls cheering and clapping for our jazz band duet when we visited our elementary school for an assembly.  I made a lot of very positive memories--as well as music--with my choir and my school band. 

Compete with Yourself Rather than Others.  The best way to grow is to compete--with yourself as often as others.  I knew what I needed to do to be successful in my music classes.  I didn't compete with the girl who was first chair clarinet--I battled with myself to improve my playing and challenge her playing.  Self-improvement comes first--to prepare yourself for any competition.

Ask Questions--and Ask for Help.  When the jazz band director assigned me the task of writing my music for that duet--I accepted the challenge.  Then--I asked a friend for help because I was in over my head.  Most music teachers want to share their love of music and the art of playing an instrument.  They want to help you learn.  This desire is true in most areas of life as well.  You can likely find someone to help you when you are in need--if you ask for help.

Accept that Nobody's Perfect.  Maybe you held a note too long or began a measure too soon during that silent moment when everyone could see that it was you.  Maybe you took a stumble during a marching band competition and took out a row of flutes like dominoes--and the video ended up on YouTube.  Perhaps you were the only Tuba who showed up for a performance, and you played a handful of wrong, loud notes.  Remember that everyone makes mistakes--and most of the audience wouldn't remember your error after about 10 seconds.   Mistakes often happen in music making and life.  It's how you handle those mistakes that matter most!

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