Published: Feb. 11, 2020 By ,

Curtis playing oboeBeing a music major is truly a challenging endeavor: You have to find time to practice, study, listen and rehearse … all while trying to maintain a social life and live on your own. The following 10 points are bits of advice I have received that have helped me navigate my way through the past two and a half years at CU Boulder. I hope they help you and make life as a music major easier. 

Student life

  1. Figure out the bus routes and use your bus pass/other transportation. It is easy to just stay on campus—especially freshman year. I recommend downloading the Transit app and TapRide, as they are both excellent ways to make the most of transportation around Boulder and even into Denver!

  2. Prioritize the assignment/class that you least like when doing homework. If you get it out of the way you can work on classes you enjoy more. This will also clear your head of all of the more major assignments/commitments that may loom over you.

  3. Early to bed, early to rise: Sleep is HUGE in college. There is nothing and no one stopping you from pulling all-nighters. If you are well-rested, you will be more focused and alert in all of your classes (trust me, I’ve been the kid falling asleep in the front row many times).

  4. If your schedule allows for it, try to get out of Imig and Macky and find non-music courses (or minors/certificates) you enjoy. This will make days less repetitive, open you to new people and opportunities, and give you different options (some of which you may be able to combine with music). I recommend finding a minor in a field of interest and at least exploring some of its courses.

Keeping a schedule

  1. Find what works best for you personally and USE IT. Paper calendars have never worked for me, so I use Google Calendar to stay on track. Another great method I learned from Mark Arnett (a fantastic Aural Skills/Theory professor) is drawing out a full calendar with everything planned out in terms of hours, calculating everything to do in and out of class, practicing and then see how much free time you actually have.

  2. When in a chamber group or other small ensemble where others are counting on you, make sure rehearsal times are booked solid so there isn’t a need for rescheduling or canceling.

Practicing

  1. Keep a Practice Journal. This is one of the best ways to stay organized. You can define strengths and weaknesses, have a solid warm-up plan, take notes on rep you are working on and set goals.

  2. Record yourself every day and LISTEN. Almost everyone has a smartphone and a recording app. It takes a few extra minutes but makes a night and day difference. You can listen for inflection, evenness, intonation, tempo, character and more in a much clearer way.

  3. Practice at a time of day when you are at your best, and your most energized and most focused self. I’ve found that it’s best for me to practice before class when possible. This lowers my anxiety about ensemble rehearsal and any other musical commitment I have. It also promotes discipline, giving me a set schedule to work from. But ultimately, any work done on rep should happen when you are at your most alert because not everyone is a morning person.

Mental health

  1. In a world that demands more and more of us every day, we need to stay strong mentally. A few things I do to stay positive and to clear my head are running (a reminder that Boulder is probably the most beautiful place you will live), working out (every student gets a pass to the Rec Center as part of student fees), listening to music I enjoy, reading books that I enjoy or that discuss mental health/positivity, and spending time with my friends and studio (my family away from home).

I truly hope this helps clear up any questions or concerns you may have about being a music major at CU. This list is by no means all encompassing. Ultimately, you will find your own way. If even one of these points helps make your life easier, I will be delighted. Good luck this audition season and take care! 

Curtis Sellers is a junior oboe performance major at the College of Music. He is originally from the St. Louis area and is studying with Peter Cooper. Read his blog "Ten reasons to get excited about the College of Music" here