This article comes from my former flute professor, Dr. Roger Martin, the Professor of Flute at Tennessee Techonological Unviersity in Cookeville, Tennessee, where I got my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance. During my last few years there, we knew he had started to develop a strange problem – his fingers wouldn’t do what he “told” them to do. We knew he was immensely frustrated with this and I am so glad he has written about his experiences. Focal Dystonia is a mysterious and much misunderstood problem and I reprint his article here with his permission.  You can find out more about the TTU Flute Studio by going to their website: ttuflutestudio.yolasite.com

Read the rest of this entry »

I recently subscribed to an excellent magazine called “Making Music“.  The magazine is geared towards all musicians, from classically trained to rock bands and everyone in between.  They have several features in their current issue I found to be very helpful – an article about Operation Happy Note, which is a program sending musical instruments to troops overseas, an overuse injury prevention article by Janet Horvath and this little blurb regarding tips for recreational musicians:

 

Recreational musicians will often comment that playing an instrument keeps them active.  However, this is not as healthy as it sounds  Most adults need more – moderate physical activity every day.  And, it may even improve your playing and protect you from injury.

According to the National Institute for Health, regular exercise is a critical part of staying healthy.  People who are active live longer and feel  better.  Most adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.

 

While this may not be ground-breaking, earth shattering news, it does highlight the importance of more strenuous activity being important for overall health, in addition to what most musicians already know: that playing an instrument can be a sport in and of itself.  Playing an instrument demands a lot of the body and if you are using your instrument for exercise to “keep you active” you may be doing yourself more harm than good.  With musicians having the highest rate of work related injuries, picking up an instrument and getting serious about it as a hobby is not necessarily a well-balanced activity diet.  It’s like someone who works at a desk hunched over a computer all day collapsing in front of the TV on the  couch for several hours for “recreation and relaxation” ; it’s counterproductive and actually harmful.

If you are a recreational musician, and a “desk jockey” to boot, make sure you include regular activity in your DAILY life.  Yes, I said daily.  Playing ultimate frisbee once a week is not healthy, just as it is not healthy to work at your desk all week and then spend 3 hours practicing guitar.  The 30 minutes 5x’s a week guideline is a good place to start; running, walking, hiking, biking, weight lifting, anything that has you moving your body in multiple planes of motion.

If you do nothing else to combat your lifestyle, grab a foam roller and roll yourself out once or twice a day, incorporate some stretches and THEN go play your instrument or jam with your band.  Just be aware of the balance in the rest of your life.  Just like 1 hour in the gym cannot overcome the other 23 hours a day of overeating and bad postural habits, once or twice a day of foam rolling and instrument playing cannot countact the 23 hours a day that you spend in other bad positions.

 

 

How I Founded A Flute Choir

October 17, 2011

Flute Choirs are kind of new territory for me.  Sure, I played in them all through college, and in grad school even conducted them…but founding one once you’re out in the “real world”?  New ballgame.

After moving to Panama City, FL, I wanted to grow the flute scene here.  What I found is that there really wasn’t much going on.  And, to my annoyance and frustration, I found that I haven’t seen much effort or encouragement on the part of the band directors in this area either, so my job was doubly hard.  I started a Flute Day at a high school and that had a grand run of 3 times.  I think I had somewhere between 1-3 people show up each time?  Out of a county of hundreds of flutists?  They gave me the excuse of “well, the kids are busy.” or “they’re at the beach or they have jobs or or or or”.  I don’t care what the excuses are, the excuses are still excuses.  The kids chose not to come and the band directors chose not to make it mandatory.  In TN, where I come from, I would have had probably 20-50 students come because it’s just that important there.  You are EXPECTED to take lessons and go to extracurricular music activities, etc.  Here, I have trouble even getting the band directors too call me back.  They don’t make it a priority for their students, and the parents don’t see it as necessary, henceforth the kids don’t care much either.

So, seeing that there was a large  pool of people not involved gave me the opportunity to mope and say “woe is me, there are no opportunities, I can’t do anything here” or go in a different direction.
I went in a different direction!

I play in the Panama City Pops Orchestra, a community orchestra that is better than the average bear.  I feel very blessed to be able to play with them and have a good flute section.  So I started asking them if they would be interested in doing a flute choir.  They all said yes, they would commit and I asked around everywhere to see if I could find other adult members.  We have gone through some changes in personnel, but overall, these founding few have stayed with us and we’ve developed a choir!

What were my steps?

I am by no means an expert in this area and I’m learning more each day I go about this. But this is what I did and what I’m doing so far so that maybe you can learn from this as well.

  1. Recruit members I asked around to find members, got their contact information and sent them all preliminary emails asking if they had preferences for times/days.
  2. Find a Rehearsal Venue Found a band director that would let me hold rehearsals in their band rooms.  The school board has since decided they will charge groups wanting to use their facilities so we’ve moved to a choir member’s house for rehearsal.  You HAVE to find a place to rehearse!
  3. Pick a Consistent Time This can be easier said than done.  We went around and around in trying to pick a time and a place and ultimately, since I was the leader, I had to make an executive decision and say when it would be.  If you cannot commit, I’m sorry.  We did our best to work with everyone’s schedules, but of course not everyone can be accommodated: be prepared for that.  We started out with an hour and realized that we just didn’t have enough time, so now we’ve migrated to two hours once a week.
  4. Repertoire I was very fortunate in that all the flute choir music we have has been donated by various members.  Ask around, see who has trios, quartets or whatnot and use what you have.  Double parts.  Buy music only when you really need it.  If one person is generous enough to buy music for the group, great, but if not, don’t be shy about mentioning that we need funds to buy music, what can we donate to that fund and is there anything specific we’d like to get?  With rep, also be really aware of scoring.  We have a unique situation in that we have more instruments than members!  We have 2 altos, 2 piccolos, 1 bass and everyone has a C flute, but we only have 8 members, one of which is only in town for a few months out of the year.  So, 8 members and 13 instruments?  Kind of a neat problem to have…but then you look at how some pieces are scored and it’s for 6 C flutes, alto bass, piccolo, etc. and you don’t have enough people even though you have the instruments.  Don’t be afraid to double on trios and be the conductor, or transcribe parts from madrigals and choral music.  Put that music education/theory/instrumental class to good use!
  5. Get Goals for the Group Do you just want to get together to play or do you want to perform?  Why are you getting together, what do the members want out of the group?  We’ve decided we want to perform, so after many rehearsals, go out and either find or create gigs.  My members mentioned a LOT of great places to play that I didn’t know about because I’m not from the area: the library has a grand piano and hosts groups, an historical house that hosts concerts, FBA meetings (band directors meetings), partnering with schools to play on their school concerts or at an orchestra concert, nursing homes, hospitals, local events and fairs, etc.  We are going to be performing 15 minutes at an FBA meeting, at a middle school concert (with the middle school kids joining us on a piece), a full concert at the historical house and as prelude music in the reception hall before the Pops Orchestra Concert. We have plans to submit to perform for the Flute Flute Association Annual Convention in coming years, but we need some local performances under our collective belt first.  Be creative.  You don’t have to have a full hour long concert where people just come to see you.  Your goal is to get in front of people and get known!
  6. Set Deadlines and Be In Constant Communication After every rehearsal I send out an email to the group reminding them of what we did, what we need to work on and what we will do next week, this way they can be practicing and preparing for it.  I also let them know when our concerts are, remind them what we are going to be playing and since we’ve now committed to them, we have to be prepared to play at our highest level!  Don’t be afraid to set the bar high – set the bar too low and you’ll get what you asked for.  Set it high and be amazed.
  7. Advertise I have included our name as a flute choir everywhere I can think of: on my blog, webpage, facebook notices, listed on the FFA website, NFA website – and I’ve had people find us to join us because of that.  Hobnob and network with various band directors and tell them to send you their star players.  Can’t get them commit?  Our next plan is to go play in the schools.  Get a middle school or elementary school assembly and play as a group or get your choir together and go on a school tour during the day, hitting a bunch of high schools.  Play for the kids, get them to ask questions, mention you teach lessons and you are an open group – they can join, and LEAVE SOMETHING IN THEIR HANDS or they won’t remember you were there when they get home.
  8. Don’t be a Taskmaster, but Don’t Be Afraid to Say What Needs to Be Said or Do What Needs to Be Done Remember, people are doing this because they enjoy it, so don’t take a holier-than-thou approach or constantly criticize.  However, there is that fine line that needs to be walked because you don’t want to not criticize at all. Be tactful in pointing out mistakes or “opportunities for improvement”.  Ask for group feedback.  Step back every once in awhile and let them solve things.  Remember, this is your group if you want it that way, so you are the leader.  Lead, but still serve the group in leading.  Say what needs to be said in a tactful way.  Pick your battles, sometimes it’s the right time, sometimes it’s not, so walk the fine line of not being a taskmaster or a pushover.

These  are the things that I NEED to do now.

  1. Advertise This one really never ends.  It doesn’t have to be expensive but it needs to be out there.  Try setting up a Facebook page, a Weebly free website for the group, maybe a blog with what you are doing, business cards or flyers.  Constantly be in contact with people and have your group at the forefront of their minds.
  2. Get a Name and Get it Known we already have a name: The Emerald Coast Flute Choir, but is it known? That’s another story.  Let your members know you have a name and get them to hand out things and talk about the group with the name, not just “hey we have a flute choir and we could come play”.  It sounds much better to have a name.
  3. Realize that you don’t have to be formal  If you want to look like the group in the first picture that’s fine, it depends on what your venues are and the image you want to project.  Us?  We live in a beach town, so while we want to be known as professionals, we don’t want to be too “professional” that we alienate our audiences, do you know what I mean?  Example: how we set up.  Due to how we rehearse and our limited space, we don’t play in a straight line.  We are more in a circle spread out around the room.  This has led to the thoughts of “how will we set up on stage”?  Considering we all have different parts at different times, it would get annoying to constantly be moving between pieces and honestly, I think we play better and are forced to listen more by staying in the same spot and standing next to someone who doesn’t have your same part.  So, we just might set up around the room instead of in a line.  We’ll see 🙂  Point is, be flexible and find what works for YOUR group.
  4. Include the local musicians whenever possible We have pieces that call for instruments we don’t have like string bass, claves, various percussion instruments and narrators.  If you are going to a school, include their band director, the kids will LOVE seeing their teacher actually perform.  We have people coming from a town 2 hours away to play with us occassionally, include them whenever possible.  Again, be flexible and include your audience if you can.

Um, I’m sure there are more, but that’s what comes to mind.

Biggest thing that was a hurdle for me: picking a date to start and then just launching the thing and seeing what happens.  It won’t start if you don’t, so pick a date, be in contact and go for it!

NFA Recap

September 15, 2011

So I’ve been back from the convention for a few weeks already, and I haven’t found the time to be able to write anything!  My head has been swimming with thoughts and ideas, but, fortunately for me, business has picked up in a big way and, well, I had a lot to catch up on.  You see, the last day of the convention, an article about me and my boot camp class was run in the Sunday paper.  A full page full color spread in the Lifestyle section!  I’ve seen an increase in personal training clients from that, so I’ve been up to my eye balls in writing plans, training clients, running my boot camp classes and responding to the emails and questions I got from NFA.  I have put out a newsletter since then, which gave a big update on the convention, and if you aren’t signed up for my mailing list, you can do so in the bar to your right where it says “sign up for our newsletter” and I will send you the latest one!

Oh yes, and if you want more information about my boot camp classes (the one to the right was taken at our beach location) you can check out the new website! It’s at www.PCBeachBootCamp.com  I’d love it if you left a comment and can give me your feedback.

So what happened at the NFA?
Presentations!!!!
As stated in previous blog posts, I was very blessed to have been able to give two presentations.  The first was on Friday at 5 PM and was a panel discussion titled “Injury Prevention and Pain Management”.  My fellow panel members, Dr. Susan Fain, Karen Lonsdale and Lea Pearson along with myself all spoke on different topics relating to playing the flute and some suggestions on overcoming the special health challenges it presented.  Lea talked about breathing and body mapping, Karen talked about the ergonomics of the flute and how to set up for practicing be it solo or in a band setting and Susan talked about some common injuries and solutions to them with posture and stretching.  I, of course, gave a quick overview on the benefits of strength training for flutists.  I had so much to say and sadly, I ran out of time – 10 minutes just isn’t long enough!

We had a really wonderful turnout and I did not have enough handouts for everyone to get one, so if you would like a copy of my handout for this presentation and did not receive one, you can download it here:

Using Strength Training to Prevent Injury and Improve Pain

My second presentation was just me and it was on Sunday at 8 AM.  I went far more into depth about the benefits of strength training for flutists, and then demonstrated proper weight lifting form (which we all did together), did a little body mapping in finding where our hips are (here’s a hint, it’s not the bone that sticks out) and then we did some sample stretches and some activation exercises.  It was a lot of fun, and again, I ran out of time.
The easiest way to for me to remedy my problem is for flute clubs and associations to hire me to come out for a day or a weekend to give a workshop and then we can really go  in-depth about how things work, and do some exercises together!  In fact, I had a few people approach me about doing that very thing so be on the lookout to see me coming to your area and if you would like me to come to your area, you can get in touch with me by emailing me at angela@musicstrong.com or via the contact link on my website: www.musicstrong.com

Again I had a great turn out and ran out of handouts so if you would like a handout and didn’t get one, you can download it here:

Lift, Play, Love : Basic Weight Lifting for Efficient Flute Playing

I also had a “muscle man” image that I used that went along with both handouts. You can get him here:

Career Development Workshop

I am very grateful to have been selected as a participant in the 2nd Annual Career and Artistic Development Committee’s Career Development Workshop.  The room was not nearly big enough to hold all the people and we had people spilling out into the hallway trying to get in!  We learned a lot of things: from how to write a mission statement, to a bio, to a cover letter, to how to take a good publicity photo and what NOT to do.

In addition, I and two other people got to present our business ideas to the group and ask for help on certain parts of our projects.  I presented my business Music Strong, and while it is not exactly in its fledgling stages and I have a lot of the work done, my biggest problem is in reaching my audience.  I needed help finding out how to go to where the flutists are and where the people who need me are.

I got a LOT of positive feedback from people who heard me; compliments on the business concept, comments on how excited people were that I was doing this and overall enthusiasm for my business.  I also got asked to come give a presentation in Texas, so be on the lookout for information there!

Other wonderful happenings

I had a lot of great things happen at the convention.  Besides my name getting out there and being recognized, I was also asked to help man the Performance Health Committee’s booth.  I was more than happy to do so – not only for the opportunity to socialize and network with my fellow health professionals, but to answer questions and help the myriad of people who came by with health questions.  It is so rewarding to be able to look at someone, listen to their problems and even if you cannot diagnose or fix their problems, you can give them HOPE and that is super exciting.

I made a lot of new connections, new friends and got a lot of great music I hope to be performing soon.  The convention was a success in every way and I’m very blessed to be able to have been a part of it. Now I’m working on presentation proposals for next year for Vegas!

If you went to the convention, if you got the chance to come to these presentations, workshops or even if you didn’t, I’d love to hear your comments about it and if you have suggestions on future articles or presentations, I am welcome to those as well.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the convention.  I hope you enjoy!

See you in Vegas!

Do What You Suck At

June 20, 2011

One of my mottos for awhile now has been “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. This picture exemplifies the idea perfectly. When I was in Army Basic Training, that was one of the things they told us almost constantly. We had to do everything as a team, and if one person was wrong, you were all wrong. If one person wanted to keep the Kevlar helmet on instead of taking it off, we all had to keep it on. If one person got punished…well, that didn’t happen, we all got punished.

The point was that you HAD to learn to do everything as a unit, as a team, and that each person was as important as the next. You are being taught to pay attention to detail and you realize very quickly that even if YOU excel in one area, your Battle Buddy probably doesn’t, and to work together as a team, everyone has to come together to support and encourage and work on their “weakest link” before you can excel as a team.

Your body works as a team as well and if you don’t address your weakest link, you are shortchanging yourself. As a musician, you know that if you don’t work on your weak spots, you’ll never reach your full potential because being a musician is made of several “links” – scales, intervals, tone, technique, body awareness, attitude, work ethic, etc.

As for my title…

You’ll have to pardon the hanging participle and bad grammar….but it got your attention, didn’t it?

Here’s the point if you do what you’re good at, you’ll never get any better. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Sure, but what do we do? We do the things at which we already accel. Why? Because we like doing well, we like feeling that good feeling that comes with doing well, and when you do something well, it’s, well…..easy.

Another way to say “do what you suck at” is to say “work on your weaknesses”. Now, honestly if I had put that as the title, you wouldn’t have stopped by to read, would you? Not nearly as interesting. But the truth is there in both statements. When you take a good look at the areas in which you lack and you go forth and WORK on those weaknesses what happens?

Well, it’s hard.
It’s generally not much fun.
You might fail
….a lot.
But in the end, you end up succeeding and ultimately not only gaining a greater sense of achievement due to the feeling of overcoming something at which you used to not do well, but it gets easier from there for you to get better at it.

Two examples: music and fitness, of course 🙂

Fitness

Take your pick: squat, pushup or pullup.

Sure, there are other hard exercises like deadlifting and benching and rowing but in all honesty, these are tough for me and most women. Most people do a HORRIBLE job of squatting with good form. They either

  • don’t go low enough
  • elevate their heels and squat on their toes
  • have their knees cave in
  • point their toes way out

It’s sad really, because what should be easy to do (we did it as 2-year olds without another thought) becomes so much more difficult as we age.

Side note:
This is why I suggest EVERYONE get some training in Alexander Technique. It’s not just for musicians and you will relearn how to use your body the way God intended and the way you used to, as aforementioned 2-year old but with better motor skills 🙂

Walk into almost any gym in the country and undoubtedly you will see a lot of the same things: the treadmills, ellipticals and bikes will be mostly full (sadly, mostly with women), lots of people using machines, and in the free weight section, the few people you see will be mostly men, mostly doing chest and bicep exercises. Occassionally you’ll see a man doing a squat….probably only going half-way down with too much weight (because it’s always better to improve your ego by using too much weight with bad form than to use no weight with good form, right?) and even more rarely, you’ll see a lady in there, doing “toning” exercises with the pink dumbbells. She’s doing it because she knows she needs to do something but isn’t sure what, so she sticks to what’s safe, what isn’t challenging, and pats herself on the back for venturing into the “guy’s” part of the gym. And year after year the ladies on the treadmills wonder why their bodies haven’t changed the way they “should”.

The guys do their same routines for the same reason: they work the vanity muscles using some outdated routines they found in magazines (that really only work for newbies) because they don’t know any better, it’s safe, it’s what the other guys are doing and hey, what woman looks at a guy’s legs – they look at his GUNS right? And year after year, he does the same stuff, blindly going forward, his gains decreasing every year and wondering why.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because they don’t work on their weaknesses.


Music

Where is your weakness when it comes to music? Ignoring etudes, scales and technique exercises – only focusing on working on pieces? Not really “wood shedding” the music, but just playing it over and over again? Putting off memorizing something? Not practicing much at all?

As a musician, my biggest weakness is 1) not making the time to practice and 2) not giving myself structure during practice time….which leads to feeling like I”m just wasting my time, so I end up not practicing at all! If you are one of those musicians who has been out of school for awhile, you know how easy it is to get out of the habit of daily practice, espcially when you aren’t surrounded by other musicians pushing you, endless rehearsals and recitals. If LACK of practice is your nemesis, ask yourself why? And chunk it into manageable goals: 1) I will practice every day or every other day 2) I will work on these pieces and these exercises, etc. Just write it down and give yourself structure.

If there is something specific you suck at and you’re just avoiding it, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and go after it! If you are a person who plays by ear and has a difficult time deciphering rythms on the page…..well, you need to start reading more music with difficult rhythms. If you suck at sightreading, the only way to get better at sightreading is to sightread a LOT.

See how this works? Identify your weakness, have the courage to put your ego aside and say “ok, what do I really suck at?” and then do THAT.

Take your dreaded evil and look it square in the face and say

“Today , it’s you and me and while I may not conquer you today, maybe not tomorrow, I will not fear you, and I WILL do this”.

And from there, you start with Moyse Gamme Arpegge and work your way through 🙂

So Do What You Suck At

If you are a gym “bro” who splits his workouts into “chest days’ and “arm days”: have the courage to do a full body workout,

If you are a lady who does nothing but stay on the elliptical or do curls and crunches in the “guy’s part of the gym”, have the courage to pick up some 20 pounders or hire a personal trainer and learn how to do a real deadlift…I can tell you, there’s nothing more empowering than deadlifting your bodyweight (with excellent form) in a gym full of men who are doing superflous exercises (with bad form).

If you are a musician and you’ve been putting off attacking Berio’s “Sequenza” GO FOR IT! You just might find that it’s way more fun than you ever realized.

In the end, we all have to work on our weaknesses, because there is only so far you can go in the areas you already excel.



What does it mean to stretch adequately? And why should I bother?

Stretching is underrated and underdone and people, especially musicians, are paying the price for it. The body was designed to move and it was not meant to hold static positions for long lengths of time, be that sitting in a car, typing, playing an instrument, etc. If one is confined to a rather static position for a long length of time, the body will become stiff and tight in certain areas. If, after that, you try to move suddenly, or for example, spend a long day at work in front of your computer (or several hours in a practice room) and decide then to go lift weights, if you do not stretch and warm up properly, you are literally begging for an injury. You are asking muscles that are tight/weak/stretched to do things that they are not ready nor capable to do.

Let me give you an example. For my bodyweight workout this past week I did not take the time to adequately stretch and warmup before hand and for the last two days, my hips have been paying for it. They have been so incredibly tight that I was almost limping. This led me to stretching ever opportunity I got yesterday, almost to no avail. Today before my workout, I spent the better part of 20 minutes, if not more, stretching and warming up, making sure my body was ready to meet the demands I was about to put on it.

How did I know I was ready? Well, let me tell you. After sitting for a long time, the hip flexors get shortened, the hamstrings and lower back can get stretch and the glutes fall asleep and fail to fire. What is the first thing I did when I got in the gym today? Dynamically and statically stretched my lower body and did plenty of glute activation exercises. It took awhile, but when I finally felt like my glutes were working (there was a burn starting to happen, I could feel them working) and my hips no longer felt like they were going to snap, but instead started to feel loose, and move more freely, I knew I was ready to go.

Let’s apply this to woodwind players and the upper body. What can you do? Make sure you warm up your upper body before you practice, during and after.

Next time you are about to practice, try this little warm up sequence and tell me how it went for you:

Arm circles 2 sets of 10

Doorway chest stretch 2×30 sec.

Wall slides 1×30 seconds each side

Do all three once before repeating.

What is happening? Well, if you play an instrument, more than likely you will have your arms in front of you. These stretches will warm up the chest, upper back and shoulder girdle allowing the muscles to move better and fire more accurately. If you have extra time, (and ideally, an exercise ball) do a couple sets of prone lower trap raises and/or YTLW’s. These will really fire up your lower traps and upper back.

What about if you are going to be sitting?

One thing that you can do is to do the standing warrior lunge stretch. Stand tall. Take a long step forward and descend into a lunge. Stretch your pelvis back, you should feel a deep stretch in your hip on the trailing/semi-straight leg. For added glute activation/hip stretching, squeeze your buttock on the trailing leg, let the arm on the trailing leg side drop towards your leg and raise you opposite arm high until you feel a longer stretch up into your abs on the trailing leg side. Hold this for 30 seconds. repeat on the other side. Do twice on each side.
If you have some time before a rehearsal, you can do some glute bridges, but if you have nowhere to lie on the floor, an easy way to get your glutes firing (so your hips and quads are doing less work) is to take long strides as you are walking to rehearsal/concert/ the bus/around, etc. and squeeze your butt with each step.

Anything I can do while I’m playing or even walking around?

Yes! If you recall the neutral position you are to take whenever you begin weight training (chest out, back arched, stick your butt out, shoulder blades back and down), you can modify this stance to be useful during the day. Basically, if you will depress and retract your shoulder blades while you are playing/practicing/rehearsing and even just walking around throughout the day, you will accomplish several different things:

  1. Your chest will open up, stretch out and be less tight.
  2. You will have taller, easier posture with less effort.
  3. Your upper back will hurt less, and be less stretched and weak.
  4. You will automatically have more confidence as when you depress and retract your shoulder blades you have to stick out your chest, which is a subconsciously vulnerable area and to do so signifies confidence, whether real or imagined, eventually it will become real.

Try this for a week and tell me how it worked for you!

All-Union meeting of heads of departments of s...

Image via Wikipedia

How many of us musicians have gone to school for 4, 6 or even 10 years to get those advanced degrees only to graduate into the real world and not be prepared? Today’s institutions of higher education for musicians are sadly lacking in preparing students for a life outside either performing or teaching. There’s more to it, folks…

I have gained two degrees, a Bachelor’s and a Master’s, both in music performance. I was told several times to not do this because I “won’t get a job”. I beg to differ…and I agree. I said no way, I will get this degree because this is what I want to do, I want to perform! I was told over and over again “get your Bachelor’s degree in Music Education so you have something to fall back on.”

Get a degree you can fall back on…

How many of you have heard this? I think it’s pathetic. Why offer a degree that the faculty don’t even have faith in it to do the students any good? If I want to go to school to learn how to play my instrument better than others and be the best flutist and performer I can possibly be, why is that not enough? I have ZERO desire to be a band director or choral conductor. If I did, I would have majored in those disciplines and that is EXACTLY what I told the faculty. I have also told my students interested in going into a performance based degree “do not go to school for music performance unless you can see yourself doing nothing else.” No offense to band directors and choral conductors (of which I have many friends), I applaud you and support what you do, but God designed us all with different talents and desires and those were not mine. And I feel it is a HUGE disservice to those who love the teaching profession that others are being told that their profession is a “fall back” which, when they realize they will not be an international solo performing artist, find themselves teaching band to a bunch of kids. They hate their job, hate what they’re doing, but hey,at least they have a job to fall back on now, right?

I think it is incredibly sad that we relegate a performance degree to a piece of paper that says “I CAN PLAY GOOD!” I mean, really? There’s more to it than that, and as I am finding out as an entrepreneur, carving my own path through the career jungle, most of what I learned in school did not teach me how to establish my own career.

What graduate schools teach performance majors today does not prepare you for much outside of performing or professorship

Most of what I learned in graduate school, when it came to preparing me to “get a job” was not how to become an international performing soloist star, it was on how to apply and land a college professorship. I would be THRILLED to have this job *sadly, since I do not have a Dr. in front of my name, I have been passed over for those who do at every job I have thus applied for*, but there are only so many professorships to go around. Most of my fellow musicians who get performing or even professorship/teaching jobs have to have “day jobs” on the side because their musical jobs do not support them.

What musicians are desperately in need of today is entrepreneurship training. Most musicians who go to grad school have a burning desire to play for others, but almost no idea how to market themselves as individuals beyond writing a resume. In fact, there are many graduate students who just “continue to go to school” earning a doctorate because they haven’t landed any gigs, jobs, had any interviews and don’t know what to do once they get out, so really it’s just a way of procrastinating getting into the real world.

Knowing how to build a great resume, c.v., interview well and of course, play your instrument outstandingly are all great qualities, but if you don’t get an interview and you don’t have a regular performing gig and you’re NOT that international superstar performer, they will only take you so far.

You need SKILLS – the things business majors learn.

Skill 1: Present yourself well:

You have to be more than just a pretty face and a shiny instrument, you have to present yourself well. That means smiling, being personable, dressing well, shaking every hand you can and learning names. Treat everyone as your most important prospect, a future friend and a future employer – show them respect and leave your own ego at the door. No one likes to talk to a person with a sour face and an attitude that says “you should pay me because I play well, but don’t expect me to like you”. No. YOU are the one needing the job and therefore, YOU have to be the one they want to hire. In fact, the best advice I got when I was young was “Be someone YOU would want to hire”. Be friendly, look professional, speak professionally and start as many relationships as you can with people. By the way, presenting yourself well applies to social media as well. Don’t post drinking photos all over your Facebook page and swear on twitter and in general, give anyone the opportunity to have a bad impression of you. Having a personal Facebook page is fine, but make sure your professional “fan” page stays just that, professional.

Skill 2: Create a niche

Ok, we know you can play, but what else? There is usually some aspect of your playing or your life about which you are equally fascinated and you hold the key to sharing that with other people. Maybe you have a knack with kids and see a hole in the market for beginning flute books (hint hint…..there is a hole there). Well, your niche might be marketing yourself as a pedagogue who focuses on beginners. My niche is marrying my careers as a personal trainer and a musician into one – training musicians and teaching musicians the benefits of strength training. Whatever it is, you have something else you are interested in and an area in which you can contribute to the musical world at large.

Skill 3: Make friends with those in your niche area

This is HUGELY important. Right now, you are probably a nobody. No one knows your name and you’re just another one of the 10,000 flutists who graduate every year. There’s truth to the saying “It’s who you know”. When you find out what your niche is, go find others who are in a similar pursuit with you and make friends with them. Start conversations, ask questions, pick their brains. These are the people you want to know your name because when they mention your name to someone else, what THEY say carries weight.

Skill 4: Market yourself via social media and the internet

If you don’t have a webpage, get a webpage. This is the first and most basic rule of promoting yourself. How do you ever expect people to hire you if they can’t find you? And don’t just write a bunch of stuff down on a page. Spend the money to get a nice template somewhere and just plug in the information. Better yet, if you can afford it, have someone else design your webpage for you. You want something that catches the eye and makes people want to look around to find out more about you. On that webpage make sure you put down ways people can contact you – make it easy for them to find. Remember, people are lazy. They won’t look for things so don’t make them search for it.

Get a Facebook FAN page and put up RELEVANT content. See below. Also, don’t just put up links you think are interesting. Make comments, socialize, put up pictures, videos, music clips of yourself – look around at people you admire and look at their fan pages. Model yours after theirs.

Get a blog and start writing about the things that interest you and write it in such a way that other people will be interested. The blog puts out good content so that when people want the information you have, they find you first. Remember, you are writing blogs about stuff that interests you – but it shouldn’t necessarily be about you. Go find other blogs about stuff that interests you and make comments down below (again, relevent comments). While on the subject of blogs, I highly recommend you get an RSS reader like Google Reader. Why? Well, you really want to read a lot of content and it’s more difficult to read content from lots of blogs taking all day to surf around and find them. With a reader you just drop the address in the reader (or click on the little orange RSS image on the blog – see mine at the top?) and subscribe. This way, all you have to do is open the reader and you can check out blogs from all over, see what other people are writing about, get ideas, leave comments, etc.

Follow fluteanjel on TwitterGet a twitter account and learn how to use it. No one wants to read about “it’s been a long day and now I’m watching Scrubs in my PJ’s.” No one cares. Find something relevant to your niche on the web? Tweet about it – link it. TALK to people on Twitter who have the same interests you do. It’s amazing how relationships can spring up that way.

Get a LinkedIN account – not entirely necessary, but why not? There are groups there that you can join and contribute to – these groups are full of other people who share your interests. Contribute to the groups with relevant content – don’t spam them and just throw links to your stuff around. No one likes that person. Link your blog to LinkedIN and everytime you blog, people can see it on your account.

Link EVERYTHING! Seriously. Link your twitter account to Facebook and your blog to Twitter and Facebook and put links to your website everywhere you are. Everything should lead back to your website. You want to make yourself as visible as possible and when you link things, it shows up multiple places at once – this prevents you from having to copy/paste it 100 times.

Skill 5: Market yourself in real life

Presentation

Presentation I did this year


Again, this goes back to that niche area, but start giving presentations anywhere and everywhere you can. Draw up a presentation about something that interests you and then adapt it to fit different age groups. Give your presentations in every school in the county and then start talking to college professors near you and see if they would let you give it at their school. More often than not, if you offer a free presentation, they will say yes and you will have made an invaluable contact. Give presentations and recitals in your town, county, at conventions, anywhere you can. The more people see your name and recognize you for something, the more they’ll remember you when they need your particular service or product.

Skill 6: Put out a newsletter

This is a great way to get people more information about you and what you do. Every time you go to a presentation, pass around a sign up sheet and have people put down their email address if they would like to receive your newsletter. On your website and/or blog you should have something that allows people to sign up for your newsletter fairly easily. Now – you’ve got subscribers, what to write about? Write about YOU, what you do in the music/business world. Give them information they want. For example, in my newsletter, I put out playing/practicing tips, workout tips, answer questions, give links to where they can find me, put up information about what’s going on in my world – where they can find me performing and what performances are coming up in the area (if you have a local newsletter). Basically, the sky is the limit. If you need ideas, subscribe to other people’s newsletters and see what content they have that you would like and model after them. I suggest MailChimp for an easy, free newsletter service.

Hope! Where to Look! What to Do!

My friends, I am here to give you hope and show you that there are so many other places from where you can gain knowledge on how to carve out your OWN career!

First of all, if you are going to be an entrepreneur (and this is more geared to those of you who are NOT born with that gene) you are going to have to put in a lot of work on your own and be prepared for nothing to happen for awhile. It will take a good bit of trial and error before you figure out what works for you, but be patient. You aren’t just putting your resume out there and hoping for the best. You have to be proactive and go FIND things, go DO things, contribute. It’s hard work, but it’s very much so worth it.

Happily, there ARE some schools hoping on the entrepreneurial bandwagon.

The University of Colorado has an Entrepreneurship Center for Music!

Berklee College of Music has a Music Industury Entrepreneurship class

Other schools also offer degrees in Arts Administration – this could be a really good degree to get while also getting your primary degree.

My friend Jonathan Nation has been a wealth of help to me. His job is to help small businesses and entrepreneurs learn how to navigate the waters of success. You can visit his webpages at http://www.allynation.com and his business site at http://www.startingcube.com which is also a podcast. Some of the sites he’s hooked me onto are:

Smart Passive Income.com

Savvy Musician

Angela Beeching – a career consultant for musicians

4 Tips to Jumpstart Your Career

The National Flute Association has put out a great list of sites with their new group: the Career and Artistic Development Committee

Got links to share? Share below! Come tell me what you thought of this on my Facebook page, via twitter or make a comment below!

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