9 Ways My High School Music Education Helped Me Succeed In College

Now that I have graduated, I have had some time recently to reflect on my four years at Iowa State. Looking at everything I have done as a Cyclone and thinking about everything that led me to Ames, I would have to say my four years of music education in high school helped me succeed the most. More than any math, English, science, or social science class, I would say. Here are the nine things I learned as a vocalist and saxophonist for eight years at the Hampton-Dumont Community School District.

1. How to memorize.

In college you need to not only be able to memorize facts, but also how to implement what you have learned in real life. The first step of the processes is memorization. Thankfully, memorizing words in over 20 languages, notes in 100s of pieces, and thousands of rhythm, tempo, and dynamic changes helped me with this college transition.

 2. Practice makes perfect(ish).

I made Iowa All-State Chorus two out of my four years of high school. Why? Because I didn’t practice the first two years; I thought I could just make it if I dedicated only half of my time and energy into it. I was dead wrong, and it sadly took me twice to learn this lesson. College is the same way too. You’re not going to understand that math problem, that philosophy theory, or be a better writer if you don’t put in the time and energy and practice.

 3. How to listen.

Music requires you to do many things all at the same time: see the beat given to you by the leader, play/sing your part and listen to everything else that is happening at the very moment. College requires you to do LOTS of things at the same time and one of the biggest mistakes you could make is forgetting to listen to others and what your own mind and body are telling you. Listening and being aware of those around you and yourself is a skill that takes years to develop that can save you time, energy, and money. Luckily for me I’ve been practicing it for awhile now.

 4. Tone matters.

If you can’t sing or play in tune what’s the point? All of us know we don’t want to hear things out of tune, just ask your favorite pop stars after their award show performances. Tone takes years to develop and is something you always have to be thinking about when creating music. In life, it’s the same way. Your tone on how you say “Good morning!” can be said sarcastically, happily, energetically, grouchy, vigorously, and the list goes on and on. Saying “Good morning!” it in a grouchy tone when you meant it to be happily, means the receiver will interrupt it differently then how you intended. This leads to assumptions and then this leads to fights which leads to headaches and pain. Remember your tone, cause nobody got time for miss-communication in college.

 5. Teamwork.

Music is almost always made with more than one person. This means teamwork is need between all parties involved, which again, requires huge amounts of listening. In college, you do many things in groups because employers demand you work on teams when you’re in the real world. Why? Well, because you can achieve better results when two brilliant minds come together to solve a problem than one can. My musical education prepared me for the fundamentals of teamwork and is why I don’t mind working in teams for projects as much as my peers do sometimes.

 6. Usually, there’s more going on than meets the eye.

It’s very easy to assume the final product we see from artists just happened and who could blame us? We expect perfection from our music talent. However, we all know deep down that it took them hours, days, weeks, if not months to create what we hear on the radio or on our iPhones. In college, you should never assume the same thing either. At Iowa State there are over 800 clubs and organizations, which I promise you didn’t happen over night. Iowa State students work hard everyday in and out of the classroom, so remember this when you think it will be easy to jump right into 12 different projects outside of class.

 7. Silence is as powerful as noise.

In music, silence can be used to change course, build suspension, or even portray emotions like love or pain. It’s as powerful as the notes themselves, and people tend to forget that. You cannot forget the power of silence in college. Saying nothing means you know the answers, and I know for sure that I do not have all the answers. We live in an age full of information and we can get it by the touch of our fingertips, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ask questions. I would have saved so much time, if I would have just raised my hand and asked a question instead of letting the power of silence lead to more work for me.

 8. Breathing matters.

If you forget to breath when singing or playing an instrument you’ll lose gas, fail to support the notes, and create crappy music. If you forget to breathe in college, you’ll go insane. Life is tough sometimes and it gets messy and complicated. The easy way to untangle the not so fun parts of living, is to breathe and step back. Breathe and think it through. Sometimes we become so caught up in the moment we forget to see the big picture. Breathe. Everything will be okay.

 9. Leadership is a talent.

I was a lucky high school student, as well throughout my elementary and middle school education, to have such amazing band and vocal teachers at Hampton-Dumont. All of them, from K through 12, are Iowa icons in the music education profession and for that I am so thankful. Their leadership and ability to create a tradition of excellence was and is unmatched by any other high school in Iowa. I never realized how vital that leadership was until I was in college and had the chance to experience, in my own way, the importance of leadership. Though never in a leadership position that related to music, I have had leadership positions in many other ways. When I was in those positions I would spend lots of time thinking about how my music teachers would deal with this situation or how the would energize us as a group. The faster you come to appreciate great leadership, the better leader you will become.

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