Friday, May 3, 2013

Top 5 things I've learned as a freelance musician

This phase of my life is drawing to a close.  Not that it would be unlikely for me to freelance again; however, I will never freelance as a woman in her mid-twenties, all on her own for the first time, again.  I'm headed off to start my DMA in the fall.  I'm both excited and intimidated.  I know I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I'm determined to make the best of every opportunity.

I think that now is a good time to reflect on the past couple of years.  I've learned so much and I've made some mistakes.  I hope that you can either relate to this or come away from it with new knowledge. 

Top 5 things I've learned as a freelance musician:

1) Teaching beginners will make you a better musician.  I realized recently that between all of my lessons and sectionals, I probably spend 30-60 minutes per day doing breathing exercises, buzzing, long tones, and lip slurs with my students (on top of my normal daily routine).  Talk about a fundamental workout!  
I think so many people go straight through school to avoid having to teach middle school, and I won't lie, I was afraid to teach this age group at first, too.  As young adults, we assume a lot of things about young kids, especially if you're like me and have no younger siblings.  All of my assumptions were wrong.  Middle schoolers are fun (and funny).  And you don't have to baby talk them - you can talk to them like regular human beings.  And this may sound a bit harsh, but I'll say it anyways: in my opinion, if you can't teach beginners, you have no business teaching college students.  

2) Don't be on time; be early.  Get in the habit now of arriving to all rehearsals at least 10-15 minutes early.  While you may not get fired from a gig for being late or walking in the door right as tuning starts, you may not get called back to play again.   Even if you're still in school, start making this rule for yourself now (I know it's easy to lollygag from the practice rooms).

3) Learn how to double on another instrument.  Learning to play bass trombone (decently) was one of the best decisions I've ever made.  Not only did I get more gigs, but learning to play with the smaller mouthpiece has effectively made me a better euphonium player too (I've still got loads of work to do, though!).  After the last couple of years freelancing, I've developed the opinion that anyone that wants to be a working musician and doesn't play more than one instrument (minus maybe string players and percussionists) is only shooting himself/herself in the foot.  Just do it! 

4) Bite your lip.  I'm still working on this one.  I know that saying something negative about someone just feels so tempting sometimes, especially if you're having a moment of insecurity. Don't spend time talking about people (unless it's positive).  If someone wants to gossip, find a way out of the conversation.  Avoid gossipers all together.  They will talk about you, too.  On a related note...

5) Don't take yourself so seriously.  I went to a regional tuba/euph conference recently, and I was surprised to hear a lot of petty talk during the competitions.  You're bad mouthing another group at a tuba-euph quartet competition? Really? At the end of the day, we're just tuba players.  We're not working on the cure for cancer.  We're having fun.  You've got to keep it in perspective - there's an entire world of people out there that have no idea who Arnold Jacobs is, how hard your music is, or what a euphonium is.  

As my quintet likes to say... shut up and play! :)


  1. I love this line "At the end of the day, we're just tuba players. We're not working on the cure for cancer".

    Kudos to you for doing what you love, and reflecting. So healthy!

    Oh the arts :)

  2. Also, this idea that teaching helps our playing, especially in terms of fundamentals: I realized this after my first summer at Blue Lake. As you know, Bernie counselors don't have much time (or energy!) left to practice. I was very concerned about how my ensemble placement auditions at ECU would turn out, but after I played my teacher was like, "What have you been doing all summer? Your sound is AMAZING!" So yes...I can add to your body of evidence regarding that point. :-)

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  4. It` s usually easier to transfer knowledge to middle school students..they already have a background and are able to understand and accept some things more easily. Also, in certain situations, many of them behave more "adult" than the adults do..teaching them means you can always learn something new and polish your interpersonal skills (besides instrument fundamentals)..

    1. I couldn't agree with you more! Great observation. :)

  5. I never got to ask does community band world works in States? Do you play as a volunteer or get paid noted that you play in a Florida Wind Band. Is this a full pro or semi pro orchestra. I would like to know some things about it..(sorry if it is unappropriate for me to ask on the blog)..

    1. The Florida Wind Band is technically not a "community band" - it's a band made up of professional musicians; however, it's still in early stages of finding funding, so it has not been paid. The idea, however, is for it to eventually be a paid group. I guess you could say it's still in sort of a "project" stage.

      The Gainesville Community Band is made up of mostly hobbyists and some professionals. It's completely unpaid and is a non-profit organization.

  6. It`s quite similar here in Europe (I`m from Croatia..small country between Italy, Austria and Hungary, :) town called Djakovo, just to put myself on a map :D)..I also play in a non-profit community band..we are mostly amateurs, but some of do have formal education. As we are very small market (3 times smaller than Florida :) ) there aren` t many jobs in orchestras (3 symphonic orchestras and 2 army wind orchestras, and 4 theater orchestras) so most of the work pros can do are in education business and running community bands. I have also noticed large number of tubas in Florida Wind Band roster, more than euphoniums..I think there` s a small difference in a European band setup, we use more euphoniums, and I think American bands tend to use more trombone sections..