Advice for Future Jazz Majors

Planning on going to college to study jazz? Even if you are performing at a highly competitive level already, music school increases your chances of being an even better musician. It’s a structured environment with other high-level, motivated students, that offers networking opportunities and knowledge. In other words, it’s a way to become more fluent in jazz. Here are some things to keep under consideration when working toward getting your degree.

The Music Business Is Tough

While some young musicians at the top of their game will make a name for themselves without ever going to music school, careers in music are so highly competitive that musicians need all the knowledge, support, and connections they can get. In music school, the learning is ongoing. It’s so easy to find fellow students to play with and to continue learning. There are also opportunities to meet so many others in fields that will be important to you in your life.

Picking Your Targets

Is your heart set on performance? What about the history of jazz? Do you have any interest in being a teacher, or are you leaning toward a career in the music industry with jazz as your focus? Spend some time setting your compass and finding your true north; you can study some or all of the above, but eventually as your life moves forward you will have to settle on a particular path.

Schools differ in their strengths, so a good starting place is to clarify what you think you want to do when you graduate. Also worth a mention: you can start establishing yourself as a professional player while you’re still in school by attending schools located in or near cities with thriving jazz scenes. Just a thought! (Miles Davis dropped out of Juilliard to go play with Charlie Parker, after all.)

The Essence of Jazz Is Improvisation

It’s important to become a good improviser; music schools typically expect jazz students to know how to improvise by the time they audition. Of course, improvisation is no easy thing to master, or everyone would be able to do it. Learning how to improvise, and to play jazz in general, is a lifelong pursuit. The best thing you can do is to listen with your full attention to important artists on your instrument (including voice) and on other instruments. There’s no better way to learn what you want your tone to sound like, how to feel the time, and how to play a solo that tells a story.

Always Be Connecting

Take responsibility for finding out what you need to learn if you want a career in music. Don’t expect music schools to lay it all out for you. Talk with professors who are also performers or who have backgrounds in music industry, music education, or any area of music you’re interested in. Find out what they wish they’d learned when they were in music school. And, as professionals, what skills/tools they can’t do without.