Let it be said right off the bat: I am a summer baby. It’s my favorite season- my birthday! cabins and camping! the beach! bicycles! sweet balmy nights with a icy beverage and good friends! I COMPLETELY understand wanting to make the most of summer and not be tied down by responsibilities.
As a professional musician, summers also mean lots of gigs, hopefully, and you can definitely fill up your schedule with outdoor concerts and festivals. That means I get a lot of ‘face time’ on my instrument and need to maintain a routine to stay viable for all those potential gigs.
But for many of my students, busy in the summer means travel, or ACT-prep, or a part-time job, and this can mean that music falls to the side as schedules change constantly. You may not have time for a lesson every week, much less put the horn on your face everyday.
Which means it’s time to think about your routine, and how you schedule it.
I have a student this summer who’s home from her first year of college, and she’s hoping to expand on her musical knowledge so as to return to her band program stronger in the fall. I’m so inspired by this. I took summer lessons one year out of all 6 of my college and graduate school years combined, and the rest of those years I picked my nose and hemmed and hawed about practicing until about August, when I realized placement auditions were fast approaching. But this girl, she’s got it figured out. She’s smart.
Many of my grade school students have already had their placement auditions for the fall, and so musical growth is taking a backseat for the summer. But summer can be a tremendous opportunity to learn things outside of the range of band, pick music you like to play, develop new techniques.
Here are a few simple steps for keeping your summer musically healthy:
1. Find a regular time to practice.
If your summer job is MTWF 10-4, maybe you practice from 9-945. Or 430-530, before dinner. But it’s always the same. On days off, you can expand your time, but keep the time slot the same.
2. Do your warm-up routine every day.
If this is all you get to- great! You got to it. You stretched your muscles and kept your musical brain strengthened. Next time you can add scales or a part of your etude.
3. Set small goals week-to-week, and one or two big goals for the whole summer.
If you’re taking lessons, I’ve assigned you a few things to focus on, like two or three scales, a technical pattern, a tune in different keys, an etude. These might serve as good weekly goals- “I’ll get C major learned in two octaves,” or “I’ll increase my double-tonguing speed by 15 clicks.” They should be part of a larger goal for the summer- “Learn all major scales in 2 octaves,” “Multiple tonguing at quarter= 142.” etc.
4. Don’t sweat taking time off for travel.
You get to take breaks. It’s okay. A week off the horn won’t make you forget how to play- it may make you fresher! It’ll take a few days to feel normal on the horn again, but you may notice that certain things are simpler once you’re back in the game.
5. Make it fun.
I mean, duh. Music is about enjoyment. It’s a shame it has to be constantly ‘proven’ to be valuable to education programs and overall societal health to be taken seriously. I think it’s okay if music exists because it’s intrinsically valuable, not because it makes you smarter (although it will do that, too). Get your friends together and sight-read chamber music. Or start a band. Buy a book of songs from your favorite movie arranged for your instrument. Play for folks in a park or in front of a store on a sunny day. Think about your instrument and smile- you’re doing this for you, not for anyone else.