A Message to all Students Going Back to School

With most college students headed back to school next week I thought I would write a blog post about my time in school. While this is focused primarily for undergrads and grads it certainly can apply to those in high school.

Believe it or not this post was inspired by listening to an old Coldplay album while working out. I used to listen to their X & Y album while working out in school and at New World. I hadn’t given it a listen in a while and thought, why not. (A good album to throw in the mix to survive a long cardio day by the way). Since it had been almost a decade since I had really given it a listen, memories of where I was back then came flooding back. Where I was living, what I was working on, who I was working with. The biggest memory was how focused and dedicated I was able to be towards getting better and improving as a musician. At the time it felt like a struggle, and I guess it was, but in retrospect I was making huge progress. I don’t always think of that time as positive, but for some reason, with a little distance, I look back with great fondness.


Then all of these thoughts felt odd because I’m still trying to improve, still trying to find ways to get better, and definitely still looking for new challenges; but it’s just not the same. I have a job now and although it is one as a professional musician, believe it or not, that can get in the way of focusing singularly on improving. I don’t have as much time to rethink a technique or go back to the beginning. The paying audience isn’t going to care very much that I would like to spend a few weeks on Stick Control and my rudimental playing.

It also hit me, man, I am an adult now. I don’t feel like one, but when I compare my life now, to then, I am clearly old whether I want to be or not. I have life insurance… I go to bed on a regular basis before 10… I’ve seen the sunrise more after sleeping than before going to bed… I have a mortgage… Hangovers last 2 days (they really do)…

My last realization was, that time spent at school and at New World in the practice room was the time I improved the most. The time I spent pushing the boundaries the most. So that means that you, yes YOU (student currently in school) are the ones pushing the boundaries now. Playing cleaner… playing softer… playing faster… playing with even more shape… playing with more emotion… figuring out a better way to execute a difficult passage or skill..

packed lunch

So my message to all students about to start a new school year is this:

  1. Take advantage of this time you have. This precious time you have to fully dedicate yourself to getting better and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.
  2. It’s all worth it. No matter what level of success you ultimately achieve, you are pursuing what you love to do and that’s so much better than digging ditches for a living.
  3. Whether you feel like it or not YOU are the ones pushing the boundaries of what our field can do.
  4. Keep your head down and keep working. Don’t be in too big of a hurry to look up and check your progress. I made the most progress when my head was down and I wasn’t looking around at everyone else.

Life changes, and I’m glad it changes, because I don’t think I could have kept up that pace and intensity forever. Family becomes a priority over music (and it should). While improving as a musician and trying to discover a better “widget” to help us accomplish our musical goals will always be a priority, as you get older it naturally falls down the priority list. So take advantage of this time you have students! Have fun and enjoy the experience by all means, but also know that you will look back a decade from now and realize this is when you were making the most progress.


12 thoughts on “A Message to all Students Going Back to School

  1. Yeah man, some very wise and inspirational thoughts. I don’t fall into any of the three student categories, but a returning player after raising kids and doing the adult thing. I am really enjoying going back reading Sam Denov’s book, Alan Payson’s book and my notes from Tom. This post has reminded me of the two thing I need to do to get the most out of being a student. Be a sponge and absorb everything. Be on a quest for knowledge.
    Thank you for sharing your thought and inspiring me!

  2. Reading this in November and it’s something I definitely needed. I just gave my junior recital, and have found it tough to get back into the practice room as the semester winds down, with finals approaching and projects left and right. Those have to get done, but I have to keep the ultimate goal in mind! Thank you for the inspiration!

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