No Coasting Part 2: Life after Graduation

May 20, 2016

Faculty Author:


Schools out, now what?


Despite [some of] our best efforts to remain in college as long as possible, we must all ultimately face the dilemma of what to do with ourselves upon graduation.  In the world of normal professions, this generates a fairly simple set of solutions.  Apply for work, take care of any certifications or boards, do any requisite apprenticeships, and then start working your 9-5 and hope you can hang onto your job/sanity until you can retire and forget about the whole process. 


For those of us in the performing arts, and especially in the field of music, face a much less certain but decidedly more diverse set of options.  We can go to graduate school and gain any number of skills under the same degree name or you can enter the workforce with no degree of predictability as to how/when/why you will make it.  Indeed this can be disconcerting, which is why more and more music students are going to graduate school.  You get more time to hone your craft, and you get more time to become a finely tuned professional in all aspects. 


As a doctorate-holding (#DrG) musician who has just survived the first year in the real world, I want to share my collected thoughts and experiences regarding this uncertain time.  This article is a follow up to the part 1, where we explored the process of going to and getting the most out of music graduate school. 


So you are a hotshot graduate getting ready to unleash your talents on the real world.  Graduation day comes, and you walk out of the door a free man/woman.  So now what do you do?  Do you have work lined up?  Are you going to move somewhere?  How is your professional development?  Do you have a website?  Business cards?


As someone who has just dealt with this for the first year, I want to share my thoughts and challenges that I faced.


In school, we hardly ever have to worry about being out of shape on the instrument.  (that is unless we are coasting…).  But now that you are in the real world, you don’t have a rehearsal or four every day.  In fact you might go several days in a row without playing your instrument with another person at all, and weeks without playing any particular style.  I personally found two extremes in this situation.  The first was practicing too much in order to make up for the loss of face-time.  This led to physical injury and mental defeat.  The second, which was a reaction to the first, was practicing only a little and then putting the horn away unless I had a gig.  This led to a decline in the skills I was not using on the gigs, as well as a marked loss in range/endurance/power.  I would have to play 50% of the intensity I was used to having on the gig or I would get wrecked. Plus, all the things I’m bad at were really really bad rather than getting better in percentages.


So the moral of the story here is to find a balance between playing too much and adopting the mindset of practicing only for the gig. 


I went through a big audit of my personal practice strategies halfway through this first year.  This was the first time in my life when I was not doing buzzing basics every day, and for those who know me, this was REALLY SCARY. It seems so obvious, but I will say it anyways.  Make sure that you are practicing all aspects of the instrument every day. Then focus on areas that need improvement.  Then focus on etudes and solo repertoire and tunes so that you bring all the parts together.  Once you accomplish those things each day, relax.  Then focus on your professional development and networking.


Another aspect of being out of school is that you have very little exposure to other people unless you physically are out at a gig.  As newly appointed freelancers, we must network and reach out so that the music community knows we are around.  Get to your gig early and get to know the other players.  Play your tail off at all times so that they want to call you back and know your name.  Carry business cards and give out compliments (which are easy icebreakers).  Have a website, and answer your phone.  Don’t be late, and always offer to help the bass player/drummer/percussionist. 


Most of all, stay positive.  Find the silver lining no matter the gig and no matter the situation. Realize that you won't be playing the same music you did in school for the majority of your gigs, and that’s ok.  Also realize that you might play some really cool concerts too.  Figure out how to stay excited about playing, stay motivated about practicing, and learn how to set your own goals in an environment with no jury, no recital, and no weekly lesson.  Get out of bed every day with a plan and a positive outlook.  No one is holding your hand any more.


So in summary, I would say that when you are out of school you must consider 3 things. 

  1. How are you going to maintain/improve your skills on the instrument. (or gain them)

  2. How are you going to network and act professionally so that you are visible.

  3. How are you going to stay positive so that you continuously set and achieve your goals. 

It is interesting to note that nearly all of these skills are things that we can develop while we are still in graduate school.  I constantly hear from students and faculty about how school is so unlike the real world like that is a bad thing.  But what they fail to realize is that graduate school for music is simply the real world with “mulligans.”  You get extra rehearsals to learn your part, you get excused absences, you get forgiven for your bad attitude and poor concentration, and you are allowed to sound like you are out of your comfort zone without getting fired. 


School is a magical time for musicians, but also an unpredictable one.  Make sure that you are preparing yourself for life after school.  And develop the skills you know you need, even if your program is not giving them to you outright. 

And remember, NO COASTING.  #DrG out!




Share your thoughts below!




Dr. Derek Ganong attended UCLA (BA in Ethnomusicology and Cognitive Science), NYU (MM in Jazz Performance), and recently earned his DMA from the University of Miami (Jazz and Classical performance).  His dissertation “Laurie Frink’s Method of Trumpet Instruction” is a documentation, analysis, and presentation of Laurie Frink’s trumpet method. 

It can be found HERE


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