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Five Things I Should Have Spent More Time On In College

Woodwind & Brasswind Contributing Writer – Greg Vail


College is an interesting time. We need to grow musically. Learning your instrument and developing mastery of that instrument is the number one job description for your success in music as you enter the real world four years later. But a few other things stand out, in hindsight; things I missed and would have done differently had someone pointed them out.

What are the five things I would have done differently in college?

Listen to more music.
I spent countless hours practicing in school. But, I really wish I had spent more time listening to great saxophone players. Like so many young musicians, I was overwhelmed with the music I had to play in band and recitals. I almost had blinders on when it came to anything outside my immediate college experience. I would have listened to a lot more music, a lot more saxophone players in every possible style. I would have been out at live shows a lot more too. Seeing music live is a spiritual thing that has an amazing impact that I didn't understand. I think all practice needs direction, and listening provides a valid example of what is possible. All that time practicing can be so much more valuable if you start with solid goals and direction.

Enlarge your worldview.
I spent four years competing with my friends in one small little corner of the world. When I got out of school, I found I was competing against every sax player alive in Los Angeles. My worldview was so small. At first I felt it wasn’t fair because they had been playing so much longer. Over time I realized it was totally fair. ‘They’ were better than me because ‘they’ had been playing longer than I was alive. Your worldview needs to include so much more than the guy that keeps challenging you for the lead alto chair in your band.

Music is a business.
No matter what you are told in school, when you get out in the real world you will find that music is a business. It is also music, but it is a business. The guys that work a lot are not always the best players. They are the people who understand basic marketing skills. They hustle to get jobs and work hard to keep them. They work hard and create work for everybody. We all need to develop better business skills and learn how to network to stay busy playing music.

Music is a people business.
If I could go back, I would have spent a lot more time developing relationships and been a little less competitive. I believe in a competitive spirit to challenge you and musical growth is a great byproduct. But relationships are so much more important. I remember hearing of a huge gig that went to a high school friend of that artist. It felt unfair at the time, but in all truth, this artist had no idea I existed. The lucky sax player that got the gig was in their phone book. You can’t get a call if someone doesn’t have your number. Networking and first hand people contact is where you will always get your work calls after school. This concept includes a larger worldview and being aware of the music business aspects of life after college.

Current music - listen and play.
When I was in college I was not listening to new music or pop radio. I got lost in this whole school thing, learning to play and studying old music. I think we all need to understand where stuff came from and the history that lead to today. But the blinders were on for me. I stopped listening to anything new. I had no idea what was going on in pop music at the time. I didn’t listen to anything other than the stuff I was working on in school.

Life after college had so little of the college music I had studied. Life after school is so much bigger than that small world. I wish someone had told me it was a temporary world. I think I would have done everything differently.


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Los Angeles based freelance saxophonist Greg Vail is among the most versatile woodwind players on the west coast. His work in jazz, pop and contemporary gospel music spans over 30-years. Greg maintains an active digital presence at www.gregvail.com

While Woodwind & Brasswind compensates writers for their editorial reviews, the views expressed by the writers in those reviews are their own.

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