Playing Your Instrument After High School: A Dialogue

I had an interesting conversation the other day with a person I went to high school with:

We initially talked about some audio equipment needs – she is trying to get a home recording studio going. She didn’t go to school for music after HS, but continued playing the flute in local folk and rock bands.

I thought about this and wrote:

I think audio stuff is neat because you *can* do it as a hobby. When I taught band, I felt like most students stopped playing once they graduated. With the music technology stuff, many of them dabble in it still after they’re gone. (although you were one of the good ones who still plays! Double awesome!)

And she wrote back:

It’s interesting how I came to still play flute after high school- when i first started trying to play with bands that were of the non-traditional sort (pretty much right out of high school), I had a really hard time because I was completely tied to needing a piece of music in front of me in order to play. I actually ended up not playing flute for about 5 years because i got so frustrated!

But then I picked it back up to play with the folk band, and somehow something had shifted in my brain- I finally understood how to use scales to be able to improv and write parts with a group and not need notes on a staff to tell me what to play. It was really awesome. I wish that i would have been taught how to do that in band class or in private lessons. I never really understood the point of practicing scales endlessly, so I never put much time into it until i learned that lesson.

I think if it would have been more explicitly stated that learning music theory and scales is the key to writing your music- even if what you want to play is pop or rock or metal, then i would be a much better technical flute and guitar player than I am (honestly, even after twenty years of playing flute- I would say I’m no better, technique-wise, than a talented high school senior would be and mediocre is generous description of my guitar playing and I’ve been playing for fifteen years!).

I’m much better at both instruments than i was two years ago when I finally figured that out for myself, but I wish it would have been more explicitly laid out for me so I could’ve avoided a good ten years of playing and wondering why I wasn’t getting any better!

This is interesting to me. It seems that maybe the traditional performance groups can have a longer-term impact on students if the emphasis is shifted more towards “creating music” and less towards “re-creating” music that has already been written.

If you want a comparison, what’s the equivalent of an artist’s portfolio to a High School orchestra student? A good audition you say… but what about the other 80% of the musicians in the orchestra who choose not to audition for things? It would be nice if these students could walk away with some kind of skill they could all apply in their own creative way without the need for a music director telling them what to do. I don’t mean to devalue the high level of performance most directors achieve, but consider this personal aspect too as an important musical experience that should be offered.

After studying percussion very seriously in college, I came out of college realizing there were no practical uses for many of my skills. Drum set is usually applicable but we didn’t do that much drum set. Most of my time was spent learning Marimba, and let’s just face the fact that there isn’t much work for professional Marimbists in the world.

Anyway, I don’t mean this as a rant – I do find it interesting when there is a new perspective on music education though, and if you’re a music teacher reading this, I hope you think about this alternative perspective. Also feel free to blaze up the comments if you disagree – it’s not hot enough down here in Little Rock…

Author: Will Kuhn

I teach music technology to high schoolers. I do some other stuff too. @willkuhn on Twitter.

Leave a Reply