How to Balance Music & Life

Whether you are an amateur, student, or professional musician, you probably have other responsibilities outside of music. So, it is important to know how to balance music and life.

Like anything else, you need to make time for practicing and performing, but you can’t neglect your other commitments. I have recently accepted a full time job outside of the music and blogging fields, and so I have had to figure out how to keep up with everything.

Killer Harmony | How to Balance Music and Life | Grey background with text "How to Balance music & life" (maroon) "for musicians" (teal)

It takes time to figure out how you what you need to do to balance your time. But if music is something you love, you will make time for it, no matter your professional or personal life.

Here are a few tips and tricks to help you balance music and life.

1. Know your priorities.

While it would be great to play music all of the time, that’s just not feasible. Even professional musicians need a break to focus on other tasks, like scheduling and emailing.

If you have a job or classes outside of music, those things should take priority over music. It may be hard to focus on other things, especially for music majors, but it’s necessary. You can’t ignore your general education classes.

The same goes for anyone working outside of music. You have to show up to work on time and do your job. That’s not something you can get out of. So keep up with your instrument when you can.

2. Make a schedule.

If you can’t seem to practice as much as you would like, set a practice schedule. Work it into your routine. While it may be tempting to go watch TV after dinner, practicing first can help keep your love of music alive.

If your schedule will be changing soon, try and create a practice routine to fit that new schedule. You don’t have to practice for hours (even you pros out there…). Just practice as much as you need to accomplish what you need.

Time based goals can be great, but two hours of mindless practice don’t do you any good. It’s better to practice with and end goal for thirty minutes. Then you can actually evaluate what you did.

3. Find your stride.

When do you practice best? Are you an early bird? Do you work best in the evening? Can you practice during a lunch break? Figure out what time of day works best for you.

Doing this will allow you to get more done in less time. Even with a goal, if you are not fully awake, your practice session won’t be worth it. If you are a professional, you may need to practice more, but you don’t need to spend hours playing.

Practicing too much can cause you to develop a repetitive stress injury. You can ruin your vocal cords, develop tendonitis, or worse. You could hurt yourself to the point of having to stop playing. So don’t over do it.

4. Find music that you can play but will still challenge you.

If music is not your profession, you probably don’t have a ton of time to dedicate to it. If that is the case, find music that is only slightly difficult. You should still challenge yourself, but you don’t need to take on the most difficult work for your instrument.

Choose pieces that give you a small challenge, and be realistic about how fast you can learn them. If you are playing for fun, do just that. Don’t stress yourself out over learning a Hindemith sonata or a Mozart concerto.

A small challenge will allow you to improve quickly so you can take on more advanced music later on. You don’t want to rush into anything too hard before you are ready.

5. Join a community group.

Seek out community music groups and other playing opportunities to keep you motivated. If you are not in school and don’t have any professional groups to join, community groups are a great way to play with others.

You can meet all different types of people, and you can come together to do something you love. Groups can also be a nice change from solo repertoire. You can expose yourself to more music. It also gives you an excuse to perform in front of people.

There are tons of different groups, from choirs to bands to orchestras. You can also find instrument specific groups, such as a flute choir. The camaraderie you get from playing in a group can’t be matched by just playing solos.

6. Don’t stress about it.

Having an off day and don’t feel like playing? That’s okay. While you might not want to make a habit out of it, everyone has those days where they just want to get under a blanket and watch Netflix.

If you have a day where music just can’t fit, don’t stress too much. Music is supposed to be fun. If it doesn’t feel fun one day, then take a break. A small break from playing could help revive your passion the following day or week.

So…

How do you juggle music and life? Leave your tips and tricks down in the comments!

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What’s in My Flute Bag?

With back to school season coming up, I thought it would be fun to tell you guys about what I keep in my flute bag. As an aspiring professional flutist, I like to keep a lot of stuff on hand.

Killer Harmony | What's In My Flute Bag? | As a serious musician, I have a lot of stuff to carry around. I keep a lot of important things in my flute bag. So, I decided to share what is in there.

Now, if you are just taking lessons for fun, you may not need everything here. If you are a music major, you are just curious about what I use, this post is for you.

Without further ado, here is what I keep in my flute bag.

About the Bag

The flute bag I use is the ProTec Flute Gig Bag. I got it for about $35 from a local music store, but you can find it online.The bag comes in different colors, such as black, blue, and purple.

I went with black, because black goes with everything, and it blends in on stage. I love being able to keep my case with me during performances, and you can’t do that with a bright colored bag.

If you want a full review, let me know, and I will get a post up!

My Flute

Um, duh. It is a flute bag. So I have to keep my flute in it. I have a Lyric Artisan Flute, which I love. Lyric flutes are a branch of Miyazawa, similar to the Powell Sonare line, for you flute nerds.

My flute has a silver head joint and a silver plated body, foot joint, and mechanism. I have a B foot, a split E mechanism, an offset G, and the more common features that you see on flutes.

I do keep my flute in its own case, because the bag doesn’t have the parts that keep a flute in place like a normal case. My flute is in its French style case, which means a case that doesn’t have a handle or any exterior storage.

My Piccolo

I have an Armstrong metal piccolo, which I used for marching band in college. Now that I don’t have access to a wood model, it has become my primary piccolo.

I have had the instrument for three years, and it has served me well. It was the best birthday gift I ever received. I do need to upgrade to at least a composite model, and I hope to do that soon.

If you are a serious flutist, you should consider investing in at least a student model piccolo. It will be greatly used, and the piccolo can open up many other doors than just the flute.

Flute Cleaning Cloths

I probably have more cloths than the normal person, but I need all of them. For my flute, I have and use four different cloths at least once a week.

The first cloth is a swabbing cloth. I use it with a cleaning rod to swan out the inside of my flute. Since saliva and condensation collect in the flute, it is important to swab out your flute after playing it.

The second cloth I use daily is a microfiber cloth. I use this to wipe off any dirt or finger prints that collect on my flute. Unfortunately, I can’t skimp here, because I have acidic sweat. My sweat has actually caused a bit of the silver plating to come off of my flute. I have to polish my flute every time I play it.

Another cloth I use to polish my flute after the microfiber cloth is a plain cotton cloth. I don’t always use this cloth, but it is great for a second go over the head joint.

The last cloth I have is a two sided polishing cloth. It is meant to get the serious dirt and grime off of your flute. I only use it once or twice a week, and I don’t use it on my head joint. I did that once, and my lower lip had a slight discoloration for awhile.

Piccolo Cleaning Cloth

I do also have a piccolo swab. The swab is just a silk cloth that I bought off Amazon. I use it with the piccolo cleaning rod that came with my instrument.

Instrument Stands

A must have for me is a flute and/or piccolo stand. I have a bigger stand that stays in my room at home and smaller stands that can fit in my case for rehearsals and performances.

My flute stand is by Hercules; it is the travel size one. I also have a piccolo stand that is by K&G.

Instrument stands are awesome, because you don’t have to haphazardly put your instrument on a chair or table. You can safely put it on your stand and know that it will not get sat on or knocked off.

A Pencil

You need a pencil. Whether you have a private lesson or an ensemble rehearsal, a pencil will save your life. You can mark notes in your music, write down important dates, and much more.

Avoid using pens, because you can’t erase them. You never know if your teacher will want to make a change or if they might take a change out. If you are borrowing your music, you especially shouldn’t use pen. Borrowed music needs to be returned in good condition; pen doesn’t allow for that.

Earplugs

As a piccolo player, I have to have earplugs. When I am playing in the high register or just playing loudly, my ears need protection. I love and use Etymotic earplugs. They allow me to still hear what’s going on so I can tune to others, but they lower the volume of everything by a slight amount.

If you play piccolo or any other piercing instrument, you should own a pair of earplugs and actually use them. They will save your hearing.

So…

What do you keep in your instrument case? Let me know in the comments. And don’t forget to sign up for the Killer Email Squad to get music tips and tricks sent directly to your inbox!

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How to Motivate Yourself

Music is fun. And it should be. But it can be hard to find the motivation to pick up your instrument when you could also watch Netflix or take a nap. I struggle with personal motivation for many things, but it’s important to know how to motivate yourself.

Killer Harmony | How to Motivate Yourself |It can be hard to motivate yourself to practice sometimes. But, motivation is important to getting stuff done, especially when you don't HAVE to do it.

I am still learning what works best for me, and that might always change. Knowing how to motivate yourself is key to getting work done in all facets of life.

I have figured out a few different things you can do to find motivation when you really don’t want to do anything. Here are my tips for motivating yourself.

1. Get started early.

I know I have said this before, but it is much easier to get things done earlier rather than later. If you wait too long to start practicing, it will be more difficult to actually do it than if you started earlier.

I know that I can easily get distracted by work, errands, or even the internet. Those distractions make it much harder for me to find the desire to practice.

Picking up your instrument either first thing or right after breakfast allows you to practice before you tackle the rest of your day. That way, you won’t have to worry about it later.

2. Find some fun music.

It is much easier to do something that you enjoy, so find some fun new music to learn. Even if you don’t have any performances coming up, it is a good idea to have something to work on that you enjoy.

Enjoying what you are working on is a great way to motivate you to get to work. The same is true for music. You can find music of almost any genre and of any difficulty, so you should be able to find something you like.

Just because you play a specific instrument, you shouldn’t feel limited to a few genres. There are many resources out there that arrange music for all different types of instruments. You can find some great online resources here.

3. Turn practicing into a game.

If you have a really hard time beginning to practice, make a game out of it. You can use tools like recording devices to record yourself to see how you improve. Compete with yourself to get better each time you play something.

Play against the clock.

Another game you can play with yourself is time based. There are many different time tracking methods for productivity, but I like the Pomodoro technique.

With Pomodoro, you set a timer for 25 minutes and then you get a five minute break. Knowing that a break is not far away can be a great motivator for getting out your instrument and for getting stuff done.

4. Don’t force it.

There are going to be some days where you simply don’t have the energy or the time to get in a good practice session. That’s okay. I think it is perfectly fine to have a day like that every so often.

If your body is telling you that you need a break, listen to it. Our bodies have a pretty good idea of what we need and are good about telling us. So don’t force it if you can’t find the motivation.

Remember that music should be fun, and you shouldn’t have to force it to much. If you do, you could lose some of that interest and enjoyment.

5. Reward yourself.

If you are the type that works well when rewards are at stake, this could be a good method. Set up a reward system where after X minutes of practice, you can watch one short YouTube video. Or after X repetitions of an exercise, you can have a few minutes of a break.

Create a reward system that works for you, otherwise you won’t follow it. Your rewards can be anything, but make them reasonable. Don’t say after fifteen minutes of practice you deserve an ice cream. That sort of reward won’t do much to motivate you.

6a. Just start.

Sometimes, the hardest part is getting started. Once you have your instrument out and your music on your stand, it becomes much easier to practice. You just have to start.

It is definitely hard to do, but starting is the first battle you face when practicing, or doing anything. You just have to start.

6b. Let the act of practicing motivate you.

After you start practicing, you will see how you enjoy it and how fun it is to play music. Let that be a motivator. Once you start and you hear yourself make great music, you may not want to stop.

You can start a timer for fifteen or twenty minutes. Tell yourself you only need to practice for that long. Then you can do something else. There will be times when you then stop, but maybe not. You just might find that you don’t want to stop practicing.

7. Practicing burns calories.

While it won’t burn as many calories as an intense run, it can be a fun way to get a “work out” in. Especially if you choose to stand while practicing, you can keep active.

The acts of breathing, moving your fingers, bowing, etc. all contribute to your body’s energy output, thus burning calories.

If you are not a fan of the gym, you will probably find it much easier to practice your instrument than to go work out. The added bonus of burning calories during your practice just might be enough to make it worth it, if nothing else does.

So…

What do you do to motivate yourself to practice? Let me know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading!

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How to Manage Multiple Instruments

If you are a musician, odds are you have thought about playing different instruments. Maybe you have thought of playing multiple instruments, or you already do.

Killer Harmony | How to Manage Multiple Instruments |If you want to play multiple instruments, you need to be smart about it. Keep everything organized, and know how to prioritize when you are short on time.

Playing multiple instruments is super common in music, especially for professionals and advanced amateurs. Whether you play multiple instruments in the same family, or you play all sorts of instruments, it can be tough to handle.

You have to be able to give each instrument its own time and attention, and you have to be able to keep track of them all. So, here are a few tips for managing multiple instruments.

1. Prioritize.

I know I say this a lot, but prioritizing is the key to success when you have a lot going on. Odds are, you cannot treat all of your instruments with the same priority. You have to choose which is the most important.

Pick a primary instrument.

If you haven’t already, you need to pick one instrument that is your main instrument. That is the instrument that will always get attention before the others. It is what you play in ensembles. It is also, usually, the instrument you have played the longest.

By picking a primary instrument, you know just what to practice if you are severely limited on time.

2. Determine the instruments’ relationships and purposes.

How are the instruments you play related? Do you mainly stick to string instruments? Are you a flutist who plays piccolo and alto flute? Or do you play instruments from different families.

Once you determine how all your instruments are related, and what purposes they serve, you can better organize your collection of instruments.

You may be a trumpet player who dabbles in piano, because your music degree requires piano proficiency. Or, you may be an oboist who still plays clarinet sometimes so that you can join marching bands or play in musical theatre shows.

Your instruments’ relationships and purposes will help you further prioritize and manage all of your practice. If you have a piano exam next week, you should probably focus on piano. If you only want to play guitar for fun, let it be a stress reliever.

You get it, right?

3. Get organized.

The more instruments you play, the more equipment and sheet music you will have. When you have more stuff, it is hard to keep it from becoming a huge mess in your room or your locker.

Organize your sheet music into different folders based on instrument and even the type of music. Get different bags or folders to organize your music equipment.

Keeping organized means you won’t be searching for a clarinet reed when you need it. Your reeds will be with your clarinet, and your rosin can stay with your violin. You will be less stressed.

4. Make a schedule.

If you have a certain amount of time to practice any instrument, you should make a schedule to stay on track. If you only have an hour, you should probably focus on your main instrument.

Have more time? Warm up and practice your main instrument, and then move to your other ones. Use your upcoming events to figure out what needs the most attention.

If the marching season is over, odds are you won’t need to spend time on the mellophone. Are methods exams coming up? Get out those beginner books and practice for your test.

5. Get the right gear.

If you have a ton of instruments to deal with, you want to get some gear that will help. There are cases which can hold multiple instruments, if you play combinations often. You can also find instrument stands for just about any instrument.

As a flutist who frequently plays piccolo, I love having a flute bag that will fit both. I can grab my flute bag knowing that both instruments I need will fit, and I can cut down on bags to carry.

If you play a larger instrument, you can even find a case that has a pocket for your music. Instead of carrying your instrument and also a music folder, you can keep everything together.

For the pianists, you can get a binder, a multi pocket folder, or a good tote bag to keep your music and metronome in.

Related: Supplies for Every Musician

6. Be flexible.

If you play more than a couple of instruments, you probably won’t play all of them every day. That is completely okay. Things happen, and we might not have as much free time as planned.

This is where it is important to be flexible. If a guitar string breaks and you’re out of replacements, move to another instrument. If all your reeds have gone bad, take a break and practice piano or something.

Flexibility is hard, but it is necessary when you have a lot going on.

You need to remember that you chose all of these instruments, and you should be able to go with the flow that they all bring.

7. Music should be fun.

Whether you are an amateur or you want music to be your career, keep at it for the music. Music should be fun. Adding multiple instruments to your arsenal is awesome, because it adds to the amount of music you can play.

If you want a career in music, it will help you to play multiple instruments, but play music because you love it. If you only add in another instrument because you think it will get you more money or fame, you are doing it for the wrong reasons.

So…

How many instruments do you play? I play flute, piccolo, piano, and I have also dabbled in many other instruments. So, let me know if you would like to hear or see me play!

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Time Management for Musicians

Sometimes it seems like we have all the time in the world. Other times, we need to focus more on time management. Especially if you have a lot of work coming up, managing your time is necessary for staying on track and getting stuff done.

Killer Harmony | Time Management for Musicians |When you have a lot to do, it's hard to do it all. That's why time management is so important. Here are a few time management tips for musicians.

Just like everyone else, I have fallen pray to procrastination, but I am able to overcome it. I can get myself back on track fairly easily, and I am going to share how I do that in this post.

Time management seems daunting at first, but it is not that hard after you find what works.

Experiment.

The tips I share in this post might not work for you. So, after reading this post, look for other ways that you can manage your time. You can find tons of ideas online or even come up with your own ideas.

With any change you make, experimentation is important. You have to figure out what works best for you and your life.

Be willing to change up how you mange your time, too. What works one week may not work the next. Figure out what you want out of your day or week and then decide what you need to do to manage your time.

Get started early.

This goes for all of those night owls reading this. If you stayed up late watching videos or practicing your instrument, try and wake up a little early.

You don’t have to get up before the crack of dawn. But, the earlier you start your day, the more time you will have. You won’t have to feel rushed to get everything done.

If you cannot practice your instrument right away, try and do some other tasks. Clean your room or home. Do some laundry. Listen to upcoming repertoire. There are dozens of things you can do that don’t actually involve playing music.

Make a list.

Write down everything that you want to accomplish that day. It can be anything from going grocery shopping to memorizing a section of a piece. Making a list of all your daily tasks puts everything on paper.

You can see how much you have to do that day, and then you can prioritize  tasks. Writing everything down will help you see the bigger picture. It may be that you have less to do than you thought.

If that is the case, take your time with things, and don’t rush. Enjoy living, and enjoy what you are doing. Live in the moment.

Set your priorities.

If you have a lot of stuff to do, decide what matters most. If you have a concert next week, you should probably practice the music for it. When you don’t have any performances coming up, you can focus on other things.

Get your household chores out of the way or search for prospective students and gigs. Your priorities will probably change with each day, and that’ okay.

Setting your priorities will help you figure out what really needs to be done and what can wait a day or two. If you have time for some low priority tasks, get those in so you don’t have to do them later.

Use a planner or calendar.

If you want, you can use a planner or calendar to keep track of everything. You can use a paper calendar or a digital one, and you can customize what you use it for.

I have found that paper planners don’t work for me. I use them for a day or two, and then they end up in the bottom of my bag, untouched. So, I have switched to a digital calendar.

I use Apple’s iCal on my laptop and phone. The calendar is great for events and other deadlines. For to do lists and other tasks that are not scheduled, I use Reminders or Notes to keep track.

Figure out what works for you, and create a system to fit your lifestyle.

Create a routine.

In a lot of cases, your day to day life will be different. You won’t always have the same performance gigs, rehearsals, or private lessons. However, do your best to set a routine.

Wake up at the same time. Eat the same breakfast and/or lunch each day. Do something consistently so that when big changes occur, it won’t take such a toll on your body.

I try to wake up at the same time each weekday, but I do let myself sleep in on the weekends. My menu for breakfast and lunch is the same, unless I go out for a meal. Keeping a consistent waking and eating schedule allows me to prepare for the rest of the day.

Hand off what you can.

If you have too much to do in one day, find some help. You can ask a roommate or friend for help or hire someone. While you have to show up to rehearsals and performances, you don’t always need to do everything.

If your kitchen is in need of some organizing, see if someone you know could do it. If your website needs updating, hire a virtual assistant or content manager for the day. The money you spend on help will be worth it if it means you aren’t up for a full 24 hours.

I try to do what I can, but sometimes, I have other priorities that need my attention. When I can’t do something, there is nothing wrong with asking for help.

So…

As a musician myself, I know how hard it can be to do everything you need to do. There have been times where I had to let things slip, and I wish that I could have hired someone to do those tasks for me. If you ever need help, please contact me. I would be glad to help another musician out.

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