Back to School Tips

August is here which means so is Back to School season! Even though I am not in school anymore, it is still an exciting time for everyone. I always loved going shopping for school supplies and preparing for the year ahead.

Killer Harmony | Back to School Tips | August is an exciting time for music majors. You have auditions coming up, a new schedule, and more. Here's how to prepare now so you won't stress later.

Now that I have completed my undergraduate degree in music, I am going to share some tips to make going back to school (for musicians) just a little bit easier.

These tips can be applied no matter you major. If you will be playing music this year, there are tips in this list for you! Without further ado, here are my best back to school tips for musicians!

1. Prepare ASAP.

A new school year means a new schedule and a whole new set of classes to prepare for. If you will be in music theory this year, start brushing up on your theory now. If you have to take a piano class, get out that old keyboard and start working on your scales.

For the band geeks out there, pull out your marching instrument. Because, I know you haven’t touched it since last fall. If you are a returning student, look through your old music to see if you still have some marching music to practice. You can start memorizing the omnipresent fight song now.

Contact your lessons professor about scheduling your lessons. They may not want to think about it now, but you will look interested and more professional. Your professor might even think about you and schedule your lesson in your favor.

The sooner you start preparing, the less you will have to stress when you move in and the start of classes arrives.

2. Take your instrument to the shop.

If you haven’t done so this summer, now is the time to take your instrument in for regular maintenance. Once the semester starts, you probably won’t have the time or money to be without your instrument for long.

The more you play your instrument, the more it will need basic maintenance from a professional, such as cleaning, oiling, and adjusting. For the vocalists out there, visit a specialist and ask about how you can keep your vocal cords healthy.

The end of the summer is a slow time for everyone, musically. Get your instrument in good repair now, that way you won’t have to be without it during the semester.

3. Look at new repertoire.

If you have not chosen pieces for the semester yet, here is your chance. Don’t wait for your professor to assign you a new piece. Looking for yourself allows you to listen to a bunch of works and decide what you want to learn.

You will also start the year off on a high note (pun intended) with your professor. Especially if your professor has a lot of students, you will make both of your lives easier if you already know what you want to play.

Having a new piece or two picked out also means that you can get to work during your first lesson instead of spending the time going through a bunch of possible pieces.

4. Check your schedule.

Make sure you are enrolled in everything you need to be. As a music major, there are some classes that you need to take each semester. Lessons, ensembles, and music recital attendance are required by a lot of schools, and you enroll in all of them like a normal class.

If you are not enrolled in these types of courses, you won’t get the credit you need. If you need any or all of these classes for a scholarship, it is even more important that you enroll in what you need to.

By checking your schedule now, you also have a slightly better chance of getting into classes you need. If you wait until the semester has started, adding or dropping a course gets much more complicated. Do it now to avoid any issues down the line.

5. Get your books.

This is a pretty general college tip, but you should get your books as soon as possible. For the more academic classes, you will probably use your book regularly. Especially if it’s a workbook.

If you need new music books for your lessons, order them now so they will arrive in time. Playing from copied parts or free downloads is not professional and should be avoided if possible.

The earlier you get your books, the more you can avoid the crowds at the bookstore. That is, if one or more of your books are only available on campus.

You can order your books either through your bookstore or online through Amazon or Chegg. There’s really no excuse to wait.

6. Get a locker.

As soon as you are back on campus, sign up for a locker in the music building. Unless you are a vocalist, you are not going to want to carry all of your music plus your instrument across campus.

Lockers are usually free, and they come in different sizes. If you have a large instrument, or multiple instruments, you want to get in early so that you can get one of those bigger lockers.

Even though I “only” had to store a flute and piccolo along with sheet music, a locker was super helpful. I could store anything music related that would fit and I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting anything.

7. Sign up for practice slots.

Depending on your school, you may or may not need to do this. If your school schedules out practice rooms, sign up as soon as you can to get your desired schedule.

The longer you wait, the fuller those schedules will become. Wait too long, and you might get stuck with a 7am Monday slot in the room with no piano and terrible ventilation.

If your school does not schedule practice rooms, then you don’t have to worry about this. But if that is the case, try and mold your practice schedule so that you don’t practice during peak times. You might not be able to find a practice room.


Do you have any other tips for musicians going back to school? Let me know in the comments!

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Are Private Lessons Necessary?

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If you have been singing or playing a musical instrument for quite some time, you might have asked this question. The short answer is: it depends. On your goals, your current experience, your budget, and a whole lot more.

Killer Harmony | Are Private Lessons Necessary? |Are private music lessons necessary? It depends on what you want out of them. They can be helpful but also expensive. Here's what you should consider.

If you are interested in private lessons and can afford them, they are definitely a worthy investment. This is especially true if you want to make music a career.

For some students, private lessons might be out of the question due to location, lack of funds, or a number of other reasons. Here are my thoughts on who should or should not take private lessons.

Another disclaimer: Everyone is different, and we all have different needs. While you may fit one of the categories below, your opinion on lessons may be different. This post is merely meant to be a guide for those unsure of the pros and cons of private music study.

For College/Career-bound Musicians

If you are in college or otherwise preparing for a career in music, private lessons are a worthwhile investment. Private lessons give you one-on-one time with a professional.

You can learn a lot from a private teacher, from how to practice effectively to the most important works for your instrument. A private instructor will know more about your instrument than your school band director. Unless, of course, your director plays your own instrument.

Starting with a thirty minute lesson once per week is a good way to get going. If you have not started college yet, you will have to take lessons as a music major. It is good to get a jump on private study if possible.

If you are out of college or will not be attending college for a music degree, lessons are still important. If you see music as a career option at all, you should study privately to improve your craft.

For Hobbyists and Amateurs

If a music career is not in your future and you want to play for fun, the choice is up to you. I am not going to tell you that you should or should not take private lessons.

Taking regular lessons can be a good motivator to keep up with your practice, but lessons can cost a lot of money. If you can’t afford weekly lessons, you could take lessons once or twice a month, so that you get good instruction but can save money, too.

You can also join community music groups to play music and learn for free. Networking with other musicians and learning about free or cheap resources is a great way to save money on something that is a hobby.

Each instrument also has its own standard method books that you can invest in. If you are a flutist, I suggest purchasing Trevor Wye’s Practice Books for the Flute. For pianists, the Hanon exercises are the best. If you play another instrument, you can ask around for what books you should use.

For Musicians on a Budget

If you are serious about music, taking lessons is not something to consider lightly. Investing in private study of your instrument can lead to great rewards down the line.

However, if you are on a very tight budget, there are some things you can do to still reap the benefits of lessons without making a huge dent in your bank account.

One option would be taking lessons less frequently. This might not be the best option for college bound musicians, but it can work when you don’t have the means to study privately every week.

Another option is finding a student who is willing to give lessons. Especially if you are only pursuing music for fun, you don’t need to study with the most well known professional. Ask around to see if a college music major would be able to give you lessons.

The third option is finding a teacher who could do a service exchange. Is there something you could offer them, like organizing their music or finding them new students? See if a private teacher is willing to work with you to adjust their rates.

For Beginners (Young and Old)

If you are starting an instrument for the first time, lessons are a great idea. Unless you have access to a top notch school music program, you won’t learn much in a group setting.

Private lessons will help you learn how to hold your instrument correctly to avoid injuries. Specialist teachers will also know the struggles facing a beginner.

As you start your musical journey, it is wise to take lessons for a while to get a grip on the instrument. Once you have mastered the basics, you can start to learn more on your own.

However, having a teacher at the beginning will make the learning process go much faster and easier.

For those in the Country

If you do not live close to a good private teacher, it can be hard to justify taking lessons. The long commute can drain you of energy before you even get to the lesson.

There are options out there, such as online lessons. While these lessons, done over video chat, are not as ideal as in person lessons, they are a great way to learn if you cannot get to an in person teacher.

This is also an option for anyone who wants to study with a teacher out of state. You can use programs like Skype or FaceTime to connect with a teacher without leaving your house.

If you live in a rural area, far from a decent private teacher, look online to see if you can find a teacher that works for you.


Have you taken private music lessons before? Were they worth it? Let me know in the comments, and don’t forget to download a copy of my goal planning sheet so you can plan your music goals more effectively!

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Senior Year Goals

So here’s something crazy: I’m a senior in college. How that happened, I do not know, but it did. This is my last year in my undergraduate program. I have a lot to do in the next 9 months, so I thought I would break it down here for you for anyone else who might be a senior and in need of some inspiration.

Killer Harmony | Senior Year Goals | The last year of college is a big one. Here are some of my goals for this year. I hope they inspire your or give you ideas for your own goals!

P.S. As of a few weeks ago, I was leaning against going to graduate school, but I have decided to keep it in the cards at least as an option. Also, since it is almost the end of August, I am skipping over that month.


Pass recital preview and schedule date for the real thing: At my university, any student looking to perform a solo recital must perform the recital program for appropriate area faculty. I will have to perform my program in front of the three woodwind faculty members. I also have to pass all of the pieces before I can schedule the recital.

Apply to graduate school: I have been looking at a few graduate school options, as close to me as an hour away and as far as on another continent. I would love to live abroad at some point in my life, and I feel like it could easily become a now or never situation. It also would mean an easy way out if November doesn’t go well *insert political rant* but that is for another day.

Look at funding options for graduate school: Since I might be continuing my education, I want to make sure I can do it with money like scholarships and grants or possibly help from family. I would be willing to take out a loan but only for a part of my education. Student debt is real, and I don’t want to get sucked too far in.


Be done with junior recital: By the middle of the month, I would like to have completed my junior recital so that I can start working on my senior recital.

Plan senior recital program: I will need to choose pieces of different eras, styles, and instrumentation. For my first recital, I had to choose at least one concerto, one sonata (sonata style), one unaccompanied, one with piano, and one chamber piece. I assume the requirements will be the same.

Find music for senior recital: Once I decide the music for my next recital, I will have to get that music and start working on it.


Write more content for my blog: It looks like November will be a pretty slow month in terms of school, so I would love to write more posts for the blog, if possible.

Find paid writing jobs: In order to start getting some more of my own money, I would like to take on some paid writing jobs. I still will write for my blog, but money is nice, and I want to get some experience working with other people.

Apply for graduate school scholarships/grants/funding: Since I know that loans terrify me, I want to apply for as many scholarships and grants that I can. If I go abroad for grad school, there are some international student scholarships I could get. I need to look into it more. Maybe a post will be in order?


File my intent to graduate form: If for whatever reason I haven’t already completed this form, now’s the time. I want to make sure I have a full semester to get all of the weird remaining requirements filled. I also want my university to know to fill those ASAP since I plan to graduate in May.

Read more (blogs, books, etc): With winter break coming up, I will have a lot of time on my hands. I would love to read more blogs and more books. I’m considering a grad program in Spain and my minor is in Spanish, so I would love to read some stuff in Spanish.

Enjoy the holidays: I think this goal speaks for itself.


Work on senior recital music: In the second half of winter break, I want to make sure I have the music polished for my senior recital. That way, I can go back for my last semester feeling fully prepared for my last recital and everything else that I will have to do.

Finalize plans to graduate in May: I will want to make sure that the offices receive my intent to graduate form. I also want to schedule a final meeting or two with my advisor to check that all necessary substitutions have been finalized. Since I transferred schools, not everything transferred as they should have, but my advisor has been super helpful with getting substitutions approved. I’d it weren’t for those subs, I would have had another semester or two.

Start looking for a summer job: Whether it is a writing or social media job or a job in retail, I will want to have some income. That way, I can save some for when I am in graduate school. Also, if I do go abroad, I will need travel money.


Pass recital preview and schedule date for the real thing: I want to pass my recital preview early so that I am not scrambling to do it last minute. Last year, there was not a single day in the last two weeks of the semester without someone performing a junior or senior recital.

Decide on grad school/job: In case you couldn’t tell, my dream school is in Madrid, at the IE School of Human Sciences and Technology. At this point, I I’ll have to make my decision on the school I will be attending, accepted to IE or not.

File the necessary paperwork for that decision: If I do go to school abroad, in Spain or to a school I have looked at in Canada, I will have to get a visa, figure out funding and housing, and everything that comes with going to another country.


Perform senior recital: As I stated before, I want to get my recital done early. If I don’t get it in by the end of March, it will be hard to do it any other time. April is a busy month for music activities, so I don’t want to put off my recital.

Work on blog content: During spring break, unless I end up on a trip, I will want to work on the blog, for sure.

Find writing jobs: I want to find some jobs to get some extra funds to get me to graduation.


Keep up with school and music events: Since April can be a really busy month, I don’t want to get behind. Especially since I will be a month from graduating, I don’t want to mess anything up or have any set backs.

Get Cap & Gown: I don’t exactly know what my university does for cap & gown, but I will need to get my set around April so that I have it ready for graduation.

Start moving dorm stuff home: Last year, I used the last few weeks and last couple of visits home to take some stuff that I could live without. For instance, I sent home one of the two folding cloth chairs I had. I also brought home some of my nicer clothes that I wouldn’t wear. This will be more important next year since the day I move out of the dorm officially will also be the day I graduate.


Apply to some jobs for the summer: I would love some time off, but I do want to work a little during the summer. For both experience and money, a (good) part time job is necessary. This might change if I find some good writing jobs or other money making options online.

Move out of dorm/graduate: This is kind of a requirement, but I want to make my graduation day go as smoothly as it can.

Prepare for my next steps: Whether this is packing for my own apartment and looking for a full time job or preparing for graduate school, I don’t want to end up forgetting anything.


I hope these goals were interesting. Maybe they gave you a look into my life or helped you figure out what you need to do if you are a senior this year. Do you have any goals for this school year? Leave them in the comments!


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Adding a Minor: AKA Putting the Odds in Your Favor

In college, we have to pick a major: the field that our degree will be in, the field that you will probably pursue a career in. But see, no one really ever talks about minors or even double majors and when adding a secondary field (or two) is the right choice. I was talking with some friends a while ago, and one of them said that unless a minor will set you back considerably (i.e. more than a year), do it. There are very few circumstances where adding a minor or second major is not a good idea.

Killer Harmony | Adding a Minor | Thinking about adding a minor to your major? Here's why you should!
When are those times that adding a minor isn’t right? When you are a semester away from graduation. When your major keeps you busy enough and you have to work a job. I can’t really think of anything else. And even if you do have a job that keeps you super busy, that is good experience to have. In that case, you might not need a minor.

Now onto cases where you can pretty easily get away without a minor. First, if you are an education major. In these cases, a minor can definitely help. I know of a few elementary education majors who have minors or are pursuing some sort of second field of certification. But, the education program will keep you really busy.

If you can barely handle the stress of your major classes, it might not be a good idea to add a minor onto all of it. If you are a secondary education major, odds are you probably have to pick a field of study, like English education. That field of study could be considered to be like a minor. If you end up not wanting to teach, your degree will show that you are experienced in English and thus, you might be able to get other sorts of jobs.
At my university, if you are in a Bachelor of Arts (BA) program, you are encouraged to earn a minor. The BA programs allow for enough extra electives that it would be pointless to not pursue a minor. I am currently in the Bachelor of Music (BM) in performance program, so it is not necessary for me to earn a minor, but I am still planning on it. Why? I want a minor so that I can get a competitive edge over other applicants for jobs or graduate school. Also, I have the time…and I will still be able to graduate after four years.
If you are in a major that doesn’t lead to any specific career, having a minor can help establish a focus and help you figure out what you want to do with your life. Even though I am in a career preparatory program, I want to be prepared to enter a career that is not specifically music performance. As an example, I am adding a Spanish minor which would allow me to work in Spanish speaking areas, get certified in translation and interpretation, or even go on to graduate school for something like musicology.
I have heard that you are supposed to major in something that will get you a job and minor in something that you love. I would say that while that is a good thing to keep in mind, know that pursuing a major in what you love will probably get you a job that you will be more interested in. Yes, you need to think practically, but I believe that is where a minor comes into play.
I plan on writing more about my experience of adding more to my program than just my major and how I am working it out in my last year of undergrad. If you have any questions, lease let me know by commenting below or tweeting me @HannahHaefele.
Thanks for reading!


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