Luck is not chance, it’s toil. Fortune’s expensive smile is earned. ~ Emily Dickinson

Mr. Ahrens teaches band & choir at Bear River High School in Grass Valley, CA.


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Life Lessons in Music

This series of posts was written between October of 2010 and May of 2011, growing out of a discussion in the weekly #MusEdChat Twitter group.  Each of these 12 posts focuses in depth on one life lesson learned in music.  The posts in this series are easily the most visited and read on my blog, so I decided to highlight them here.

While each post is complete as a solo piece of writing, I encourage you to read through all of them from 1 to 12.  A musician is truly affected in all of these areas at once and each area is relevant in music education.

1. Work Ethic / Discipline

Beechworth Town Band Early 1934 by HistoryInPhotos

The lesson learned by music students is that in order to attain excellence in music (and by transference, excellence in any aspect of life), you must develop a routine of focused attention to the fundamentals of your craft. We all know people who make a habit of getting by on the least amount of work; for whom excellence is seldom, if ever, achieved. Music has a higher standard. Audiences do not accept performances with only 70% accuracy, for example. We must realize excellence every time… [click to continue]

2. Perseverance

warm up by Mighty mighty bigmacBut the valuable lesson of sticking with it and feeling the joy of the eventual payoff is not something to be understated. There will be a time in her life where this lesson learned in band will play a pivotal role in her success over adversity… [click to continue]


3. Listening

listenListening improves performance. Honestly if one had to choose between only listening or only playing, the best choice would be to listen. (Because uninformed playing is bound to produce music not worthy of an audience. Thankfully we can do both, though!)… [click to continue]





4. Critical Thinking

cubatromboneThe musician must make constant critical judgments regarding pitch, tone, phrasing, and many other considerations in bringing the music to life. Changes are made from moment to moment based on these judgments to bring the produced sound into alignment with the artist’s perception of “correct”. In life, being able to think on your feet and make crucial decisions correctly and with confidence is a strong trait of leadership… [click to continue]

5. Getting Along

getting_alongYou can not successfully perform music without constantly observing and reacting to your band-mates. Even the lines and phrases within the composition are a conversation; a cooperative narrative being spun for the audience. Our communication is with the composer (living or dead; present or afar), the audience, and with each other… [click to continue]




6. Situational Awareness

Keith the Chainsaw JugglerAre you familiar with the music in all of its complexity or are you simply reading one note following another? This level of situational awareness is huge in creating an artistic performance. As teachers, we need to be bringing our students up to this level of awareness and providing them the tools needed to research, study, and practice on their own to this end… [click to continue]




7. Personal Responsibility / Punctuality

responsibilityEach member of a band or choir has musical value that may be positive or negative. We learn about our duty to each other to practice our parts to near perfection so that our value augments the caliber of the performance. We all have personal experiences with band mates (or perhaps ourselves) who did not put forth a diligent effort in learning their parts and thereby caused an entire performance to suffer… [click to continue]

8. Self-Confidence

selfconfidenceArguably the most difficult time in anyone’s life is that period of adolescence happening in the middle school and high school years. With puberty comes several physical and chemical changes leading to a general switch in demeanor, emotionalism, heightened social dramas, and often crippling fear and/or anxiety as to real or imagined perceptions of oneself by one’s peers. Meanwhile, expectations to stand out from the crowd academically in a time of quickly rising global competitiveness are placed on these children by parents, teachers, and themselves… [click to continue]

9. Leadership

Davidson High School Band owns itWhen a student first walks into the band room, training in leadership is underway. The older students (and the director) are modelling behavior through their own actions. This is indirect leadership. This is possibly the most important and powerful form of leadership. We are defined by our actions, rather than our thoughts or even words. And young, nervous 14 year olds walking into a room of well disciplined, well behaved, and kind older students will do all they can to fit in to the mold that has already been set… [click to continue]

10. Setting Goals

SetGoals03A successful musician must be setting goals all the time. We have goals about the preparation of a particular piece of music for the purpose of performance. We make specific goals to attain certain levels of proficiency on our instrument. We make goals regarding successfully auditioning for honor groups, universities, scholarships, or winning seats into bands, orchestras, or other performance ensembles we desire to join… [click to continue]


11. Connecting Emotion

emotionThe craft of music is generally taught prior to the art of music. Students begin their studies at an age where an appreciation for music’s humanity has not yet been developed. (Some never achieve this). It is our duty as educators to assist student musicians in connecting their personal expression and emotions to what may be to them simply a physical and mental exercise… [click to continue]


12. The Love of Music

unexpectedThere are certainly powerful reasons music becomes such an important part of a music student’s life. It is a discipline that connects to their core. It connects to their feelings. It gives them creative power. It allows them to share intimately without having to talk or “open up” in a traditional manner. It is a challenge. It is fun. And these are also the reasons we teach music… [click to continue]


I hope that you’ve enjoyed reading this series on the life lessons learned studying music.
Please “like”, “+1″, “retweet”, “pin”, and comment on any that you found interesting or would like to share.