28 Things I learned in Grad School

The Classical Guitar Blog represents my past two years in grad school pretty well. I started it during my first semester. As I learned things or had thoughts about music, they made it onto the blog. Here’s some of the stuff that stands out to me as the most valuable.

On Business

  • If every musician spent 30 minutes each day developing relationships and networking there would be many more successful musicians.
  • Reputation and developing your brand is more valuable than any amount of money.
  • If performing is part of your brand, a performance degree will do nothing to help you get there. Seek out concerts (see the first item).

I gave a talk about some of the business stuff here

On Teaching

  • The longer I teach the less interested I become in teaching styles other than classical.
  • Recitals for students are extremely valuable–nothing makes a student more excited than experiencing success in a performance situation.
  • Students get very excited when you let them express creativity in music. It’s very easy to get a student composing from the first lessons.
  • Beginning guitar technique has very little variation. It’s never boring to teach it, however; every student is different and needs different sorts of cues and explanations.
  • It’s easy to teach even the youngest students to incorporate basic musical elements.

On Performing

  • Living with a piece for a long time–performing it often–is the best way to overcome anxiety. Or at least get used to it.
  • Performance anxiety doesn’t go away, but the feel of it becomes a sort of thrill.
  • Talking about a piece before playing it is much more terrifying.
  • Start strong and end strong. The stuff in the middle is nice too. I guess.

On Practicing

  • Efficiency is king. If I can get the same amount done in less time, that leaves more time in the day for me to pursue other interests or network (see the first item).
  • Part of efficiency is managing repetition. 7-10 perfect repetitions is fine. The problem is finding ways to play a passage perfectly! (see practice techniques).
  • three hours per day is just about right.
  • Slow/fast alternation is awesome.
  • Never wait to develop an interpretation. Never wait to get the piece “in the fingers” before starting to make musical decisions.
  • There’s no reason why a multi-movement piece has to be learned start to finish. Hit the hard stuff first.

On Music in General

  • If you want to understand music analysis, take composition lessons from a good teacher. It changes the way you look at music–you’ll see connections that have previously gone unnoticed.
  • A good repertoire selection will include challenging pieces that take months to work up and pieces that are easily prepared in a few practice sessions or weeks.
  • It’s more fun to play pieces that no one else does.
  • Form and motivic development interests me more than harmony.


  • Pool is a good game.
  • I really enjoy learning things–even a lot of random stuff.
  • The music binder is a good idea.
  • Sometimes little things can add up to a big difference.

In the fall I begin a DMA at the University of North Texas, and I’m excited to keep posting as I learn more.


  • Brian

    Hey Chris, great post. And congrats on the Masters.

  • Brendan

    Great list, especially the points about performance anxiety. I am now able to mold it to more of an excited feel than a negative one

  • Dan

    In my opinion, in order for the guitar to move forward, teaching and performance should be thoroughly based in composition. Learning to play Bach, Villas Lobos etc is a good way to develop technique, but hearing the same old repertoire over and over makes the instrument stagnant. Also, many modern pieces can be dissonant and very difficult to listen to. Writing for solo guitar is a challenge and the only way to bring it to a wider audience is to strive to write pieces which are pleasant for non-guitarists to listen to.

  • Jacob Seyer
    Jacob Seyer

    I really enjoyed reading this. I am currently a dedicated classical guitar student about to finish my fourth full semester and am very seriously considering graduate school, eventually in pursuit of a DMA. I really like hearing the harsh reality check points of grad school, to sort of prepare me for what is to be expected. But it is also really great to hear positive experiences. Obviously learning more about a great instrument is fantastic but there is a lot more to grad school than that i can tell. Great article, i will definitely be coming back to this for a quick motive.
    Thanks a lot!