The Unconservatory  

Letter to a Young Musician:
On Becoming a Classical Musician

To our young readers: Check this out! The following letter is our response to a teenager who is seeking a career as a classical musician.

Dear Webmaster,

I saw your reply to a another young girl who was interested in a singing career and was hoping you would give me some information and advice.

I'm a 16 year old girl and have been wanting for a long time to become a classical musician.

I have been playing the violin for 4 years and am at grade 5 standard (will be taken in june of this year). I also took up the flute 3 years ago and have recently done my grade 5. Also, I have been teaching myself the piano.

I love music and practice on a daily basis, which sometimes can be hard as I have school work as well. I'm also taking music theory and have just started on my grade 5 theory.

I know it helps for most musicians to be part of an orchestra so I will be auditioning for a local orchestra in my area around april time.

Would you kindly tell me what exactly I need to do to become noticed or in what way I may come around to achieve my goals?

Thank you very much for your time.

Stephanie xo

Dear Stephanie,

It is wonderful that you want to become a classical musician. It sounds like you are off to a good start with your study of the violin, flute and music theory. I am confident that if you put in the required work and dedicate yourself to improving your musical abilities, you will achieve your goals. The main things that you should do at your age to pursue your goals are as follows.

  1. Practice your primary instrument on a daily basis. You need to put in a minimum of one hour per day on your instrument practicing technique and repertoire.
  2. Join an orchestra. This is very important for someone who wants to be a classical musician. Playing in an orchestra will teach you how to work with other musicians, how to follow a conductor, how to prepare music for performance, how to sight-read music, and many other skills that you need. If for some reason you are not accepted into the orchestra following your first audition, do not give up! Ask what skills you need to pass the audition and then make whatever improvements are required and audition again at the next opportunity.
  3. Study your primary instrument with a private teacher (tutor). You need to find a teacher who is highly accomplished on his/her instrument, works well with students, and ideally, someone who plays professionally either as a soloist or in some local ensembles. Such a teacher can show you exactly what you need to learn and how to learn it. They can also assist in helping you to prepare for auditions and to get into a music conservatory at some point to complete your studies.
  4. Learn everything you can about music. The modern professional musician is frequently called upon to perform different genres and styles of music, so even if your goal is to enter into the classical music world, it will help you to have familiarity with jazz, popular music, folk music, world music, etc. Study music theory. Learn other (secondary) instruments. Each instrument you learn to play will help you to reach a better understanding of your primary instrument. However, do not let secondary instruments distract from your mastery of your primary instrument. It is important that you put in the required practice time on your primary instrument to attain technical mastery of that instrument before you branch out too far.
  5. Perform in front of others at every opportunity (even if it’s just friends and family). Many would-be musicians are held back because of stage fright. Every one gets a little stage fright, however, the best thing you can do to learn to overcome stage fright is to get lots of practice performing in front of other people.

From what you said in your letter, it sounds like you are already doing most of these things. You also asked, "what exactly I need to do to become noticed." The most important thing is to build up your ability on your chosen instrument. If you do achieve mastery of an instrument, your ability will be noticed.

Musically yours,

Ken Blacklock
violinist, composer, educator

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Updated: July 25, 2004 (KB)

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