High School years are the most tumultuous, difficult, busy, stressful, dynamic, joyous, exciting, productive, influential, precarious, trying, and important years of any student's life. What happens in high school determines the rest of his/her life in terms of career, emotional and moral development, personal character, friendships, and even marriage. If the High School student has not been studying music prior to enterring High School, it is unlikely that beginning music study now will be helpful or meaningful. With the many other pressures the teenager faces, starting something so new and different is just not likely to succeed, unless the desire is so great as to be all consuming. Instead, the High School years are important for how the student continues music study into the advanced levels.
SCHOOL MUSIC: High Schools usually offer three types of programs: chorus, string orchestra and band. Within each type there are usually two or more divisions: beginning, intermediate, and advanced (often called "stage", "concert" or "honors"). The marching band that performs at football game is usually only the best wind players in the school, and the same can often been said of the members of the string orchestra. If the school is fortunate to have enough talented students, members of the orchestra and band will perform in the pit for the school musical(s). If the school is large enough, the school might produce two musicals a year: an all-school musical and a senior musical. Participation in the High School music program is often a requirement for participation in a regional music ensemble such as State Honors Band or All-City Orchestra (a requirement that ensures talent is not drained from the smaller schools to the more prestigious city or state groups). Students participating in the High School music programs will usually have 5 or more years of private study.
CAREER PLANNING: Almost no music student considers a career in music prior to High School, primarily because the road is difficult and the obstacles are very challenging. However, considering a career in music must happen before the Junior year in High School, so that the teacher and student have time to prepare for the audition. The student who considers a career in music will typically have already earned numerous awards in music: competitions, special ensembles, etc. in the years before. To prepare for the difficult audition to music school, the High School age music student will have to practice 4 to 6 hours daily. This time commitment creates difficult issues when the student has to complete homework and participate in other extracurricular activities. A student who is serous about a music career must be comitted to working very, very hard, which includes music practice and school work. Typically, the student does not have any free time until school breaks and the summer. Practice and study should occupy every free minute from the end of school day to sleep, and all day on the weekends. High School age music students not intending to pursue entrance to a music college, but who want to reach the advanced level on their instruments will have to practice 2 to 3 hours daily, especially if they want to enter competitions and earn awards to bolster their college applications.
KUDOS FOR COLLEGE: Students planning to apply for very competitive colleges must have more than good grades and test scores to gain admission. These colleges receive 100s of applicants with 4.0 grade averages and near-perfect SAT scores. In order to be recognized in the pool of excellence, students must list their achievements in other activities. Chess team, math team, sports, drama, debate and music are the classic extra-curricular areas that look good on the application. School clubs that have no academic merit will not help you (frisbee club, ski club, key club). The more awards and distinctions and the higher level of achievement you can show, the better your application to college will look. If you are trying for a merit scholarship, these distinctions are absolutely crucial.
TOO LATE: Beginning music instruction while in High School makes sense only if the student has suddenly decided that music is her/his life and the student is willing to put in many hours of effort to catch up to his/her peers who have been studying for years. This means no less than 4 hours of practice daily. To begin music lessons while in High School just to have a pass time or extra curricular activity is almost always going to be a waste of money. The students never have time to practice (all their school work and other activities take priority) and there are so few years available to make substantial progress (a minimum of 5 years are needed to cover the basics). This advice does not apply to students who have studied music in the past, but choose to begin a new instrument while in High School. Depending on the amount of prior musical education, beginning a new secondary instrument as a teenager can be very successful.
PATHWAYS LAUNCH INTO LIFE: Whereas the student usually tries things for the first time in the Elementary School years, the High School student will often reach the highest level of performance opportunity. The leads of a High School musical are not likely to perform that way later in life ever again. With the exception of the handful of students who go into music professionally, the students in the band and orchestra will probably never play their instruments in a band or orchestra again. These performances will be the high points of their musical lives for their lifetime. Those who go to college might find a way to fit such music activity into their schedules their freshman year, but after that the amateur musician will simply not have time in college. This does not mean the music education ends with a bang. On the contrary, music students will continue to enjoy music in many ways the rest of their lives. Pianists will play piano at home. Singers will sing in choruses or church choirs. Instrumental players might toot the horn or scrape the fiddle on occasion at home. Some musicians may keep up their interest the rest of their lives, by participating in small civic orchestras and bands. But most importantly, music students will continue to enjoy music as audience members who truly love and understand music. There are very few members of the average symphony, musical or operatic audience who did not have some form of music education as a child. The music education of our youth is the only way to preserve the arts for posterity.
(See HIGH SCHOOL YEARS for more information on starting music lesson at this age, and the issues that affect the student's progress during these years.)
(See TUTORIAL: Timeline for more information about your child's progress in music through the many years of education.)