so i've reached a crossroads in my life, i'm at the mid-point of my degree in music. you see i'm about to transfer to a university upon graduation. i'm reconsidering the whole thing because i'm not sure i can do it. i can't sight read for shit, i'm competent improviser, i'm having the hardest time transcribing. i applied at one of the more prestigious university in my area that has a great jazz program with outstanding faculty. you see i came to piano very late in my life about 18 years old. so now i'm not sure i can do it. i want to play but mostly teach. what do i do!!!!!!!


any words of wisdom would be of great help.  

thanks,
nate
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start teaching beginning basic piano students with the faber books.
practice your right hand sight reading in the real book, you are a jazz player not a classical player.
practice your scales, chords, arpeggios, swing feel, the standards, etc. religiously since you started late.
you can do it, if you want it to do it.
if you truly love playing music and are willing to hard then don't shy away from the challenge.
two questions:

what are you sure you can do?

do you want to do that?
get a degree in musicology and practice on your own in your own time.  or switch to business.
if you can do anything other than be a musician, then do it.  

music is a calling, a current in your soul that you can't fight.  musicians don't have a choice, they have to play.  if you can make a choice to not be a pro musician, then the choice has already been made for you.  

being a pro musician or pro artist in general is one of the hardest ways to make it through life.  it can also be the most rewarding as far as what is really important goes, but you have to be ok with the extremes.
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none of us can make your choices.
how do you decide then?
1) you teach beginners with the faber books (you are already ready to start doing this). then you see if it is something you want to do. teaching is a main income for musicians.

2) you go play background piano in a restaurant or bar for free or for some money and see if that is somnething you like. then you decide if it is something you want to do.
of the above qualities, your chances of success are relatively slim.
it's not that hard!

by the way, club gigs are not the gigs one wants if one wants to make a living.
jazz+ is right... it's really not that hard! just get a little function band together, record some standards and pop tunes and send them off to some agencies. most importantly get some good pictures. because nobody really gives a crap what you sound like anyway.  
of course if you wanna move to new york and not play weddings then that's much more difficult. maybe someday!
<scot said>
"music is a calling, a current in your soul that you can't fight.  musicians don't have a choice, they have to play.  if you can make a choice to not be a pro musician, then the choice has already been made for you."

wow, that has got to be one of the best things i've heard in a long, long time.  it's an arrow straight into my musical soul.

i'm going through a similar phase of decision making..  i'm married, looking to get kids, have a steady job, and my career in this non related (flash programming) field is looking very good.  my creativity is being redirected in a good direction, and i'm able to maintain a certain level of artistic inspiration.  but it's not music, and the drive in me seems unstoppable.  at age 29, i have to admit the horrible truth, that i can't be caught in this cycle forever.

i stopped the urge 2 years ago, when i quit my master's program half way through at the music department... but in the end, there's no lying to myself.  music is an identity, not a blessing, not a curse.  i thought i could bury it, but it's impossible.

i'm a half trained composer, and a horrible player.  but i'm trying to get back on my feet again, to continue on my journey.  nate, if you really want to, but shy away from it now... in 2 years, in 10 years.. you will have to pick it back up or it will drive you insane.
i think we're all insane and we should be proud of it.  it's also nice to be reminded of it from time to time.

i've yammered on about it before, but i made my living playing gigs for over 30 years - and most of it without teaching, because i had too many gigs. i now mainly teach and don't even own a working keyboard.

the problem with making your living doing it is that you pretty much have to take as many gigs and as many types of gigs as you can - especially if you're raising kids like i did.  

another plan might be to get a "real job" that doesn't drain your musical energy so you can focus on developing your own musical interests instead of supporting those of everyone else.  hmmmm....  

or....decide early what your musical focus will be and put all your chips on that - hoping or the proverbial lottery win :)
listen to me, because i've been where your at. i didn't start playing piano seriously until the age of 34 back in 2000. anyways since that that day i've practiced at least 3 hours a day. about 2 years ago i started getting gigs, in fact now i play five nights a week and teach full time.  

at age 40 i got a masters in music ed. which has opened up all kinds of teaching opportunities. i did this all while having a full time day job, marrige, kids, morgage.  

i  still can't sight read or transribe great but i work on it everday. i have a very well organized practice rountine i follow.  

here's what i'd do if i were you: get a degree in music education (if you want to teach) take all the jazz and private piano and master classes you can (evenn if they don't count toward your degree) having a degree in music ed. you can get a decent paying job at a school and also have a pension, have all sorts of holidays, including the whole summer off. there's all sorts of teaching jobs in music, not just band directing. i just teaching elementary general music and it's a blast- i make it fun and the kids love it!  

play with as many people as you can. having some older and or wiser musician/mentor/friends will help too.  

btw, i have some friends that quit college and are doing great in music and others that are strugling and living with their parents (guys that are well into 40's).
for what it's worth, here's something i went through.

i got lucky early on and at the age of 23 wound up playing six or seven nights a week in hotels in asia. these were long term gigs, anywhere from 4 months to 15 months.  talk about fun!

after close to six years of that, i quit, wanted to do something else musically.  what i didn't realize at the time is that i had it good- once i got back to seattle i realized i had to hunt gigs down, hustle with everyone else. i hated it which is why i moved to aspen a couple years later (where i got lucky enough to land the house pianist gig at the ritz-carlton for a couple of seasons).

i've always been into computers as a hobby. programming, building up, making my own i/o devices using chips and my meager soldering ability, and when i lived in aspen i started getting more heavily into programming.  to be honest, the only reason this place is up is because of the groundwork i laid down for myself in aspen, trying to program an online bbs.

after aspen i moved back to seattle, joined the gig hunt again, then wound up here in bellingham.  during that time i really developed my skills in a small web site programming niche and realized that i can make some money doing that, and that it's just as creative as playing music, and i still do it on my own time.    

so now i don't take all the gigs that come my way, just the ones i want, which is good and bad.  good because i don't get pissed off because i have to take a $60 gig at a coffee shop playing country music, bad because i don't have to take a $60 gig at a coffee shop playing country music.

do you understand?

part of the thing that makes a real pro musician is that they take all the gigs that come up.  that kind of work and attitude keeps a person very sharp when it comes to music.  hey, i'm a good player, but i don't remember all the standards that i used to (though they come back quick if necessary) and it takes me a few tunes to link up with new players these days.

but that's ok.  it's a conscious choice i've made.  my goal is to do another recording, this time one that i'm happy with, and see what happens from there.  what i realize at this point in my musical career is that i don't want to do the "little" gigs any more.  don't get me wrong- those gigs are an important step for any musician in their musical and professional development.  but it's not what i want any more.  festivals, stages, concerts, places where people come to see you play, that's what i'm into now and that's what i focus on.

in the end, though, i'm paying my bills about 70% from the computer thing and 30% from music, and i'm having a great time doing both.

anyway, look at denny zeitlin.  arguably one of the best living pianists out there.  his musical career went hand in hand with his psychology career, and it didn't seem to hurt his playing any.
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
Use the contact link at the top of the page.
paul,  
that's a fascinating story. what were you doing before you started playing seriously at age 34? how much could you play then?

scot,  
i've been wondering how zeitlin could do it. seems amazing to have that kind of full time job and yet make it that big. i heard there was a piano in the hospital lounge which he made good use of...
denny zeitlin is exceptional. a natural talent. for most of us it takes hard work to reach a level like that.

when i'm gigging i can tell which one of the musicians i play with have music as a full time job and the ones who don't.
you can tell when a musician is fully focused and got a drive, whatever kind of music he is playing.
when playing with devoted musicians i reach a higher plane, a kind of in the pocket playing which takes you to other places.
knotty,
thanks for interest in my story. to answer question, after college, i played music full time as a drummer/percussionist. i did some really good gigs like cruise ships, touring musicals and some horrible gigs in drug/prostute infected places. anyways i hated having to hustle for gigs and became a spanish teacher, which i really liked. i kind of felt like i hit a wall with the whole drumming thing- i was/am good, but i couldn't get to the next level. i thought piano might stirup some creativity and it sure did!  

so to further answer your question, when started piano at age 34 i had a basic skills in theory, solfeo, and rhythm. that's it. then i started practicing  religiously and now eight years after taking up piano i'm staring to get calls to play piano and drums/percussion. pretty sweet! plus i have a day job that relates music to and is fun. yeah, maybe it would be cooler touring with sting but i'm really happy.
"when i'm gigging i can tell which one of the musicians i play with have music as a full time job and the ones who don't.
you can tell when a musician is fully focused and got a drive, whatever kind of music he is playing.
when playing with devoted musicians i reach a higher plane, a kind of in the pocket playing which takes you to other places."

yes, i agree with funk however i do concider myself a devoted musician even though i have a day job. persoanlly i just can't stand all bs that you have to go through to get/keep a gig. i lucky to get play with some fulltime players. when i get to the gig i'm ussually tired from working all day, where some of my band mates have had the whole day to practice, rest,listen to music..... they can play anything without  a fakebook, where i have to pull mine out quit a bit. they can into the groove once they hit the band stand. that's all good, but i can pay my bills, own a house, have a family, and not have to worry about the whimes of some fickle club owner.
scot,  

those long term hotel gigs in asia, were they solo piano gigs  or combo? was there a singer? what did you play like back then? did people listen?

j+
  

the greatest players put in the most work usually, including zeitlin. sure he has a knack for things on the piano and he's a certified genius, but he wasn't born knowing how to play. he practiced just like all of us.  anyone can get to his level, you just have to dedicate yourself to it and do things right when it comes to practicing.

jazz+, those long term gigs were all quartet or quintet gigs. trio plus singer and sometimes a sax.  the singer would handle the casual jazz and long time pop standards, and the other half of the time we'd jam and play funky stuff and originals.  it was a good time.

people loved it. they listened all the time, clapped all the time, and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

i had some solo piano gigs but those weren't as fun though they paid a little better.

as far as my playing went, i was very busy, very technical, had a hard time relaxing while i played... my use of space was at a very low level.  i sometimes wish i could do one of those gigs for three or so months again because my playing has grown so much since then.  maybe i will, head over to tokyo or something and look up some old friends and food and beverage managers to see if i can pick something up for a little while.
scot
If I'm not back in 24 hours, call the president.

Scot is available for skype jazz piano lessons (and google hangouts, phone call, etc...)
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i would like to make a career out of music but i would also like to have a normal family. it seems like if you make music your career the chances of having a happy steady family reduce pretty much down close to nil.  

what do people think about this?
although i'm probably nuts, my family is actually pretty normal.  my wife and i both do music full time.  my parents did it full time and many others in our area do it full time.  as jazz+ mentioned, most musicians earn their livings by both playing and teaching.

as for raising a family - my wife and i were able to spend a lot of time during the day with our kids before they were of school age.  it was kinda hard living without sleep, but it was worth every minute of it.  they are very well-adjusted young men and i'm very proud of them.  i'm now hoping they will soon start to take care of me - (heh heh now you know i'm nuts)

the gig scene is different here now.(st. louis)  there simply are not as many gigs as there used to be. as i noticed that happening i began  moving my financial dependence from playing to teaching.  i now mostly teach and only play for my own amusement - or to help friends who end up short a player here and there.

so research your area.  don't let wanting a family get in your way.  but do read some books on money.  learn how to save and invest.  your friends with real jobs will probably have retirement savings plans and such.  as a musician you will most likely be self-employed and it will be all up to you.  don't play for 30-40 years and find out you only have $114 in the bank when it's all over :)
this is what it takes to be financially successful in the performance field:  
1)be very entertaining and thus popular
2)market yourself in a particular "style"
3)be grateful for the support of your fan-base and exploit it.

you don't have to be a great "chops" player, but you need to know your repetoire of tunes and play them with great empathy and joy.

there are a few local entertainers who i know that play "island-style", as we call it, and make over a $100,000 per year. you may have heard of jack johnson and jake shimabukuro.  
however, to get to their level of success took a few years of "paying your dues". heck, i remember when jake worked at the music store selling guitars/ukuleles and having "jam sessions" after hours.

if you want to pursue a gig as a solo pianist and are really good, then go to 4 star hotels and luxury cruise ships. one of the cruise ships pays $300 for two 90 min tours per night for a total of 3 hours total. the house pianist plays 5 nights a week...you can figure out how much he makes per week!  
i was told that you need to play jazz, pop and classical and should be able to sight-read any music that is required by the entertainment director. of course, there are jobs you can pursue at restaurants or clubs that are not as lucrative, but you can still make a living at it.
back to super james question -"i would like to make a career out of music but i would also like to have a normal family. it seems like if you make music your career the chances of having a happy steady family reduce pretty much down close to nil."  

the most important thing will be your choice of of partner. can she deal with you being in the bussiness? the hours, touring, and the like. hopefully she has a good job with pension and health insurance.

i think the days of living in one town and playing gigs for a living are coming to an end.i talk to some "old timers" and they're always telling me how every resturant,bar,hotel,strip club,wedding, anivesary party, convention,debutant,high school dance, musical,  quincenera.... had live music. now only a tiny fraction of these events feature live music. we're up against kereoke, djs, lip syncing dancing teenage acts

so if you want to make a living just doing music i think it would be good idea to have some skills that relate to music- teaching, composing, promoting..... for example a sax player friend of mine leads a variety band that's does a fair amount of work and he also got full blow into music technology and composing and he does all sorts studio work from his home- mostly radio jingles

can you make a living just playing jazz? sure, it not easy but there's lots of guys out there still doing it.
i had the same issue years ago and decided to quit gigging full time to get a education and eventually a "real job".  looking back i wish i'd have used a little more balance.  i went to grad school at univ new orleans and was so focussed on my major i didn't take a single music class....how dumb was that?  i could have worked both ends of education successfully if i'd have thought about it.

the down side of going the real word route was getting out of playing for a few years during school.  but now i have a steady good paying job with bennies.  i still get to gig as much as i want and do pretty much the same gigs as the full timers just less of them.  

i threw kids into the mix a few years ago and that makes time management tough and really cuts into playing time.  kids will suck your attention and energy faster than anything else i've seen.  not a bad thing just reality

i have a couple of friends that successfully went full time musician route with serious pro bands.  it took a lot of dedication and some luck getting in with the right guys.  a lot more guys i know that are doing the full time route struggle with finding the ever fewer gigs, finding like minded musicians that they get along with that can actually play (that is the hard part imo), low pay, no insurance and all the rest.  

it seems like when you do the math, the best bet, unless your are just a killer talent and truely driven, is to strike a balance between getting the most you can out of playing music and facing the economic reality of needing a marketable skill that is not dependent on people's discressionary entertainment dollars.
"looking back i wish i'd have used a little more balance.  i went to grad school at univ new orleans and was so focussed on my major i didn't take a single music class....how dumb was that?  i could have worked both ends of education successfully if i'd have thought about it."

that's some good advice. although it took me longer to get my degrees, i always took music classes that i thought would help me as a musician. even though my ba was in spanish, i ended up with more credits in music.
i took computer technology courses along the way and did music purely on the side.  when midi amd music software came along it helped that i was computer literate.  i know we are compteting with the "reality shows" and "american idol", but i still see solicitation for recorded works i.e. cd's and mp3 in the market more than i do live gigs.  now fortunately (or unfortunately) anybody can cut an album at home.
yeah cutting albums is as easy as cutting cheese nowadays - and the result is sometimes similar :)
and nobody buys albums anymore.
even as a music student i find little time to actually do what i need--practice. i'm in going to class full-time, playing piano for 4 plus groups, gigs every week, homework, and part-time job. i love it!!! but i still feel that my music is suffering. i like to write music, but outside of what little improvisation time i get thats pretty much impossible.  

well anyway i appreciate all the words of wisdom. i think that my problem is that i don't have my goal clearly defined. so i'm going to take sometime to do so.
  
thanks,  
nate
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