November 17, 2023

MSM Student Life: Tips for coping with a busy academic season with Dr. Michael Tate

Here are four wellness tips — and one bonus tip! — from MSM counselor Dr. Michael Tate. He has advice specifically for music students to help cope with pressures that come up during a busy academic semester.


Dr. Michael Tate is a psychologist in MSM’s counseling center. He is a clinical psychologist, musician, and educator, and holds a faculty position at Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology.

He is also the founder of the Child/Adolescent NeuroDevelopment & Environmental Enrichment Lab (CANDEE Lab), and a practicing musician and music educator.


Manny Cares 24-hour helpline: 917-493-4000


Tell us more about yourself!

In my clinical practice I work with adults, adolescents, and children with particular interest in childhood, emerging adulthood and musician/artists populations. My research explores the interconnectedness of child neurodevelopment, emotions, identity formation, and the environment with a primary focus on music’s impact.

Additionally, I am the founder of CrescendoNY — an organization that aims to deliver high quality equitable music education to all students, and I maintain my passion for music through teaching and composing.

What tips do you have for students who are coping with a very busy schedule?

First Tip: Often times as music students your schedules are packed. You have to balance a full-time course load, homework, at least 3 to 4 hours of daily practice with your primary instrument, and concert attendance to name a few tasks.

In order to manage such a demanding schedule its best that you optimize your planner use. Whether you need to start using a planner or you’re a habitual planner user, here are some suggestions to maximize its effectiveness.

  1. Make sure your schedule and due dates are written down. Whether you are using electronic planners or paper planners make sure you jot down all your important dates and appointments (including classes and rehearsals).
  2. Refer, reflect, and fine-tune your schedule daily. This will allow you to make periodic changes as your demands change throughout your day
  3. Routinize your schedule as much as possible. Routines reduce the cognitive energy you expend towards thinking about your day and allows you to redirect it to more important tasks.
  4. Last but most importantly, make sure you schedule moments of pleasure, rest, and self-care. Healthy eating and sleeping habits are essential to your cognitive functioning and productivity. Further, it is true that all work and no play makes Mozart a dull boy! A schedule without moments of fun and pleasure is a sure-fire way to quickly burn out, and makes your work time less efficient. Make sure you schedule moments to breathe and enjoy your friends and family.

Second Tip: My second tip is related to my first tip. When you are planning your schedule, try to be realistic about what you are able to accomplish in a day, week, etc. Sometimes we have a tendency to over-book ourselves.

If you find yourself feeling overworked or missing deadlines, rather than ascribing it to your identity, non-judgmentally look at your schedule, and rework points where you may have overcommitted or maybe were too ambitious.

Third Tip: Incorporate emotion regulation and stress management skills into your routine. There are a lot of skills out there that help to regulate/reduce stress and anxiety. Find the skills and activities that are salient to you and add them to your tool bag. Mindfulness exercises can be really useful here. They can take as little as 5 minutes to complete.

Exercise, mobility stretching, and yoga can help for long-term stress management. In moments of high stress, breathing exercises can be used to reduce the physiological impact of your stress quickly.

I particularly think using long tone exercise and warm-ups to focus on breath, tone and relaxed/fluid muscle movements are good ways to be mindful while improving your musicality. Like all regulation tasks it may not be for everyone but I think for those who struggle with mindfulness, this can act as an alternative way to incorporate some of those techniques.

Bonus Tip: This tip is specifically for musicians. It can be hard to transition from music for pleasure to music for work. We will have a fuller discussion on this challenge later but it’s important to find ways to make music for pleasure rather than for a school/work. Find a musical activity that you can engage in, not connected to your profession, that can nurture your original passion which attracted you to the field in the first place.

What are pressures that music students face in particular?

Music students experience pressures that are very unique to their college experience. First, the stakes are higher during school and during their professional career. The clearest example of this is the end of the semester Jury requirements which effect your place and standing in your respective programs in a unique way.

There are few if any equivalents in other non-musical degree programs. Further the music industry, specifically in classical, jazz, and music theater, is a highly competitive market. It is common to see hundreds of people applying for one position. These realities can put a lot of pressure on the music student trying to actualize their dreams.

Next, as a result of this competitive market, music students are under constant evaluation and receive constant feedback. They undergo frequent auditions, receive personalized feedback weekly from their instructors and peers, and perform for audiences that can sometimes be quite critical. Further, in the pursuit of excellence it can sometimes be hard to distinguish the difference between when our own self-criticism is constructive or damaging.

The job a musician does is unique in its demands for consistency and regularity, and sometimes it can create a type of perfectionism that if kept in check can help us grow but can easily become damaging to one’s self-worth.

Lastly, many musicians begin studying music because it is their passion. Music-making can be a place of solace for some, a place of interpersonal joy to others, but for all musicians I have met, music is extremely personal and connected and intertwined with their identity.

That said, choosing to attend school to study music also means you are initiating the transition from music for pure passion to music as a profession and source of future income. This transition can be challenging, and I find it is a pressure many music students do not think about before entering school. Maintaining and nurturing that passion (using the bonus tip above) is essential.

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