5 Must Do’s When Applying To Music School
(THIS ARTICLE APPLIES TO MUSIC MAJORS, INSTRUMENTAL AND VOCAL, but some information may apply to composition and theatre)
I’m going to be honest: when it came to college auditions, I didn’t even know where to start. My decision to major in music came the summer before my senior year (which is completely okay – you do not need a set plan on what you would like to major in when you start high school!). Although I have participated in many audition processes during my high school career with youth bands, I knew college auditions were a whole different ball park. I didn’t know what program to apply for, where to apply, or how I would apply, and I was disappointed when I found little help on music school applications online. However, by keeping these five simple things in mind, you can be assured that your college application and audition process will be easy and successful.
Make sure you know what program you’re applying for!
The wonderful thing about music majors (and arts majors in general), is that they offer a variety of options when it comes to what EXACTLY you want to study. There is an array of programs that you can choose from depending on the school of your choice. Choosing your school type is the first step in deciding what program you should apply for.
To bring things into context you should first choose whether you would like to attend a general studies or liberal arts college, or if you would rather study at a music concentrated school, such as a conservatory. Some larger schools even offer a conservatory caliber undergraduate education, giving you the experience of a classical conservatory within a major research university (such as the Blair School of Music at Vanderbilt University).
Next, you will pick your major. Conservatories offer more opportunity to study your specific instrument. Therefore, you will pick a major depending on what you want to study, whether it be flute classical performance or trombone jazz performance. At a liberal arts college, however, you have the opportunity to explore majors in music as a general term, whether it’s music education, music technology or music performance. Check to see what music specific majors your college offers, and do not be afraid to reach out to academic advisors or area heads about what education you are looking for.
Organize your application timeline.
When it comes to applying as a music major, organizing your application and audition timeline is crucial. Each college has separate requirements regarding essay instructions, application fees, and audition scheduling dates. Knowing where all of your deadlines fall during the application process is important in staying on track and will help later on when you are creating your audition plan.
There are many things to remember when applying and planning audition days. First, take into account how many schools you are applying to. Each school has their own audition day, as well as material. Do NOT spread yourself thin. It is better to strongly audition for 2 or 3 schools than mediocrely apply to 5 or 6 schools. Also take into account audition dates and locations. Some schools require a 2 hour drive, or even a plane trip. Take into account your distance from the audition location, and a reasonable amount of time it will take you to get there. SIDE NOTE: If traveling to places with significant temperature, humidity, or altitude change, give yourself a day to adjust. Many instruments will work differently in a change of climate, which could affect your audition negatively if not prepared. Most high schools will allow one or two excused absences if travel is needed for an audition during the school week. If your school is too far to travel, or if there are circumstances in which you cannot attend an in person audition, research to see if you are eligible to send in a recorded audition.
Next, take into consideration application fees. Many music schools, especially conservatories, have higher application fees than other schools. Make sure you are paying ALL fees! Some schools have a regular application fee, along with an ADDITIONAL FEE to audition. If your audition fee is not paid for, your application is invalid. Make sure all fees are paid for.
Next, organize the audition requirements needed for each school you’re applying for. This is not only to organize what material you will need to prepare, but also to see if there are interchangeable audition materials. For example. If University A and University B both ask you to prepare a movement from a larger work, such as a concerto, you will be able to use the same movement at both auditions, giving you more time to prepare one piece, rather than two.
Check for pre-screenings!
This is a MUST when applying to music school. Pre-screenings are almost like an “audition to audition”; pre-screenings are the college’s way to filter musicians who are at level to audition versus the ones who are not. As an applicant, it is YOUR job to know the requirements of your pre screening auditions, including the platform they must be uploaded on, whether it be via Acceptd, Slide Room, YouTube upload, or through the mail. Make sure your pre-screenings successfully show your level of musicianship.
Keep these simple tips when recording your pre-screening auditions (or ANY recorded audition):
- Clarity of sound is most important. Make sure your technology is advanced enough where your recording is as close to what you actually sound like.
- Often, materials such as microphones are not affordable. Talk to your high school to see if there is a technology department that can lend you materials after school, or speak to your desired school about other options you can take to successfully record a pre-screening.
- If your college requires a video, make sure your hands are visible. This is to eliminate any thought of banned alterations to your recording.
- Make sure you record in a professional space. A cluttered room with a number of objects in it (such as chairs, sofas, or a bed) can create unwanted reverb and echo.
- Make sure your camera is stable. Music schools do not like shaky hand held videos!
- Listen back to your recordings on a device other than the one you recorded on to detect any unwanted distortions or background noise.
- Record as many times as necessary. Your final recording should be an astute, unedited representation of your skill level and professionalism. Your pre-screenings should be fluid, with no cuts while playing (cuts only allowed between movements or exercises). Do NOT use sound enhancement software.
Pick (and stick to!) audition material.
It is your responsibility to find out each individual school’s audition requirements. Some schools require fundamental demonstrations, such as scales and etudes, while others only focus on larger worlds, such as concertos, sonatas, etc.. Some schools even have a sight reading requirement. Make sure you research updated lists of audition requirements. Pick audition material you are comfortable with but shows a sense of your technical skill as well as your own musical interpretation. Speak to your high school music program or private lesson teacher for help on choosing audition material specific to your instrument,
The music applicant pool is very saturated, and especially without pre-screenings, it is hard to tell which applicants are genuinely interested, compared to which applicants are simply going through the motions. Although campus tours are helpful in demonstrating interest, these tours are mostly generalized and do not go into depth to your specific majors. Research the faculty of your school of choice and set up a private lesson with your major’s teacher (ex: if you’re an applying clarinet major, speak with one of the clarinet instructors to set up a private lesson).
Another way to show interest is by shadowing another student in your major’s department. Oftentimes, many colleges offer shadowing programs that you can coordinate. Here, you will be able to take a private lesson with your specific instrument’s teacher, sit in on rehearsal and speak with faculty for more information about their programs. Always treat these opportunities like a mini-audition; instructors are always always observing interested applicants and have great influence in admission decisions with music programs. Make sure you are prepared, alert and positive when taking these opportunities.
Keeping these five tips in mind will guarantee a great start to your college application process and audition season. Be sure to check Niche for more information on application and audition tips as well as tips on finding where YOU belong!
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