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Preparing Successfully for College Music Entrance Auditions

It's about that time of year! Classes are underway and audition season is gearing up. In anticipation for this stressful process, here are 8 helpful tips to prospective students and teachers.

Do your research

What type of music program will best suit your needs? Are you looking to major or minor? Are you looking to become a professional musician after studying in college? Do you plan to double major or have other interests that you would like to pursue? Will music be the focal point of your studies at the university, or will it supplement your primary major? The answers to these questions will determine what type of music school you will attend. Study carefully the music program: student body, opportunities for professional growth, location of school, faculty profiles, and mentorship/advising. If you are a graduate student, make sure you check on research opportunities with the school to see if the program aligns with your professional goals.

Research the faculty

Ultimately, it comes down to the relationship you will have with your prospective faculty member. Although name recognition and location of a school are important, your college experience will largely be determined by how you connect with your primary teacher. If you are looking to become a serious, professional musician, this is a top criteria that cannot be overlooked.

Meet with faculty members before your audition

Once you have made a list of potential faculty members that interest you, reach out to them to see if you can have a sample lesson. When drafting an email, be sure to be professional and courteous: addressing professors by name (e.g. Dr./Professor ______), stating in a clear and concise way what you would like from them, and thanking them for their time. Although this may seem obvious, you will be surprised to hear how many messages I receive that do not follow these guidelines. Even worse, it gives professors the wrong impression of you before they have even had the chance to meet you!

Interview the faculty

I know that when you play for faculty members for the first time, it can be nerve-racking, especially when they ask questions about you and your musical background. But treat this opportunity as a chance for you to get to know them. If you are going to make a substantial financial investment in any institution, certainly get all your questions answered. I think any serious music student should ask any prospective teacher the following, “how can I succeed as a musician today?” Then the natural follow-up question would be “how can you and your institution help me achieve my dreams and goals?” If the quality of instruction is first-rate, but the music program doesn’t fit your needs and goals, it might not be compatible for you.

Construct a good audition program

I can’t stress the importance of this enough. Consult with your current teacher to make sure that the program showcases your strengths. Discuss your program with university faculty members to get their thoughts. As a professor, I would rate a well-constructed and balanced audition program with as much importance as the quality of the playing itself. Look for a future blog post on how to construct an effective audition program.

Schedule several test runs

As you prepare for your auditions, run-through your program several times. This will best simulate how you will feel on the big day. In addition, experiment with holding “mock auditions,” that is, instead of running through your entire program, try playing through 15-20 minutes worth of selections. And no, don't always pick your most comfortable spots! Although you most likely won’t play everything that you listed on your application, make sure that you know every single note of each piece. I have heard countless stories of auditionees being surprised that certain schools asked for unexpected sections (e.g. such as the recapitulation or a repeat of a sonata). Expect the unexpected!

Continue to work on fundamentals

One of the biggest fears that all music professors worry about when evaluating potential students is how are their fundamentals: scales, sight-reading, ability to learn and read music, work ethic, etc. Some of the things that I listed there are typically asked at auditions, but professors cannot always get the full story of an applicant, especially since the audition is short. Always make an effort to continually improve your fundamentals regardless where you are musically and professionally. One of my favorite quotes in Randy Pausch’s, The Last Lecture, applies here especially: “Fundamentals, fundamentals, fundamentals. You’ve got to get the fundamentals down because otherwise the fancy stuff isn’t going to work.”

Work hard

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