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Music Auditions for College: What the Process is Like

Padya Paramita

Music Auditions for College: What the Process is Like

Auditioning for music schools is a complicated and, let’s face it, intimidating process. Most schools have different requirements and scheduling audition days can be a stressful logistical feat. And, what’s more, most of your peers will simply not understand that you’re essentially doing two whole application processes at the same time. While everyone else you know is worried about writing their personal statement, you’ve got five art songs or a concerto you have to learn on top of it all thanks to music auditions for College!?

As someone who’s gone through the process herself, I’ll walk you through the basics of what to expect as you attend music auditions for college and give you some handy tips to save you time and energy. We’ll go through what you should prepare ahead of time, the pre-screening recording process, and the in-person audition process. Please note that the specific procedures may differ a bit from school to school, so you’ll always want to check the individual audition pages to confirm deadlines and requirements.

What You Can Do to Prepare Early (in Your 11th Grade Year)

As you’re thinking about applying to music schools, the most important thing that you can do to prepare is work on your repertoire list. Each school will have slightly different requirements, so you want to have as many options that demonstrate your performance skills as possible. And start memorizing early! You’ll need to work with your teacher on finding a balanced list that you feel really comfortable performing, but that is also at an appropriate level of difficulty to show off your chops. Here are my tips for choosing repertoire:

  • Musical variety: If you’re a singer, you’re going to need repertoire in each of the major languages of English, French, Italian, and German as well as repertoire that is from different musical eras. If you’re an instrumentalist, you’ll need different musical eras as well as instrument-specific repertoire, such as an etude by Popper for cello, or an etude by Ferling for oboe. Even before you have a school list in mind, preparing this repertoire early will mean that you have less to prepare when each school has different requirements for music auditions for college.?
  • Difficulty levels: Choose a mixture of repertoire that you can perform “in your sleep” as well as selections that are more challenging. You want to showcase yourself as a performer, both in terms of how difficult your repertoire is but also how well you can play it. If you choose only very tough music, you won’t be able to demonstrate your ability to play beautifully.?
  • Accompaniment: Depending on your instrument, your music auditions for college may or may not be accompanied. Singers will almost always be handing their sheet music to an accompanist to sight-read in the moment of the audition. You want your accompaniments to be easy enough that this won’t hurt your chances. I will never forget the really exciting, challenging piece I used for one audition; when the accompanist messed up the complex piano part, I completely lost my place and ended up having a terrible audition. If I’d chosen an easier piece that the accompanist was familiar with, I could have saved the audition.?
  • Work on sight-reading: Some schools will ask you to do a sight-reading excerpt as part of your audition, so it’s a good idea to work on this early on in your preparation since it takes time to build these skills. I recommend using Slight Reading Factory as a tool with many different options for sight-reading practice for different instruments and difficulty levels.
  • Work on music theory: Some schools will also have a music theory assessment as part of the audition process. If you have the ability to take music theory or AP Music Theory in school, you definitely should! If not, use a website like Music Theory Net to hone your skills so that this part of your audition doesn’t trip you up.?

Pre-Screening Recordings:

As you prepare your repertoire, you must prepare video and audio pre-screening recordings to send to each school during your music auditions for college. In many cases, the repertoire you need for the pre-screening is similar to what you’ll need for the eventual in-person audition, but this is not always the case. You’ll need to check each school’s requirements meticulously so that you don’t miss something. Most institutions require a video (not audio) pre-screening recording, with or without accompaniment. In order to have a successful recording, follow these steps:

  • Venue: Secure a venue that will highlight your instrument. If your school has a theater or there is a local church with good acoustics, see if you can use this venue for recording your video. Ask your school’s audiovisual department to borrow their videography equipment so that you have great audio quality. If possible, see if your school’s piano has been tuned recently before you record if you are a pianist or need an accompanist.
  • Scheduling: Find a time when your teacher and an accompanist can all do the pre-screening together. You’ll need at least an hour for recording, if not longer. Depending on their availability, you may want to have a backup date in case of emergency.
  • Wear professional attire for the recording: a suit for boys, and a skirt or slacks for girls. Wearing all black will look very appropriate for many, although make sure that you have appropriate contrast from your background so that you don’t blend into a curtain or acoustical shell behind you.
  • Instructions: Remember to check the requirements of video recordings from the schools where you’re applying. Many ask for a full-length shot and some will not watch your video if you don’t follow the guidelines.

Pre-screening recordings are due in the fall of your 12th grade year, and deadlines vary from the beginning of October to the beginning of December. In most cases, you’ll also need to register for an audition before the actual college application is due.

In-person Auditions:

Once you’ve gotten through the pre-screening stage, you may be asked to audition in person. The procedure here will be the same as for your pre-screening auditions in terms of repertoire preparation, but you’ll need to visit each school, which can be time-consuming and difficult to plan, especially if you’ll be traveling long distances to attend your music auditions for college. For this reason, it’s especially important to have your repertoire ready. If possible, try to schedule your auditions for safety schools earlier in the season so that you have a few auditions to “warm up” before the ones which will really matter to you.

For the actual dates of your music auditions for college, remember the following:

  • Outfit: Dress appropriately, as you did for the pre-screening audition. More conservative is normally better - now is not the time to show off your new tattoo! You don’t want anything in your appearance to distract the committee from your actual playing or singing. If you will be bringing music for an accompanist, make sure that your photocopies are very clear and in one three-ring binder. Don’t use plastic sleeves because this can create a glare.?
  • Arrive Early: On the audition day, make sure you plan plenty of extra time to arrive and warm up. Walk into the audition room confidently and smile to the committee. You’ll do a great job!
  • Arrange for a Lesson: When you are visiting the campus for your audition, ask the music school’s admission office or email a professor directly to see if you can schedule a short 15-minute lesson with a professor. Many schools do this in order to attract strong musicians. This will also help you make your decision.?

After the in-person audition, you’ll just be waiting to hear back from colleges individually. There are some schools that may offer you an academic spot (in their College of Arts and Sciences) but not a music spot or vice versa. While this is not particularly common, you will want to prepare for what you would plan your answer to be.

Music auditions for college can be a long process. The various steps and the protocols may seem like a lot initially, but, as you go on, you’ll get better at auditioning. Practice hard and try your best throughout the phases. This process will ultimately make you a better musician. Good luck!

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