Taking advantage of these 7 summer strategies for applying to music school will make the process less overwhelming and stressful.
by Kate Kayaian
A long list of schools, all with different requirements for repertoire, pre-screening, and live auditions, not to mention trying to figure out who you want to study with, can seem utterly daunting. Add in the academic pressures of senior year grades and maybe SATs, and it’s enough to make your head spin.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Use these 7 strategies to leverage your summer months to get ready to face your senior year.
1. Plan out and tackle your audition repertoire.
Summer is the time to figure out what the audition requirements are for each school.
Figure out suitable pieces to use. Set a goal to learn most if not all of them over the summer. A private teacher can be a great help with this.
A summer music program can also be used for this purpose. Take opportunities to perform these pieces there.
Play or sing for a local retirement center or at a house concert you set up for yourself. Perform your repertoire for family and friends. You’ll have a good six months to really polish, memorize and solidify your repertoire before audition season.
2. Start gathering information on all of the schools you’re interested in.
Set up a detailed spreadsheet or grab a simple notebook with a few pages for each school you’re considering applying to.
Search each school’s website and note the following for each school:
• Application deadline and fee
• Prescreen requirements, deadline and fee – if relevant
• Suggested audition repertoire
• Other audition requirements
• Letters of reference deadline
• Essay requirements
• SAT or ACT required?
• Other deadlines?
• Teachers you are interested in studying with?
Get in touch with some older students you know who are attending the schools you’re considering. Ask about their experiences and what they like/dislike about their school. Add that to the information you’re collecting.
3. Meet and perform for teachers from schools you’re considering.
If you’re at a summer music program or festival, make it your mission to play for and get to know as many of the faculty members as possible through lessons, coaching sessions, and master classes.
See whether faculty who teach at schools you’re interested in will give you a short lesson. Always have something polished and performance-ready to bring to them. This is an opportunity to show yourself at your best and see how they can make you sound even better, not the time to be going over the notes and rhythms of a new piece. Ask for feedback now – because you won’t get it at your auditions.
If a private one-to-one session isn’t possible, you may be able to sit in on a lesson or studio class. Pay attention to the teaching style you observe, and ask yourself whether it would work for you to be the student of this teacher over the course of four years.
If you are not attending a summer music program, contact the admissions office at schools you’re interested in to see if you can set up a lesson. If there’s a specific faculty member you’d like to study with, see if it’s possible to have a lesson with them. Note that some schools charge for these lessons; others do not.
4. Improve your practice habits.
Summer is a great time to start building up some solid practice habits and techniques. Try to increase your daily practice time, making sure to include enough breaks and stretching to avoid injury. Get a practice journal, work with a practice coach, or find some friends who are in the same situation as you and keep each other accountable.
5. Mind your reputation.
If you’re attending a summer music program or festival, this one is especially important. There may be older students there who are currently studying at the schools you’re considering. There may also be students your age who will likely end up being your future classmates.
Your chamber music coach or jazz instructor could end up on the committee looking at your application, and a festival administrator might just happen to be in charge of reserving rehearsal spaces at your future school.
Make sure everyone is thinking of you in a positive light. The moody, self-centered artist might make for an interesting movie, but that cliché won’t get you very far in real life. Responsible, hardworking and supportive are character traits to strive for.
6. Start brainstorming your application essay.
Take advantage of the extra time you have this summer to start the essay process slowly and painlessly.
Check the essay requirements at any school you’re considering. Since many schools will leave the essay topic up to you, also write down 10-20 different ideas, and commit to fleshing out a couple of them each week. See which one feels the most authentic and compelling and then go with that.
Aim to have at least a first unedited draft completed by the end of summer. Once fall starts, you’ll want to start polishing your essay and making sure your grammar and spelling are correct. A trusted teacher, parent or friend can provide a really helpful set of eyes on this.
7. Come up with a list of potential letter of recommendation writers.
Your private teacher, chamber music coach, voice teacher, orchestra director, or theory teacher may be an appropriate reference. Take the time this summer to email them (or track down their contact info if you don’t have it) and ask them if they’d be willing to provide a letter of reference. Give them a general timeframe for when you’ll be needing this.
If you are at a summer festival or program, start thinking about some of the faculty you are working closely with. At the end of the summer program, ask them if they’d be willing to write a letter on your behalf. Asking them now, when their work with you is still fresh in their minds, is ideal.
Kate Kayaian, B.M., New England Conservatory, is a cellist and teacher based in Hamilton, Bermuda. She also writes Tales From the Lane: A Lifestyle Blog for Classical Musicians.
Photo Credit: Robert King Photography for University of Colorado Denver LYNX National Arts and Media Camps
More information: Applying and Auditioning articles