Preparing for the college audition

June 2, 2010 at 10:28 PM ·

Replies (15)

June 2, 2010 at 11:19 PM ·

 Hi Corey! I just went through the college audition process (twice actually; I did it as a senior in high school, took a gap year, and then auditioned again this past winter), so here's the advice I can offer you. I ended up very happy with my results, and I can't wait to go to San Francisco Conservatory this fall!

1. I started my concerto a little over a year before my auditions (I did Vieuxtemps No. 4 the first time, Saint-Saens No. 3 the second time), and made a huge chart of what pieces were required for each school I was thinking of applying to. Most of the schools had similar (if not identical) audition requirements, but there were a few that I cut from my list because they called for a lot more music (Curtis, for example). It's always a good idea to visit schools and even have trial lessons, and I started doing that sophomore year. 

2. There's no right number; I would say it depends. For instance, fewer schools require pre-screening for viola than for violin. It's possible that if you applied to 10 pre-screened schools as a violinist, you wouldn't end up with all 10 auditions (unless you were on the top end of the applicant pool for every school; I don't know how you play so I can't really tell you). However for viola, if you apply to 10 schools and most aren't pre-screened, you could end up overwhelmed with the amount of auditions. Consider how far away the schools are, how many different locations they are in, if regional auditions are available (I did a regional audition for SFCM and was fortunate enough to get in with a generous scholarship, so I wouldn't let the myth that they are taken less seriously get to you), and how much $$ you're willing to spend on traveling (it adds up!). 

3. If you're applying to pre-screened schools, I would suggest that you have the pieces for the CD at a performance level by the summer before your senior year. That way, if you go to any music programs or festivals, you can perform them there and get some experience playing them for people. I recorded in the fall, around October/November. 

4. The concerti I heard played at my auditions (which ranged from state schools to conservatories) included: Saint-Saens, Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Brahms, Glazunov, Sibelius, Mendelssohn, Barber, Prokofiev 1 & 2, Lalo Symphonie Espagnole, Paganini 1, Dvorak, etc. A friend of mine got into school on the Bruch, but I think you have enough time before your auditions that you can learn another concerto. Paganini 20 worked well for me, and a lot of people played 16, 13, and 24. I think it's a matter of where your strengths lie technically, and your teacher could best advise you on which to pick. I heard a TON of Bach G Min. Sonatas (I played the Adagio and Presto, but most people did the Adagio + the Fugue), and a couple of A Min. Sonatas, and E Maj. Partitas. Only one person I heard played the Chaccone. 

5. Find colleges that offer good financial aid/are low in cost, if price is a concern for you. There are so many great programs out there; you shouldn't end up 200k in debt upon graduation. Also, really think about the teacher at each school. Don't just apply because it's famous; seek out the teacher that will train you best for the type of career you want. They are going to be your mentor for 4 years, after all!

6. I used a recording studio, but a few of my friends recorded performances of theirs over the summer to success, and I've heard of people using their own devices and recording in a local church, or concert hall. Your recording should reflect who you are as a player, and give the audition panel a clear view of that. 

7. That's really your choice :) Don't worry too much, you still have a lot of time to figure things out!!


Best of luck :) - Mia

June 3, 2010 at 03:18 AM ·

June 3, 2010 at 02:02 PM ·

 Thanks! I'm so glad I could help.

I went to visit most schools; sometimes I called ahead and sometimes I didn't. I would suggest that you do, so you can make sure someone will be there to give you a tour. Sometimes they need you to sign up ahead of time; all of that changes from school to school. Fortunately, I live very close to NYC and have been commuting in for pre-college, orchestra, and lessons for years, so I saw the big New York schools all the time. I visited SFCM informally when I went to the InterHarmony Festival last summer in San Francisco, fell in love with it, and decided to do a regional audition. I would visit tons of different types of schools to figure out what you want. I visited a lot more than I applied to, and it made the decision so much easier. 

Pre-lessons are a great way to find out who you would study with, and see if there is a good match for you on faculty. If you are visiting a school that is far away from where you live, I would suggest you schedule a pre-lesson for the same time you are there for the tour. To get in touch with teachers, most have links on their faculty bio page on the college's website to an e-mail address. Just let them know you are interested in attending their school and would like to have a sample lesson with them. I don't think there is any harm in meeting with multiple teachers at one school, so if you see a couple that you would really be interested in studying with, contact both. Also, make sure you know if there will be a fee for the lesson. Some teachers charge and others don't. My sample lessons were all relatively similar; I played pieces for them (mostly my audition pieces) and they gave me advice/criticism. Then we would talk a little bit about my goals, my training/former teachers, and how probable it was that I would get in to their school. 

Good luck! - Mia

p.s.- maybe I will see you at SFCM in a few years!

June 3, 2010 at 02:35 PM ·

June 3, 2010 at 05:19 PM ·

Generally, you DON'T play through your entire concerto movement, etude, solo Bach.  At two, I was asked to play opening, then cadenza (Mozart 3).  At the other two, I played through EVERYTHING (except my Kreutzer)  The two where I was asked to stop and just play the cadenza were regular audition days, where there were many students auditioning with you on the same day.  I guess there isn't enough time to have everyone play EVERYTHING, you know?  At the last two I played, I was the only one auditioning that day so they had time to listen to everything. 

June 3, 2010 at 05:31 PM · I would go with the Bruch for this summer. Khachaturian is a great concerto, but it's best to be really comfortable with a piece before you play it for someone, especially someone who might be on your audition panel in a couple of years. I only got through the first 2 pages of Saint-Saens in my auditions, and I was never asked to play scales. Only SFCM asked to hear one of my etudes (I played my Paganini in its entirety). Most auditions had me play the first half of my Bach G Min. Adagio, although NYU had me play it through. The few schools that asked to hear the Presto heard about half of that. I played a few pages of my showpiece (Wieniawski Polonaise in D), but never the whole thing. I never got a chance to play my Sonata either! I would suggest that you prepare everything to the best of your ability; you never know what they're going to ask for. Also, just because it's improbable that you will have to play scales in your audition, don't neglect to learn them. Scales help immensely, and they always make me more aware of my intonation.

June 3, 2010 at 06:21 PM ·

She's right!  I think I only played scales at two auditions.....

June 3, 2010 at 06:45 PM ·

June 3, 2010 at 07:37 PM · I memorized everything except for my sonata. Most schools required the whole audition to be memorized. If you give yourself enough time to learn your pieces, you will be fine. Try listening to a recording while following a score, or running over the notes/fingerings in your head. I used an accompanist for 3 of my 5 auditions. My pianist for the auditions in New York is excellent, and a good friend of my teacher. He came to lessons ahead of time, which was really helpful. My other pianist I met through the conservatory, and rehearsed with shortly on the day of the audition. He was great, and I'm glad he was at my audition. That said, I got into both schools that I didn't have an accompanist for, so I don't think it's always necessary. My auditions were no more than 10-12 minutes. The time absolutely flew by, and it felt really short! I'll be studying with Bettina Mussumeli at SFCM! I'm so excited to go; these last 2 months seem to be taking forever haha.

June 3, 2010 at 07:49 PM ·

All except Kreutzer memorized.  I didn't need an accompanist for any of my auditions.  Granted, I didn't go to places on the same level as SFCM, etc, but I am extremely happy with my choice.  I know what you mean Mia, I am so excited to be a full-time music major and hang out with orch dorks.  :)

June 3, 2010 at 11:34 PM ·

June 6, 2010 at 12:44 AM ·

Hey Corey,

While it's still really early for you to think about applying and starting to prepare your pieces, I'd say the two best things you can do right now would be to keep practicing (duh!) and try to get lessons with as many teachers as you can. Whether that be you contacting them and driving to where they are for lessons, or studying with them at summer festivals, this can be a great way for you to know what you are looking for in a teacher and know what it would take from you to be in their studio eventually. I'd say you don't really need to worry about audition rep until the end of your junior year, if you've done all the right things, you'll be more than ready by December of your senior year. I didn't start my audition rep. until just before senior year started -  I know some people start much earlier, and I've heard of a few who crammed. You want to play pieces that showcase your abilities well, which will be most to your advantage if you've had the pieces for at least a couple months probably.

June 7, 2010 at 01:14 AM ·

June 8, 2010 at 10:42 PM ·

Yes that is definitely best as he knows your ability and learning speed. Taking a long time to learn something can have very positive outcome, but then again, you don't want the piece(s) to get stale.

January 10, 2011 at 04:04 AM ·

 Hey Corey!

I think it's great that you have already started thinking about college as a high school sophomore.  Your curiosity and enthusiasm are great assets.  Around this time last year auditions were definitely at the front of my mind, and even though I am half way through my first year at Curtis, my audition and preparation experience are still fresh in my memory.

First of all, whenever anyone asks me advice about college, and especially doing music in college, before I tell them anything, I always say emphasize how much of an advantage preparing ahead of time can be.  You are already getting started on this step, which is great.  The fact that you are already researching schools and their requirements will help you a lot when things get down to the wire in your senior year and you have less time.  

Speaking of early, applying early is one of the best things you can do for yourself.  Start preparing the summer before your senior year.  If money is a consideration for you, start looking for scholarships you can apply for.  Write some essays and send off a few applications.  This is nice to get out of the way before school starts and you have *enough* other essays to be thinking about.  

And while we're talking about writing, this is also a good time to start writing the personal statements and admissions essays you will need to send with your college applications.  It's also a good idea to have some friends, mentors or teachers look over your drafts to provide comments and suggestions.  

You may want to start thinking of your audition repertoire in your junior year, and probably should know what you will be preparing by the summer before your audition.  Also, make sure you know when pre-screening recordings are due, as this is also an extremely important factor in what repertoire you choose and when it needs to be polished by.  Depending on what pieces you need to play, how quickly you learn, and whether or not you would like to resurrect a piece you have previously studied are just a few factors that can affect what time is right for you to know your repertoire list.  I write a list of my repertoire and the dates I need to perform it before the start of each school year.  This might also be a good thing to do with your audition repertoire as well.

As for what pieces to prepare, that largely depends on which ones highlight your strengths, and of course, which ones are required by the schools you will be auditioning at.  Since you are already looking at these lists, it's probably a good idea to have a conversation with your private teacher, if you haven't already, about the kind of repertoire you need to play for auditions.

When it comes to recordings, try to get the best quality you possibly can.  Not all of us can afford a professional studio recording, but either invest in a good recording device and a really good mic, which makes all the difference, or investigate whether you can rent or borrow audio and/or video equipment from friends or family who may have some.  One of my teachers listens to pre-screening at Juilliard, and he said that though the audition panel, of course, takes into consideration that not everyone has access to top recording equipment, bad recordings are frustrating to audition committees.  And the last thing you want to do with such important people is to put them in a bad mood, not because of your playing, but because you didn't put enough effort into making a good recording of yourself.

Once school starts, you should track down your teachers as soon as possible for whatever letters of recommendation you may need.  This is a very important step.  While you may be able to write an essay or fill out a form the night before it is due, it is simply not possible to get a teacher to recommend you without giving them enough time.  (And I don't advise rushing them, as this could end badly for you.)  It's also helpful to provide your teacher(s) with a short list of your major accomplishments, just to jog their memories.  Our teachers have many students, and it's not always easy keeping track of who did what, so providing them with this kind of list is actually a thoughtful thing to do for them.

Only you can tell which school will be a good fit for you.  Reading online is good, but it's even better to talk to students at schools you are interested in.  Probably the best way to learn about a school is to visit the campus.  This way you can get a feel for the school, its faculty and what kind of students would be your classmates if you went there.  Again, this is a good thing to ask your teacher about and also talk to musicians a little older than you about. 

Remember what I said about applying early?  Colleges have a catch to applying early.  Most schools don't count that you have applied until they receive all of your materials!  Before my senior year I made check-lists of the documents each school required and made sure to check everything off of my list.  This may also be helpful for you to do.  Applying early also gives you an advantage for scholarships and usually gives you a better choice for audition date than people who apply later.  Plus, it's always nice to get the paper work out of the way early, so you can devote your more of your energies to your audition preparation!

After all of that is over and done, it's just you and your instrument.  Try to keep as regular a practice schedule as possible.  I have found, and you probably have too, that cramming just doesn't work for music the way it can for academics.  I find that I improve more by practicing consistently every day, than going on practice marathons with days in between where I don't even touch my instrument.  Find a rhythm that works with your schedule and is right for you.

If you would like to learn some of my experience tested audition preparation techniques and "mind-hacks" to beat the psychological game of the audition experience, I encourage you to check out my blog on the From the Top Green Room blog.

I wish you all the best of luck, Corey!  Feel free to contact me if you have any other questions.

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