What is a professor really looking for

April 19, 2019, 9:19 PM · So I will be applying to school in a couple of years coming up and I wanted to know what proffessors are really looking for in a candidate. Is it only technical facility? Are they looking for a simply adequate technique with a good sense of musicality? Are the looking for the most difficult yet decently played repotoire? Any help is very helpful.

Replies (10)

April 20, 2019, 12:54 AM · I think "teachability" is high on the list. You want a good match between their teaching style and your learning style. You should take a trial lesson if at all possible. You need to be able to incorporate feedback quickly and easily. And for heavens sake, when you audition, if that teacher is on the audition panel, make sure that you do what it was that they told you to do in that trial lesson.

And of course the candidate needs to have the general playing level expected at that school, which is a combination of technical facility and the ability to display musical intelligence (or at least seem like you have musical intelligence even if you had to be spoonfed an interpretation by your current teacher).

April 22, 2019, 7:34 PM · I second Lydia's assessment, although teachability can be hard to assess unless you are giving the student a lesson. I look for potential, which is summed up by musical instincts and work ethic. What I personally love to see and why is below.

1. Musical commitment - saying something musically, even if the rep is easier. An ear for beautiful sound is part of that, even if it's not fully developed. I want to know that I don't have to convince a student to be musical or pull every bit of music making out of them. I want to hear them express themselves and enjoy (at least a little!) doing so.

2. Well set up technique without major technical flaws. I value this not because it's not changeable in college (it is), but because it's often a clue that a student has ignored their teacher or has not been able to dig deep to bring about a change that may be difficult. So I'm talking about bow grip, left hand position, being able to play at the frog, that kind of thing.

A lot of times students feel that they have to play at least xyz in terms of rep level...but unless we are talking about Curtis and Julliard, I think showing potential instead of achievement is much more important. The best way to know what teacher is looking for is to go take a lesson with them if possible, and outright ask them. Make sure you do it well in advance of auditions so you have some time to work on whatever "it" is. Everyone is a little different, and of course the competition and standards for different teachers and schools are different too. Good luck!

April 22, 2019, 9:17 PM · "Where did you audition and what did you play and did you get in" should be added as a question on the US Census.
April 22, 2019, 10:34 PM · In most schools, a pulse.

Playing an actual instrument is a bonus.

April 23, 2019, 3:50 AM · I would not recommend someone major in music if at 17, they have to be 'spoonfed' an interpretation. Just my 2 cents...

April 23, 2019, 7:01 AM · My sense is that most reasonably good 17-year-old violin students can "interpret" at the phrase level (i.e., they know how to put in "echoes" when passages repeat) but may still need help with the bigger picture.

We hear and see a young musician with "interpretive maturity beyond his or her years" and such, what we are really hearing is a young violinist with sufficient discipline and technical skill to convey the interpretation they've been taught for that particular piece. Well ... I could be wrong, but how would the listener know?

I think professors want to see someone who is receptive to new ideas, responsive to criticism, able to learn (i.e., won't be asking the same questions a year from now), willing and eager to flesh out the details on his or her own (e.g., by reading), and who has the technical preparation to bring all those other qualities to fruition. I'm a professor (I teach chemistry) and I know that's what I want in a first-year graduate student.

April 23, 2019, 9:18 AM · Teachability and potential, yes, but if you want to go to a top school, you need to have the technical chops to outplay the many others who also want to go to that school.

Edited: April 23, 2019, 8:31 PM · Paul Deck>> "Where did you audition and what did you play and did you get in" should be added as a question on the US Census.

I think you need to have something that makes the prospective teacher want to work with you above anyone else, regardless of what you are playing in the audition.

Here's an example: in 1967 a good friend of mine applied to the University of Michigan School of Music. He tells me that he still has the tape he sent, on which he submitted himself playing two polkas on trumpet. He got in; he was THAT good.


Check out the illustrations link at the bottom of the page . . . that's me on the left in the first one, playing bass. The pianist went on to be a musicologist and then a church organist and choir director in Europe. His occasional sub became a jazz prof at the U of N Texas. Our high school (town pop. 12,000) had one heck of a high school stage band!

You should buy his book, too. :-)

April 24, 2019, 12:26 AM · @Susanna Klein
Thanks for coming to BSU and giving that masterclass/presentation. It was really great.
April 26, 2019, 1:44 PM · @Jacob Summer - Thanks!!! Right back at you, it was great to feel such energy in the room. You all have a really engaged culture and it was really rewarding to be there.

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