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Interview with IAMA: Tips for Music School Applications and Auditions

Steve Lipman

1. What are the best strategies for applying for music college or conservatory?

This question somewhat depends on whether a student is applying to study Classical music or Jazz/Pop/Contemporary music.  Why?

The key to a student’s successful music education in a traditional (classical) conservatory is primarily their private lesson instructor – or referred to as the studio.

A student considering various music schools should first research the faculty teaching on their principal instrument. Do they like the teachers performances, interpretation, etc.?  The reason being, is that after four years under the tutelage of said teacher, their own playing will be highly influenced by the teacher’s approach to music.

Also, they should, if possible, request a “trial lesson” with as many teachers as being considered.  Just because a specific teacher/performer has a renown reputation, does not necessarily mean you will enjoy their teaching style or will “gel” with them.

Finally, the student needs to know how many and what type of ensembles are offered at each school.  Are you interested in Chamber music, Symphony, or a Solo career?  If you are a singer, are you interested in traditional opera, more contemporary works/ensembles, or even Chorale or Education.

In the world of Jazz/Contemporary music the principal instrument teacher while important is not the end-all, be-all for selecting a school or music college.  Many students are not necessarily intending to be performers.  They might be intending to pursue a major in Songwriting, or Music Production & Engineering, or Music Education, or Composition.  In this case the faculty teaching those courses become important to the student’s choice of school.

Students are advised to research and read the background and professional experience of faculty.  Also, their are internet sites out there where students attending an institution actually comment and rate a professor’s effectiveness.  However – buyer beware; some students just have a grudge against a teacher and may rate him/her poorly , even when not deserved.  Another strategy is to research the success of students who have attended (not necessarily graduated) from any given institution.

What is the least reliable means for judging whether a school is right or wrong for you?  – the college’s own materials and website.  They can be helpful to a limited degree.  But be aware, they are written and produced by professionals who are expected to present the school in the most favorable – albeit not always accurate – light. Trust me, I was one of those professionals for many years.

The BEST way to assess whether a school might be right for you?  Visit; take a lesson, attend a class, and speak with students – in the hallways, in the cafeteria, in the practice rooms.  The true authorities at any school, college, or university are an aggregate of the students who attend or have attended.  Keep in mind – You are an individual and must in the end judge for yourself according to your goals, your perspective, and maybe best of all – your gut.

2. What is the best strategies for a music college or conservatory audition?

This answer is easy – practice, practice, practice.  Sound familiar?

However, there are a few strategies that can help.

  1. First and foremost: You must know the exact requirements and expectations of any school’s audition policy.  They are usually clearly stated on the Admission’s website. Follow them, or you might be sorely disappointed later on when admissions decisions are sent out.
  2. Next – experience a “mock audition”.  Have your teacher, or someone you seek out who is familiar with the audition process, or a music college consulting firm like Music School Central put you through the paces of what a real music school audition will be like.  Then learn from that experience.  Follow their advice, double your efforts, and remain positive.
  3. Hire an experienced teacher to isolate and work with you exclusively on your audition repertoire; the notes, the interpretation, the presentation.  At Music School Central we even coach students on their entrance, their handshake, their demeanor, and their exit.  Don’t underestimate the importance of seemingly small details.
  4. Stay laser-focused.  Sometimes that might mean temporarily giving up some outside interests or extracurricular activities. However,  you must keep in mind – you have but one “job” in the near future – to get into the college of your choice.  All else can be put on hold for the short-term.

In the end, you’re either ready for your audition or not.  You can’t cram into weeks or even months what is essentially a multi-year preparation. If you’re looking for more help with your auditions or admissions, contact us today to learn more about our music school admissions consulting and audition coaching services

Head of admissions and faculty member at Berklee College of Music for 40 years, Steve Lipman and our team at Inside Music Schools speak music as their primary language. We approach each client contact with open eyes, ears, and minds. As the country’s premiere music school consultant, he advised students from the United States, Canada, China, Australia, Turkey, U.K., Colombia, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Israel, and Italy.