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How to Prepare for Your Music College Auditions

Steve Lipman with drumset player

By Kristin Corpuz

The finish of the first semester of the school year means that the time for applying to colleges is coming to a close. We hope you’ll soon be receiving invitations to go to college music auditions at many of the schools to which you applied. Even if you’re confident in your skills on your instrument, music school auditions are still nerve-wracking, and there are a lot of details to take into consideration when you’re getting ready. Here are some things you should keep in mind, as well as some of our music audition tips and tricks to work your way through audition season

What to Expect at an Audition

As you prepare for an audition, know in advance what each institution will expect of you. Some schools require a pre-screening, while others do not. Even pre-screening requirements vary from school to school, with some asking for more performance or composition examples than others. Also keep in mind that there may be a stylistic requirement for some pre-screenings. For example, a musical theater audition for the University of Oklahoma may require both a classical and contemporary monologue as part of their pre-screening process.

Each school has its own set of audition protocols. There’s usually a couple of key components: a prepared piece and sight reading. If you are applying to Berklee College of Music, you may be asked to improvise or do ear training exercises as part of the audition. As with the pre-screening, you may be asked to perform different styles of music, so make sure you read the requirements carefully. Also keep an eye out to see if the program is requesting original work to be performed; some programs would rather you audition with your own pieces or songs. A school such as Juilliard will have specific requirements for those submitting a composition portfolio.

How to Practice Your Prepared Piece

Our best advice is to have a variety of options ready so you are prepared for anything that is thrown at you.

If you are preparing to audition for a variety of programs, you should have—at minimum—the following prepared: a classical piece, a contemporary piece, a jazz piece, and an original piece. Many programs will not require more than one of these, but it’s good to have them on file just in case.

When applying to institutions such as Eastman School of Music or Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, which have comparable programs, your repertoire should be expansive within the genre you are pursuing. For example, if you’re applying for classical studies at New England Conservatory, you should have multiple pieces representing various style periods as designated by the school.

If part of your application notes that you’re a songwriter and/or composer, you should have original songs or pieces on hand, ready to perform. Many colleges will only ask to hear your original work if they find out that you’re a songwriter or composer, and they won’t let you play a cover in the audition. Like your genre-oriented prepared pieces, you should have more than one original piece ready to perform.

How to Practice Sight-Reading

Most programs require their students to have some background in reading music, if even at a basic level. If you’re comfortable reading music (i.e. you have been classically trained or have been reading music for a few years), you should be able to get through most sight reading requirements in the audition.

If sight reading isn’t necessarily your strong suit, this is something that you should definitely brush up on. There are plenty of free exercises available online; the colleges you’re applying to might even have some sample excerpts on their website that can help you get an idea for the styles that they’re looking for. If you’re looking for more tangible ways to practice sight reading, pick up an adult beginner’s method book from your local music store. These books breakdown music theory into the simplest terms to make it as easy to digest as possible.

A Few College Music Audition Tips

Every institution is different. At the end of the day, you need to carefully read over each school’s requirements to make sure you’re preparing everything properly. To stay organized, we recommend creating a spreadsheet to help you keep track of each school’s audition process. We also recommend that you keep your complete repertoire somewhere accessible. Whether you have a physical folder for all your charts, or all of your tracks are saved on your iPad, you should have a way to keep track of your whole repertoire.

Though many programs have very specific requirements for their auditions, at the end of the day, those auditioning you want to see what you do best. They want your heart and passion to shine through in your performance, so pick pieces that really showcase your style and personality within the school’s parameters. They want to see what makes you, you. Understanding how to audition well increases your chances for gaining acceptance to the music college of your choice. Happy practicing!

Ready to take your preparation to the next level? Inside Music Schools offers music school audition coaching services customized to your needs. Reach out today to learn more.

— Kristin Corpuz is a musician and freelance writer living in Los Angeles.  She graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2017 with a dual degree in Music Business/Management and Professional Music (Performance & Songwriting).